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  • Writer's pictureDon Wilding

First '400' look at First Encounter

"The First Encounter" (Eastham Historical Society)

This Saturday marks the 398th anniversary of the “First Encounter” — that is, the first meeting between the settlers from the English ship, the Mayflower, and warriors from the Nauset tribe, on the bayside shore of what is now Eastham.

First Encounter Beach will be the site of the Eastham 400 Commemoration Committee unveiling its plans for the quadricentennial event in 2020. The press conference will be at the First Encounter monument on Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. In the event of bad weather, the event will be held at the Eastham Historical Society’s 1869 Schoolhouse Museum.

According to Jim Russo of the Eastham Chamber of Commerce, the conference will feature information “about Eastham 400 cultural, religious, civic, and educational programs, exhibits, and events.”

Russo will be present, along with Debra DeJonker-Berry of the Eastham Public Library, Tom Ryan of the Cape Cod Council of Churches, Sue Moynihan of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Steve Peters of the Wampanoag Nation, Patty Donohoe and Gloria Schropfer of the Eastham Historical Society, and Edith Bridges of the Mass. Society of Mayflower Descendants.

The Mayflower, bound for Virginia, was forced to anchor in what is now Provincetown Harbor, and the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact on Nov. 11, 1620. They didn’t stay on the Outer Cape for long, opting to settle across the bay in an area they would name Plymouth.

Before leaving the Cape, the Pilgrims sent a group of explorers south into Nauset territory, resulting in a brief skirmish with Nauset Indians on Dec. 8, 1620, that would forever be remembered as the “First Encounter.”

Six years earlier, several Nausets were among those captured by English settlers, something Aspinet and the local tribe hadn’t forgotten.

As William Bradford wrote: “The cries of ye Indeans was dreadful. Their notes was after this manner ... ‘Wooach! Wooach! Ha! Ha! Wooach!” According to W. Sears Nickerson, the attack happened “on the point of land near the landing place on the north side of the mouth of the Boat Meadow Creek.” Neither side suffered casualties.

The plaque at First Encounter reads: “Near this site the Nauset Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation, seeking to protect themselves and their culture, had their First Encounter 8 December 1620 with Myles Standish, John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, John Tilley, Edward Tilley, John Howland, Richard Warren, Stephen Hopkins, Edward Dotey, John Allerton, Thomas English, Master Mate Clark, Master Gunner Copin and three sailors of the Mayflower Company.”

In 1643, arrangements were made for the “Nauset Purchase,” and the following year, 49 people from Plymouth, unhappy with their lives there, settled in the area, then referred to as Nauset, before the name was changed to Eastham in 1651.

For more information on Saturday’s event, email Jim Russo at

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Read more about Eastham’s early settlers in Don’s book, A Brief History of Eastham: On the Outer Beach of Cape Cod, from The History Press.

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