History Timeline 1600s

Picture above: Pocahontas, Source: World Noted Women, D. Appleton and Company, 1883, Wikipedia Commons. Right: Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain John Smith, New England Chromo. Lithograph Company, 1870. Courtesy Library of Congress.


Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1600s


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  • 1602 Detail

    March 26, 1602 - Bartholomew Gosnold attempts to colonize New England for Great Britain with establishment of the Cuttyhunk Colony.

    Cuttyhunk Colony

    Circumstances had not been going that well for England when it came to colonial settlement. The Roanoke Colony had failed, under an unknown and mysterious ending nearly twenty years before, and the Spanish were kicking historical derriere with their settlements in the Caribbean, at St. Augustine, and with their explorations and missions in the southwest and Mexico. Okay that metaphor should have been used for the French, but that would have been inaccurate. They were having the same problem with permanent settlements in New France as the English.

    But all was rather looking up for England. They had defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 and two years earlier Francis Drake had razed St. Augustine during his Caribbean and Atlantic raids against Spain and their possessions. But the desire at this point was to put colonists on the land between Florida and the St. Lawrence to take precedence over Spanish and French claims to territory that they did not inhabit.

    That's where Bartholomew Gosnold comes in. Who is Bartholomew Gosnold? Well, historians today credit him for the main push toward the English colonization of America, whether that be in failed attempts, i.e. the Cuttyhunk Colony expedition, or later successes with the London portion of the Virginia Company and their Jamestown settlement. He was a lawyer, privateer, and explorer, with sufficient ties to gentry, Francis Bacon and Walter Raleigh, and politics. He married the daughter of the Lord Mayor of London.

    So what was his background that pushed the authorities to agree to an exploration and settlement of New England in 1602. There are suggestions that he accompanied Robert Devereaux on his expeditions to the Azores four years earlier, although not much is known of that. A report had been written a few years earlier than the Azores expedition that stated that English colonization should focus on New England. The report, written by Edward Hayes to Lord Burghley, gave rise to private companies seeking profit from such enterprises, often given monopolies by the Crown if they financed such excursions. Captain Goswold gained such backing during the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

    The Goswold Expedition to Cuttyhunk

    With thirty-two men, including Gabriel Archer and John Brereton who would later write of their experiences, Goswold left Falmouth, England on March 26, 1602 on the masted barque Concord, heading first to the Azores, then west toward today's New England. He arrived on the southern coast of Maine on May 14, 1602, the next day sailing to Cape Cod. Befriending an Indian boy, the expedition continued south to Martha's Vineyard, then into the Elizabeth Islands. On May 20, they harbored near Cuttyhunk Island, which they named Elizabeth, and decided to erect their settlement on an island within a fresh water lake on the southern end. The island's native name was Poocuohhunkkunnah, meaning Point of Departure or Land's End to the native Wampanoag tribe.

    Account of Gabriel Archer about 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 ashore 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 natives of the area were willing traders, even in the early days while Goswold and company built their fort. But the expedition members were less enthusiastic about that trade, and wanted to spend their time tending to the sassafras harvesting and cedar wood that their investors wanted transported back to England. By June 11, the natives were confrontational, attacking two English who were hunting and fishing, shooting one in the side.

    Archer Account of Confrontation

    "The eleventh, he came not, neither sent, whereupon I commanded four of my company to seek out for crabs, lobsters, turtles, &c. for sustaining us till the ships returned, which was gone clean out of sight, and had the wind chopped up at south-west, with much difficulty would she have been able in short time to have made return. These four purveyers, whom I counselled to keep together for their better safety, divided themselves, two going one way and two another, in search as aforesaid. One of these petty companies was assaulted by four Indians, who with arrows did shoot and hurt one of the two in his side, the other, a lusty and nimble fellow, leaped in and cut their bow strings, whereupon they fled. Being late in the evening, they were driven to lie all night in the woods, not knowing the way home through the thick rubbish, as also the weather somewhat stormy. The want of these sorrowed us much, as not able to conjecture anything of them unless very evil.

    The twelfth, those two came unto us again, whereat our joy was increased, yet the want of our Captain, that promised to return, as aforesaid, struck us in a dumpish terror, for that he performed not the same in the space of almost three days. In the mean we sustained ourselves with alexander and sorrel pottage, ground-nuts and tobacco, which gave nature a reasonable content. We heard at last, our Captain to 'lewre' unto us, which made such music as sweeter never came unto poor men."

    When the party discussed revolt upon whether some would remain at the colony after the attack while the others would sail back to England with their cargo, all decided to return. It had been proposed at the beginning of the journey that only twelve men would return to England with the remainder staying to colonize. They abandoned the fort on June 17 or 18, 1602, sailing back, deciding that a lack of supplies, and the possibility of further confrontation, would not sustain themselves during the winter. They arrived back in England on July 23.

    John Brereton Account of Decision to Return

    But after our bark had taken in so much sassafras, cedar, furs, skins, and other commodities, as were thought convenient, some of our company that had promised Captain Gosnold to stay, having nothing but a saving voyage in their minds, made our company of inhabitants (which was small enough before) much smaller; so as Captain Gosnold seeing his whole strength to consist but of twelve men, and they but meanly provided, determined to return for England, leaving this island (which he called Elizabeth's Island) with as many true sorrowful eyes, as were before desirous to see it. So the 18th of June being Friday, we weighed, and with indifferent fair wind and weather, came to anchor the 23d of July, being also Friday, (in all, bare five weeks) before Exmouth.

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    Bartholomew Gosnold's Letter to his Father, 1602.

    My duty remembered, &c. Sir, I was in good hope that my occasions would have allowed me so much liberty, as to have come unto you before this time; otherwise I would have written more at large concerning the country from whence we lately came, than I did: but not well remembering what I have already written (though I am assured that there is nothing set down disagreeing with the truth,) I thought it fittest not to go about to add anything in writing, but rather to leave the report of the rest till I come myself; which now I hope shall be shortly, and so soon as with conveniency I may. In the mean time, notwithstanding whereas you seem not to be satisfied by that which I have already written, concerning some especial matters; I have here briefly (and as well as I can) added these few lines for your further satisfaction: and first, as touching that place where we were most resident, it is the latitude of 41 degrees,and one third part; which albeit it be so much to the southward, yet is it more cold than those parts of Europe, which are situated under the same parallel: but one thing is worth the noting, that notwithstanding the place is not so much subject to cold as England is, yet did we find the spring to be later there, than it is with us here, by almost a month: this whether it happened accidentally this last spring to be so, or whether it be so of course, I am not very certain ; the latter seems most likely, whereof also there may be given some sufficient reason, which now I omit: as for the acorns we saw gathered on heaps, they were of the last year, but doubtless their summer continues longer than ours.

    We cannot gather, by anything we could observe in the people, or by any trial we had thereof ourselves, but that it is as healthful a climate as any can be. The inhabitants there, as I wrote before, being of tall stature, comely proportion, strong, active, and some of good years, and as it should seem very healthful, are sufficient proof of the healthfulness of the place. First, for ourselves (thanks be to God) we had not a man sick two days together in all our voyage; whereas others that went out with us, or about that time on other voyages (especially such as went upon reprisal,) were most of them infected with sickness, whereof they lost some of their men, and brought home a many sick, returning notwithstanding long before us. But Verazzano, and others (as I take it, you may read in the Book of Discoveries,) do more particularly entreat of the age of the people in that coast. The sassafras which we brought we had upon the islands; where though we had little disturbance, and reasonable plenty; yet for that the greatest part of our people were employed about the fitting of our house, and such like affairs, and a few (and those but easy laborers) undertook this work, the rather because we were informed before our going forth, that a ton was sufficient to cloy England, and further, for that we had resolved upon our return, and taken view of our victual, we judged it then needful to use expedition; which afterward we had more certain proof of; for when we came to an anchor before Portsmouth, which was some four days after we made the land, we had not one cake of bread, nor any drink, but a little vinegar left: for these and other reasons, we returned no otherwise laden than you have heard. And thus much I hope shall suffice till I can myself come to give you further notice, which though it be not so soon as I could have wished, yet I hope it shall be in convenient time.

    In the mean time, craving your pardon, for which the urgent occasions of my stay will plead, I humbly take my leave.

    7th September, 1602. Your dutiful son,

    Cuttyhunk and Goswold After 1602

    Cuttyhunk Island and the Elizabeth Islands would be given to the Council of New England in 1606 by King James, but their effort dissolved in 1635. Today, it is part of the town of Goswold with only ten full-time residents. It is a summer tourist location with limited bed and breakfasts and stores, rising to only four hundred vacationers during those months.

    For Bartholomew Gosnold, colonization was heightened by that one month at Cuttyhunk. He immediately began to solicit other larger ventures, then became involved in gaining the Royal Charter from King James I for the Virginia Company, London part, in their settlement at Jamestown. With John Smith plus members of his 1602 expedition, Goswold commanded the Godspeed as captain and was the vice-admiral of the expedition, leaving England on December 19, 1606. Goswold would disagree with the selection of the island site at Jamestown after their arrival on April 26, 1607, deeming it unhealthy, but designed the fort once the site had been selected. He died four months after arriving at Jamestown.

    Image above: Gosnold at Cuttyhunk, 1858, Albert Bierstadt. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: Engraving of Gosnold's fort on Cuttyhunk Island, 1908, Robert Maitland Brereton. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Info source: "Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society," 1838, Charles C. Little and James Brown; Archive.org; Library of Congress; Wikipedia.

    Note: Some documents list March 6 as the date of their departure, with members of the expedition stating March 25 and 26, 1602.

    Cuttyhunk Colony

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