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History of Sconticut Neck

History of Sconticut Neck
by Mabel L. Potter, 1945

The Millicent Library, Fairhaven, MA

When I first began some researches, a New Bedford friend said, “There isn’t much, is there?” there is always history where people have lived, not necessarily of national import, but still illustrative of numberless communities which are comparable in development.

The name Sconticut is obviously Indian and was applied to the region before Dartmouth was ordered so called in 1664. As to the meaning, one guess is as good as another. The spelling as pronounced seemed simple but variations are almost legion—none improves on the original.

Sconticut is the longest peninsula making into Buzzard’s Bay – 4½ miles by road from Mattapoisett Route 6—but really the true Neck begins at the Narrows a mile below this—where high tides all but cut off the lower part, and hurricanes rush across, usually stranding a house in the middle of the road. The highest elevation is just over 40 feet, and the lowest scarcely above sea level. On the west is the Acushnet, or lower New Bedford harbor, bordered by Clark’s Point and the Dartmouth and the Dartmouth shores with an outlook towards Cuttyhunk and the open sea. Easterly extending to the Mattapoisett line is Nasketucket Bay and further across, the Falmouths and Woods Hole and near the Point 700 acres of the easterly West Island always closely associated with Sconticut. From the Point southerly lies the range of Elizabeth Islands, enclosing Buzzard’s Bay—Naushon not more that twenty (20) miles away, so that deer have been known to swim across to the mainland.

Today the view is enhanced by the line of New Bedford lights the length of Clark’s Point, besides which even the flash of Butler’s Flat pales, and so dim as scarcely to be seen are the Dumpling and Hen & Chickens.

A thrill always came with the three whites and a red of Gay head, seen at selected points through Quick’s Hole—alas, no more; but from the east shore Tarpoline Cove still flashes on the Vineyard Sound side of Naushon.

As in the town itself, there is an underlying granite ledge, outcropping here and there, notably at the Point, as extensive but far less bold and picturesque than at Fort Phoenix.

Geologically this region was the southern limit of Arctic glaciers which ploughed our the harbors and brought a mass of boulders with which much of land was over laid—still seen in uncharted pastures and the wealth of stone walls. Two of the largest rocks called the Devils and the Lean-to may be mentioned. On the first could be seen or imagined the print to a human foot, but unmistakable are the imprints of several cloven hoofs. The second tradition says, served as a support for a lean-to where was born the first white child, Lemuel Delano.

Variously, the upland extends to the beach but in the main there is a fringe of salt marshes protected by barrier beaches with slight upland. Like all the new England coast, a gradual erosion is taking place seriously accelerated by recent hurricanes of 1938, 1944 and 1954. There are numerous springs, several fresh water ponds, one larger was formerly found by the migrating wood ducks.

According to the first records, the upland was heavily wooded even the bog before the 1938 hurricane and today there are still white oaks, wild cherry and tupelo of unusual size—and cedars as gnarled and picturesque as the reported cedars of Lebanon. Botanically it is not as rich as more inland regions, yet there is still a wealth of huckleberry, beach plum, wild grape, clethra and white azalea, bayberry and inkberry, holly and sassafras and cranberry formerly. For more rare flowers, there have been fringed gentians, pitcher plant, purple geradia, rock rose, several orchids columbine and the pink mallow, half an acre of it and until entirely obliterated by a summer development.

But this is just the setting—history in terms of men and events claim present interest.

The first know occupation was by the Indians of the Wampanoag tribe. They came down from winter camps in the Middleboro woods and pond regions to the shores where in addition to hunting were abundant shell fish, ample fishing and long seasons for their staple crops, pumpkins, corn and beans.

Some stayed on Sconticut as friendly Indians and in early 1800′s we find mention of a reservation. The last of the race was one Martha (Martha Simon who died in 1855) a portrait of whom hangs in The Millicent Library — is significant of the race rather than the individual. There were two burying grounds, one most obliterated; the other, on a picturesque knoll with wind-blown gnarled oak and graves marked by unlettered field stone. A New Bedford man, much later, acquired this property, capitalized on the location by naming it Wigwam Beach and building for some of the first rentable beach property hereabouts two-story-boxes as unlike wigwams as could possibly be designed, but named them Hiawatha, Nakomis, Minnehaha, Wenanoh, etc.

As early as 1630 pioneers came out from the Plymouth Colony, establishing themselves in favored spots in Cushenas, Ponogansett and Cocksett. In 1652 those lands were granted by the Colony to William Bradford and thirty -fur others with the provision that the grantees were to satisfy the Indians for the purchase thereof. And it is recorded that a number of commodities were given Massasoit and son, Wamsutta. With this recognition and assignment new settlements were encouraged though John Cook was the only one of these thirty-four to make permanent settlements.

In 1694 a new division was made, apportioning 800 acres to each of the 56 persons, and one Manassah Kempton was assigned 129 additional acres lying in Sconticut at the south-west end of said Neck. This was after a survey by Benjamin Crane (an able surveyor commissioned under Queen Anne) and this was the first mention of the Neck as Sconticut lands. The extent and changes of ownership are difficult to obtain and not overly important for this paper, but the old names, many of the original 800-acres proprietors are of more interest, Delano, Spooner, Anthony, West, Hathaway, Besse, Pope, Crapo, Fuller, Brownell, with Christian names of Manassah, Lot, Elnathan, Zoah, Resolved, Seth and Yet Seth (so named after the father said, “And yet there’s room for one more Seth”), Jethro, Joshua and Ephraim.

There is no record of any buildings in the 17th century until the map under order of Viscount Howe (1776, for sounding s of the bay) which shows cleared lots and buildings thereon. So there must have been clearing of lands building of boundary walls and probably log cabins of the first settlers, but the type of wall indicates a less settled and less prosperous land-holder in the more fertile districts of Dartmouth across the river. But the wide extent of shore full of shellfish, the salt hay, the harbor for early fishing ventures all proved attractive and insured a good living if not a competence.

The first roads were the Indian trails, following the line of least resistance—the first known are from the narrows along the wooded upland adjoining the marshes on the east side. In 1731 a way was laid—about a mile straight down from the Narrows, extended another mile in 1792, always to gates and barns with a right through—and finally in 1850 as now to the Point property. It is doubtful if any money was spent thereon for many years. In winter it was often snow-bound or ice rutted, and with mud in spring, and sand in summer. I have known the time when it took the horse an hour, walking the three miles from Fairhaven centre—and I have myself when “on foot” taken to the boundary wall to avoid getting mired in the mud.

But the roads, poor though they were, stimulated building and the taking up of lands. Perhaps a fairly comprehensive picture may be gained by following several families whose settlements were most potent in the Neck up-building.

The first authentic homestead was built near the Head of the Neck by one Seth Pope who came about 1650 to Sandwich, was warned out for fear he might become a public charge—apparently the town fathers of that day were either overly cautious or lacking in any psychological foresight. Seth Pope became one of the first citizens and at one time the richest man in Dartmouth, a large property owner, which land included several hundred acres of the Upper Neck—and here were built the best stone walls. That he was a man of intelligence and judgment is attested by the fact that he was a justice of the County Court, a representative to the General Court and an officer of the Crown. Pope Beach derives its name from him and very probably Pope’s Island, though I’ve found no record of this. Seth died in 1727 in his 79th year and is buried in the old Acushnet Cemetery at the Head of the River. He had a large family, left a farm to each son and a substantial legacy to each daughter, and we find later members of the family owning various tracts. Yet Seth, born in 1755, bought in 1795 the house which is now considered the oldest standing, a simple Cape Cod type, a central chimney with fire-place and a brick oven. It was built about 1765 and is now known as the Old Dunn house. Here in 1803 was born another Seth who became a Sea Captain, married about 1835 in London, a girl from the Isle of Wight and brought her to the old house where his mother, a widow, was still living. Evidently deciding to retire from the sea, he bought a farm and built the house which my father bought in 1879—a quite ordinary story and a half farmhouse which however lent itself to remodeling into a house of much originality and charm.

To the girl from the Isle of Wight we have been everlastingly grateful for setting the house further back from the road so she could have an “English” lawn. Here two sons were born, but the mother died when the boys were small—they were put into Gould’s Academy on Alden Road and Captain Seth sold to his brother Ephraim and went to California in the Gold Rush, about 1850. He later sent for the boys who became established in Portland, Oregon. The older, Seth Louis, returned in 1910 for a visit—whence came these facts. He died in 1912.

Returning for a moment to Ephraim, he was a bachelor and sister Sarah his spinster housekeeper—one of the “poison-neat” kind. Miss Alice Fish, whom many of you knew, told of her recollections of visiting her as a child, fearful to do anything but sit quietly on a stiff parlor chair, seeing the frying pan taken to the cellar-way to turn the meat, etc. The Pope name was not carried on here, on the Neck or in the town. These two brothers were the last of the early Seth Pope family.

The farm next south of Pope’s was that of Stephen West who married a daughter of John Cook, and claimed 266 acres. Here he built a large two-story house about 1700 which finally fell into decay and was not pulled down until 1895 after which the huge chimney stood as a landmark for some years. Also with this tract was included the east lying island of Mackatan which was them changed to West—but the land below the West farm was not homesteaded until after Crane’s survey.

Thus, Mackatan, or West Island, for 250 years has been almost a part of the Neck. In the first purchase of Dartmouth the town line was drawn across the island, leaving the west half in Dartmouth, the east in the lands of Sippican. Doubtless this division presented problems and by act of the General Court in 1671 the entire island was included in Dartmouth and granted to John Cook. In the Plymouth records is the deed signed, “P, the mark of Philip, the Sachem,” conveying in consideration of ten pounds sterling (about $50.00) “a parcel of upland and meadow lying and being in an island called Mackatan, with liberty to make yards upon for pasturing of cattle, and also for free range of cattle in winter, but to take them away about planting time.” One infers the colonists clung to the idea of the softer English climate—a free range in winter would have meant neither food nor water to say nothing of freezing to death! From 1780 on, however, the seasons were reversed, young cattle were pastured in summer and the swimming across in spring and fall was a picturesque affair.

The final clause of the above deed reads, “If any Indian finds a whale within the above-mentioned premises, the said John Cook and Philip or their assigns are to divide it equally.”

To continue the story of this farm on the upper Neck—how authentic I know not—one Mrs. Baker, a New Bedford widow, fell in love with a priest, one of the officials of the Boston Catholic College, and as some satisfaction to her soul proposed to buy the West farm for the College. This the priest accepted, and for many years, this tract which then included Pope Beach, was known as the Catholic Place. A large dormitory was built on the beach (Pavilion now) and occupied every summer in the middle and the late 1800′s by groups of student priests. I well remember them tramping the roads and playing ball, never molesting anyone. The place was finally sold with the present small lot development, which rather tends to improve with the years.

The Delanos—though none are on the Neck at present—are the only early family who have maintained themselves and become able, influential citizens. Later than the first apportionment of shares, Philip De La Noye came to Plymouth and his son, Jonathan, was one of the 1694, 800-acre proprietors.

He married Mary Warren, had two daughters and six sons: Nathaniel, Jabes, Jonathan, Nathan, Jethro and Joshua. Jethro in 7127 married Elizabeth Pope and their child, Lemuel or Reuben (accounts vary) was the first white born in the lean-to as above mentioned. Reuben’s daughter married a Besse, lived on West Island, and thus began the Besse association of Lot, Seth and John with West Island and the Point farm for 150 years.

The three last-mentioned Delano brothers, Nathan, Jethro, and Joshua, settled variously on the Neck. The Headley house, a Cape Cod type, is the only one existing and is beautifully situated at the “head of Little Bay” and is probably the second oldest on the neck today. Joshua evidently prospered as in 1742 he bought the Point farm of William Kempton, son of Manassah, and built a large house similar to the West one, long since fallen into decay. He divided his property by will into four farms, the north-east section to son Jethro, which included Shipyard Hill where was built more than one sloop. The south-east section went to son Joshua who with his wife and unmarried daughter is buried in the neglected walled plot just west of the road on the Wilbur property. Joshua’s grandson, Seth, living on the new Boston road in the ’80′s, used to tell of visiting there as a boy, and walking the six miles to town fro snuff for the aforementioned daughter. Salt works were built here and a house for salting fish, but all were carried away by the gale of 1815—a hurricane today.

A later seafaring Jabes built about 1850 the dignified stone house on Washington Street, near town—and devoted the years of his retirement to log books of local history—probably more detailed and authentic than anything existing—but by an unfortunate accident, none of the ten were destroyed.

The Delanos were a family of strong individuality and force of character sometimes to queerness, of artistic talent, executive ability and intellectual acumen in various directions, and more of personal charm variously distributed than the run of English colonists—perhaps a persistent French inheritance. To even mention the later descendants is beyond the scope of this paper—but the many families in Fairhaven and New Bedford trace back to Philip De La Noes and his six grandsons who had such a large part in settling the Neck. And one cannot but mention Frederick A. Delano, long chairman of the Washington Planning Board; Warren Delano Robbins, Ambassador to Canada; and not the least in the public eye, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

To return for a moment to the Delano settlement: Nathan bought of his brother a mid-Neck farm on both sides of the road, established his house on the west side, built salt works, and one of the best wells of the vicinity—long a land-mark on the road. He and his son sold about 1800 to Noah Deane of Norton, the grand-father of Daniel W. Deane. His wife, Hannah Goodwin—1773-1866—is described as a “lady,” educated at Wheaton Seminary, of elegant appearance and cultivated taste. She was certainly a woman of character and personality who retained her mental powers to age of 93. Many tales of her have come down through her grandson who evidently inherited much from her and whose early influence was more potent than that of his parents.

Noah and Hannah built on the existing Delano house a dignified two-story front one room deep with end chimneys. And this house with the kitchen a good deal of a “hole,” with a well on the south, an open sink drain on the north and outbuildings but little removed, served three generations until the house burned in 1907. D. W. Deane, the last of the family, a successful farmer rose from a meagre district school education to some prominence in the region and served as town selectman for a number of years. He married the daughter of an Episcopal rector, and their home stands out as the only local one I knew as a child where there were books and pictures. I suppose better furniture but only the general impression remains of more beauty and culture.

The one incident in which Sconticut figures in local history is the British raid of 1778 and is almost too well-know to dwell upon—but in brief—in September of that year the English entered the bay to destroy shipping and ship yards chiefly—landed at Clark’s Cove, divided, one part to burn the business section of New Bedford, the other made for Head of Rover coming down Alden Road, burning wherever they were attacked and doing some foraging—repulsed from Fairhaven Village, continued down the Sconticut Road—slept overnight or over Sunday amid some salt hay stacks near the narrows and reembarked further down on the west side near the Deane-Sylvia road, were the ship came to pick them up.

The news of such an invasion naturally spread and caused consternation. Families left their homes, hiding or carrying with them whatever possible—near the head of the road, John Alden was overtaken with an ox load of goods and chattels. He and his wife made their escape, but the oxen were forfeited, slaughtered and roasted at the their Sunday foray. They stopped at the West house bayoneting a pig—big or little!—no other damage—most of the cattle had been driven off into the woods.

Continued here
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Created by Carolyn Longworth, Library Director
June 18, 1996