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Cape Cod The Mooncussers of Cape Cod

There is a tradition that a band of robbers anciently infested the shores of Cape Cod. These robbers, on horses, are said to have decoyed vessels on the rocks in the darkest of nights by means of large lanterns and plundering them of everything, putting the sailors to death, leaving the ships stripped and gutted. They are now generally known as the mooncussers of Cape Cod, a name which became a legend.

These men for whom the beach on a winter’s night held so strong an appeal seem to have had a perculiar talent, for just as the experienced duck hunter knows what weather will bring the birds to certain corners of the marshes, so were these mooncussers gifted with a sort of sixth sense that enabled them to smell a wreck as they lay in bed, listening to the winds howl down the Wellfleet valleys or across the plains of Nauset.

What a strange company they must have made as they met on the beaches. A group of them would divide, two of them tramping the beach in one direction, two in the other, a shingle held
up to protect their eyes from the flying sand, and their eyes straining to pierce the darkness for a light from a ship in distress or for a glimpse of a hut on the bars off shore.

Perhaps the first sign of trouble would be a spar flung up by the surf, bringing the tattered remnants of a sail or the numbered and battered form of a sailor. The wild beach and the turbulent sea, with the foam flying, the howling wind, the pounding waves, made a wild setting for a wild play.

The introduction of lighthouses, put up after much opposition from Eastham men, put the curb on the profits of these men whose business was wrecking, or mooncussing. There was also a reputable and honest side to this business of wrecking and so-called “salvaging.” These reputable salvagers were ready, at a price, to float a grounded vessel if she were intact, or to salvage her cargo and trans-ship it if the ship were past saving.

And so these romantic, swashbuckling, domestic pirates, halted only by the lighthouses, remain in tradition as some of the most colorful figures in the unending novel of the Cape.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 02/25/06
Categories: History
Keywords: history, pirates, maritime, shipwrecks


i think it was very clever what mooncussers did (and very cruel. I am really interested in them and i think this was a great website written on them.

Posted by none from none on 06/28/10 at 01:52 PM | #

It’s the Eldredge(or Eldredge. Eldred,Eldrid) family that carried that tradtion on for many years here on Cape Cod.

Posted by bob from cape cod on 04/09/12 at 01:31 AM | #

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