Archive for April, 2012


April 21, 2012

The most distinguished Indian resident of Cotuit was Lorenzo “Len” Tandy Hammond, also known as Little Bear, chief of the Wampanoag nation. About 1928 he succeeded the pioneer chief Red Jacket (Eben Quippish).

He was born in Mashpee in 1871, son of Rebecca C. Amos, who was daughter of the famous Baptist preacher “Blind Joe” Amos. His father Watson Hammond, was a leading cranberry grower who held almost every Mashpee town office, as well as being the first Indian to serve in the state legislature.

In 1910 Len bought the 1846 house of Capt. Ensign Nickerson at 93 School St. in Cotuit, where he lived for the next 50 years. He had earlier Cotuit connections in Cotuit. His father had drilled a ten inch well on Main St. in Cotuit for Capt. Jarvis Nickerson in 1880, a skill he passed on to his son.

Before moving to Cotuit Len worked as licensed master plumber for Cotuit plumber Victor Nickerson, who had a booming business of installing the first running water in village homes and businesses. Everyone remembered Len riding his bike to jobs around the village, and over to Mashpee.

Len inherited his father’s inventive genius, patenting a bicycle brake, and “The Economist”, “a simple, light, handy and self-cleaning” cranberry separator, which was sold for $25. Len’s greatest accomplishment was to invent the famous Victor well point. Leonard Peck describes it in his book, “For Golden Friends I Had” (2000), as a device driven down to water table to filter out sand. Mr. Peck mentions that Nickerson patented the idea, but does not credit Hammond. The well point was sold widely around the country for $300, and marketed in a cheap version by Sears Roebuck. Chief Vernon Lopez also credits Len with another device run down the side of a well pipe to shut off flow so that it didn’t freeze.

He was also an artist, achieving some local fame for his oil and watercolor paintings, and for sculpture in wood. At one time, Chief Earl Mills had an oil color portrait of Len’s son, Cecil. (I hope people who know of other examples of his work will let me know).

He was married to a remarkable Indian elder and leader. Lilian (Avant) Brown, known as Princess Wood Fawn was born in Mashpee in 1875 to John Avant and Susan Lowe, from two distinguished old Indian families. “Miss Lillie” was remembered by historian friend Ernestine Gray as a woman with a very even temper, ready to laugh, and sweet to all. She was always stylishly dressed, in latest hats and outfits, and modeled for the press in native garb. Their only child, Cecil, born in Cotuit in 1914, died tragically in a motorcycle crash in Quincy, but left Len and Lillie with three grandchildren, Brian, Hartley and Linda Hammond.

Lillie lived with Len in their School Street home until she died of complications of diabetes in 1954, at age 78. Len lived there alone until his tragic death five years later. On a cold winter night shortly before Christmas of 1959, Len lit his kerosine space heater, and it exploded, catching fire to his pants. He died in the hospital two days later of burns of the lower body.

Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 20 April 2012.

Photo of Chief Little Bear and his niece, Ethelind Pells



April 7, 2012



Work began this week to bring Cotuit’s Rushy Marsh back to life.


Two centuries ago, the first Nickersons came to Cotuit. In May of 1810 the brothers Samuel and Seth Nickerson, who were fishermen frrom Harwich, and their sister Polly’s husband David Rogers, joined with another Harwich fisherman Benony Spinks to buy 115 acres around a small harbor in the south end of Cotuit called Russia Marsh.


In 1812 the four partners divided Russia Marsh into four parts, where they built their homes. The families grew, and the first baby, Eliza Rogers, was born in 1811. There were eventually nine more Nickerson siblings joining Samuel, Seth and Polly in Cotuit.


Forty years ago an old-timer showed me a sketch of this “Oreginal Settlement”, but that was before copy machines, and is now lost. Osterville insurance broker Phil Leonard said the timbers of a wrecked schooner “Oregon” could be seen on the beach in the 1960s, and John Flender repeated the story as folklore he’d heard in the 1930s. Mr. Flender was the nephew of the Morrisons who built the first house alongside Rushy Marsh beach in 1924. I have never been able to find a wreck of that name, so I settle for Oreginal as the origin of the name.


The Great September Gale of 1815,.one of the five greatest storms ever to hit New England, flooded shores from Providence to Dorchester. We have no record of damage to Cotuit, but Russia Marsh homes must have been under water. That began the flight of the Nickersons to “Highground”. Highground, or Highlands, is the area of Cotuit on high ground between Rushy Marsh and Cotuit Port.


The triple hurricanes of 1830 may have flooded the marsh again, but the October Gale of 1841 wrecked the Grand Banks fleet and Cape Cod’s saltworks.


The first public road from Highground to the marsh was built in 1849 across the dike that extends eastward across the top of the pond, now overgrown with poison ivy. A winding creek led out of the pond to the sea.


It was not until 1910 that anyone dared build here. In that year Frank Wesson, the Springfield arms manufacturer, built “Rippleside” just high enough that it has not flooded in the past century’s hurricanes. But the public road was so close to the house that the Wessons persuaded the town in 1930 to move the road westward onto the present causeway built on fill trucked in from Santuit.


In 1924 the first house was built on the beach by Alva Morrison, who was described as “global bird fancier, ex-banker”. In the the first year the house burned down, and rebuilt as it is today, enjoyed by the Bragdon family.


The shore of Rushy Marsh changes constantly. About 1910 the opening to the sea closed, related to radical interventions of the Osterville Cut and dredging. Frank Wesson laid a ten inch pipe to drain the pond. Popponesset spit crept up the coast as far as the Wessons’, until it was breached by Hurricane Carol in 1954. A new spit formed from the north, broadening the beach in front of the old entrance and enclosing a small saltwater pond. In 1956 the town installed a gated wooden sluice into the south end of the pond below Dr. Helen Taussig’s summer cottage. This was soon buried by sand.


Due to street flooding and robust mosquito nesting in the marshes, the town replaced Wesson’s pipe with a 24 inch pipe in 1973.


In 1999, over 50 neighbors and villagers formed the Friends of Rushy Marsh Pond. Barnstable Conservation Commission gave fundamental support to the restoration of the pond. Scientific and technical studies proved that re-introduction of a sluice way should have multiple environmental benefits—restoring fisheries, improving species diversity, improving mosquito control, and providing relief from storm flooding.

After a decade obtaining required permitting and funds, the project is underway, to be completed in May. It reflects a successful collaboration between concerned citizens and responsive government. When it is done it will not be big enough for the fishing boats that the Nickerson seamen sailed into Russia Marsh Harbor, but it will be saltier, cleaner, and healthier.


Published in Barnstable Enterprise 6 April 2012