The forgotten gentleman lawer turned privateer who founded Jamestown
December 7, 2011 11:59 AM   Subscribe

In 1602, he became the first Englishman to sail directly to New England across the ill-charted waters of the North Atlantic (Google books; alt: He is credited with setting up a fort on Cuttyhunk Island, and naming both Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod in that voyage. A few months later, he then returned to England, where he planned the first English settlement to take hold in the new world. He returned in 1607, but only survived 13 weeks in Jamestown (Gb). Who was this founding father of the first English colony take hold in North America? Bartholomew Gosnold.

Gosnold grew up in a manorial family near Suffolk, and studied law. Bartholomew likely was influenced in part Richard Hakluyt, geographer and priest who heavily promoted the English colonization of North America (or perhaps it was Gosnold who influenced Hakluyt (Gb; A.o) , or a combination of the two).

Gosnold turned from law to the sea, and commanded the Diamond of Southampton in a privateering cruise 1599 (Gb) against Spanish ships, which provided funding for his first journey directly across the Atlantic. Gosnold, a former skipper for Sir Walter Raleigh, sailed with 32 people. This was the first English journey to set up a colony since the previous attempt to set up a colony had failed, 15 years prior.

Instead of taking the "unneedfull Southernly course" by way of the West Indies and the Canary Islands (Gb) (but then no better was knowne), Gosnold and crew took a more direct route. Their trip was a healthy one, and their findings were positive, "as healthful a climate as any can be," and the inhabitants they met there were healthy, too. But the would-be colonists could not agree on who would stay and who would return to England, and their supplies were running out, so the fort lasted one summer. But Gosnold was not done with the New World.

Back in England, Bartholomew Gosnold was trying to plan for his next trip across the Atlantic, gathering funds and people, both colonists and seafaring men of adventure. Amongst the latter was a young farmer's son named John Smith. On December 20, 1606, the voyage to the Chesapeake began for the 105 colonists with the Virginia Company of London. The three ships landed on May 13, 1607, and a fort was built in the strategic location of Jamestown in 19 days. Three months after landing, Bartholomew Gosnold took sick and died, buried outside the walled compound. John Smith became the name most closely associated with Jamestown, the troubled colony that survived.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Gosnold's first journey, BBC Suffolk ran some stories on Gosnold (warning: the audio is RealAudio). In 2006, East Anglian Daily Times posted a long article on Bartholomew Gosnold, for the 400th anniversary of his second journey. There is ongoing work to identify remains found outside the walls of the Jamestown fortification, but the DNA evidence has been hard to match with known Gosnold relations. And for a lot more reading material, has a lot of material, from family history, detailed biographies of Bartholomew Gosnold, collections of his writings and other accounts of the voyages, and even speculation that Shakespeare drew on the accounts from Gosnold's voyages when he wrote works such as The Tempest.

Fun find in Google books: Warning -- its not as good as the movie, scrawled in the front of Elizabethan Sea-Dogs.
posted by filthy light thief (12 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
This a an amazing story - still browsing links. But who on earth thought it was a good idea to dig him up and display his bones? How disrespectful (FWIW I also think this is disrespectful of mummies too).
posted by saucysault at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2011

saucysault - Jamestown Rediscovery (part of Preservation Virginia, the first statewide US historic preservation group, founded in 1889!) is doing a lot of work to find out more about Jamestown, including its inhabitants.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:22 PM on December 7, 2011

Awesome. I have to chuckle at the Shakespeare connection link, it's pretty thin. I think it's pretty widely accepted that the opening scene of The Tempest was inspired by accounts of the hurricane and subsequent wreck of the Sea Venture that led to the settling of Bermuda.
posted by zomg at 12:34 PM on December 7, 2011

I can vouch that as a Virginian raised in the Commonwealth from K through 18, I never heard the name Bartholomew Gosnold in history class. With Jamestown, it's basically John Smith, Pocohantas, and John Rolfe. Of course, when I took my first class trip to Jamestown, when asked where the fort was, we were told to direct our gaze to the surrounding waters for the settlement now lay 30 feet beneath the waves. The last ten years have been quite the fun one for Jamestown history. I'll have to remember Gosnold and swear to others that his name is more real than it sounds.
posted by Atreides at 12:49 PM on December 7, 2011

If you have not read 1491 yet, I would urge you to do so. There is a lot of good information about the "New World" (although in the sense that it was not settled until 13-15K years ago, it is), from the point of view of the very sophisticated and populated societies which existed there before the Europeans came. What astounded me was that smallpox often arrived before the actual Europeans did, and whole areas were decimated before the English or Spanish got there in person.

1493 is on my list.
posted by Danf at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cuttyhunk Island as the first possible settlement in the Americas? Never heard that before....... off to the internet to learn more!
posted by lstanley at 1:28 PM on December 7, 2011

1493 is also very good, I just finished it this morning.

There's a pretty extensive section about Jamestown and why it was located where it was, basically a large part of the reason was that there was no existing Indian settlement there. There wasn't already a town there because there was no fresh water, which contributed to the high mortality among the colonists.
posted by atrazine at 1:41 PM on December 7, 2011

Cuttyhunk Island slideshow.
posted by ericb at 1:42 PM on December 7, 2011

WCVB's Chronicle segment on Cuttyhunk [video | starts at 02:14].
posted by ericb at 1:48 PM on December 7, 2011

lstanley: Cuttyhunk Island as the first possible settlement in the Americas? Never heard that before.

I think you're talking about the history page, which is either incorrect, or lacking some qualifiers to that claim, depending on how you look at it.

First, assume that it's not talking about the first settlers of what would come to be known as North America, possibly dating back 15,500 years, if the pre-Clovis tools are accurate.

Next, you have the Norse colonization of the Americas. While the colonies did not last, they did exist, and a couple hundred years before Columbus found his way to modern day Cuba and Hispaniola.

Then, Spain brutally colonized the West Indies and portions of South America about a century before Gosnold crossed the Atlantic. France and Spain fought over colonization in Florida almost 50 years before Gosnold reached the future New England area.

Finally, you have the lost colony of Roanoke, which was founded in 1585, and disappeared within two years.

So Cuttyhunk, which was only inhabited for a few months by a small group of people, was the precursor to the first lasting English settlement in North America, which would happen 5 years later, with Jamestown.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:55 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I worked for several years on an island a mile from Cuttyhunk, it's really quite wonderful if you ever get a chance to visit.
posted by mareli at 6:35 PM on December 7, 2011

Town of Gosnold
posted by flummox at 2:36 PM on December 8, 2011

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