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Whalers once headed to Smith’s Tavern in Wellfleet for food, drink and fun

Whale of a Time, July 2017 Cape Cod LIFE |

Artifacts found at the Smith’s Tavern site are on display at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham and include pipe stem pieces, silverware and a large whale vertebrae—at far left in photo—that was likely used as a cutting board. Photo by Matt Gill

Based in Lowell, Dukes works for the park service’s northeast region. He explains that he “jumps from park to park.” In the spring of 2017, Dukes completed a study of pipe stems recovered from the Wellfleet Tavern. He had been working at the excavation of Boston’s Faneuil Hall when he read some articles about the tavern site. He concluded that, “Nobody had really done much with the pipe stems.” It was fairly typical, Dukes says, for excavations to clean out sites, but many years would often pass before anyone could analyze the findings. “There’s been a push lately to re-analyze collections,” he explains.

Dukes’ study of the pipe stems produced a number of interesting findings. “I was surprised at how homogeneous they were,” he says of the smoking implements. “There were really two types.” Makers’ marks revealed that the R. Tippet Company in England had manufactured most of the 9,400 pipes. These would be shipped across the Atlantic packed in kegs with straw to prevent breakage. Determining the diameter of a pipe’s bore—the hole one draws smoke through—is a common method that archaeologists use for historical dating. For example, Ekholm and Deetz write that a bore’s diameter of 5/64 inch “indicates a date from 1710 through 1750,” but stems with 6/64-inch bores date from 1680-1710. The dates of the ceramics found at the site—from eight types of English and German pottery—coincide with those of the pipe stems. Of the pipe artifacts, one part usually remains. “The tips vastly outnumber bowl fragments,” Dukes says, adding that teeth marks are commonly found on these pieces. With this information, Dukes makes a unique conclusion: “Many of the people at the tavern were deliberately shortening them so they could hold the pipes more easily in their mouths as they worked.”

Dukes adds that location, geography and exposure buried this story for awhile—but also helped preserve it. “The shifting sands kept the tavern site preserved for a few hundred years,” he says, and might explain the success of the complete excavation that Ekholm and Deetz carried out in 1970.

Though little trace of the tavern remains today, visitors can hike the lengthy Great Island Trail, pause at a point on the eastern side of the island, and imagine the scene of what was likely the Cape’s first beach bar, where barmaids and whalers downed oysters and spicy flip while frolicking their nights away in the glow of whale oil lamps.

In the mood for some tasty tavern fare?

Coinciding with our article on Smith’s Tavern in Wellfleet, we asked three Cape and Islands restaurants to share with us some recipes for great-tasting tavern food. In Woods Hole, Quicks Hole Tavern told us about their Pig Candy, a sweet and spicy pork belly appetizer, while a few miles away on Main Street in Falmouth, The Quarterdeck submitted instructions on how to prepare one of their favorites: mussels! Finally, The Rose & Crown on Ye olde Nantucket revealed to us the recipe for their popular and mouth-watering clam fritters, a perfect dish for a rainy day, a summer evening or pretty much any time at all. Bon appetit! – Matthew J. Gill

Check out these three tasty tavern recipes, below!

Clam Fritters from The Rose & Crown

Pig Candy with Sweet Potato Chipotle Sauce from Quicks Hole Tavern 

Mussels from The Quarterdeck

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