Wellfleet is a town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States, and is located halfway between the "tip" and "elbow" of Cape Cod. The town had a population of 2,750 at the 2010 census, which swells nearly sixfold during the summer. A total of 70% of the town's land area is in protection, and nearly half of it is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Wellfleet is famous for its eponymous oysters, which are celebrated in the annual October Wellfleet OysterFest.
Wellfleet was encountered by Europeans as early as 1606, when the French explorer Samuel de Champlain explored and named it "Port Aux Huitres" (Oyster Port) for the bountiful oyster population resident to the area. Originally settled in the 1650s by the Europeans as Billingsgate (after the famous fish market in East London), Wellfleet was part of neighboring Eastham until 1763, achieving town status after nearly 30 years of petitioning. The name "Wellfleet" is disputed; some argue that it comes from "Whale Fleet", after the burgeoning whaling industry in the town, while some say it comes from a brand of oyster popular in England at the time, in order to help sales.
Wellfleet's oyster beds drove the early economy, as did whaling and other fishing endeavors. The town was home to 30 whaling ships at the time of the American Revolution. However, because of the decline of whaling and the mackerel catch in the late 19th century, the fleet declined, being completely free of schooners by 1900. The oyster fleet continues to this day, however, harvesting many other types of shellfish as well.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the Cape Cod National Seashore, which encompasses most of the Atlantic shoreline of Cape Cod. In Wellfleet the territory circles the town, from Jeremy Point through the marshes and "islands" along the Herring River, and extending the length of the Atlantic shore of the town.
Construction of the Chequesset Inn in the late 19th century contributed to the development of a tourist economy in Wellfleet. The town has the second greatest concentration of art galleries on Cape Cod, right after Provincetown. It is also a popular retirement spot.
In 1717, the pirate "Black Sam" Bellamy was sailing near what is now Wellfleet when his ship, the Whydah, sank off shore, together with over of gold and silver and all but two of its 145 men. The wreck was discovered in 1984, the first of only two confirmed pirate shipwrecks ever to have been discovered.