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The Naming of Cape Cod

“On the 26th of March, 1602, old style. Captain Bartholomew Gosnold set sail from Falmouth, England, for the North part of Virginia, in a small bark called the Concord… The 15th day,’ writes Gabriel Archer, ‘we had again sight of the land, which made ahead, being as we thought an island, by reason of a large sound that appeared westward between it and the main, for coming to the west end thereof, we did perceive a large opening, we called it Shoal Hope. Near this cape we came to anchor in fifteen fathoms, where we took great store of cod-fish, for which we altered the name and called it Cape Cod.'” – Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod

A bit of trivia lost in history is where Cape Cod originally got its name. A lot of people, including Thoreau, point to Gabriel Archer. Archer wrote the entry Thoreau quotes above in 1602. He’d then go on to supposedly name Martha’s Vineyard after his daughter when an abundance of grapes were found there.

Of course, without the Cod, it might have been named something else. Four hundred years of fishing decimated the Cod population, leading to sharp restrictions on fishing. Pressure from commercial fishing lobbies to raise limits on Cod run counter to the goal of full restoration of the biomass. And then you’ve got those seal population increases. The slow restoration of the Cod population is ongoing, but like so many endangered species it hangs by a thread.

Archer traded with the local Wampanoag Tribe at what is now Cuttyhunk. He returned to England that same year but would return again in 1607. Archer would butt heads with John Smith in Jamestown and would ultimately die there within a few years. His journal was published after his death and the names Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard were sticky enough to live on well after him. More than his own name, it seems. Life is funny that way.

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