Boaters on upper Buzzards Bay have enjoyed afternoon stops on Bassetts Island as summer traditions for generations. But how much do you really know about Bassetts? We came across a rather exhaustive article by Ellen J. O’Flaherty in the Fall 2014 edition of Post Scripts and thought we’d share some of Ms. O’Flaherty’s research into the island’s history with you.
Bassetts Island lies in the protected waters of Pocasset Harbor between Scraggy Neck and Wings Neck. This “Y” shaped island of about 60 acres is a combination of open woodland, sandy beaches and marshland. The island contains a fresh water pond and two, small saltwater ponds. There are no roads.
The known history of the island dates back to the mid 1600’s when it was owned, along with virtually all of Pocasset and Cataumet from the Pocasset River to the Bourne-Falmouth line, by William Numuck. Numuck was a Wampanoag who had converted to Christianity. His resulting relationship with the colonists allowed his legal ownership of Numucks Island, or Auntchishogquechike Island.
In 1708, William Bassett Sr. of Sandwich purchased the island from Numuck – although it was later determined that he had only bought half of the land because Ephram Swift had legal rights to the other half. The island was held in common and undivided by the two families, but it has been known as Bassetts Island ever since. The only known exception was on a 1781 chart of the Buzzards Bay coastline prepared by the British to assist their forces during the American Revolution. Here the island was labeled Williams Island.
The Bassett family’s portion of the island was sold over the years to Jonathan Hall, then to the Nye family, then to Joseph Hoxie II. In contrast, the Swift half of the island remained in the family until the 1860’s, when a quarter of their share of it was sold to Frederick Dimmick.
By the late 1800’s, Bostonians were seeking shorefront property for summer cottages. In 1872, the Old Colony Railroad began service from Buzzards Bay, and in 1884 the “Dude Train” began its chartered runs from Boston to deliver husbands and fathers for the weekends. Reginald and Morris Gray were part of this early wave of new Pocasset residents, and their dream was to buy an island. The brothers, recent graduates of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, began negotiations with the various owners and, in 1882, had managed to purchase the whole island for a total of $1,500. By 1884 the Gray brothers had built the first house on the island on the north point across from Barlows Landing. This house was badly damaged by the 1938 hurricane and later razed completely.
In 1889, the Gray brothers purchased Barlows Landing from the Tahanto Club, a private fishing club. The landing provided a spot for a sheltered crossing to their home on Bassetts Island. After the death of Reginald, Morris sold Barlows Landing to the Town of Bourne for $1,000, retaining a right of way for continued access to the island.
Morris’ son inherited his father’s interest in Bassetts Island and built his own home on the western wing overlooking Buzzards Bay. For access, Morris Jr. purchased a 2.5-acre parcel from the Wingsa Neck Trust that is still used by some island residents as a right of way. When he died in 1935, the Chase family purchased the island for his heirs.
O. Stuart Chase sold the 16-acre sandy southern arm of Bassetts to the town in 1968 and, over the next several years, further subdivided the island into lots of 2-3 acres each. In addition to the Chase family home built by Morris Gray Jr. there are now 5 private cottages on the part of the island extending from the town beach to the northern point of Bassetts Island. All are, naturally, summer homes – serviced by electricity but accessible by boat only when the harbor is not frozen.