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  • Old English: In the 1600s fathom meant “arm’s length”, and it was used for linear distance–both vertical and horizontal. So, 10 fathom deep of people would be about 30 feet deep of people.
  • Modern Depth: a vertical linear unit of measurement (equal to 6 feet) for water depth. Four fathoms deep of water equals about 24 feet.
  • Modern, also “to understand”.

John Winthrop Journal Note: In his journal from the 1600s, Winthrop used fathom for water depth as we do now and generally to indicated distance. I do not know if he was using “arm’s length” of about 3 feet, or our modern definition of six feet.

While at sea approaching New England about 1630:

  • “We sounded here and found no ground at one hundred fathom and more.”
  • “We sounded again about two, afternoon, and had ground about eighty fathom, a fine gray sand; so we presently tacked and stood S. S. E., and shot off a piece of ordnance to give notice to our consorts, whom we saw not since last evening.”
  • “About two in the afternoon we sounded and had ground at about eighty fathom, and the mist then breaking up, we saw
    the shore to the N. about five or six leagues off, and were (as we supposed) to the S. W. of Cape Sable, and in forty-three
    and a quarter.”

In 1633 describing a river:

  • “They were also in the River of Connecticut, which is barred at the entrance, so as they could not find above one fathom of water.”

In 1634 describing an amount of beads:

  • “…to give us four hundred fathom of wampompeage, and forty beaver, and thirty otter skins…”
    • [Wampompeages are small cylindrical beads made from polished shells.]


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