Celebrating Barnstable Women: Part I. The Early Years

Although women have been half the population of Barnstable, and often the most influential, historians have almost completely ignored their contributions to 375 years of the town’s history.  For the first time, Cotuit Historical Society’s Historian Jim Gould illustrates the significant role of Barnstable women with photos and stories of their achievements.
To read the history of Barnstable, one would suppose that everything was exclusively done by men. Although women have been half the population of Barnstable, and often the most influential, historians have almost completely ignored them.   With the exception of the famous Mercy Otis Warren, they have been forgotten.  No article or book or scholarly thesis has ever told the story of their contributions to the 375 years of the town’s history.  Here, for the first time,  Cotuit Historical Society’s Historian Jim Gould illustrates the significant role of Barnstable women with photos and stories of their achievements.  He hopes that this presentation will encourage the audience add other women to the lost history of Barnstable women.


Syucy  c. 1710 In the Massachusetts Archives there is a document recording that a native American woman was allocating farming plots on Grand Island, between Cotuit and Osterville.  The  island appears to have been part of the land which the local Wampanoag leader Poppmonuck reserved for Indian use, and protected  from white men’s cattle by a promised fence.  We do not know if she was related to Poppmunuck, but her responsibility indicates a leadership role that we expect from native women. (Photo Daily Life; Wamp. Women).

Lisa Towerhill/Elizabeth Blatchford 1711-90.  Legend has it that Lisa Towerhill was a witch. Ansel Wood of West Barnstable falsely accused her of putting a bridle and saddle on him at night and often riding him to Plum Pudding Pond in Plymouth to join witches in nocturnal orgies. Although Wood was clearly hallucinating such wild stories were widely circulated.  Others claimed she could change into a black cat.  A party to which she was not invited was disgusted when the butter turned rancid, the tea undrinkably bitter and the pie stuffed with sheep’s wool.  A man who could detect witches (a seventh son according to legend) saw her come in and smoke her pipe by the fire; all the others saw only a black cat. Liza, called Towerhill because her husband’s family came from the part of London near the Tower, led a perfectly respectable life according to church records, but she was a strong woman.  As a widow she raised seven children, ran the farm, sold cloth she wove. At age seventy she was out plowing a new field and ran into a stump. Thrown down, she got up and finished the job.  Amos Otis partly accounts the accusations of witchcraft to the isolation of her farm, in the forest that is still remote, beyond the Yarmouth Campground, then wolf-infested and passed by an Indian trail.  (Amos Otis, Genea. Notes 99-102; Patriot 19 March 1860.  photo Salem witch coolinterestingstuff).

Desire Crocker Sampson 1727-1804.  Inherited much of Crocker estate in Cotuit, including grist mill and main house on road to the mill; married Cornelius Sampson of Rochester 1747, bringing in the Sampson family, who inherited it from her.
Mercy Otis Warren 1728-1819 “Muse of the Revolution”. In 1772-5 she picked up the cause of protest against British impositions which her brother had pioneered, Mercy wrote three political plays which criticized the colonial government.  She wrote poetry celebrating the Boston Tea Party and criticized women who supported British rule.  During the Revolution she published patriotic poetry and plays, and wrote a political pamphlet  on the Constitution calling for a bill of rights.  In 1805 she published one of the first histories of the Revolution.  Photo the  federalist papers

Abigail Freeman 1729-1788.   Widow Nabby Freeman paid the price for talking about politics.  She ran a little grocery next to the Court House on the town green in Barnstable village.  In the midst of the Crocker Quarrels of 1776 she made the mistake of talking about loyalty to the king.  She refused to let the “Patriots” burn her store of the hated tea.  So a gang of men took her out of bed and gave her a more humane punishment than the traditional dunking in the pond, which too often drowned the offender.  They poured hot tar over her head, covered her with feathers, and held her on a fence rail carried by two young men until she promised not to talk politics. (Trayser 124, Otis 233-4. photo women tar & feather Jane Longley afflictor.com).

Mary Dunn 1778-1850  Gave her name to town’s westernmost road and Mary Dunn Pond, where the endangered flower Plymouth Gentian blooms.  Falsely rumored to be a witch who died with a snake entwined on her neck, she was a fortune teller, an Indian with Negro ancestry, who lived at Tip-top Farm at the north end of today’s Hyannis Airport. (art. By Jack Braginton-Smith and Duncan Oliver.
photo native plants of Cape Cod.

Sophia Lovell Baker 1799-1875  T 310  Honeymooned to Jamaica w/ husband Seth, where they were picked up for palanquin ride to plantation palace of acting Gov. Arojah, after whom they named their first son Edward Arojah Baker.
Martha Coleman 1812-89.  Founded first resort hotel on Cape Cod, popular Santuit Inn 1864. This was expansion of her boarding house at Hooper’s Landing providing accommodation for passengers on Nantucket packet.

Eleanor Baxter 1818-75 T 311 Wife of Rodney 18 month trip with son to Bombay, bought 4 doz. Shirts for grampa.
Bethia Baxter Bearse 1819-95   T313  trip across US and Pacific to join husband Allen in China; first toilet; 2 pianos, one on ship.
Bethia C. Bassett 1819-93. T 320 took 5 children on coasting trips w/ husband Capt. Gerry.
Azubah B. Handy Cash 1820. Named for first wife of Little River shipwright Bethuel Handy’s first wife, the first burial in Mosswood cemetery.  Working for the village tailor, she slipped a note into the suit ordered by a handsome sailor from Nantucket, whom she later married and took their first son to sea.  One of the few whaling women who kept a journal, she recorded the birth of their son at Hilo, Hawaii in 1851 and mutiny aboard ship Columbia.  (Edw. Snow, Women of the Sea Ch. 8).

Rozilla C. Nickerson 1821-86.  Cotuit woman who went on long whaling voyage with husband Capt. Seth Nickerson.  Daughter Ella born Lahaina, Maui 1849 died off coast of Chile, embalmed in cask of rum, taken to San Francisco Gold Rush, long whaling trip in Pacific before she was buried in Mosswood cemetery Cotuit.


Teresa Eldridge Crowell 1821-1901  T 315, H86.  wife of clipper Capt. Zenas.  Built Hyannis house around mosaic table she bought in Liverpool.
Lydia B. Hallett 1823-1871 T 317 to sea with deepwater Capt. Allen S. Hallett d. 1881.
Sally Ann Hallett 1824-1916 T 321 to sea with steamer Capt. George H. NY-Baltimore.
Julia A. Crowell Hallett 1827-1882 T 316 wife of deepwater Capt. Robert died 1867—many voyages with him.


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