First Encounter Beach: The Origin of a Genocide

“Eyes I dare not meet in dreams

In death’s dream kingdom

These do not appear:

There, the eyes are

Sunlight on a broken column

There, is a tree swinging

And voices are

In the wind’s singing

More distant and more solemn

Than a fading star.”

– T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” (II)

On August 15th 1620, the Mayflower departed from Southampton Water off the coast of England to begin a long, arduous journey to the North American Continent. In November of that year, land was sighted; the pilgrims had encountered the peninsula that juts out Eastward into the Atlantic now known as Cape Cod. An exploring expedition was launched on November 27th to search for a settlement site. As they moved down the coast to what is now Eastham from Provincetown Harbor, they explored the bay-facing shoreline of the Cape for several weeks, looting and stealing native stores as they went. On December 8th, the Nauset tribesman attacked the Pilgrims in retribution for the thefts of foodstuffs and property, and for the desecration of burial sites, on the shore of what is now aptly called “First Encounter Beach.”

When one thinks of the conquest of North America and the resultant genocide of the Native Americans in the following centuries, one could call attention to older settlements, such as Jamestown or St. Augustine that may have also served as a helpful catalyst to the eventual total marginalization of a once great civilization; but, within the American psyche, there is nothing more powerful than the pervasive mythology surrounding the Mayflower expedition, and therefore it is appropriate that this sandy beach in Eastham is recognized as the place where the genocide of the Native Americans first began.

When you drive down the road leading to the beach, you can feel the metaphysical force of History bearing down on you, mixed into the salt that permeates the air and the fog that rolls over the dunes and craggy grass, blanketing the beach and marshland behind it. There is a perceptible presence that can be felt: Not exactly Walker Benjamin’s pile of wreckage behind Angelus Novus, or Kubrick’s interpretation of the Overlook Hotel, but something distinctly different.

I set out for Eastham from South Yarmouth a half-hour before dawn to see this place, to gaze straight into the repressed eyes that we as a society collectively “dare not meet in dreams.”

First Encounter Beach 3

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First Encounter Beach 1

First Encounter Beach 2

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Indian Burial Marker South Yarmouth MA

Indian Statue Hyannis MA

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