December 2 - 1620: Ominous initial contact between Indians and Pilgrims

Their "first impressions" of each other were not so hot
The Eastham beach where the Pilgrims first encountered the Nauset Indians.

1620: The day the Nausets met their new neighbors

Their "first impressions" that day were not so hot

On this day in 1620, the "First Encounter" of the Pilgrims and Indians occurred at a locale in Eastham known since as First Encounter Beach.

The Pilgrims had arrived on the Cape a month earlier and anchored in the harbor at present-day Provincetown while a scouting party explored the coast of what is now called Cape Cod Bay in a small boat called a shallop.

As Virginia Mucciaccio describes it in her Trees in the woods, "Picture the men shoving off each morning in the shallop (similar to a rowboat which they carried on the voyage in pieces), rowing to shore and stepping out into the frigid water to haul the shallop onto the sand. Then they explored or worked each day in the bitter cold of December, shoved the shallop back into the seawater, hopping in and rowing back to the Mayflower..."

The hostile exchange that took place that day in Eastham was described in "A Relation of Journal of the Proceedings of the Plantation settled at Plymouth in New England," also known as "Mourt's Relation," written by William Bradford and Edward Winslow and published in London in 1622 -

The Indians:
There was a lusty man and no whit less valiant, who was thought to be their captain, stood behind a tree within half a musket shot of us, and there let his arrows fly at us.

He was seen to shoot three arrows, which were all avoided, for he at whom the first arrow was aimed, saw it, and stooped down and it flew over him; the rest were avoided also.


He stood three shots of a musket. At length one took, as he said, full aim at him, and after which he gave extraordinary cry and away they all went. We followed them about a quarter of a mile, but we left six to keep our shallop, for we were careful about our business. Then we shouted all together two several times, and shot off a couple of muskets and so returned; this we did that they might see we were not afraid of them nor discouraged.

Thus it pleased God to vanquish our enemies and give us deliverance. By their noise we could not guess that they were less than thirty or forty, though some thought that they were many more. Yet in the dark of the morning we could not so well discern them among the trees, as they could see us by our fireside. We took up eighteen of their arrows which we have sent to England by Master Jones, some whereof were headed with brass, others with harts' horn, and others with eagles' claws.

Many more no doubt were shot, for these we found were almost covered with leaves; yet, by the especial providence of God, none of them either hit or hurt us though many came close by us and on every side of us, and some coats which hung up in our barricade were shot through and through.

So after we had given God thanks for our deliverance, we took our shallop and went on our journey, and called this place, The First Encounter.

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

Due to lack of fresh water in Provincetown and fear of further hostilities, the Pilgrims departed Provincetown within a few weeks to settle across Cape Cod Bay in what became known as Plimoth Plantation in present-day Plymouth.

The woodcut is through the courtesy of the Gudenberg Project.

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