Culture | Exploration | History | Travel

A Visit to First Encounter Beach

If Provincetown claims the first landing of the Pilgrims in North America, and Plymouth claims the place they settled, Eastham is the place where they first encountered the Native American population. And like the thousands of encounters between settlers and natives to follow, it wasn’t hugs and kisses.

Today there’s a popular beach with a paved parking lot on the calm waters of Massachusetts Bay. The real estate runs in the millions now, with great sunsets and a chance to swim while the sharks stake a claim on their ancestral hunting grounds on the opposite coast of Cape Cod. Really, it’s all funny money out here, but especially when you can claim a water view.

There are two memorial plaques at the beach. One is hidden from view up the hill a bit from the beach, placed there to commemorate the tercentenary anniversary of that first encounter. The second, and more obvious one, is right as you walk from the parking lot onto the beach. Each offer a history lesson in worldview of the time.

1920: “On this spot hostile indians had their first encounter December 8, 1620”

2001: “Near this site the Nauset Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation seeking to protect themselves and their culture had their first encounter 8 December 1620”

Both are true, aren’t they? But the devil is in the details, and none of us really know how that first encounter went down. We have historical record from one side but not the other. And that’s history for you; recorded by those who ultimately survive to write about it. Ultimately both inform, and the site itself pulls at history buffs like me. How do you visit Cape Cod for decades without a pilgrimage to the site of the first encounter between those who had it all and those who would ultimately take it from them?

Now all you need is a parking spot at $15 per day for non-residents. For all the historical import of the site, today it’s mostly just a pretty, family-friendly beach. And a nice place for a quiet Spring walk with your significant other. And maybe a few hugs and kisses.

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