Explorer Gosnold Names "Cape Cod"
On This Day...
...in 1602, the English explorer
Bartholomew Gosnold dropped anchor off the
Massachusetts coast. While he and four others
went ashore, the rest of the crew pulled in so
many cod that they "threw numbers of them
overboard again." When Gosnold returned to the
ship and saw the abundance of fish, he decided to
name the place "Cape Cod." Although half of the
40 men who accompanied Gosnold had planned to
stay and establish a trading post, in the end,
they all returned to England. The cargo they
brought home sassafras, cedar logs, and furs
and their descriptions of a rich land populated
by friendly natives inspired the next English
effort at a permanent settlement in the New World Jamestown.
In March of 1602, a small ship named the Concord
left Falmouth, England, bound for New England.
Forty-nine days later, the ship made landfall on
the southern coast of what is now Maine. The men
aboard were on an expedition to set up a trading
post in America. They were led by the explorer
Bartholomew Gosnold, who has since come to be
known as the "Columbus of New England."
The Concord sailed southward until on May 15th it
reached the tip of a peninsula at the mouth of a
large bay teeming with cod fish. After only a few
hours fishing, they concluded that "there is upon
this coast, better fishing, and in as great
plentie, as in Newfoundland."
For the next three weeks, the party explored the
area they named "Cape Cod," built a fort, traded
with local Indians, and recorded glowing accounts
of the land's abundant natural resources. The
goods and descriptions Gosnold's explorers
brought home made this part of the New World
appear attractive to the
investors and colonists who would follow a few decades later.
Born around 1572, Bartholomew Gosnold attended
Cambridge University but did not complete a
degree. Somewhere along the way he acquired the
skills of a navigator. Coming of age in the era
of Sir Walter Raleigh's famed expeditions to the
Americas, Gosnold used his family connections to
outfit a ship that he would take across the
Atlantic. The goal of the voyage was to establish
a direct route to the "north part of Virginia,"
as the English then called New England, and
establish a trading post for Indian furs and other goods.
Gosnold took with him a skeleton crew of eight
sailors and 12 explorers; the other 20 men aboard
the Concord had agreed to be "planters," who
would remain at a fortified house that the party
would build and stock before the ship returned to England.
After exploring the Cape's inner shore as far as
Wellfleet, the Concord sailed around the ocean
side. On May 21st, Captain Gosnold and a few of
his men went ashore on a small chain of islands.
"We found it to be 4 English miles in compasse,
without house or inhabitant, saving a little old
house made of boughes, covered with barke, an old
piece of [fish weir] of the Indians to catch
fish, and one or two places where they had made
fires." The island was covered with the wild
fruit of raspberries, gooseberries and
huckleberries. Gosnold named it "Martha's
Vineyard," in honor of his daughter.
A few days later, the party explored a nearby
island with "...many plaine places of grasse,
abundance of Strawberries & other berries" They
called this one "Elizabeth's Island," in honor of
their queen. Today it is called Cuttyhunk.
Finding the soil fertile, they decided this was
the place to establish the trading post. The men
built a strategically located fort and stocked it
with local food stuffs.
Gosnold and his men regularly bartered and
feasted with Indians. The atmosphere was
friendly; the Indians were helpful in showing the
Englishman where to find food and other
resources. The English were impressed with the
copper adornments worn by the Indians; the
Natives were fascinated with the metal knives the
Europeans gave them in trade. At one point, the
a feast for a large party of 50 or more Indians,
led by a young Indian who may have been the future Chief Massasoit.
During their stay, Gosnold and his men collected
a quantity of sassafras, cedar logs, and furs to
bring back to England. This cargo would be
valuable enough to pay for the expense of the
voyage. As the time came for the explorers and
crew to return, however, the "planters" those
who had planned to remain at the trading post
had a change of heart. When the Concord sailed
for England on June 18th, all 40 men were aboard.
Although Gosnold failed in his goal of
establishing a trading post, he succeeded in
other ways. The goods and, perhaps more
important, the reports he brought back helped
fuel the drive to settle the "New World." He was
fortunate to have in his party two men, lawyer
Gabriel Archer and clergyman John Brereton, whose
journals provide rich firsthand accounts of the land and its people.
Archer and Brereton recorded numerous encounters
with native people. Although they referred to the
Indians as "savages," the encounters they
described were peaceful and friendly. Gosnold's
party were not the first Europeans these Indians
had seen; they had already had contact with
fishermen, traders, and explorers from the "Old
World. Archer reported that the first group of
natives they encountered made chalk drawing to
describe the coast for the explorers. "They spoke
divers Christian words, and seemed to understand
much more than we." Throughout Gosnold's
five-week stay in New England, the native people
were welcoming, helpful, and appeared interested
in trading with and learning about the newcomers.
In return, Gosnold and men were respectful and
generous, and made a concerted effort to pay homage to Indian leaders.
In 1608 Bartholomew Gosnold sailed as second in
command on an expedition to establish the first
permanent English settlement in Virginia. He died
of malaria three months after landing in Jamestown.
Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. IV.
The Gosnold Discoveries... In the North Part of
Virginia, 1602; Now Cape Cod and the Islands,
Massachusetts According to the Relations by
Gabriel Archer and John Brereton, compiled and
ed. by Lincoln A. Dexter (Published by the author, 1982).
Native People of Southern New England, by
Kathleen Bragdon (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996).
Program of the "Gosnold 400 Quadricentennial 1602-2002."
Spirit of the New England Tribes: Indian History
and Folklore, 1620-1984, by William Simmons
(University Press of New England, 1986).
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