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About Cape Cod

“Cape Cod is the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts. The shoulder is at Buzzard’s Bay; the elbow at Cape Mallebarre; the wrist at Truro; and the sandy fist at Provincetown.”

—Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod

Cape Cod History

May 25, 1602, 42 degrees N. Latitude; 70 degrees 15 min. W. Longitude ... The leader of the expedition with a few others took the shallop out to explore the nearby shore, it was a hot and humid day in late spring. In his absence the crew had practically pestered the ship with cod. They had caught so many and in so little time that they started to throw them back just to make room on the thirty ton ship. When their leader returned from his reconnaissance the ebullient crew, gorged on fresh cod and pleaded with him to do the right thing. He did.

Bartholomew Gosnold

The Concord, May 25, 1602, mid afternoon.

Captain Bartholomew Gosnold wrote in his log the new name

for the vast cape. Cape Cod.­

— Karle Schlieff

In 1602, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold set out on a prospecting expedition on the Concord, a small bark. It was a small vessel, carrying 32 occupants, including Captain Gosnold. The Concord departed Cornwall, England and sailed westward for seven weeks. The boat reached the southern coast of Maine. After reaching Maine, Gosnold and his crew continued exploring the coast to the south.

Gosnold’s voyage occurred 18 years before the much more famous voyage of the Pilgrims. In 1620 the Pilgrims left Plymouth Harbour in England on a ship called the Mayflower. Gosnold is thought to be the first European to see and set foot on Cape Cod. 

Cape Cod & The Islands

There are two great islands out on the south side of the Cape; Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

They went ashore one island to perform a quick survey. There were grape vines everywhere. They could not go about unless they tread on them. Gosnold named this island Martha’s Vineyard. It is not certain whether it is for his daughter, sister, or his mother-in-law since all were named Martha. 

The crew of the Concord caught another great store of cod, “as before at Cape Cod, but much better.” Later that day they sailed within sight of Gay Head with it’s famous brightly colored clays and named it Dover Cliff. By morning they approached the string of islands that tail off to the southwest from Cape Cod. 

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.

the Wampanoag Tribe had seen; they had already had contact with fishermen, traders, and explorers from the “Old World.”


During their five-week stay in New England, 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 32 men were aboard.

Gosnold had shown the way to the New England coast, even though he did not receive fame for it, and he took no credit for the event. He is known to have written only one letter of the 1602 voyage, and that was to his father. However, the names Gosnold gave; “Martha’s Vineyard,” “Elizabeth’s Isle,” and “Cape Cod,” survived in the new land and this great nation.

The encounters they described were peaceful and friendly. Gosnold’s party were not the first Europeans

Gosnold and his men regularly bartered and feasted with the Native People (Wampanoag Tribe). They were helpful in showing the Englishman where to find food and other resources. The English were impressed with the copper adornments worn by the Natives; the Natives were fascinated with the metal knives the Europeans gave them in trade. At one point, the explorers hosted a feast for a large party of 50 or more Native Americans, led by a young man who may have been the future Chief Massasoit.


Cabin Boy

The cabin boy known only as Skippy, insisted "Lobster Land" was a more appealing name than Cape Cod. Captain Gosnold quickly dismissed the idea and ordered the boy to "Let the lobstah go and start a-peeling spuds for suppah!"




A ship "pestered with cod."

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