ROCKPORT is situated on Cape Ann, a rocky peninsula located in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. It has a population of about 7,500 living within its six and a half square miles of territory. It is bordered on the north and east by the Atlantic Ocean. To the south and west lies Gloucester, the city with which Rockport shares Cape Ann.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS ROCK. In the early 1500s, before any French or English explorers had set foot in New England, Rockport was but a large chunk of granite protruding from the Atlantic Ocean. Forest and dense scrub occupied the few areas where sandy soil had been deposited by retreating glaciers. Because of the harshness of the land, the native population was restricted to a few summer visitors who came to hunt, fish, and dig clams.
"CAP AUX ISLES" was the name with which Samuel de Champlain dubbed Cape Ann in 1605. The French were Rockport's first documented visitors, although a promontory similar to Cape Ann is featured on the Gomez-Ribero map of 1529 as "Cabo de Santiago." Many people believe the Vikings to have been the first white men in the area. However, the Vikings of lore did not leave such a mark on Rockport as those Norsemen who would come to work in the granite quarries during the 1800s.
IN 1614, JOHN SMITH anchored in what would later be called Sandy Bay. Casting his eyes over the landscape before him, he saw the homes of the Agawam Indians in the distance. Along the coast he saw a "fair headland...fronted by three isles." To this land he gave the name Tragabigzanda, the name of a Greek maiden who had been kind to him while he was held captive by Turks. The three islands he dubbed The Turk's Heads, in memory of his triumph over three Turkish gladiators during his imprisonment.
TRAGABIGZANDA WAS NOT TO LAST; Prince Charles would rename the cape after his mother, Anne of Denmark. The Three Turk's Heads would come to be known by their individual names: Straitsmouth, Thacher's, and Milk islands.