Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brereton, John
BRERETON, JOHN (fl. 1603), voyager to New England, has left few records of his life. His birthplace is unknown, and to which branch of the Breretons of Brereton, Cheshire, he belonged is uncertain, although he was probably a relative of Sir William Brereton (1604-1661) [q.v.], major-general of Cheshire, who, before his military career, was interested in American colonisation, grants of land along the north-eastern coast of Massachusetts Bay having been made to him by Sir Ferdinando Gorges at a time when he intended to settle there. John Brereton was admitted sizar at Caius College, Cambridge, 1587, and was B. A. 1592-3. He joined Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, Bartholomew Gilbert, Gabriel Archer, and others to make the first English attempt to settle in the land since called New England. Twenty-four gentlemen and eight sailors left Falmouth in a small bark, the Concord, on 26 March 1603, twelve of them intending to settle, while twelve others returned home with the produce of the land and of their trading with the natives. The voyage was sanctioned by Sir Walter Raleigh, who had an exclusive crown grant of the whole coast. Instead of making the circuitous route by the Canaries, Gosnold steered, as the winds permitted, due west, only southing towards the Azores, and was the first to accomplish a direct course to America, saving 'the better part of a thousand leagues.' By 15 May the voyagers made the headland which they named Cape Cod. Here Gosnold, Brereton, and two others went ashore on 'the white sands,' the first spot in New England ever trodden by English feet. Doubling the Cape and passing Nantucket, they touched at Martha's Vineyard, and passing round Dover Cliff entered Buzzard's Bay, which they called Gosnold's Hope, reached the island of Cuttyhuiik, which they named Elizabeth's Island. Here they determined to settle; in nineteen days they built a fort and storehouse in an islet in the centre of a lake of three miles compass, and began to trade with the natives in furs, skins, and the sassafras plant. They sowed wheat, barley, and peas, and in fourteen days the young plants had sprung nine inches and more. The country was fruitful in the extreme. It was decided, however, that so small a company would be useless for colonisation; their provisions, after division, would have lasted only six weeks. The whole company therefore sailed for England, making a very short voyage of five weeks, and landed at Exmouth on 23 July. Their freight realised a great profit, the sassafras alone selling for 336l. a ton.
Brereton wrote 'A Briefe Relation of the Description of Elizabeth's Ile, and some others towards the North Part of Virginie . . . written by John Brierton, one of the Voyage,' London, 1602, 8vo. A second impression was published the same year entitled 'A brief and true Relation of the Discovery of the North Part of Virginia . . . written by John Brereton, one of the Voyage,' London, 1602, 8vo. To this edition is added 'A Treatise of M. Edward Hayes, containing important inducements for the planting in these parts,' &c. Purchas gives a chapter headed 'Notes taken out of a Tractate written by James Rosier to Sir Walter Raleigh;' but this is signed 'John Brereton,' and is evidently part of a letter written by him. Rosier was not with Brereton, but was a fellow-voyager in Weymouth's expedition five years afterwards. Of Brereton nothing more is known. Captain John Smith, in his 'Adventures and Discourses,' speaks of 'Master John Brereton and his account of his voyage' as fairly turning his brains, and impelling him to cast in his lot with Gosnold and Wingfield, and make that subsequent voyage which resulted in the planting and colonisation of Virginia in 1607.[Stith's Hist. of Virginia, p. 30, Massachusetts Historical Collections, 3rd. ser. viii. 83-123; Purchas His Pilgrimes, 'the 4th part.' pp.1646, 1656; Belknap's American Biog. (Hubbard's), 1844, ii. 206; Anderson's Hist. of Commerce, A.D. 1602; Hakluyt, iii. 246; Pinkerton's Voy. and Trav. xii. 219, xiii. 19; Bancroft's United States, i. 88; Ormerod's Cheshire, iii. 51; Holmes's Annals of America, i. 117; Beverley's Hist. of Virginia, p. 19; the Adventures and Discourses of Capt. John Smith (Ashton's reprint, 1883), p. 69; Biogr. Brit. under 'Greenville,' p. 2284, note f.]