History of Chatham Massachusetts

Native American tribes who lived in the area before European colonization include the Nauset, specifically the Monomoy or Monomoy people. “Manamyik” was a Nauset Village located near present Chatham.  Explorer Samuel de Champlain landed here in 1606.


50 years later in 1656 when the first English settler ran his cart down the ancient Indian pathway with an intention on living there. Englishman William Nickerson struck a deal for 4 square miles of land with the Monomoyik sachem, Mattaquson. He paid a shallop, ten coats, six kettles, twelve axes, twelve hoes, twelve knives, forty shillings in wampum, a hat and twelve shillings in coins. The transaction took place but without the approval of Plymouth County officials and was disputed for 16 years until paying an additional 90 pounds to the court.

Most of the early settlers were farmers cultivating crops a s corn, rye, wheat, tobacco. Corn was introduced by the Monomick natives was the principal crop.  Godfrey Mill built in 1797, ground corn through 1929. If you stand at the head of Chase Park you can still see one of the last visible reminders of how important farming was to the first people of Chatham.

English settlers first settled in Chatham in 1665 and the town was incorporated in 1712, naming it after Chatham, Kent, England.  Located on the elbow of Cape Cod the community became a shipping, fishing and whaling center.  Chatham’s early prosperity would leave it with a considerable number of 18th Century buildings whose charm helped develop it into a popular summer resort area.

By the 1700’s, Chatham’s population grew. Corn was no longer a sustainable currency. Chatham along with Harwich and Barnstable dominated the Cape’s fishing industry with Cod, Mackerel and Halibut from the Grand Banks. Just as townspeople were throwing themselves into the fishing industry the Revolutionary War erupted. With Chatham’s position as being the easternmost land in the United States made her waters particular appetizing for the British raids and harassment. The economy of Chatham came to a virtual standstill.

Monomoy Island

 Chatham is home to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge located on Monomoy Island. Established in 1944 to provide habitat for migratory birds. Today, there are over 285 spices of birds. Taken over by the US Government just before World War II.  The island was home to the Monomoy Island Gunery Range. This 8 mile split of sand extends southwest from Chatham’s mainland  and is perhaps one of the best reasons to visit the elbow of Cape Cod. In addition to the 2 islands known as North and South Monomoy. A 40 acre unit on Morris Island is part of the 40 acre refuge. The total area of the refuge is 7604 acres.

Despite the remoteness of Monomoy it was home to its own community as early as 1710. A tavern for sailors was opened up in the location of today’s Hospital Pond, known as Wreck  Cove.  During the 1800’s a sizable fishing settlement grew in what was known as Powder Hall.  About 200 residents lived on the island and it house Public School #13 which boasted about 16 students.  Cod and Mackerel were dried and shipped to Boston and New York and Lobsters were plentiful and sold to the mainlander’s for about  2 cents a piece. The village was abandoned after its harbor was washed away by the hurricane of 1860

Chatham Twin Lighthouse’s Established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1808 to protect the ships circling the Cape.  It originally consisted of two lights. The pair were moved back and rebuilt in 1877.  The second was moved to Eastham to become Nauset Light in 1923. Today the innkeepers house is home to a Coast Guard Station.

Boat Tours For boating activities check out Beachcomber a 1 1/2 hour Seal tour along beautiful Chatham Harbor between North Beach and Chatham Light and the break. They also feature cruises for family get-together, weddings, events and group charters.  Tours start in July. Outermost Harbor Marine features water taxis and visits to pristine barrier beaches and island wonders.  The Monomoy Island Ferry aboard the Rip Ryder is the closest boat to seals since 1989. They feature daily trips for seal cruises, walking tours, fishing and birding.

Chatham Railroad

 On November 22, 1887, the railroad made its  first run. Prior to the railroads travel was only possible to the Cape by boat, cart or stagecoach. With comfortable travel now available the richest families in Boston and New York started vacationing and began purchasing their own Summer homes.  In 1937, the coming of bus lines closed the railroad. The main station stood abandoned until 1951 when it was donated to the town to be maintained as a public museum. The Museum is opened from June 15 – September 18th.