Background photo by Greg Hinson

The man that founded the town of Chatham was named William Nickerson. This guy was hounded out of England. Think about 1636 and leaving everything you’ve ever known, knowing that he’d never talk to his relatives again, his friends—they didn’t know they’d even make it over in those days. But he landed more or less on schedule in Boston, and somehow—I don’t know how—he ended up in Yarmouth, which was a frontier town.

He was able to acquire from the natives almost all of what is now Chatham in about four purchases. The natives kept a little strip along where Chatham Light is, and the beach wasn’t much different than it is now . . . He acquired this land through friendly compromises. William Nickerson chose to be buried next to the Native American that he had dealt with. They’re buried side by side over by Ryder’s Cove. He had at least seven children that took over for him in this quest to make a town.

• • •

I’m both an Eldridge and a Nickerson. I’m inbred (laughs).

My friend Warren Baker found some land in Brewster, and in the late ’60s, I told him that if he ever thought about selling his home in Orleans that I’d like to have a chance to buy it. The three acres along here with the house was worth $47,000. I had about 47 cents. I figured out a way that I could maybe afford this, selling off a few lots . . . But no matter how well you think you know somebody, when it comes to money, they tend to change a little bit. I went to an attorney and asked him to draw up a purchase and sale agreement. I brought it to Warren in this house—he was sitting in an old Morris chair, looking out the window. I said, “Warren, I’m getting nervous. I’ve only got your word. I’ve got my house on the market so I can afford this one, and that lot across the way is selling for more than this one.” He asked me about the big blue stack of papers I had in my hand. And he made a big show of putting on his spectacles, flipping through the pages. He struggled to his feet, ripped it in half, and threw it in the fireplace. He said, “Don’t worry, boy.” We shook on it (laughs). We’ve been here ever since.

I was a teacher at Cape Cod Tech in Harwich. After about a day of retirement, I was twiddling my thumbs looking for something to do. It look me a long time to start writing—there’s a fear that most people have of hanging yourself up on a line so that everybody can see your bad English or whatever. I got over that hurdle and wrote this book, Once Upon Cape Cod, because after my father died, it dawned on me one day: Why the hell did I not talk to him more about his growing up on Cape Cod? I never asked him much, and I thought to myself that I didn’t want my kids to wonder what it was like. I had such good luck with that book that I wrote the second one, Cape Cod Lucky

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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Main Street, Orleans, Cape Cod, Mass

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