Mayflower 400

Commemorating and celebrating the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower

On September 6th of 1620, one-hundred men, women and children seeking religious freedoms set sail from England to the New World aboard the Mayflower. Two perilous months at sea and on the morning of

November 9th, the ship landed in Provincetown harbor.


While their intended target was Northern Virginia, the rough waters of the Atlantic, the overcrowded ship, and lack of resources meant they were running out of options. The Pilgrims chose to stay in the Cape Cod bay and begin settlement. In December of 1620, the Pilgrims would choose Plymouth Harbor as their new home. 

As you may know, the Snow's family are direct descendants of Stephen Hopkins, whose family arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. In this special and commemorative year, we thought it was important to share more information about the Snow's family connection to the Mayflower and their Orleans roots. 

The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882 (Pilgrim Hall Museum)

press to zoom

1620 Plymouth Rock, Plymouth.

press to zoom

press to zoom

The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882 (Pilgrim Hall Museum)

press to zoom

Strictly speaking, all of the nearly 1000 persons residing in Orleans at the time of incorporating act were among the first residents of Orleans. But did they have a predecessor? The historical record indicates that Governor Prence and others of the first seven families established their
homesteads within the boundaries of what remained Eastham. Only Nicholas Snow, who established his homestead at Namskaket, was on the Orleans side of the division line of 1797.


Nicholas Snow arrived in Plymouth on the Ann in 1623, and married Constance Hopkins, daughter of Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins. After relocating to Nauset/Eastham, he held the positions of surveyor, deputy, tax collector, constable, and selectman while there. He died in 1676, Constance in 1677, well before the separation, but can we claim them as our honorary first citizens? The grave of Constance Hopkins can be seen in the Cove Burial Ground in Eastham. The burial location of Nicholas is not known.

Constance Hopkins & Nicholas Snow

Orleans first residents?





Today we will focus on the time when Plymouth seriously considered moving the town to Nauset. The original decision of the Mayflower leaders to settle at Plymouth was not so much a choice but a last ditch option. It was the middle of the winter of 1620; they had survived a rough trans-Atlantic voyage, and had still been living aboard ship for five weeks in what became Provincetown Harbor. At the suggestion of the ship’s pilot, Robert Coppin, they headed for “Thievish Harbor”, (may be modern day Gloucester), a place Coppin was aware of from a previous voyage. Instead, they came upon Plymouth Harbor, decided to settle there, and, as the saying goes, “the rest is history”.


What the legends of the Mayflower story often omit is that the Pilgrims were never really happy with Plymouth. The land was sandy and rocky, and almost from the beginning, the colonists were concerned about the suitability of the location for the long term sustainability of the town. Much to the consternation of William Bradford, the demand for land caused some colonists to leave Plymouth and form new towns, Duxbury being the first, with six more soon to follow. By 1643, however, Plymouth was still the largest town in the colony with 147 men aged 16-60.


In 1637, a proposal to move both Plymouth and Duxbury and combine them into a single town in what was considered a better location failed. A more serious effort was made seven years later in 1644, and this attempt was to have a most consequential effect on the land at the elbow of the Cape. Discontent with the land at Plymouth had continued, with Bradford writing of “the straightness and barrenness of the land” and commenting on the desire of many colonists to find a better location. Meetings were held, and attention was given to Nauset, land they had become familiar with during their explorations while still harbored at Provincetown. A committee of seven freemen, led by Thomas Prence, was sent to evaluate the land, and it was determined that Nauset was too small and remote to accommodate the entire population of Plymouth. However, it was determined to establish a settlement there, and seven freemen and their families, a total of 49 persons, set out to form the new settlement. In the list of these seven families, one sees familiar names, families that have remained prominent in Cape History: Thomas Prence, Deacon John Doane, Edward Bangs, Richard Higgins, Nicholas Snow, John Smalley, and Josias Cook.


The records of the Colony read: “The Court doth grant unto the church of New Plymouth, or those that go to dwell at Nossett, all that tract of land lying between sea to sea, from the Purchasers bounds at Naumskechett to the Herring Brook at Billingsgate, with said Herring Brook and all the meadows and islands within the said tract”


One of the first orders of business for the inhabitants of Nauset was to establish their church, and a meetinghouse was built on the north (Eastham) side of Town Cove.  The Federated Church on Main St. in Orleans is a direct descendent of this humble 1644 beginning, and timbers and other materials from this first meetinghouse were used in the construction of a house on Canal Road. This house still stands today, and has been designated “Orleans’ Oldest House”.


Pursuant to the agreement made with George, Sachem of the Nauset tribe from whom part of the Nauset land was purchased, a strip of land by the harbor at the east side of the land was reserved for the Nausets to grow corn. This arrangement continued for decades, and the land today is called Nauset Heights.


The first Plymouth colonists to settle on land that became Orleans were Nicholas and Constance Hopkins Snow, being granted the southernmost tract in the division of land among the first Nauset settlers. Nicholas arrived at Plymouth on the Anne in November of 1623, and Constance arrived on the Mayflower as a young girl in 1620 and was the daughter of Stephen and Constanta Hopkins. They produced twelve children, starting the Snow legacy on Cape Cod that continues today. The gravestone of Constance can be found in the Cove Burying Ground on Rt. 6 in Eastham. Also to be found there are the gravestones of two other Mayflower passengers that settled in Nauset; Constance’s brother Giles Hopkins, and Joseph Rogers. 


Nauset continued as a settlement until 1646, when the General Court of Plymouth incorporated it as a town. The name of the town was changed to Eastham in 1661. Orleans separated from Eastham in 1797, becoming the independent town we know today.


If someone tells you that Orleans’ history began in 1797, don’t believe them.

Ron Petersen, Orleans Historical Commission

Snow's Orleans Roots


The fact that our town has a French name may seem like an oddity today, as most of the other Cape Cod towns are named after counterparts in England. However, it’s not so surprising given
the context of the times that the name Orleans was chosen.

In 1797, pro-French sentiment was very strong in the new United States both in gratitude for French assistance during the Revolutionary War, and in admiration for the pro-liberty struggles that were occurring in France at the time. Eastham resident and Revolutionary War patriot
Isaac Snow had been captured twice by the British during the War and was sent to England where he was confined to a prison ship. He managed to escape, and made his way to France, where, while waiting to return to America, likely became aware of the highly popular Louis
Philippe Joseph, duc d’Orleans. (Duke of Orleans).


At the time, Orleans was a 30 year old naval officer, cousin of the King, and one of the wealthiest men in France. He was then and remained
a strong proponent for the cause of liberty. It is said that it was Isaac Snow’s suggestion that prompted the local committee and the State Legislature to name the newly incorporated town in honor of the Duke of Orleans.

Ron Peterson, Orleans Historical Commission

How did Orleans get it's name?

plymouth rock.jpg

In the collective minds of many, the 1620 story of the Mayflower and the founding of Plymouth Colony has become a haze of legend and lore. Some of the substance of the legend is true, some is true as far as it goes, some is questionable at best, and some is historically


As this column continues through the Plymouth 400 commemoration, we will attempt to separate the fact from the lore and present an historically accurate picture of what happened before, during, and after the momentous year of 1620. Fear not, this will not be an effort to debunk the story. On the contrary, the historical account of the 1620 story is every bit as compelling and inspiring as the legend.

One recurring theme in the legend is that the Mayflower Passengers were religious dissidents seeking the freedom to practice their faith. This has some truth as far as it goes, but there is much, much more to the story.


Of the one hundred and two passengers on the Mayflower, about one-half were known as Separatists. These were Protestants who had become so dissatisfied with the Church of England that they chose to leave the Church completely, that is “separate” from it. The other one-half of the passengers were individuals and families that the financial backers of the enterprise placed on the voyage in the hopes of helping to insure the economic viability of the colony. Thus we start to see a significant economic purpose for the voyage.


These Separatists often get conflated with the Puritans, when there is actually a significant difference. The Puritans were also dissatisfied with the Church of England, but their approach was to stick with it and try to “purify” the Church from within. These Puritans would emigrate
to New England beginning in the 1630’s in large numbers, establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a completely separate entity from Plymouth Colony. The two colonies continued to operate as separate entities until 1691, when they were combined by the English government as the Province of Massachusetts.


The Separatists, while in England, were subject to harassment, persecution, imprisonment, and worse, and did indeed seek freedom to practice their faith as they saw fit. However, they had found that freedom thirteen years prior to 1620 when they left England for Holland in 1607. They settled in the city of Leiden, where they found the Dutch government and society very tolerant and welcoming of different religious views. So why did they leave?


William Bradford, a Mayflower passenger, future governor, and author of Of Plymouth Plantation gives four reasons why the Separatists wanted to leave Leiden. The first was “the hardness of the place”, poor conditions, endless work, and a harsh diet. Second was a gradual weakening of morale among his people. Dutch society relegated newcomers to the lower rungs of the economic structure, and employment was mainly found in the linen industry. Workers
here are exposed to flax dust, now known to cause lung disorders. The third reason Bradford listed was the burden placed on the children, who had to work from an early age and were subject to the temptations of the open Dutch society. He was concerned that children might take to crime, join the military, or ship out on Dutch vessels bound for the East Indies. In his fourth reason, Bradford spoke of religion, and expressed the hope of spreading the Gospel to
the new world. Nowhere does he mention a quest for religious freedom. Edward Winslow added a few reasons of his own. He cited fear of losing their English identity, and lack of education for the as Leiden had no English grammar schools.


While their religion was of utmost importance in the lives of the Pilgrims, one can conclude that the reasons for the Mayflower voyage were much broader than religion, and reflect economic and social considerations as well. The economy of Europe had been shrinking, and there was a continent-wide movement towards establishing economically viable colonies. Even though the Separatists had fled England for religious reasons in 1607, they returned to board the Mayflower, and the voyage had the full approval of the English government. Considering the full picture puts the momentous 1620 events in context with global circumstances.

Ron Peterson, Orleans Historical Commission

Plymouth Colony 1620: Legends, Lore, & Facts


Today’s column will present an important, often overlooked, and sometimes surprising “backstory” to the Mayflower story and the establishment of Plymouth Colony. We will explore the unsung role of Captain John Smith in the English colonization of New England, and
Plymouth Colony in particular. If the name rings a bell, it should- yes, it was that John Smith of the Pocahontas legend. Just how much of that legend is true is a subject of debate among historians, but his importance in the English settlement of America is not debated.

Smith is closely associated with the Jamestown Colony. After an impressive military career in Europe and the Middle East, Smith embarked on the first voyage to Jamestown, landing in 1607. He became one of the colony’s leaders, and conducted an important exploration and mapping of Chesapeake Bay. After being severely injured in a gunpowder explosion, he returned to England for treatment, never to return to Virginia.


In the following years, Smith became an enthusiastic advocate for the English colonization of America. He got another chance to participate actively when a group of London merchants agreed to fund a fishing, trading, and exploratory expedition to the northeast coast of America, then called Northern Virginia. Smith was given command of the mission, and set out in 1614 with two whaling ships and two subordinate commanders, Captain Michael Cooper and Captain Thomas Hunt. Also on board was a Patuxet tribesman named Squanto, who Smith returned to his homeland near Plymouth. (Much more on Squanto in a future column).


While the two ships kept busy fishing off the coast of Maine, Smith took a crew of eight in a small boat to explore the northeastern coast of America from Maine to as far south as Cape Cod. What resulted was the most accurate map and description of the area produced to date. On his map, which was published in 1616, Cape Cod was called Cape James, an apparent sop to the English monarch. Fortunately, this name did not gain traction, and Bartholomew Gosnold’s original name of Cape Cod endured. Smith was also the first to call the region “New England”, and he named the area where the Pilgrims settled “Plimouth” (The Mayflower settlers did not name Plymouth after the English port from which the Mayflower ultimately departed, the name already existed, courtesy of Captain Smith.)


Upon his return to England, Smith published his map and a new book that he called A Description of New England. This work provided a valuable inventory of the economic resources of the region and served as an important catalyst too future English expansion. Far larger than its title, Smith’s book outlined his vision for the New World. He specifically identified the part of the region that became Massachusetts as having all the elements needed for building and
sustaining a colony. He identified one specific spot that he claimed “had an excellent good harbor, good land, and no want of anything but industrious people”. This is the very spot where the Mayflower Pilgrims established Plymouth Colony. They became the “industrious people” in Smith’s equation. John Smith was not only an explorer and pioneer of this new land, but also an ardent, enthusiastic, and effective promoter.


Smith longed to return to New England and to remain an active participant in the epic events that were evolving. It almost happened. In 1619 the London Company granted the Pilgrim Separatists land in America and the Mayflower voyage was being organized. Its leaders knew that they would need someone with military experience to join the expedition, and John Smith presented himself. Smith had outstanding credentials for the job, military experience, navigation skills, familiarity with the land, and from Jamestown, experience in dealing with the native peoples.


However, after careful consideration he was passed over in favor of Myles Standish. Historians speculate that the reason for the rejection of Smith was his outsized, truculent personality, that he would likely attempt to be too dominant for the Pilgrim’s low-key approach. The Mayflower did not sail without Smith’s knowledge as they had purchased his books and map. In typical fashion, Smith reflected on his rejection: “My books and maps were much better cheape to teach them than myself”. He also wrote that the Pilgrim’s “pride and contempt of authority would not allow them to be guided by a commanding person.”

While a John Smith as a Mayflower passenger was not to be, we should recall the contributions that he made in the entire movement westward by English migrants. His explorations, his map, and his writings were a guiding hand in this movement, and in the Plymouth settlement in
particular. However, not everything about the John Smith story is positive. The actions of one of his subordinates, the aforementioned Thomas Hunt, were to have disastrous consequences on the relationship between the migrants and the native people for years to come. 

Ron Peterson, Orleans Historical Commission

The Unheralded Role of Captain John Smith

samoset pilgrims.jpg

Our last column presented the unheralded role of John Smith in the Plymouth Colony story. His 1614 exploration of the American northeast coast (which he named New England), his writings, and his detailed map (which was carried on the Mayflower), were very influential in the English settlement of this area. However, the 1614 Smith exploration had a dark side, one that had lasting impact on relations between the Native Americans and the Plymouth settlers. This impact was acutely felt right here in Nauset, at the elbow of Cape Cod.


At the conclusion of his exploration in 1614, Smith returned to England leaving Captain Thomas Hunt, one of his subordinate commanders, with one of the expedition’s ships. Hunt’s instructions were to continue fishing and trading before returning. Hunt’s mission took a dark and ominous turn when he decided to engage in the slave trading business as a means of enhancing his personal profit from the voyage. He captured twenty-seven Native Americans by luring them on board his ship under pretext of “trucking”, as trade was often called in those days. Once on board, the unsuspecting native was subdued and confined below decks until the cargo was complete. Twenty of these natives were taken from Patuxet (which became Plymouth) and seven were taken from right here on the elbow of the Cape, the land that was later called Nauset. Before returning to England, Hunt stopped in Spain to sell these kidnapped Native Americans into slavery.


Smith was furious upon learning of Hunt’s misdeeds. He wrote:


"Notwithstanding upon my departure, he betrayed twenty-seven of these poor innocent souls, which he sold in Spain for slaves, to move their hate against our Nation, as well as to cause my proceedings to be so much the more difficult".


Similarly, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, a backer of the expedition and proponent of English settlements in America excoriated Hunt, calling him “a worthless fellow of our Nation.”


While this was not the first or the only time that European captains had kidnapped Native Americans, this incident had a profound and direct effect on the land that became known as Nauset. The pain inflicted on the Nauset Tribe was lasting and persistent. When the question arises as to why the Nausets reacted to the Mayflower landing in Provincetown Harbor with the attack that has become known as “The First Encounter”, one must seriously consider the impact of Hunt’s treachery.


The Pilgrims of Plymouth got their first indication of this on March 16, 1621 when an Indian named Samoset walked boldly into Plymouth and greeted them in English. Samoset had been a sachem in Maine and had learned the language from English seamen that traded at Monhegan, near present day Boothbay Harbor. He provided much valuable information to the Pilgrims about the land they were settling, the local tribes, and some of the history. Included was information about the Nauset Tribe that inhabited Cape Cod. Edward Winslow provided a first-hand account of this meeting in his work Mourt’s Relation:


"The Nausets are as near southeast of them, and are a hundred strong, and those were of whom our people had encountered as we before related. They are much incensed and provoked against the English …….by reason of one Hunt, a master of a ship, who deceived the people, and got them under color of trucking with them, twenty out of this very place where we inhabit, and seven men from Nauset, and carried them away and sold them for slaves, like a wretched man that cares not what mischief he doth for his profit".


A few months later, in July of 1621, the Pilgrims got further confirmation. A party of ten men set out to Nauset to recover a young boy that had wandered off, and it was learned he was with the Indians there. During this journey, they encountered an old Nauset woman. Once again, Edward Winslow provides a first-hand account:


“…… there was an old woman, whom we judged to be no less than an hundred years old, which came to see us because she never saw English, yet could not behold us without breaking forth into great passion, weeping and crying excessively. We demanding the reason of it, they told us she had three sons, who when Master Hunt was in these parts went aboard the ship to trade with him, and carried them as captives into Spain by which means she was deprived of the comfort of her children in her old age. We told them that we were sorry that any Englishman should give them that offense, that Hunt was a bad man, and that all of the English that heard of it condemned him, but for as us, we would not offer any such injury though it would gain us all the skins in the country.”


While Hunt’s vile actions were not the first or the only time that European ship captains kidnapped Native Americans, this incident had a profound, direct, lasting, and documented effect on the pre-1620 inhabitants of Nauset. When the question arises as to why the Nauset Tribe reacted to the arrival of the Mayflower with the assault that has become known as “The First Encounter”, one must seriously consider, among other things, the impact of Hunt’s treachery.

Fortunately, our story has a better ending. The aforementioned visit by Samoset in Plymouth in March 1621 led to a meeting between the great Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and Governor John Carver where a lasting peace agreement was made. Similarly, the July 1621 mission to Nauset resulted in a similarly lasting peace agreement with Aspinet, the sachem of the Nauset Tribe.


Plymouth 400 is an excellent opportunity to probe deeper into the Mayflower story and to develop a more balanced understanding of the events of the era that has so influenced our history.

Ron Peterson, Orleans Historical Commission

The Nefarious Deeds of Captain Thomas Hunt

Photo credit above:

Special thanks to Ron Peterson of the Orleans Historical Commission for providing his time, information, and passion for preserving historical data.