Bourne was first settled in 1640 as a part of the town of Sandwich. It was officially incorporated in 1884, the last town to be incorporated in Barnstable County. It was named for Jonathan Bourne Sr., whose father, Richard Bourne, served in the Massachusetts General Court at the time of settlement, as well as helping to found the settlement in Mashpee. The town lies at the northeast corner of Buzzards Bay and is the site of Aptucxet Trading Post, the nation's oldest store. It was founded by the Pilgrims in 1627 at a site halfway between the two rivers which divided Cape Cod from the rest of the state. It was out of this location that the Cape Cod Canal was formed, in order to save time and lives by eliminating the need to sail around the hazardous eastern shores of the Cape. Because of the canal, Bourne is now considered the "first" town on the Cape, as all three bridges (the Bourne, Sagamore and the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge) are located within the town. All of Bourne is on Cape Cod, with Buttermilk bay forming the western edge of the peninsula (cape) and the Bourndale Road forming the northern boundary to the cape.
Bourne is the site of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, a maritime college located at the southern mouth of the canal on the western shore.
Otis Air National Guard Base is partially located in the town. The United States Air Force space command system PAVE PAWS northeast radar is located within Bourne's borders inside Otis Air National Guard Base.
Bourne is home to an archaeological curiosity known as the "Bourne Stone", featuring markings whose origin and significance have not been conclusively established.