Cohasset History

Cohasset, Massachusetts

The town has long been conscious of the beauty of its landscape. The people have been well aware also of an unusual degree of beauty in any of their maidens’ faces as the following local ditty will indicate:

“Cohasset for beauty,

Hingham for pride,

If not for its herring

Weymouth had died.”

Cohasset Town Seal

Minot Lighthouse and White Head are shown with two old fishing schooners at the entrance of the harbor. The three buildings, Town Hall, Osgood School, and First Church, symbolize the three functions of town life; the municipal, the educational, and the religious.

Captain John Smith

Cohasset was first seen by Europeans in 1614, when Captain John Smith explored the coast of New England.

John Smith of Pocahontas fame, was the versatile and brilliant hero of the Virginia Colony. He was also an English soldier, explorer, colonial governor, and Admiral of New England.

Smith with eight or nine English sailers, in the summer of 1614 was the first European to make landfall in Cohasset. That was six years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, and sixteen years before the Puritans were established at Boston. He drew a very creditable map of the coast line, the first really good one, from Maine to the bottom of Cape Cod.

Algonquian word 'Quonahassit'

The town's name came from the Native American Algonquian word "Quonahassit", meaning "long rocky place".

Smith visited about forty Indian villages and gave the names of about twenty different tribes. One of them is spelled “Quonahassit,” and is is perhaps the most interesting world in all of captain Smith’s “Description of New England.” It is immediately recognized as the original name from which Cohasset has come.

Quona-hassi-t ment a “long-rocky-place,” and was the natural descriptive which the natives used from the beginning. How far back into the prehistoric centuries the name might e traced depends upon the length of habitation assigned to the Algonquin people: but it is not impossible that the name is much older than Rome.


Shipwrecked; the Brig St. John

On October 4th, 1849, an Irish Famine ship the Brig St. John from Galway wrecked on Grampus Ledge.

At five o’clock in the evening the ship passed Cape Cod Light and were off Scituate Light at one o’clock in the morning. But already the ship was being driven towards the shore by a fierce north-easterly gale. The people who crowded the shore said that the waves “were mountains high”. Inexorably the wind drove the little ship towards the shore. 

The brig came inside Minot’s Lighthouse and the Captain tried “to wear away” up to another brig which was lying at anchor just inside the breakers at Hocksett Rock, but the sails were in shreds and the storm too powerful. Both anchors were dropped but they dragged. As a last resort Captain Oliver had both masts cut away but the wind and seas were relentless and the brig was driven onto Grampus Ledge. Enormous waves lifted the helpless ship and smashed her again and again on the rocks. The impact broke her back and opened her seams. A hole was quickly broken in her hull and those below decks were drowned within minutes. Pounded against the rocks, the brig began to break up. 

Horrified spectators saw people being “swept in their dozens” into the boiling surf from the crowded decks. The 99 Irish men, women and children were en route to start their new lives in America and tragically died within sight of the land they hoped to make their new home. The wreck was the worst in Cohasset’s history.

Bootlegging During Prohibition

Cohasset seafarers did a brisk business in bootleg liquor during Prohibition (1920-1933).

They would drive their small craft in the dark of night to rum-runners stationed some 15 miles offshore. These large vessels, averaging around 50 feet in length, carried contraband liquor from Canada and Mexico and were equipped with powerful engines to outrun the Coast Guard. These entrepreneurs would offload cases of rum and other spirits, transport the cargo to hiding places along the shore and then sell the goods at high profit to individuals and speakeasies. One of which was the infamous Breadencheese Club on Forest Avenue.

Some of the bootleggers prided themselves on obtaining only the “real McCoy,” named after the famed Prohibition Era sea captain and smuggler Bill McCoy, who never watered or adulterated his rum with other additives. Favorite drop-off points included the Parker Avenue waterfront, the banks of Bailey’s Creek, Sandy Cove and in the off-season, the estates along the coast.

Only when Hector Pelletier was appointed police chief in 1927 did bootlegging taper off in Cohasset. In a single night raid at the beginning of his career, his men seized 375 cases of whiskey on one private beach on Atlantic Avenue. The accompanying image shows Cohasset policemen loading seized liquor onto a truck headed for Boston. Pelletier went on to serve the town as chief for 40 years.

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