Provincetown town (township), Barnstable county, eastern Massachusetts, U.S., at the northern tip of Cape Cod. It is located among sand dunes within a fishhook-shaped harbour that was visited by the explorers Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602 and Henry Hudson in 1609. Before the Pilgrims founded Plymouth, they landed there. An event that is now commemorated on Nov. 21. It was on board the Mayflower in Provincetown harbour where the first European child in New England (Peregrine White) was born. The Pilgrim Monument (built in 1907–10) and Provincetown Museum (both on High Pole Hill) commemorate these events. Traders and fishermen settled the site prior to 1700; the community, known as the Precinct of Cape Cod or Province Lands, was part of Truro until it was separately incorporated in 1727 as Provincetown. Exposed to repeated seaborne attacks, it was abandoned during the French and Indian Wars (1754–63) and the American Revolution (1775–83). Its harbour was used by the British as a naval base during the Revolution and during the War of 1812.
As an active whaling and fishing port in the 19th century, Provincetown attracted large numbers of Portuguese fishermen, whose descendants still maintain a fleet there. Salt making (by evaporating seawater) was long an important activity. Bounded by the Cape Cod National Seashore, Provincetown is a popular summer resort and noted artists' colony. A longtime resident was Eugene O'Neill, whose first produced play, Bound East for Cardiff, was staged there in 1916 by the Provincetown Players. In the latter part of the 20th century the town also became known for its gay community.
In 1916 the group produced in Wharf Theatre, Eugene O'Neill's “Bound East for Cardiff” and “Thirst”, thus launching the career of one of America's distinguished playwrights. That winter the Provincetown Players took up residence in New York City's Greenwich Village and for years thereafter discovered and developed the work of such noted writers, designers, and actors as Floyd Dell, Edna St. Vincent Millay (Aria da Capo), Donald Oenslager, Kenneth Macgowan, Jasper Deeter, and Paul Green, whose “In Abraham's Bosom” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1927. As one of the founders, Glaspell also wrote several one-act plays for the group, notably Trifles (1916), Close the Book (1917), A Woman's Hour (1918), and Tickless Time (1919), and four full-length plays, including Bernice (1919), Inheritors (1921), and The Verge (1921).
From its inception to its demise in 1929, the Provincetown Players flourished as a noncommercial experimental theater group of actors, playwrights, and stage designers controlled by artists rather than businesspeople. After 1923 led by O'Neill, producer Kenneth Macgowan, and writer and designer Robert Edmond Jones, the group had a profound influence on the development of the American theater. They produced some 90 new American plays in a small Greenwich Village theater which stimulated the work of many theatrical talents that otherwise might have remained obscure. The group disbanded in 1929 but through its efforts, together with those of the Washington Square Players, a truly American theater was realized.