Indigenous People of Cape Ann

Separating Fact from Myth

By: - Jul 12, 2023

Dear Charles,

RE: Your post of June 6 on the Disappeared Indigenous people. You have inaccurate information that I would like to take a moment to clarify fyi.

In 1623 Cape Ann was known as Cape Ann. Capt. John Smith had named it Tragabigzanda in 1614, and in 1616 the King of England, Charles I, changed it to his mother’s name, Anne. A few years earlier Champlain had given the name of Le beau port to Gloucester Harbor.

The English did not settle on Cape Ann in 1623. They landed in 1623 and left in 1625. Cape Ann was unofficially reoccupied beginning around 1630 and was officially opened for settlement as a plantation in 1642. The Indigenous people did not disappear from Cape Ann until around 1700.

The reason for their disappearance was not disease or combat. The reason was that they no longer had access to any of their land and therefore had no means of subsistence, and the province of Massachusetts had established an official policy of exterminating them. Claiming that they died out by disease and war is an old fashioned narrative that avoided having to disclose the real reasons.

You do clarify the history of the naming of Cape Ann within the body of your article, so I found the first lines of your piece a bit misleading: In 1623 Europeans settled in what was then known as Le Beau Port and subsequently renamed Gloucester on Cape Ann. The indigenous people soon disappeared as did the majority of those in Massachusetts. They were devastated by disease and combat. By 1617, the colonists had infected and killed three-quarters of the Indigenous population in Massachusetts by diseases brought from Europe.

This is simply not true. The first epidemic, a bacterial contamination of water and soil (from rat urine on ballast stones dumped at river mouths to make room for cargos of furs) lasted from 1611 to 1619. Colonial accounts of morality were grossly exaggerated, especially north of Boston. The smallpox epidemic of 1633 was more deadly, but Indigenous populations were recovering through acquired immunity.

They were defeated in wars with Indigenous enemies (the Beaver Wars with the Iroquois, which ended in 1660), but they suffered more at the hands of colonists, who did not distinguish well between Indigenous friends and enemies. The Indigenous people in Essex County actually fought with the English against the Wampanoags in King Philip’s War of 1675-76.

By 1623 The Dorchester Company sent three ships from England and started a settlement along the coast. The name of the settlement was changed from Le Beau port to Gloucester. There was never a settlement called Le Beau port. Champlain was there for just four days and had no intention of starting a settlement.

The Dorchester Company’s settlement was in Beverly at Naumkeag. Blyman transformed the peninsula to an island by creating a channel excavating a narrow passage connecting the harbor and Annisquam River. This was not Blynman’s idea. And the point was not to create an island.

The Mass. Bay colony wanted to connect Ipswich Bay to Massachusetts Bay for a shipping lane between Canada and Virginia--to try to put a stop to all the shipwrecks that were happening on the coast of Cape Ann and to make Gloucester Harbor into an international port of trade. Blynman was persuaded to make the cut with the understanding he could charge fees for running a ferry there in lieu of a salary as the town’s minister.

I thought the rest of your post was accurate enough. I hope you will accept my clarifications in the friendly spirit I am offering them. All the best,