Prior to European colonization, Yarmouth was inhabited by the Wampanoag, an Algonquian people. In the Wôpanâak language the area was called "Mattacheese". Wampanoag tribes living in Yarmouth at the time of European settlement included the Pawkunnawkuts on both sides of the lower Bass River, the Hokanums in what is now northeastern Yarmouth, and the Cummaquids in what is now western Yarmouth.
Plymouth Colony settlement
Yarmouth was organized and incorporated as part of the Plymouth Colony on September 3, 1639, following a settlement led by John Crowe (later Crowell), Thomas Howes and Anthony Thacher. Yarmouth originally included what is now the town of Dennis, which was incorporated as a separate community on June 19, 1793. Yarmouth is named after Great Yarmouth, a town in the county of Norfolk, on the east coast of England, which is itself at the mouth of the River Yare.
In 1642 and 1645, Yarmouth furnished soldiers for the Plymouth Colony's expeditions against the Narragansett. In 1648, the Plymouth Colony's legislature, the General Court, appointed Myles Standish to adjudicate land disputes among the Yarmouth settlers. Yarmouth soldiers served the Plymouth Colony in King Philip's War: fifteen Yarmouth men participated in the Great Swamp Fight without casualties, but the town did lose five men at Rehoboth. Yarmouth troops also saw service in the early years of King William's War. In the early eighteenth century, some of the Yarmouth veterans of King Philip's War were granted lands to settle in Gorham, Maine.
Yarmouth was the site of an active group of the Sons of Liberty during the American Revolution. The town's militia mustered to provide assistance to the minutemen at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, but the militia returned home upon news that the rebels had already triumphed on the field. In March of 1776, Yarmouth troops served as part of George Washington's forces during the Fortification of Dorchester Heights. A meeting of Yarmouth citizens declared the town's independence from Great Britain on June 20, 1776. As a coastal community, Yarmouth was subject to blockade by the Royal Navy throughout the Revolutionary War.
War of 1812
In the early years of the Republic, Yarmouth shared with the rest of New England a strong support for the Federalist Party. The economy of Yarmouth was centered on maritime industries, and the townspeople were consequently opposed to the Jefferson Administration's Embargo Act of 1807 and Non-Intercourse Act of 1809.
On July 8, 1812, the Yarmouth town meeting voted to protest the recent Congressional declaration of war with Great Britain. Along with much of the rest of coastal New England, Yarmouth was subject to blockade by the Royal Navy beginning in 1814. Although the people of Yarmouth, including its militiamen, remained intensely opposed to the War of 1812, local militia forces did participate in attempts to counter the blockade.
Early economic endeavors
Yarmouth began as a farming community in which the people of the town raised pigs, cattle, and sheep. Due to livestock pasturage, firewood collection, shipbuilding, and the construction of the Old Colony Railroad, the old-growth forests of the Wampanoag era had disappeared from Yarmouth by the end of the nineteenth century, not to be replaced with stands of incipient second-growth forest until agriculture declined in the town during the twentieth century.
Developers began to refashion Yarmouth into a summer resort near the end of the nineteenth century. Hotels and summer cottage communities proliferated in the first half of the twentieth century, particularly along what is now Route 28. With the emergence of the car culture in the years just after World War II, these were joined first by many motels (mostly along Route 28 in West Yarmouth) and later by the denser, suburban pattern of residential housing construction that characterizes Yarmouth today.
The headquarters of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a global animal welfare and conservation charity founded in 1969, is located in Yarmouth Port. In 1970, the national Christmas Tree Shops retail chain was founded at a location on Route 6A in Yarmouth Port.