For a century or more before Pilgrims dropped anchor off what is now Provincetown, roving seamen sought refuge in the natural harbor at the curled tip of Cape Cod. The would-be colonists tarried only long enough to do some laundry (and damage to the native population) before moving on in search of greener pastures.
The untamed outland (Thoreau, wearing his curmudgeonly travel writer hat, would later laud it as “this wild rank place”) was left to observe its own customs and laws – the foremost being lawlessness. For a time, the makeshift community went by the name of “Helltown,” and the uptight colonists of the mainland knew better than to meddle. In a sense, their grudging tolerance set the stage for what remains a community in a state of constant creative anarchy – and, seemingly, permanent party.