Barnstable is both the name of a county in Massachusetts, as well as the town that is its county seat. It was founded by the Reverend John Lothrop and a group of Congregationalists who settled there and incorporated it in 1639. Lothrop had been exiled from England as punishment for preaching against the established Church of England. He and his congregation had settled first in Scituate, before experiencing friction over land allotments and moving to Barnstable. The area had very recently also been settled by another religious group, led by Parson Joseph Hull, who had been recently kicked out of Weymouth. (He is not the namesake of Hull, MA.) He had also departed for New England after having been expelled from the Church of England (but not exiled) in 1635. The town of Barnstable was primarily an agricultural community with the commercial center of the county to be in nearby Hyannis. The original Indian name of the area that would be Barnstable was “Mattakeese”, meaning “plowed fields”.
The town was named “Barnstable” by Mr. Lothrop, in honor of the town of “Barnstaple” in Devon, England. It is currently the oldest incorporated borough in the United Kingdon. It was founded prior to 930 (as “Beardestaple”) and became a Saxon stronghold to defend North Devon from raids by the invading Danish. In addition to its strong defense, it was at the time the commercial center of the area. It had been made into a full borough by Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex until 899 and given a town charter by his grandson King Athelstan, who had at that point became King of England.
The original function of the town of Beardestaple was probably to serve as a commercial center for the nearby town of Bearde, now known as the town of Beer, also in Devon, England. (The suffix “staple” is Saxon for “marketplace”.) The origin of the name of Bearde is unknown, it may have come from the Saxon word for wood (“bearu”), the Norse word for farmstead (“byr”), or the Anglo-Saxon term for barley, from which we get our modern English word for beer (“bere”).
Note: This post is archived from a previous blogging project.