I come from an old Cape Cod family—and I mean old. My original ancestor came over from England in 1634 on the ship Hercules with John Lothropp. (He later dropped the second p, and for a while, I served as a trustee of the Sturgis library, which was founded by Lothrop. It is the oldest library building in the United States. So there.) They settled first in Scituate, just south of Boston. Then they moved to Cape Cod in 1638, and we’ve been here ever since. One of my ancestors, Thomas Hinckley, was a governor of the Plymouth Colony from 1680 to 1692. One of Thomas’ children is a direct ancestor of George Bush. His sister, Sarah, was a direct ancestor of Barack Obama. Go figure.
Thomas’s father was Samuel Hinckley, who had three sons: Thomas, Samuel, and John. I am descended from John, the youngest son. My great grandfather was also named John, and he was a builder of churches on Cape Cod. His son, my grandfather, was also John E. Hinckley, who started a well known lumber yard with his brother, Howard.
I love some of the old Hinckley first names:
So why am I telling you all this family history that really doesn’t mean anything? On Cape Cod, family names are important. They let others know your bona fides as a true Cape Codder. This isn’t actually important to anyone unless you come from here, but then its critical.
Whenever I run into a Nickerson, Eldredge, Swift, Baxter, Nye, Crowell, or someone from some other ancient Cape Cod family, and I tell them my name is Hagberg, they look at me as if they are examining an insect. Hagberg is not a Cape Cod name. I don’t know for sure, but I think we were horse thieves in Sweden who snuck aboard a ship just before the sheriff arrived. I could be wrong … but then, you don’t know my family. In any event, when I announce that my mother is a Hinckley, everything is forgiven. We all laugh and toast our common heritage, and all is well with the world.
You see, its not enough just to be born on Cape Cod; thousands of people are born on the Cape every year, and they are Cape Codders—they’re just not “real” Cape Codders. To be a “real” Cape Codder you must be able to trace your roots back at least twelve generations. I suspect this is something peculiar to New England. In other states, most people came from somewhere else … like New England.
If you think Cape Codders are snobby, head to Boston to meet some of the Brahmins. If you’re wondering who they might be, check the Board of Trustees of Harvard University—yup, full of Boston Brahmins. They have their own clubs, which are even more exclusive than Harvard: the Algonquin Club, the St. Botolph Club, and the Union Club. My favorite is the Somerset Club, where it is rumored that back in the 1800s, the club members required the fire department to use the service entrance to come in and put out the fire. They also don’t permit whistling. Why? Because it’s considered “too exuberant.” Now that’s a club!
Even with my pedigree, I will never be a member at any of the Boston Clubs, and since we don’t really have any Only Real Cape Codder Clubs, I’ll have to suffer along with the rest of humanity—clubless. I don’t really mind, though. I’ve been a guest at a couple of those clubs, and as interesting as it was, its just not my thing. I suspect that most of the members just sit around drinking scotch and thinking about how much money they have.
And so I shall continue to muddle along without the benefit of private membership in a club I wouldn’t join, and without people knowing instantly of my real Cape Cod lineage because my last name is different. I know it’s only important on the Cape, but there is one other place where being a Hinckley might actually mean something: For decades the head of the Mormon Church was Gordon Hinckley, a distant relative. I think that means that I can have multiple wives. I would too, but I haven’t been able to figure out a way to explain it to Louise without her doing me grievous bodily injury.