Monday, March 30, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bartholomew Gosnold

     Every story begins somewhere. Today in the midst of the 21st century Cape Cod is several centuries into its existence as a European-settled land. The Pilgrims first landed at Provincetown before shoving off to Plymouth in 1620. Rumors have persisted for many years that Leif Eriksson, or his brother Thorvald, was the first to step foot on Cape Cod around 1000. For all of the debate of who was first to arrive on the Cape there is no debate as to the person who gave this peninsula its name. That distinction goes to England’s own Bartholomew Gosnold. Here is his story before and after landing on these shores.

     Gosnold was born in 1571 at the family home at Otley Hall in the town of Ipswich in Suffolk, United Kingdom. Otley Hall, dating back to the 16th century, is consistently voted one of the Top 20 historic homes in the country.

     Gosnold studied law in London at Middle Temple in 1592. He was married to Mary Golding in 1597. In a surprising twist Gosnold shifted careers from law to maritime. His career shift began as he was a skipper for Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh established the Roanoke Colony in present-day North Carolina in the 1580’s.

     In 1599 Gosnold was in charge of a ship called Diamond from Southampton on a privateering voyage against Spanish ships in the area of the Azores of Portugal. A privateer being essentially a pirate with government protection. It netted Gosnold approximately 50,000 British pounds adjusted for today. Whether Gosnold wanted to continue with law is unknown as that first maritime voyage convinced him to keep on that path. It also gave him the currency to fund his next big voyage. 

Head and shoulders of a  colonial man in elegant clothes.
Captain Bartholomew Gosnold. Sculpted figure by StudioEIS based on forensic facial reconstruction by sculptor Amanda Danning.
(Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

     On March 26, 1602 Gosnold departed Falmouth, Cornwall, England for the New World. He was joint captain of a 39-foot barque called Concord with a crew of 32 including himself. A new route led Gosnold north of the Azores and then due west from there. The Concord sailed the Atlantic Ocean for 50 days before arriving on the shores of the New World. The new faster route was followed 18 years later by the Mayflower.

     On May 14, 1602 Gosnold stepped on to the shore somewhere in mid-coast Maine, possibly around Cape Elizabeth. Those on board were shocked to be greeted by a Native American wearing European shoes and clothing. The stay was brief and Gosnold sailed south along the Maine coastline for a few days, docking briefly in York.

     The next land the Concord saw was Provincetown as they docked in the harbor. It was at this point that due to the abundance of codfish in the waters caused Gosnold to give the peninsula the name Cape Cod. It took a week but the Concord sailed around the arm of the Cape and southwest across the water until striking land again. He called the island he landed on Martha’s Vineyard for his daughter who had died in infancy in 1598 and for the abundance of wild grapes. However Gosnold actually landed on the smaller Noman’s Land 3 miles south of the actual Martha’s Vineyard, although the name was eventually transferred to the larger island.

     Gosnold and the Concord headed north, passing the cliffs at Aquinnah and naming them Dover Cliffs. He sailed into Buzzard’s Bay, calling it Gosnold’s Hope. The ship docked on another piece of land, an island he name Elizabeth Isle for Queen Elizabeth I. This island would later become known as Cuttyhunk of the Elizabeth Islands.

     The ship sailed around to the northern side of the island and docked outside present-day West End Pond. Inside the pond was a small island, less than an acre in size, where Gosnold and his crew built a makeshift stone fort. The settlement on Cuttyhunk barely lasted a month. A hostile meeting with local Native Americans combined with the realization that they lacked the provisions to last the winter meant that the crew had to head back to England. On June 18, 1602 the ship left Cuttyhunk with a cargo of furs, cedarwood, and sassafras. He was seen basically as a failure upon his return since no permanent colony had been established. 

Gosnold at Cuttyhunk. Painting by Albert Bierstadt 1858
(Public Domain)

     Gosnold returned to the New World a few years later. He left England aboard the ship Godspeed in December 1606. In April the crew arrived in Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the James River. This journey was a success and the first permanent European settlement in the New World was established in the form of Jamestown, Virginia. 

Historic Jamestown, Virginia
(Christopher Setterlund)

     Despite the accomplishment of the settlement 50 of the 104 of the population died during the hot summer. Dysentery, malaria, swamp fever, and malnutrition were rampant. On August 22, 1607 the terrible conditions claimed the life of Bartholomew Gosnold. He was buried outside of the settlement’s fort with full military honors.

     In addition to giving Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard their names Gosnold is immortalized in another area he discovered. On Cuttyhunk, on the tiny island where he built a fort in 1602, now named Gosnold Island, stands the Bartholomew Gosnold Monument. Standing 50-feet tall the cornerstone was laid in 1902 and dedicated September 1, 1903. 

The Bartholomew Gosnold Monument at Cuttyhunk, 1903
(New Bedford Free Public Library)

     Bartholomew Gosnold as an explorer is largely a forgotten name. He does not have any cities or universities or things of the like named in his honor. Even his gravesite at Jamestown was lost. Archaeologists believe they found it in 2003, DNA testing has not been totally conclusive but is likely the final resting place of Gosnold. His contributions to the European colonization of America cannot be overlooked, they are especially felt in Jamestown and right here on Cape Cod.

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

View my previous blog postsIn Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Christmas Tree Shops

Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Living Store

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ZombyDawg said...

My great grandfather George Whitefield Haskell (Jr.) and his 3rd wife Louise Taylor Haskell are buried on Cuttyhunk. Louise was a school teacher and a temporary lay preacher at the Little Church, and wrote a book titled The Story of Cuttyhunk. In the book she supports the idea that the island in Shakespeare's The Tempest was inspired by Gosnold's or another crew member's description of Cuttyhunk. The play has been performed there by actors who also support the theory.

ZombyDawg said...

James Chilton is also my 10th great-grandfather, through his daughter Isabella.