Sir Humphrey Gilbert


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Sir Humprey GilbertGilbert, SIR HUMPHREY, navigator; born at Compton, near Dartmouth, England, in 1539; half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh. Finishing his studies at Eton and Oxford, he entered upon the military profession; and being successful in suppressing a rebellion in Ireland in 1570, he was made commander-in-chief and governor of Munster, and was knighted by the lord-deputy. Returning to England soon afterwards, he married a rich heiress. In 1572 he commanded a squadron of nine ships to reinforce an armament intended for the recovery of Flushing; and soon after his return he published (1576) a Discourse of a Discoverie for a New Passage to Cathaia and the East Indies. He obtained letters-patent from Queen Elizabeth, dated June 11, 1578, empowering him to discover and possess any lands in North America then unsettled, he to pay to the crown one-fifth of all gold and silver which the countries he might discover and colonize should produce. It invested him with powers of an absolute ruler over his colony, provided the laws should not be in derogation of supreme allegiance to the crown. It guaranteed to his followers all the rights of Englishmen; and it also guaranteed the absolute right of a territory where they might settle, within 200 leagues of which no settlement should be permitted until the expiration of six years. This was the first colonial charter granted by an English monarch. Armed with this, Gilbert sailed for Newfoundland in 1579 with a small squadron; for he did not believe there would be profit in searching for gold in the higher latitudes, to which Frobisher had been.

He was accompanied by Raleigh; but heavy storms and Spanish war-ships destroyed one of his vessels, and the remainder were compelled to turn back. Gilbert was too much impoverished to undertake another expedition until four years afterwards, when Raleigh and his friends fitted out a small squadron, which sailed from Plymouth under the command of Gilbert. The Queen, in token of her good-will, had sent him as a present a golden anchor, guided by a woman. The flotilla reached Newfoundland in August, and entered the harbor of St. John, where Cartier had found La Roque almost fifty years before. There, on the shore, Gilbert set up a column with the arms of England upon it, and in the presence of hundreds of fishermen from western Europe, whom he had summoned to the spot, he took possession of the island in the name of his Queen. Storms had shattered his vessels, but, after making slight repairs, Gilbert proceeded to explore the coasts southward. Off Cape Breton he encountered a fierce tempest, which dashed the larger vessel, in which he sailed, in pieces on the rocks, and about 100 men perished. The commander was saved, and took refuge in a little vessel (the Squirrel) of ten tons. His little squadron was dispersed, and with the other vessel (the Hind), he turned his prow homeward. Again, in a rising September gale, the commander of the Hind shouted to Gilbert that they were in great peril. The intrepid navigator was sitting abaft, with a book in his hand, and calmly replied, " We are as near heaven on the sea as on land." The gale increased, and when night fell the darkness was intense. At about midnight the men on the Hind saw the lights of the Squirrel suddenly go out. The little bark had plunged beneath the waves, and all on board perished, Sept. 9, 1583. Only the Hind escaped, and bore the news of the disaster to England.



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