Mason, John

Governor of Cuper's Cove, 1615-1621

John Mason, born in 1586 at King's Lynn, Norfolk, was renowned as an explorer, cartographer and colonizer. His parents were John and Isabella (nee Steed) Mason, and he married Anne Greene in 1606. He matriculated from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1602, and possibly held a position in a commercial house in London.

It is also likely that Mason spent several years serving in the navy before being promoted to commander in 1610 and sent by James I to help Andrew Knox reclaim the Hebrides. The Scottish Privy Council rewarded Mason with herring, but when the Dutch refused to pay, Mason was imprisoned by Scottish fishermen. Despite being jailed, again, for piracy in Edinburgh in 1615, Mason was named governor of John Guy's colony at Cuper's Cove (now Cupid's) in Newfoundland. The reason for the appointment is unclear, but his extensive naval experience may have procured him this post. Or it may have been to compensate him for the expenditures incurred on his expeditions in Scotland.

Mason, and possibly his wife, landed at Cuper's Cove in June 1616. During his stay in Newfoundland, Mason set out on a series of voyages and drew up the first known English map of the island. Published in William Vaughan's Cambrensium Caroleia in 1625, the map included previously established placenames as well as new ones such as Bristol's Hope and Butter Pots, near Renews.

Mason probably stayed on at the colony without interruption until the fall of 1619. Tired of the disputes between his settlers and the migratory fishermen, he returned to England at this time in an attempt to have settlers' rights increased. Back in Cuper's Cove, the colonists, who were still at odds with the fishermen, were uncertain if their governor would ever return. In an attempt to give an accurate account of the island's geography, climate and natural resources, in 1620 Mason published a book while in England entitled A Briefe Discourse of the New-Found-Land with the situation, temperature, and commodities thereof, inciting our nation to go forward in the hopefull plantation begunne.

After 1620, he appears to have cut his ties with Newfoundland. In 1620 he was commissioned by the Lord Admiral to resolve the problem of piracy, and he may have indeed returned to the island at that time. However, in 1621, Mason was in New England consulting with Sir William Alexander about the possible colonization of Nova Scotia and with Sir Ferdinando Gorges about founding a colony in the province of Maine. He founded the colony of New Hampshire in 1629, and in 1635 he was appointed first vice-admiral of New England. He died in December of the same year as he was about to return to the plantations there.

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