CCNS-LP Settlement 39.jpgNathaniel E. Atwood house [Long Point Settlement No. 39].

Easily the most consequential resident of Long Point was Capt. Nathaniel Ellis Atwood (1807-1886), who occupies a considerable niche in the early annals of natural science in America. For a brief period of taxonomic history, his was the name of the great white shark: Carcharias atwoodi. Louis Agassiz, one of the best-known scientists of the time and a professor of zoology and geology at Harvard, visited Captain Atwood at his Long Point home in 1852. So did the ichthyologist David Humphreys Storer, author of A History of the Fishes of Massachusetts. Thanks to Storer’s book, there is preserved a marvelously detailed and contemporary narrative of Long Point existence in June 1847:

Now all the male inhabitants of the Point are engaged in the mackerel fishery; from 20 to 30 boats, each of about three or four tons burden, sail at 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, having all their nets, varying from 10 to 15 in number, carefully dried and rolled up for their night’s fishing. Each boat has two persons on board, one to manage the boat while the other takes charge of the nets. As the boats sail from the harbor, the scene is very exciting, all leaving at about the same time, and doubling¹ the point upon which the lighthouse is situated nearly together. …

Some of the boats sail but a few miles, perhaps to the extremity of Race Point, which is distant four or five miles; while others go nearly to Plymouth, and others scatter all over the bay. … Having thrown over their nets, the fishermen lie down in their little cabins, and get what sleep they can, having first fixed to one of the masts of their boat a light, to prevent their being run down by any vessel which may be passing; and some of the fishermen, in stormy nights, hang up a bell in their ringing, which is kept ringing by the motion of the boat. About daylight in the morning the fishermen draw their nets, and one man continues to free them of the fishes they contain, during the whole time the boat is sailing homeward, while the other manages the boat. …

The boats arrive early in the morning at the Point, and all is life and excitement. “How many fish have you caught?” is the universal salutation; and, before they sail again in the afternoon, every boat’s crew knows exactly how many have been taken by each boat during the previous night. … Should only a few mackerel be taken during a night, they are sent at once to Boston in some one of the fishing-smacks² which are in waiting to take them ….

From 20 to 23 boats returned, while I was on the Point, from the previous night’s fishing, and averaged about 1,000 mackerel apiece; such a quantity could not be disposed of, fresh. Captain Atwood sold only 100 of the largest, for 2 cents apiece, and was obliged to salt the remainder. It is very exciting to be on the shore and watch the fishermen as they empty their nets — throwing out whiting, menhaden, sheep’s-head, grunters, kiucks, blue-backs, goose-fish, and dog-fish.

Another exciting sight occurred a year later when sand eels made the waters around Long Point seem alive. “They ran ashore in such quantities, that they covered the ground from one to two inches deep,” Captain Atwood wrote to Storer, “and when the water covered the flats the whole bottom looked like an immense sheet of silver.” Myrick C. Atwood succeeded Nathaniel and lived in this structure after it was transported to town, joining a small colony of floaters on Nickerson Street, at No. 5. Its best known and best loved inhabitant, for more than 50 years, was the painter Mary Cleveland “Bubs” (Moffett) Hackett (1906-1989).

¶ Last updated on 17 February 2017.

¹ sailing around.

² fore-and-aft-rigged vessels with holds large enough to keep a catch alive.

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