How Harwich Got Its Name Remains A Mystery: Mayflower Connection Could Provide A Clue

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Local History

Welcome to historic Harwich home of the Mayflower. The steeple of St. Nicholas Church is seen in the background. The church was first built in 1177, but the original was demolished in 1821. The present church was built on the same location. PHOTO COURTESY OF HARWICH SOCIETY

HARWICH — There are a lot of connections between Harwich, Mass., and Harwich, Essex, England, including bonding as sister towns with attendant celebrations on both sides of the pond. But the one major connection that remains a mystery is how Cape Cod's Harwich got its name.

But the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage is the perfect opportunity to remember the role that Harwich, England played in that historic event.

The vessel that transported 102 Pilgrims from Plymouth to the deep-water harbor of what is now Provincetown was built in Harwich. The master and one-quarter owner of the Mayflower, Christopher Jones, was born in Harwich in 1570 and grew up on Kings Head Street, just off the harbor. The house will be open to visitors as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage (other events are being planned; visit www.mayflower400uk.org/visit/harwich-essex/ for more information).

The home of Mayflower Master Christopher Jones on Kings Head Street, just of the harbor in Harwich, Essex, England. The house will be open to visitors under the direction of the Harwich Society for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. PHOTO COURTESY OF HARWICH SOCIETY

The home of Mayflower Master Christopher Jones on Kings Head Street, just of the harbor in Harwich, Essex, England. The house will be open to visitors under the direction of the Harwich Society for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. PHOTO COURTESY OF HARWICH SOCIETY

Jones' father, Christopher Jones Sr., was a mariner and a ship owner. The younger Jones built a 240-ton ship, Josain, named after his first wife. The vessel was considered large for that period, and it was used for trading voyages.

Records from 1609 show Jones as the master and part owner of the Mayflower; it is thought he traded the Josain for part ownership in the Mayflower. In the following years he moved to London and the Mayflower was used in coastal trade, including the wine trade, returning up the River Thames with wine from France, Spain and Portugal.

In the summer of 1620 the Mayflower and Master Jones were chartered to take 65 passengers across the Atlantic. Jones was to meet up with a second ship, the Speedwell, bringing Separatists from Holland, and the two ships embarked from Southampton. But bad weather and structural issues with the Speedwell caused the ships to return to Plymouth where some of the Separatists remained while others climbed aboard the Mayflower.

After being battered by gales for 66 days, the Mayflower passengers viewed land—Cape Cod—and turned south, hoping to skirt the coast toward the Hudson Valley, but the vessel ran into a heavy chop and shoals off what is now known as Pollock Rip, south and east of Monomoy Island. The decision was made to turn the vessel around and head north. At the turning point, the ship wasn't far from what would later become the town of Harwich.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony granted a charter to Harwich on Sept. 14, 1694. The charter was granted for land “betwixt the bounds of the town of Yarmouth upon the west and the town of Eastham on the east running from the head of Bound Brook to the head of Namskaket about 10 miles in length and about seven miles in breadth extending from seas to seas.” At the time the area was known as Satucket, but the charter established that it would “henceforth...called Harwich, and shall have and enjoy all such immunities, privileges and powers as generally other towns within this province have and do by law enjoy.”

“Who proposed Harwich, the name of an old maritime town in Essex County, England, lying about 50 miles northeast of London, as a name for the new town which ought to have been called Sautucket, is not known,” wrote Josiah Paine in his book “A History of Harwich, Barnstable County, Massachusetts 1620 -1800.”

“The petitioners in their petition to the Provincial Legislature suggested no name for consideration. It is probable, however, that some person of influence in an official position, who, if he had not been a native of the old English seaport, had some high regard for the place, gave the name of the new town,” Paine wrote.

A pamphlet put out by Harwich's 275th Anniversary Committee in 1969, “Harwich, Massachusetts 1694-1969” came to the same conclusion. “In 1803, after a very bitter struggle, the north precinct and the south precinct separated. The south precinct retained the name of Harwich, probably named for the seaport of Harwich in England, although no records show why or by whom the name was chosen. The north precinct took the name of Brewster after the early leader, William Brewster,” the pamphlet reads.

Leonard T. Weaver, a former mayor of Harwich, England and honorary archivist of the North Sea seaport town, writes in his “Harwich Papers” anthology of material related to the town, “contemporary records and the plan of the town clearly show Harwich to have been a medieval ‘new’ town founded about 1150 AD.”

“Roger Bigod, Lord of the Manor from 1177 to 1220, built a church which is mentioned in his charter to the priory at Earl’s Colne, dated 1196, This is the first reference to ‘Herewyche’,” Weaver writes.

Selectman J. Norman Gledhill, Harwich, England Mayor Patricia Elleby, Selectman Freeman Allison and Selectman Juliana Peterson participate in the flag swapping ceremony in front of Harwich Town Hall in September 1985. Mayor Elleby was here to initiate the sister town initiate the union between the Harwiches. FILE PHOTO

Selectman J. Norman Gledhill, Harwich, England Mayor Patricia Elleby, Selectman Freeman Allison and Selectman Juliana Peterson participate in the flag swapping ceremony in front of Harwich Town Hall in September 1985. Mayor Elleby was here to initiate the sister town initiate the union between the Harwiches. FILE PHOTO

There is speculation the original name of Herewyck meant, “army village,” named after a Danish encampment located there.

Weaver, in the Harwich Papers, displays a chart he describes as “Captain John Smith’s Map of New England.” The chart is said to have been done in 1614 and contained many Indian names for villages along the shorelines. The archivist writes that native names were changed to include Oxford, London, Falmouth, Bristol, Southampton, Hull, Boston, Ipswich, Dartmouth, Sandwich, Shooter Hill, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Norwich, and other English place names.

A notation on the map reads, “The most remarkable parts thus named by the high and mighty Prince Charles of great Britaine.” Weaver says the future Charles I is said to have crossed out the original Indian names and substituted those shown. The south side of Cape Cod is not shown, and thus there are no village names along the shoreline. Could Harwich have been hidden just off the map?

What is clear is the strong bond that has developed between the Harwiches over the years. In 1907, Weaver points out, a flagstone that had been located since 1820 and had formed part of the pavement in front of the Guildhall, the seat of government in the historic town, was presented to Charles M. Robbins, a visitor from America. Robbins took it home, and after having it inscribed, placed it at the entrance to the Exchange Building, built in 1884 in Harwich Center.

The inscription on the flagstone reads, “This flagstone personally obtained from a street in the old borough of Harwich, England was presented as a namesake souvenir to the town of Harwich, Mass in 1907, by Charles M. Robbins of Attleboro, Mass., a native son of this town.” The flagstone is now located in the Brooks Academy Museum.

Weaver was a guest and grand marshal in the first Cranberry Harvest Festival in 1976. He would not be the last mayor to serve in that capacity. Mayor Patricia Elleby was an honored guest and grand marshal at the festival parade in 1985.

A resolution approved in the Harwich annual town meeting that year reads: “Therefore, we the town of Harwich in Barnstable County, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, declare the town of Harwich, Essex, England, shall be known as our Sister Town from this day forward.”

It was agreed that the council across the pond should reply in the same manner. When Mayor Elleby came that fall to participate in the Cranberry Harvest Festival, she presented a sister town proclamation from her community.

Several months later, a contingent from Harwich led by Selectman Juliana Peterson flew to England to reaffirm the sister town relationship. The contingent included Peterson, her husband Russell, Cranberry Harvest Festival President Sheldon Thayer and his wife Carol, school committee member David Tobey and his wife Evelyn, police officers Lee Culver and Walter Ennes, conservation commission member Wayne Coulson and Patricia Smith.

Harwich Deputy Mayor Gladys Cooper and her husband, Jack, serve as judges in the Harwich Cranberry Festival Parade in 1985. FILE PHOTO

Harwich Deputy Mayor Gladys Cooper and her husband, Jack, serve as judges in the Harwich Cranberry Festival Parade in 1985. FILE PHOTO

The Cape Cod contingent were honored guests at the annual Mayor’s Ball at the Cliff Hotel in nearby Divercourt at which gifts were exchanged and sister town commemorations were highlighted.

The group was treated to a tour of historic sites, a visit to Master Christopher Jones’ house on Kings Head Street and a reception in the Guildhall council chambers, the seat of government. At the reception, Peterson said, “Your visit to Harwich, Cape Cod, and participation in our Cranberry Harvest Festival added a special event to our history. To preserve that history the board of selectmen chose for the cover of our annual town report a photograph of the exchanging of flags between our sister towns.”

The sister town ties were renewed in 1998 when chairman of the Board of Selectmen Peter Hughes, Selectman Peter Luddy and Town Administrator Wayne Melville made a visit to the North Sea town. The Harwich contingent was kept busy with events, including dinner with Mayor David McLeod and Mayoress Shirley McLeod and members of the Harwich Society, the extremely active historical group in the community, and former Deputy Mayor Gladys Cooper and her husband Jack.

The Cape contingent was greeted upon arrival by Bryans Knights and Anna Rendell-Knights, who were honorary guests in the 1995 Cranberry Harvest Parade. The group also received a tour of the historic sites of Harwich guided by Andy Rutter, secretary of the Harwich Society, who had made several trips to the sister town on Cape Cod over the years.

Former assistant town administrator Juell Buckwold in more recent times has made a couple of trips to the the Harwich across the pond, visiting with the Knights and keeping the more than 300-year old Harwich to Harwich bond alive.

But the mystery remains as to how the Indian grounds known to the early settlers here as Satucket were given the name Harwich by the General Court of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Harwich Selectman Juliana Peterson and Harwich, England Mayor Patricia Elleby celebrate the coming together of sister towns in a celebration in the Cliff Hotel in the North Sea town in April 1986. FILE PHOTO

Harwich Selectman Juliana Peterson and Harwich, England Mayor Patricia Elleby celebrate the coming together of sister towns in a celebration in the Cliff Hotel in the North Sea town in April 1986. FILE PHOTO