The Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit is presenting "Shifting Sands: The Story of Dead Neck Sampson's Island" as its special exhibition for the 2019 season. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend through Christmas.

Inspired by local interest in the three-phase dredging project that began this past winter, the show features aerial footage of the operation. Sand was removed from the western tip of Sampson's Island, where it was encroaching on the entrance to Cotuit Harbor, and pumped through a pipeline down the Seapuit River to replenish the dwindling east end of Dead Neck, the barrier beach protecting Oyster Harbors. 

"Shifting Sands" examines the history of the island, including ownership dating back to the Wampanoags' claim to Dead Neck and the purchase of Sampson's by Josiah Sampson, the gentleman farmer and mill owner whose name became permanently linked with the island. Today, Barnstable Clean Water Coalition owns Dead Neck and Mass Audubon owns Sampson's, the two organizations working together to maintain the island as a sanctuary for such endangered bird species as piping plovers and least terns.

The exhibition seasons history with geology, with map showing dramatic changes in Sampson’s Island and Dead Neck over time, including the two becoming one in the early 1900s and the disappearance of nearby Skill (or Gull) Island.

On a lighthearted note, the exhibition explores the origins of the names of the inlet that was formerly the channel between Sampson’s Island and Dead Neck. In Cotuit it’s called Cupid’s Cove and, in Osterville, Pirate’s Cove. This also introduces the local legend of Hannah Screecham, the “witch” and pirate accomplice said to haunt Grand Island. Visitors will also learn of the tragically true tale of the packet Caroline, which ran aground off Sampson’s Island in February 1829.

Upcoming dates

Download schedule


  • Starting Friday, May 24th, 2019, repeats every week on Sunday, Friday, and Saturday until Sunday, December 22, 2019 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm


Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit

1148 Main St.
Cotuit, MA 02635

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