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“We Took Great Store of Codfish and Called it Cape Cod:” Bartholomew Gosnold Sails Along Northeastern North America, 1602

Compared to the French, Spanish, and Dutch, the English were slow to develop an interest in North American colonization By the later part of the sixteenth century, however, a group of interested and well-connected Englishmen with experience in Irish colonization began to consider permanent settlements in North America. Bartholomew Gosnold undertook a small prospecting expedition on the vessel Concord in 1602, passing down the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts to explore the northern Virginia coast. Gosnold was the first European to see and set foot on Cape Cod—which received its name for its abundance of cod fish—and built a small fur trading station there. The successful voyage enticed English colonization efforts to turn toward this part of North America. Four years later, Gosnold commanded a voyage to bring the first colonists to Jamestown, Virginia. Several accounts of the 1602 prospecting expedition quickly appeared in print.; this complete one was first published by Samuel Purchas in 1625.


Gabriel Archer:

The said captain did set sail from Falmouth the day and year above written accompanied with thirty-two persons, whereof eight mariners and sailors, twelve purposing upon the discovery to return with the ship for England, the rest remain there for populationů.

The seventh of May following, we first saw many birds in bigness of cliff pigeons, and after divers others as petrels, coots, hagbuts, penguins, mews, gannets, cormorants, gulls, with many else in our English tongue of no name. The eighth of the same the water changed to a yellowish green, where at seventy fathoms we had ground. The ninth, we had two-and-twenty fathoms in fair sandy ground, having upon our lead many glittering stones, somewhat heavy, which might promise some mineral matter in the bottom, we held ourselves by computation, well near the latitude of 43 degrees.

The tenth we sounded in 27, 30, 37, 43 fathoms, and then came to 108. Some thought it to be the sounding of the westernmost end of Saint John’s Island; upon this bank we saw sculls of fish in great numbers. The twelfth, we hoisted out hawser of our shallop, and sounding had then eighty fathoms without any current perceived by William Streete the master, one hundred leagues westward from Saint Mary’s, till we came to the aforesaid soundings, continually passed fleeting by us sea-oare, which seemed to have their movable course towards the north-east; a matter to set some subtle invention on work, for comprehending the true cause thereof. The thirteenth, we sounded in seventy fathoms, and observed great beds of weeds, much wood, and divers things else floating by us, when as we had smelling of the shore, such as from the southern Cape and Andalusia, in Spain. The fourteenth, about six in the morning, we descried land that lay north, &c., the northerly part we called the north land, which to another rock upon the same lying twelve leagues west, that we called Savage Rock (because the savages first showed themselves there); five leagues towards the said rock is an out point of woody ground, the trees thereof very high and straight, from the rock east-north-east. From the said rock came towards us a Biscay shallop with sail and oars, having eight persons in it, whom we supposed at first to be Christians distressed. But approaching us nearer, we perceived them to be savages. These coming within call, hailed us, and we answered. Then after signs of peace, and a long speech by one of them made, they came boldly aboard us, being all naked, saving about their shoulders certain loose deer skins, and near their wastes seal skins tied fast like to Irish dimmie trousers. One that seemed to be their commander wore a waistcoat of a black work, a pair of breeches, cloth stockings, shoes, hat and band, one or two more had also a few things made by some Christians; these with a piece of chalk described the coast thereabouts, and could name Placentia of Newfoundland; they spoke divers Christian words, and seemed to understand much more than we, for want of language could comprehend. These people are in color swart, their hair long, uptied with a knot in the part of behind the head. They paint there bodies which are strong and well proportioned. These much desire our longer stay, but finding ourselves short of our purposed place, we set sail westward, leaving them and their coast. About sixteen leagues south-west from thence we perceived in that course two small island, the one lying eastward from Savage Rock, the other to the southward of it; the coast we left was full of goodly woods, fair plains, with little green round hills above the cliffs appearing unto us, which are indifferently raised, but all rocky, and of shining stones, which might have persuaded us a longer stay there.

The fifteenth day we had again sight of the land, which made ahead, being as we thought an island, by reason of a large sound that appeared westward between it and the main, for coming to the west end thereof, we did perceive a large opening, we called it Shoal Hope. Near this cape we came to fathom anchor in fifteen fathoms, where we took great store of codfish, for which we altered the name, and called it Cape Cod. Here we saw sculls of herring, mackerel, and other small fish, in great abundance. This is a low sandy shoal, but without danger, also we came to anchor again in sixteen fathoms, fair by the land in the latitude of 42 degrees. This cape is well near a mile broad, and lieth north-east by east. The captain went here a shore and found the ground to be full of pease, strawberries, whortleberries, &c., as then unripe, the sand also by the shore somewhat deep, the firewood there by us taken in was of cypress, birch, witch-hazel and beech. A young Indian came here to the captain, armed with his bow and arrows, and had certain plates of copper hanging at his ears; he showed a willingness to help us in our occasions.

The sixteenth, we trended the coast southerly, which was all champaign and full of grass, but the island somewhat woody. Twelve leagues from Cape Cod, we descried a point with some breach, a good distance off, and keeping our luff to double it, we came onto the sudden into shoal water, yet well quitted ourselves thereof. This breach we called Tucker’s Terror, upon his expressed fear. The point we named Point Care; having passed it we bore up again with the land, and in the night came with it anchoring in eight fathoms, the ground good.

The seventeenth, appeared many breaches round about us, so as we continued that day without remove.

The eighteenth, being fair we sent forth the boat, to sound over a breach, that in our course lay of another point, by us called Gilbert’s Point, who returned us four, five, six, and seven fathoms over. Also, a discovery of divers islands which after proved to be hills and hammocks, distinct within the land. This day there came unto the ship’s side divers canoes, the Indians apparelled as aforesaid, with tobacco and pipes steeled with cooper, skins, artificial strings and other trifles to barter; one had hanging about his neck a plate of rich copper, in length a foot, in breadth half a foot for a breastplate, the ears of all the rest had pendants of copper. Also, one of them had his face painted over, and head stuck with feathers in manner of turkey-cock’s train. These are more timorous than those of the Savage Rock, yet very thievish.

The nineteenth, we passed over the breach of Gilbert’s Point in four or five fathoms, and anchored a league or somewhat more beyond it; between the last two points are two leagues, the interim along shoal water, the latitude here is degrees two third parts.

The twentieth, by the ship’s side, we there killed penguins, and saw many sculls of fish. The coast from Gilbert’s Point to the supposed isles lieth east and by south. Here also we discovered two inlets which might promise fresh water, inwardly whereof we perceived much smoke, as though some population had there been. This coast is very full of people, for that as we trended the same savages still run along the shore, as men much admiring at us.

The one-and-twentieth, we went coasting from Gilbert’s Point to the supposed isles, in ten, nine, eight, seven, and six fathoms, close aboard the shore, and that depth lieth a league off. A little from the supposed isles, appeared unto us an opening, with which we stood, judging it to be the end of that which Captain Gosnold descried from Cape Cod, and as he thought to extend some thirty or more miles in length, and finding there but three fathoms a league off, we omitted to make further discovery of the same, calling it Shoal Hope.

From this opening the main lieth south-west, which coasting along we saw a disinhabited island, which so afterward appeared unto us: we bore with it, and named it Martha’s Vineyard; from Shoal Hope it is eight leagues in circuit, the island is five miles, and hath 41 degrees and one quarter of latitude. The place most pleasant; for the two-and-twentieth, we went ashore, and found it full of wood, vines, gooseberry bushes, whortleberries, raspberries, eglantines, &c. Here we had cranes, stearnes, shoulers, geese, and divers other beards which there at that time upon the cliffs being sandy with some rocky stones, did breed and had young. In this place we saw deer: here we rode in eight fathoms near the shore which we took great store of cod,—as before at Cape Cod, but much better.

The three-and-twentieth we weighed, and towards night came to anchor at the north-west part of the island, where the next morning offered unto us fast running thirteen savages apparelled as aforesaid, and armed with bows and arrows without any fear. They brought tobacco, deer-skins, and some sodden fish. These offered themselves unto us in great familiarity, who seemed to be well-conditioned. They came more rich in copper than any before. This island is sound, and hath no danger about it.

The four-and-twentieth, we set sail and doubled the Cape of another island next unto it, which we called Dover Cliff, and then came into a fair sound , where we rode all night; the next morning we sent of one boat to discover another cape, that lay between us and the main, from which were a ledge of rocks a mile into the sea, but all above water, and without danger; we went about them, and came to anchor in eight fathoms, a quarter of a mile from the shore, in one of the stateliest sounds that ever I was in. this called we Gosnold’s Hope; the north bank whereof is the main, which strecheth east and west. This island Captain Gosnold called Elizabeth’s isle, where we determined our abode: the distance between every of these island is, viz. From Martha’s Vineyard to Dover Cliff, half a league over the sound, thence to Elizabeth’s isle, one league distant. From Elizabeth’s island unto the main is four leagues. On the north side, near adjoining unto the island Elizabeth, is an islet in compass half a mile, full of cedars, by me called Hill’s Hap, to the northward of which, in the mouth of an opening on the main, appeareth another the like, that I called Hap’s Hill, for that I hope much hap may be expected from it.

The five-and-twentieth, it was that we came from Gosnold’s Hope. The six-and-twentieth, we trimmed and fitted up our shallop. The seven-and-twentieth, there came unto us an Indian and two women, the one we supposed to be his wife, the other his daughter, both clean and straight-bodied, with countenance sweet and pleasant. To these the Indian gave heedful attendance for that they shewed them in much familiarity with our men, although they would not admit of any immodest touch.

The eight-and-twentieth we entered counsel about our abode and plantation, which was concluded to be in the west part of Elizabeth’s island. The north-east thereof running from out of our ken. The south and north standeth in an equal parallel. This island in the westernside admitteth some in creeks, or sandy coves, so girded, as the water in some places of each side meeteth, to which the Indians from the main do often-times resort for fishing of crabs. There is eight fathoms very near the shore, and the latitude here is 41 degrees 11 minutes, the breadth from sound to sound in the western part is not passing a mile at most, altogether unpeopled and disinhabited. It is overgrown with wood and rubbish, viz. Oaks, ashes, beech, walnut, witch-hazle, sassafras, and cedars, with divers others of unknown names. The rubbish is wild pease, young sassafras, cherry-trees, vines, eglantines, gooseberry bushes, hawthorn, honeysuckles, with other of like quality. The herbs and roots are strawberries, raspberries, ground-nuts, alexander, surrin, tansy, &c. without count. Touching the fertility of the soil by our own experience made, we found it to be excellent for sowing some English pulse; it sprouted out in one fortnight almost half a foot. In this island is a stage or pond of fresh water, in circuit two miles, on the one side not distant from the sea thirty yards, in the centre whereof is a rocky islet, containing near an acre of ground full of wood, on which we began our fort and place of abode, disposing itself so fit for the same. These Indians call gold wassador, which argueth there is thereof in the country.

The nine-and-twentieth, we labored in getting of sassafras, rubbishing our little fort or islet, new keeling our shallop, and making a punt or flat-bottom boat to pass to and fro our fort over the fresh water, the powder of sassafras, in twelve hours cured one of our company that had taken a great surfeit, by eating the bellies of dog fish, a very delicious meat.

The thirtieth, Captain Gosnold, with divers of his company, went upon pleasure in the shallop towards Hill’s Hap to view it and the sandy cove, and returning brought with him a canoe that four Indians had there left, being fled away for fear of our English, which we brought into England.

The one-and-thirtieth, Captain Gosnold, desirous to see the main because of the distance, he set sail over; where coming to anchor, went ashore with certain of his company, and immediately there presented unto him men, women, and children, who, with all courteous kindness entertained him, giving him certain skins of wild beasts, which may be rich furs, tobacco, turtles, hemp, artificial strings colored, chains, and such like things as at the instant they had about them. These are a fair-conditioned people. On all the sea-coast along we found mussel shells that in color did represent mother-of-pearl, but not having means to dredge, could not apprehend further knowledge thereof. This main is the goodliest continent that ever we saw, promising more by far than we any did expect for it is replenished with fair fields, and in them fragrant flowers, also meadows, and hedged in with stately groves, being furnished also with pleasant brooks, and beautiful with two main rivers that (as we judge) may haply become good harbors, and conduct us to the hopes men so greedily do thirst after. In the mouth of one of these inlets or rivers, lieth that little isle before mentioned, called Hap’s Hill, from which unto the westernmost end of the main, appearing where the other inlet is, I account some five leagues, and the coast between bendeth like a bow, and lieth east and by north. Beyond these two inlets we might perceive the main to bear up south-west, and more southerly. Thus with this taste of discovery, we now contented ourselves, and the same day made return unto our fort, time not permitting more sparing delay.

The first of June, we employed ourselves in getting sassafras, and the building of our fort. The second, third, and fourth, we wrought hard to make ready our house for the provision to be had ashore to sustain us till our ship’s return. This day from the main came to our ship’s side a canoe, with their lord or chief commander, for that they made little stay only pointing to the sun, as in sign that the next day he would come and visit us, which he did accordingly.

The fifth, we continued our labor, when there came unto us ashore from the main fifty savages, stout and lusty men with their bows and arrows; amongst them there seemed to be one of authority, because the rest made an inclining respect unto him. The ship was at their coming a league off, and Captain Gosnold aboard, and so likewise Captain Gilbert, who almost never went ashore, the company with me only eight persons. These Indians in hasty manner came towards us, so as we thought fit to make a stand at an angle between the sea and fresh water; I moved myself towards him seven or eight steps, and clapped my hands first on the sides of mine head, then on my breast, and after presented my musket with a threatening countenance, thereby to signify unto them, either a choice of peace or war, whereupon he using me with mine own signs of peace, I stepped forth and embraced him; his company then all sat down in manner like greyhounds upon their heels, with whom my company fell a bettering. By this time Captain Gosnold was come with twelve men more from aboard, and to show the savage seignior that he was our captain, we received him in a guard, which he passing through, saluted the seignior with ceremonies of our salutations whereat he nothing moved or altered himself. Our Captain gave him a straw hat and a pair of knives; the hat awhile he wore, but the knives he beheld with great marveling, being very bright and sharp; this our courtesy made them all in love with us.

The sixth, being rainy, we spent idly aboard. The seventh, the seignior came again with all his troop as before, and continued with us the most part of the day, we going to dinner about noon, they sat with us and did eat of our bacaleure and mustard, drank of our beer, but the mustard nipping them in their noses they could not endure: it was a sport to behold their faces made being bitten therewith. In time of dinner the savages had stole a target, wherewith acquainting the seignior, with fear and great trembling they restored it again, thinking perhaps we would have been revenged for it, but seeing our familiarity to continue, they fell afresh to roasting of crabs, red herrings, which were exceeding great, ground nuts &c. as before. Our dinner ended, the seignior first took leave and departed, next all the rest saving four that stayed and went into the wood to help us dig sassafras, whom we desired to go aboard us, which they refused and so departedů.

The eighteenth, we set sail and bore for Englandů.The three-and-twentieth of July we came to anchor before Exmouth.

Source: Gabriel Archer, Gosnold’s Settlement at Cuttyhunk (Boston: Old South Work, 1902), 1–11.