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The Cape Cod area was first settled by Native American tribes and some of their descendants still live in the region. The Mashpee Wampanoag people received Federal recognition in February, 2007. The ancestors of the Mashpee Wampanoag met Pilgrim explorers when the ship "Mayflower" arrived unexpectedly in Cape Cod waters late in 1620. Many of today's Mashpee Wampanoag people live in or near the town of Mashpee. Another Wampanoag tribe has its homelands on the nearby island of Marthas Vineyard.
Many stories are told about the first Europeans to arrive on Cape Cod. Irish storytellers say that Brendan the Navigator crossed the Atlantic from County Kerry to explore the New World during the Dark Ages. The Norse may have arrived close to the year 1000 AD. There are legends, also, about sailors from Brittany and Portugal, and other lands, who are said to have been in the area during the 1500s. Bartholomew Gosnold, an English explorer, is known to have been on Cape Cod in the year 1602. Gosnold established a small trading post on Cuttyhunk Island and he spent a few hours in modern Woods Hole. Legend says that the Gosnold voyage helped to inspire William Shakespeare's play "The Tempest." On New Years Day each year, community residents still parade through the streets of Woods Hole with Elizabethan musicians and people dressed like Shakespearean characters. Environmentalists and scientists caution everyone to act as responsible stewards in protecting coastal Massachusetts and the Atlantic Ocean.
Pilgrims from Plymouth Colony began to settle on Cape Cod during the 1630s. With heavy settlement came abuse of the land. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, much of the natural landscape of Cape Cod had been destroyed. Henry Thoreau, the famous naturalist, visited Cape Cod during the 1840s and he was surprised by the windswept landscape and the erosion. By Thoreau's day, it was already necessary for Cape Codders to import firewood and wood for construction. Farming was in decline, so many Cape Cod residents turned to commercial fishing, whaling, and other maritime occupations in order to make a living. Young people often moved to the Middle West and to the West to seek their fortunes. Summer visitors began to arrive during the 1880s but Cape Cod still seemed isolated, even a bit backwards, until well into the 1920s. Provincetown began popular with artists and Bohemians from New York City during the years before World War One. The development of automobiles and paved highways made the Cape more accessible after the war ended. The Cape Cod National Seashore was created during the 1960s, in part because of President Kennedy's influence. The Kennedy family is still identified with Hyannis and the village has a small Kennedy museum.
The days when Cape Cod felt remote and wild are long gone. Some of the major beaches near Wellfleet and Eastham are almost deserted, for part of the year, and Provincetown in the middle of winter is quiet and reflective. However, most of the region, in most months, is surprisingly busy and you'll see bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Bourne and Sagamore bridges on the weekends from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. The Cape is now an easy day trip for people from the Boston suburbs and , indeed, there are some critics who say that towns like Bourne and Sandwich have joined the Boston suburbs. Still, the Cape has its charm. It's popular as a retirement area and many couples slip away to Cape Cod for a few days of relaxation in the spring or autumn. Drive along Highway 6A and you'll discover that, yes, there are still places where you can experience the old Cape Cod of the 1940s and 1950s.