Departure of Expedition Along Cape Cod Resulting in "First Encounter" Between English and Native Americans

Originally settled by the Nauset tribe, Eastham was the site where in 1621 a hunting expedition comprised from the crew of the sailing vessel Mayflower, which had stopped in Provincetown harbor on Cape Cod Bay after a rough crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, which led to the first encounter of the Pilgrims and the local Nauset Indians at First Encounter Beach. The area would not be settled by Europeans, however, until 1644. The original lands included the towns of Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans and a small portion of Chatham. Eastham town was officially incorporated in 1651. Birthplace of Freeman Hatch, who in 1853 set the world record (which still stands) for a single-hull wooden sailing vessel from San Francisco around Cape Horn to Boston aboard the clipper ship Northern Light. Fishing and especially farming were early industries in the town, and writers and artists also came to the town. In fact, it was in Eastham that Henry Beston wrote The Outermost House. The town is discussed at some length in Henry David Thoreau's Cape Cod as the somewhat rugged site of one of New England's largest summer "camp-meeting" evangelistic gatherings in the mid-19th century. The gatherings were at times attended by at least "one hundred and fifty ministers, (!) and five thousand hearers" at a site called Millennium Grove, in the northwest part of town. (The area is now a residential neighborhood, the only reminder being Millennium Lane.)

The Nauset tribe, sometimes referred to as the Cape Cod Indians lived in what is present-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts, living east of Bass River and lands occupied by their closely related neighbours, the Wampanoag. Although a distinct tribe, they were often subject to Wampanoag overlordship and shared many similar aspects of culture, such as speaking an N-dialect of Algonquian language and similar agricultural practices. Due to their ocean proximity, they had a greater reliance on seafood than other tribes. The tribe was one of the first to be visited by Western seafarers, whose abduction of tribal members for slavery and introduction of diseases greatly reduced Nauset even before large-scale colonization of New England. The pilgrims encountered the Nauset during their landing near present-day Provincetown, MA, where the Nauset, weary of foreigners, tried to resist. The pilgrims are also noted for stealing maize from Nauset graves they encountered, further fuelling tensions between the two groups.

The Nauset were the colonists' greatest allies. Before King Philip's War, most were Christianised and aided the colonists as scouts and warriors against the other tribes. Despite this, they were confined to Praying Villages. Their numbers, always small, were reduced, but the addition of other Native American tribes after King Phillip’s War and intermarriage with other settlers preserved Native American lineage. Although no longer distinct as a tribe, most of the Mashpee Wampanoag band are descended from Nauset people, who currently number 1,100 people and are federally recognised (as Wampanoag).

Not only does their bloodline live on in some self-identified Wampanoag tribal members, Hyannis and the Wianno section of Osterville, MA are named after the Nauset sachem Iyannough.