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Cape Cod When The Cape Salted America

During the War of the Revolution, salt for American tables was nearly as scarce as hens’ teeth. To an imaginative Cape Codder named “Sleepy” John Sears, a sea captain hailing from Dennis, it was not hard to suppose that the shortage might be made up from the salt sea.

He had had salt spray on his face and lips many a time, and had felt its scales on his face when the water evaporated.

So Captain Sears got busy. His idea was not quite original, but he was the first, hereabouts anyway, to apply it. He built himself a big wooden tub or vat. This was a hundred feet long and ten feet wide, but shallow. This vat he filled with salt water and exposed it to the warm sun. Eventually the water evaporated, and deposited on the bottom of the vat was eight bushels of valuable salt. His idea was really workable. The following year he got 30 bushels of salt from the same vat, and sold it all for $240.

Of course, a profitable source of income like that could not long remain his alone, and soon other men were going after sea salt in a much bigger way. And Captain Dennis went after it that way, too. He had before long 85 salt-making plants, and though other men in other towns followed his cue ample, Dennis was the big salt center of the new industry.

Bigger and better vats were built, windmills were put up to pump water directly from the sea into them, and quite a few men were kept busy from morning to night extracting the new white wealth from the ocean. It took 350 gallons of sea water to yield just one bushel of salt, but it was only a matter of building enough vats and windmills to get all the salt they wanted. The sea was all about them and there was plenty of it.

Then, bang! the salt boom collapsed. Salt in large deposits was found in other States. And out went the Cape’s first and thriving new industry.

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Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 05/05/06
Categories: DennisHistoryPlaces
Keywords: dennis, history, places


Why was he nicknamed “sleepy” ?

Posted by Kim from Dennis, MA on 08/26/09 at 06:55 PM | #

Like many other inventive geniuses, Capt Sears had fits of abstraction, and
his neighbors gave him the nickname “Sleepy John,” which he held till the
success of his invention caused it to be displaced by that of “Salt John.”—from Descendants of Richard Sears

Posted by Cape Cod from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on 08/30/09 at 12:46 AM | #

On more than one occasion, while remodeling homes on quivet neck, i have found wide pine boards once used on the salt tables. The boards used were White Pine and most always were in great condition, due to the preserving qualities of sea salt.

Posted by chris from dennis on 01/27/11 at 01:37 PM | #

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