Fort Hill was the highest point adjacent to the meetinghouse erected by Pilgrim residents of Nauset (later called Eastham) shortly after they settled the area in 1644. Scholars still speculate on the naming of Fort Hill, but similar names were given to high points at other settlements along the eastern seaboard during that time period. A hill of this sort would serve as a natural point of defense (with or without a structure) from which defenders could shoot downward at attackers. The most probable threat to the Pilgrim residents during that time period was from fellow European settlers such as the Dutch in New Amsterdam (New York).
Some of the farmland in this area was undoubtedly the former property of Governor Thomas Prence (Prince) who governed the colony from Eastham for some years. The Reverend Samuel Treat was called to Eastham in 1672. He also owned about twenty acres of land at Fort Hill. The boundaries were marked by a stone inscribed with a “T”, and the northwest marker still exists.
Treat, the son of the governor of Connecticut, became famous as a preacher and defender of the “Praying Indians.” While serving his Eastham parishioners, he worked to win the confidence and support of the Indians by learning their language and attending their feasts. He was so successful, there were 500 praying Indians under his protection. These Indians maintained their own villages within Eastham, their own churches, schools, magistrates and courts. Reverend Treat labored throughout his life to improve the welfare of the Indians, and encouraged others to follow. The good preacher died at the height of a blizzard in 1717.
Few objects in this era were not used as resources. Salt hay was harvested from the marsh in barges; the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp north of Fort Hill and the Red Maple Swamp were cleared of trees; and as local wood disappeared, an Irish-born minister taught residents how to dry and burn peat. Even the salt of the sea was gathered-first by boiling (a costly, wood-consuming practice), and then by solar evaporation. This activity grew until in 1830 salt vats dotted the water’s edge of Nauset Marsh.
Changes occurred. Within three decades of settlement, the Eastham forests had become the Eastham plains. Only at Fort Hill was there any semblance of soil. Dairy farming continued here until the 1940’s, and now, again, a forest creeps in. But the pastures are still kept open as a reminder of those yesterdays.
Points of InterestCaptain Edward Penniman House
Last updated: May 1, 2017