The Port of Provincetown is a very significant location in the history of the United States. It was here that the Pilgrims landed in November 1620 (before they founded Plymouth) and the Mayflower Compact was signed. Located on the northern tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the Port of Provincetown is 24 nautical miles (40 kilometers or 25 miles by air) northeast of the Cape Cod Canal. The Port of Provincetown is 45 nautical miles (74 kilometers or 46 miles by air) southeast of Marblehead Harbor across the Stellwagen Basin via Cape Cod Bay.
In the 1800s, the Port of Provincetown was a busy port for whalers and fishermen. Today, descendants of the Portuguese fishermen who came here still operate a fishing fleet in Provincetown Harbor. Making salt by evaporating seawater was an important economic activity in the Port of Provincetown's early days. In the 20th Century, the Port of Provincetown became popular as a summer resort and an artists' colony. Eugene O'Neill produced his first play here in 1916. The Port of Provincetown is linked by ferry and air services to Boston, some 89 kilometers (55 miles) to the northwest across Massachusetts Bay. In 2010, the US Census reported that almost three thousand people called the Port of Provincetown home.
When later Europeans arrived at the future Port of Provincetown, the area was inhabited by the Nauset people who lived to the east of the Wampanoag. The Nauset were distinct from, but also ruled by, the Wampanoag. Both peoples spoke a dialect of the Algonquian language. Being near the sea, the Nauset ate more seafood than other tribes.
They were one of the first tribes to meet Europeans who then enslaved many Nauset people. Before colonization of New England began to take off, many of the Nauset people had already died of European diseases. At first, the Nauset people resisted the pilgrims that landed in the future Port of Provincetown. These pilgrims stole maize from Nauset graves, creating greater tension.
Most of the Nauset had become Christians by the time of King Philip's War, and they supported the colonists fighting other tribes. Despite that alliance, the few Nauset left were made to live in Praying Villages. Over time, the people mixed with other indigenous tribes and with the European settlers until they basically disappeared as a separate people. Today, most members of the federally-recognized Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, numbering about one thousand people, are descendants of the Nauset.
Bartholomew Gosnold was in Provincetown Harbor when he gave Cape Cod its name in 1602. In 1620, the pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact that set forth how the new settlements would govern themselves. The pilgrims decided to settle permanently in Plymouth, but they valued the Port of Provincetown for its rich fishing grounds.
In addition to being the birthplace of the first European to be born in the future British colonies, the Port of Provincetown was the site of the first adult European death. In late 1620, Dorothy Bradford fell overboard from the Mayflower and drowned.
The Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies recognized the future Port of Provincetown as "Province Lands" in 1692. In 1714, the first municipal government was established in the Port of Provincetown, although the population was small throughout that century.
After the American Revolution, the Port of Provincetown grew into a busy fishing and whaling center. Portuguese sailors from the Azores who worked on ships from the United States settled there. By the end of the 19th Century, the Port of Provincetown was prosperous, attracting artists and writers, and building a major summer tourism industry.
In 1898, the fishing community in the Port of Provincetown was seriously damaged by the Portland Gale. Many buildings in the old port area were abandoned, and artists and writers took many of the buildings over. By the early 20th Century, the Port of Provincetown was known around the world for its rich artistic and literary productivity.
The 1960s brought a flood of hippies to the Port of Provincetown area. Many of those immigrants stayed in the Port of Provincetown to raise families, and Commercial Street because a center for small, hip businesses like cafes, head shops, and leather shops.
In the middle 1970s, the Port of Provincetown began to attract many members of the gay community. The Port of Provincetown had long been tolerant of different lifestyles in the artists' community. In the 1940s, drag queens performed in the local theaters. In 1978, the Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) was created to promote gay tourism. Today, the guild counts over 200 businesses as members, and the Port of Provincetown is a well-known and popular summer resort for gays. The US Census counted the country's highest rate of gay couples, 163 per 1000 couples, living in the Port of Provincetown.
Property values rose sharply in the Port of Provincetown during the 1990s. Despite the recent national economic downturn, the Port of Provincetown continues to thrive based on its summer tourism. Today, the tourist season includes many festivals and cultural events. Two of the most popular are the Portuguese Festival and PBG's Carnival Week.