[ A Brave New World ]

Navigating Uncharted Waters

In 1602, English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold and his crew “discovered” a bay they named “Gosnol’s Hope” (later changed to “Buzzards Bay” for the large number of ospreys found there). They named the Elizabeth Islands after Elizabeth I.

He made landfall on Cutta-hunka, as it was called by the Wampanoags, today known as Cuttyhunk Island. The Englishmen also found the Acushona, or the Acushnet River, in what is now New Bedford Harbor.

As Gosnold’s interests in the area were largely commercial, he and his crew were primarily looking for timber, fish and furs to sell back in England. They were stunned by the riches they saw – endless forests, an abundance of fish and fowl, navigable rivers and protected deep water harbors. They found plenty of cedar, timber, cod fish and sassafras trees, all valuable commodities on the European market.

Gosnold’s glowing reports back in England helped set the stage for later English settlement.

The Old Dartmouth Purchase in 1652



What is the difference between a personal discovery and an actual discovery?

Why did explorers rename places that already had names?

Gosnold at the Smoking Rocks

William Allen Wall  (1801-1885), Gosnold at the Smoking Rocks, 1842, oil on canvas. 1903.1


In this work, local New Bedford artist William Allen Wall depicts English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold’s first visit to the future Old Dartmouth territory. This painting provides a 19th century romantic perspective on his 17th century landing on the west shore of the Acushnet River in the vicinity of Palmer’s Island. More likely, Gosnold and some of his crew came to shore somewhere in the vicinity of the Acushnet River, possibly Sconticut Neck or West Island, on the east side of the river. They were “desireous to see the Maine,” and crossed Buzzards Bay from Cuttyhunk Island, where they had their main camp, in a shallop (a mid-sized rowing boat, double-ended, carrying one removable mast for sailing).

An eyewitness to the event, Gabriel Archer, wrote the following:
“Immediately there presented vnto him men women and children, who with all curteous kindnesse entertained him, giuing him certaine skinnes of wilde beasts, which may be rich Furres, Tobacco, Turtles, Hemp, artificiall Strings colouored, Chaines, and such like things as at the instant they had about them. These are a faire conditioned people… thus with this taste of Discouery, we now contented ourselves, and the same day made returne vnto our Fort, time not permitting more sparing delay.”


figurehead of Gosnold

Figurehead from the ship Bartholomew Gosnold, 1832. Yellow pine. 1910.2

The Bartholomew Gosnold was built at Falmouth, Massachusetts to the order of whaling agent Ward Parker in 1832. Like several other whaling vessels named for colonial historical figures including the Awashonks, the Metacom and the Annawan, the Bartholomew Gosnold served as a reminder of the region’s rich cultural heritage. Figureheads were rarely meant to be portraits, hence the 17th century English explorer appears to look much like a man of the 1830s in dress and hair style.



Prise des Baleines en Flouride [u.r.], ca. 1715, Engraving. #2001.100.7922



16th Century World Map

Petrus Plancius (1552-1622). Orbis Terrarum Typus De Integro Multis In Locis Emendatus auctore Petro Plancio, 1594. Engraving on paper by Jan van Doetecum (1554-1600), Bound in: Jan Huygen van Lindschoten, Navigatio ac Itinerarium Iohannis Hugonis Linscotani in orientalum sive Lusitanorum Indiam, descriptiones eivsdem terrae ac tractvvm littoralium. The Hague: Cornelis Claesz, 1599.

This map of the world is wonderful for its beautiful and highly decorative elements as well as its representation of contemporary geographic knowledge. In each corner are allegorical figures representing the continents most familiar to contemporary audiences; clockwise from the top left are Europe, Asia, Magallanica (Antarctica), Peruana (South America) and Mexicana (North America). The map is shown in two hemispheres, East and West, and includes inset maps of the northern and southern celestial spheres with their constellations, and beautiful details of animals, sea monsters and ships at sail.

It represents the world as it would have been known by Bartholomew Gosnold as he crossed the Atlantic, and demonstrates the extensive geographic knowledge accumulated by the maritime cultures and seaborne empires of Western Europe in the 16th century.

As the English, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish voyages of exploration charted the coasts of the Americas, perceptions and ideas about the nature of these new worlds took shape for these respective empires. That these lands were inhabited, for instance, was well-known. That they were well- timbered was also known, but the full advantages to be gained by their settlement still needed to be determined. With this thought in mind, Gosnold anchored his bark Concord in the lee of Cuttyhunk Island in 1602 and proceeded to survey the shores of Buzzards Bay.


This map is over 400 years old! How do you think it was made?

Why do you think Europe and Asia are at the top?

Can you “discover” a place if people already live there?



 “…two main rivers that may haply become good harbors, and
conduct us to the hopes men so greedily do thirst after.”

–Gabriele Archer upon seeing New Bedford Harbor for the first time, 1602




Gosnold met the Native Americans who had inhabited the land for many generations – the Wampanoags. His chronicler, Gabriel Archer, described the Native people as a “faire conditioned people” willing to trade “rich furres” and other items.



10,000 years ago, as the glaciers retreated revealing the shorelines and islands of Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, woodlands again began to grow and the Wampanoag or “Eastern People, People of the Dawn” populated the region.

Over the next several thousand years the Wampanoags and other Native tribes thrived, engaging in agriculture, fishing, hunting and gathering along the shorelines. By the early 1600s, there were forty Wampanoag settlements totaling around 12,000 people in the region of what is now known as Old Dartmouth. The Wampanoag are part of the continent-wide Algonquian language group which also includes the Narragansett, Massachuset, Pennacook, Pocumtuck, Nipmuc and Pequot tribes.

 As Europeans began their explorations of North America and increased their contact with the Native Americans, European diseases, for which the Native Americans had no resistance, severely damaged the native populations. In fact, the place where the Pilgrims settled, later known as the Plimouth Colony, had previously been the site of a Wampanoag village, deserted due to an epidemic of European-born disease. Many of the towns settled by the colonists, and the roads between them, had first been used by the local natives.

Native populations in New England continued to decline as the English settlements increased, forcing the Wampanoags in particular to align with other regional tribes in order to survive. By the end of King Philip’s war (1675-1676), their numbers were reduced to mere hundreds. However, the Wampanoags have persevered and over three hundred years later remain a strong and vibrant community.



Wampanoag and other eastern tribes are loosely organized under a sachem who can be either a man or a woman (Awashonks was a female sachem of the Narragansetts.) The Wampanoag Sachem, Ousamequin, (c. 1581 – 1661), later called Massasoit. After his death, his son, Wamsutta and grandson, Metacom (King Philip), became the tribe’s sachems.



Wampanoag and other coastal New England tribes took advantage of whales that stranded or drifted onto the beaches. As colonial settlements grew, the Wampanoags assisted the colonists in their early shore whaling efforts. This sometimes led to conflicts over rights to beached whales. Wampanoag harpooners, with their superior hunting skills, were sought after by colonial and later Yankee whalers.



Who writes history and does history change with different points of view?

What steps can we take to draw realistic conclusions about a historical person and events?

Do we have biases and prejudices today regarding unfamiliar and/or vastly different cultures?

Today, in the City of New Bedford, a significant portion of our population is made up of “minorities.” If history is a matter of perspective, whose perspective gets a voice in history?



In 1607, Gosnold once again returned to the New World to set up the first English colony in North America at Jamestown, Virginia. Although he was well prepared with three ships and 105 men, the colonists suffered with devastating illness and famine. Sadly, over the next two years, most of those colonists died, including Gosnold himself.


Major support for this exhibition comes from the William M. Wood Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Last modified: August 16, 2016