The New World Discoverers
May 15, 1602 – Cape Cod Discovered By English Navigator Bartholomew Gosnold
Gosnold launched an expedition to attempt permanent settlement in the New World in 1602. Sassafras was one of the major products they wanted. After reaching the southern coast of modern day Maine on May 14, 1602, he sailed south and encountered Cape Cod. John Brereton, who accompanied the expedition as navigator, recorded the voyage in his journal. The publishing of that journal later that year helped publicize the possibilities of the new land.
Bartholomew Gosnold (1571 – 22 August 1607)
Anthony Gosnold and Dorothy Bacon birthed their son, Bartholomew, near Suffolk, England. He attended the University of Cambridge and studied law at Middle Temple. In 1602 he sought, and gained, backing to mount an expedition to the New World to found a permanent settlement. The trading posts up to this time were of short duration. Because of the desirable products they obtained merchants wanted permanent settlements.
John Brereton (ca. 1571/1572 – ca. 1632)
Brereton came from a prosperous Norwich, England merchant family. He attended Cambridge University, receiving his master’s degree in 1593 and his bachelor’s degree in 1596. He entered the ministry by ordination into the Church of England later in 1596. He took a curacy at Lawshall, Suffolk. The parish there included Bartholomew Gosnold’s cousins and it is probably through them that he became acquainted with Bartholomew Gosnold. He served as navigator during Gosnold’s voyage and kept a journal of their experiences. Upon his return he organized and published them as Briefe and True Relation of the Discoverie of the North Part of Virginia in 1602. This account of their experiences helped publicize the New World and aided later colonization efforts.
The Sassafras tree can grow to sixty feet tall, with straight trunks. Virginia and the eastern part of this New World had bountiful stands of this much desired tree. Sassafras produces two things that the English wanted. Its strong, beautiful wood was a durable building material. The fragrant tree produces rich safrole, oil that is useful for many things. All parts of the tree contain this oil, but the root has the biggest concentration. The oil, distilled from the roots, finds use as an ingredient in perfumes and soaps. A tea made from the roots many believed cured the ague and flavored root beer. Sassafras was banned in 1960 because of a link to liver cancer. Safrol free oils are now permitted for flavoring and use as a tonic.
The 1602 Voyage and Settlement
English efforts to colonize North America had so far failed, but many still desired to establish colonies there to trade with the Amerindians for the furs, tobacco, sassafras and other desirable products. Gosnold, Brereton and thirty-one others set sail from Falmouth, England on March 26, 1602. They arrived on May 14 and discovered Cape Cod the next day. On May 16 they discovered, and named, Martha’s Vineyard and Elizabeth Islands. On Elizabeth Island they built a stockade. Brereton planted some experimental crops that included wheat, barley, and peas. These did quite well in the rich soil. The explorers established trading relations with the local tribes and traded with them for the furs, skins, sassafras and other highly desirable items. They considered creating a permanent settlement on that spot, but decided that their numbers were too few and that they had inadequate provisions. They departed for England on July 23, 1602.
Brereton’s account, which is still available to read, describes the explorer’s experiences in what would become Virginia. He detailed the plants, abundant supplies of fish and wildlife present there. He also wrote about the rich soil and how fast his experimental plantings went. He wrote it to promote the bounty of the new land. Gosnold went on to become an influential member of the later successful Jamestown settlement in 1607.