HARWICH – Hundreds of members and supporters of the Harwich Conservation Trust turned out Monday night to delve into the 400-year history of the Pleasant Bay area as seen through records and artifacts uncovered at the 49-acre Kendrick farm. The effort is an ambitious five-year undertaking to merge archeological and historical research and uncover a generation-by-generation history not only of one family, but of the whole region.
Professor Tim Earle, advisor to the archaeological research project team, and with historian Scott Ridley presented their findings to date at the HCT's annual meeting.
In 2014 HCT acquired the 49-acre Pleasant Bay Woodlands property in East Harwich, located a little more than a thousand feet back from Pleasant Bay. Originally purchased in the 1730s from the grandchildren of the Native American leader Mattasquan, who provided much-needed aid to the Pilgrims, the property was owned and farmed by the Kendrick family for more than 200 years until the 1940s.
Unlike most Cape parcels which have changed hands many times over more than two centuries, the property was held by one family and a trove of original documents has been made available to researchers by Kendrick family members. These historical farm documents and diaries help to tell a story of the transition from thousands of years of native occupation to the farms of European settlers.
"We can piece documents together that trace back to the Monomoyic leader Mattasquan at the time the Pilgrims arrived," Ridley noted. "Not only is this a history of the Kendrick family," he added, "but it is a history of the region."
Seven generations of the Kendrick family would live on the property, and over time moved from shop-keeping to subsistence-oriented farming, focused on livestock, cranberry bogs, and chickens.
As the historical documents are studied, the archaeological research project team is engaged in unearthing a parallel archaeological record. They are focused on "small things forgotten," Earle said. They look for "all the things we don't document" like pottery, nails and pipe stems and then put them into context to reconstruct daily life.
The work proceeds in three stages. First, sites are found by talking to people, walking the land and doing shovel tests. The second step involves recovering and analyzing the artifacts left behind. Finally, extensive analytical work attempts to reconstruct how the items where used. "We look at a broad range of activity and how it changed over time," Earle said.
In addition to European settlers and native Americans, Earle noted that there were also slaves and migrant laborers on Cape Cod, including Cape Verdeans hired for the cranberry harvest. Remnants of their activities are equally available to scientists. "We are looking for how did all these parts of society fit together," Earle stressed.
As the painstaking work proceeds, a trove of artifacts is uncovered. "Everyone is represented who makes any trash," Earle said. "It's a very democratic process."
In the study of the Kendrick farm, important information about the broader context is uncovered as well. "We see the relations between the English settlers and how they adapt to the American Indians. It's a complex society."
How does this work tie into the mission of the Harwich Conservation Trust? Earle noted, "when we talk about landscapes they are all in some degree anthropogenic," he said. "All are man-made in addition to being nature made. It's the relationship between the humans and the land. Preserving nature is a part of preserving history," he added.
In other meeting business, the award for Conservationist of the Year was presented to the Harwich Garden Club for their work initiating the "Backyard Wildlife Habitat" program. The award for Volunteer Group of the Year went to the Chatham-Harwich Newcomers Woodworkers Club for their support of HCT in constructing two trailhead kiosks.
In addition, the group announced a fundraising effort to purchase the last wooded lot next to Coy's Brook Woodlands (see sidebar). For more information go to www.harwichconsdervationtrust.org.