Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Mystery of Cape Cod's Boundary Stones

I was very busy this spring preparing an article for the June 2013 Summerscape, which is published by the Barnstable Patriot. My article article is now available online. I very much enjoyed participating in Summerscape this year and thank the editors for allowing me to do so. The subject of my research concerned the creation of the original town boundaries on Cape Cod, or at least one of the theories that tries to explain the boundaries. The research was absolutely fascinating and took me to places and sources I had never seen before. Through these sources it became clear to me that there are still so many things we do not know about the history of the Cape, how our town earned their borders is just one of them.

One of the biggest mysteries uncovered in my research has been the lack of information surrounding the various boundary stones one can find sitting on Cape town lines. Although a couple of these markers are registered as important landmarks by the National Register of Historic Places, there is still very little information explaining where they even came from, when they were placed at their current locations, and who placed them there.

In my article for Summerscape, I focused primarily on the stone uncovered by Michael Faber’s Cornerstone Project. This large flat boulder is located just off Rt. 6a, between Barnstable and Yarmouth. It very clearly has the letters "YxB" chiseled into its surface, signifying the boundary between the towns. However, as to who did the chiseling and when it was done . . . no one seems to know. The earliest concrete historical reference to the existence of the stone can be found in a 1907 Atlas. Although its existence in 1907 makes the stone historical at this point in time, there are some who believe it was created as part of the originally boundary between Yarmouth and Barnstable. This would date the inscription to around 1641.

The YxB Stone - Spring 2013
As the Summerscape article focuses heavily on the history of the “YxB” stone and the theories of the Cornerstone Project, I won’t restate huge portions of it here. If you’d like to know more about the stone, do check out the Summerscape link. Instead, I wanted to expand upon some of the other sources I didn’t use previously.

The other set of markers I researched, but did not devote as much space to in the article, were the boundary stones between the towns of Sandwich and Barnstable. One of these, a marker along Race Lane in Sandwich, has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places since about 1987. This marker is a simple stone post a little over 2 feet tall. The letters "B/S" have been carved on its surface, showing the boundary between Barnstable and Sandwich.
Marker on Race Ln - you can just see the B/S at the bottom
According to their information, this marker was erected in 1639 when Myles Standish and John Alden were sent by the Plymouth Court to settle the boundaries of Sandwich. Of course, no one can prove this to be true. Even the records of the Plymouth Court are unclear about when the boundary between these two towns was officially established.

Plymouth Court records indicate that Standish and Alden were tasked as early as 1638 with the establishment of the Sandwich boundaries. However, the same records show that boundary disputes between Sandwich and Barnstable needed reconciling in both 1651 and 1652. However, it was not until June of 1670 that bounds were actually set in writing by the court. Though the Plymouth records make no mention of the creation of a stone marker, this particular boundary stone was referenced in a 1901 report on bounds of Sandwich, which is now housed in the Sandwich archives. Again, no mention of who created it or when it was put there.

Although some may argue that just because no one knows the exact origins of these boundary stones and their carvings, it doesn’t make them really mysterious. Cape Codders pass by them every day and they are as common as spring weeds on the side of our roads. Our forefathers just did not think to record exactly when they were placed, which is a shame because history geeks like me would like to know.

Still, the marker stones are part of a greater Cape Cod unknown. Truthfully, we only have bits and pieces of sources that explain the creation of the boundaries between the modern Cape towns. As I explain in the article, the Cornerstone Project has been trying to prove one theory; that these boundaries were surveyed and marked from a ship in Cape Cod Bay. While it is an interesting theory, I am still left without any rock solid historic facts as proof. Until then, as with other posts on this blog, the mystery persists.


  1. We have one of these stones on my road,marking the line between Bourne and Plymouth. It's about 3' high and has simple engravings of 'P' and 'B.'

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  3. Plymouth Rock Hypothesis:
    Thank you for this article. I have recently written an essay on the theory that Plymouth Rock was not present at the Mayflower's disembarkation but was an Old Testament style unmarked memorial stone placed decades later by surviving Pilgrims possibly even William Bradford. ARTICLE LINK