Bartholomew Gosnold

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Albert Bierstadt's 1858 painting: "Gosnold at Cuttyhunk, 1602"

Bartholomew Gosnold (1571 – 22 August 1607) was an English lawyer, explorer, and privateer who was instrumental in founding the Virginia Company of London, and Jamestown in colonial America. He led the first recorded European expedition to Cape Cod. He is considered by Preservation Virginia (formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities) to be the "prime mover of the colonization of Virginia".

Early life[edit]

Gosnold was born in Grundisburgh in Suffolk, England in 1571, and his family seat was at Otley, Suffolk. His parents were Anthony Gosnold and Dorothy Bacon. Henry Gosnold, the judge and friend of Francis Bacon, was his cousin. He graduated from the University of Cambridge and studied law at Middle Temple.[1] He was a friend of Richard Hakluyt and sailed with Walter Raleigh.

He obtained backing to attempt to found an English colony in the New World and in 1602 he sailed from Falmouth, England in a small Dartmouth bark, the Concord, with thirty-two on board. They intended to establish a colony in New England. Gosnold pioneered a direct sailing route due west from the Azores to what later became New England, arriving in May 1602 at Cape Elizabeth in Maine (Lat. 43 degrees). Gosnold skirted the coastline for several days before anchoring in York Harbor, Maine, on 14 May 1602.[citation needed]

The next day, he sailed into Provincetown Harbor, where he is credited with naming Cape Cod.[2] Following the coastline for several days, he discovered Martha's Vineyard and named it after his daughter, Martha and established a small post on Cuttyhunk Island, one of the Elizabeth Islands, near Gosnold, now in Massachusetts. The post was abandoned when settlers decided to return on the ship to England since they had insufficient provisions to overwinter.[citation needed]

A notable account of the voyage, written by John Brereton, one of the gentlemen adventurers, was published in 1602, and this helped in popularising subsequent voyages of exploration and colonisation of the northeast seaboard of America.

Virginia Company, Jamestown[edit]

Gosnold spent several years after his return to England promoting a more ambitious attempt; he obtained from King James I an exclusive charter for a Virginia Company to settle Virginia. To form the core of what would become the Virginia Colony at Jamestown, he recruited his cousin-by-marriage Edward Maria Wingfield, as well as John Smith, his brother and a cousin, in addition to members of his 1602 expedition. Gosnold himself served as vice-admiral of the expedition, and captain of the Godspeed (one of the three ships of the expedition; the other two being the Susan Constant, under Captain Christopher Newport, and the Discovery, under Captain John Ratcliffe[3]). He commanded the ship Godspeed on the voyage to Jamestown

Gosnold also solicited the support of Matthew Scrivener, cousin of Edward Maria Wingfield. Scrivener became Acting Governor of the new Colony, but drowned in an accident in 1609 along with Anthony Gosnold, Bartholomew's brother, while trying to cross to Hog Island in a storm. (Scrivener's brother Nicholas had also drowned while a student at Eton.)

Stone cross marking what is believed to be the gravesite of Bartholomew Gosnold

Gosnold was popular among the colonists and opposed the location of the colony at Jamestown Island due to what he perceived as its unhealthy location;[4] he also helped design the fort that held the initial colony. He died only four months after they landed, on 22 August 1607. George Percy's 'Discourse' that was printed in the fourth volume of Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625) records Gosnold's death (...Captain Bartholomew Gosnold one of Councile, he was buryed thereupon having all the ordinance in the Fourt shote offwith manye vollyes of small shot...) and then sayse "...Oure men were destroyed with cruel dyseases as swellings, fluxes, burning fevers, and by wars and some exyted souddenlye, but for the moste part they dyeth of mere famine..."

Gosnold married Mary Goldinge, daughter of Robert Goldinge of Bury St Edmunds and his wife Martha Judd, at Latton Essex in 1595. They had several children; daughter Mary married Richard Pepys, kinsman of the diarist Samuel Pepys.[5]

Discovery of Gosnold's grave[edit]

In 2003 Preservation Virginia announced that its archaeological dig at Jamestown had discovered the likely location of Gosnold's grave. (It was also believed that he was buried outside the James day fort ) His skeleton is currently on display at the Voorhees Archaearium at Historic Jamestowne.

Preservation Virginia began genetic fingerprinting, hoping to verify Gosnold's identity in time for the Jamestown quadricentennial. By June 2005 researchers and The Discovery Channel sought permission to take DNA samples from the remains of his sister, Elizabeth Tilney, located in the Church of All Saints, Shelley, near Hadleigh, and they were granted the first faculty for such purposes from the English diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.[6] Although they removed bone fragments from the church, they had difficulty in identifying the correct remains, and they were not able to conclude anything from their analysis. In November 2005 Preservation Virginia announced that, while they remained confident Tilney's remains were somewhere beneath the church floor, the tests they performed had not confirmed the link. The DNA analysis was conducted by the Smithsonian Institution.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Gosnold, Bartholomew (GSNT587B)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ Archer, Gabriel (1912). Ed. Frances Healey, ed. GREAT EPOCHS IN AMERICAN HISTORY: The Relation of Captain Gosnold's Voyage. Funk & Wagnalls Co. p. 38. 
  3. ^ Brown, Alexander (1890). Genesis of the United States pg 85. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company. p. 85. 
  4. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Gosnold, Bartholomew". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  5. ^ Dorman, John Frederick (2004). Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia 1607-1624/5: Families G-p. Genealogical Publishing Company. p. 117. ISBN 9780806317632. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  6. ^ Scientists dig for DNA that may identify America's lost father, The Times (London) 14 June 2005

Further reading about Bartholomew Gosnold[edit]

  • David R. Ransome, ‘Gosnold, Bartholomew (d. 1607)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

External links[edit]