Cape Elizabeth is a town in Cumberland County, Maine, United States. Often regarded as a wealthy enclave of Southern Maine, the town is part of the Portland–South Portland–Biddeford, Maine metropolitan statistical area. As of the 2010 census, Cape Elizabeth had a population of 9,015.
Cape Elizabeth is the location of the Beach to Beacon 10K road race that starts at Crescent Beach State Park (the "beach") and ends at Portland Head Light (the "beacon"). The race draws runners from all parts of the U.S. and elite athletes from around the world.
At the southern tip of the promontory, Richmond Island was visited about 1605 by Samuel de Champlain and was the site of a trading post in 1628. John Smith explored and mapped New England in 1615, and gave names to places mainly based on the names used by Native Americans. When Smith presented his map to King Charles I, he suggested that the king should feel free to change any of the "barbarous names" for English ones. The king made many such changes, but only four survive today, one of which is Cape Elizabeth, which Charles named in honor of his sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia.
The first habitation by Europeans was on Richmond Island. Without title, Walter Bagnall (called "Great Walt") in 1628 established a trading post, dealing in rum and beaver skins. "His principal purpose appears to have been to drive a profitable trade with the Indians," writes historian George J. Varney, "without scruple about his methods." His cheating caught up with him in October 1631, however, when he was killed by the Indians, who also burned down his trading post.
Two months later, the Plymouth Company granted Richmond Island to Robert Trelawney and Moses Goodyear, merchants of Plymouth, England, who made it a center for fisheries and trade. By 1638, Trelawney employed 60 men in the fisheries. The first settlers on the mainland were George Cleeve and Richard Tucker, who settled in 1630 on the shore opposite the island, and near the Spurwink River. They worked at planting, fishing and trading. Two years later they were driven off by John Winter, Trelawny's agent. In 1636, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, lord proprietor of Maine, gave Cleeve and Tucker a grant of including the neck of land called Machegonne—now Portland. In 1643 English Parliamentarian Alexander Rigby bought the large existing Plough of Lygonia patent which included the entire area including Cape Elizabeth.
In 1703, during Queen Anne's War, the town was destroyed. It would be resettled about 1719 or 1720.
Cape Elizabeth became Maine's twenty-third town on November 1, 1765, when it separated from Falmouth, as Portland was then known. Its first town meeting was held on December 2, 1765. South Portland separated in 1895 from Cape Elizabeth, which contains a number of houses designed by John Calvin Stevens.
In 1872, construction of an artillery base began around Portland Head Light, which in 1899 would be named Fort Williams, after Major General Seth Williams of the Civil War. The fort was to guard the southern entrance to Portland Harbor. Active between 1899 and 1962, the fort was then purchased by the town for about $200,000. Today, Fort Williams Park includes Portland Head Light and museum, some remains of the military fort, the ruins of Goddard Mansion, tennis courts, a baseball diamond and grandstand, and other recreation facilities. The park is maintained by the town which has repeatedly opted out of parking fees to ensure the park is maintained for use free of charge to the public.