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Bartholomew Gosnold

You are in: Suffolk > History > Bartholomew Gosnold > The Suffolk link to America's founding father

Checking results of the ground radar

Checking results of the ground radar

The Suffolk link to America's founding father

A scientific search for the DNA of the man who founded America is to take place in Suffolk.

In 1607, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold established an English speaking colony in Virginia, which eventually gave birth to the United States. Now research has identified that his sister and niece are buried in two Suffolk churchyards.

Nick Clarke, Communications Director at the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich spoke to Mark Murphy at BBC Suffolk to explain more...

MM: Which are the two churches you are focusing on?

NC:  Shelley (All Saints, near Hadleigh) and Stowmarket (St Peter and St Mary).

MM:  Okay, he could have some relatives here, why do we need to find these people?

NC:  The story actually starts in America, the 400th anniversary of Gosnold’s founding of what became the United States is coming up.  Archaeologists in Virginia have discovered the remains of a 17th century sea captain and they would like to prove scientifically and beyond doubt that the man they have found in Virginia is Gosnold. 

Searching for the family tomb

Searching for the family tomb

Now the reason they are so keen to do this is that Gosnold is one of the unsung heroes. Everybody’s heard of the Pilgrim Fathers, but the Pilgrim Fathers were 23 years behind Gosnold and so to underline Gosnold’s importance and the fact that America speaks English, not Spanish and its law is based on English law, they’d like to prove that this body is Gosnold. 

So they’ve approached the Church authorities here in Suffolk with a view to doing two small explorations in the summer to get DNA from the two maternal relatives that we’ve found through genealogy - one is his sister, one is his niece. 

The DNA material they are looking for is something like a tooth or a piece of bone from the pelvis, about the size of a thumb.  So there is no exhumation involved here, this is just a small scientific exploration, but it could be absolutely crucial and if it goes ahead, and we’ve still got one or two hurdles to cross,  it will be the first time that this DNA extraction has been done for this type of purpose.

MM:  Now Gosnold was a Suffolk man, so it makes sense that his relatives could be buried here, so Shelley All Saints near Hadleigh and St Peter and St Mary in Stowmarket.  You’re doing some work today?  Some ground radar work?

NC:  That’s right. This is the very first part of this scientific exploration that could take the best part of a year.  The first thing to do is to make certain that what we believe to be there is there and in Stowmarket we believe there should be a family tomb beneath a memorial and the ground radar will absolutely show that up. 

What we’re not expecting at Shelley is a tomb and so it’s a sort of double negative.  We want to make sure that what we believe is under the ground in Shelley is there.

MM:  Could you not track down somebody who is alive today and who was related?

Analysing information

Analysing information

NC:  That would have been perfect and if we could have done that we wouldn’t have needed to undertake this exploration.  The genealogists tracked Gosnold for 13 generations, but we couldn’t make the two ends of the line meet. So unless somebody knows different we have been unable to find a living relative of Bartholomew Gosnold and therefore we’re going to try and do it this way.

MM:  I suppose 2007 then is when they will want to have established this if that’s going to be the year for all the commemorations.

NC:  Indeed, but there is going to be a Hollywood movie coming out in November of this year, which will be called New World, which will focus on John Smith’s story and the archaeologists and historians in American in conjunction with the National Geographic Society are very keen to tell the real story, the true story.

MM: John Smith’s the Poca Hontas fella isn’t he?

NC:  That’s the one!

MM:  So Disney-fied again, perhaps.  They do have a habit of turning real events into Hollywood sagas....

NC:  Indeed, Colin Farrell is already lined up to play John Smith. 

MM:  So it’ll be fascinating to see.  The work begins today - keep us in touch.  I guess there’s excitement the other side of the water too?

NC: Very much so, they’ve been champing at the bit and we’ve had to say, no, this has got to be done properly, this has got to be done with everybody's permission and that start with the Parishes.

MM:  Are they okay with it?

NC:  They are as far as ground radar is concerned.  Then we want to go back with the results of the ground radar to both Parishes and say are we alright to proceed if we find what we believe we will find.

MM:  Nick Clarke, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, thank you.

last updated: 19/03/2008 at 12:51
created: 31/01/2005

Have Your Say

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Very Interesting I hope they can prove the family link. There is another Ipswich family that moved to America around the same time he was Moses Cleveland, because President Cleveland (late 1800s) was in the tree there is a lot of data showing Moses was born in Stephens Ipswich 1619/20. He married in America in 1648. My GGG Grandad Reuben Cleveland came back to England in 1802 My nanna was a Cleveland and a only child so that line ceased. Strange old world.
stuart bridge

Your article mentions how Bartholomew Gosnold beat the Mayflower Pilgrims to New Plymouth, Massachusetts, by 23 years, but it was actually 13 years, because they landed in 1620, not 1630. More importantly, it seems that there may have been an important Suffolk connection between Bartholomew Gosnold and another important Suffolk explorer, Isaac Allerton (who named his oldest son Bartholow, perhaps after Gosnold). Suffolk's own Isaac Allerton helped finance the Mayflower expedition, and served as the colony's Assistant Governor throughout its first decade, from 1621 through 1631. He later helped start the Marblehead, Massachusetts fishing industry and the Maine fur trade, founded several settlements in Maine, served as an emissary from the English to the governor of the New Sweden colony on the Delaware River, served as one of the "Eight Men" who ran New Amsterdam under Dutch West India Company Director William Kieft from 1643 through 1648, set up homes and trading houses in New Amsterdam (later, New York), New Amstel (Newcastle, Delaware), New Haven, Connecticut, and Westmoreland County, Virginia. Isaac Allerton's oldest son, Bartholomew Allerton, left the New World, returned to Hadleigh, Suffolk (where the Gosnolds lived), and served there as a minister under Cromwell there until he died in 1658. There is a connection between the early Gosnold and Allerton settler families that should be the subject of Suffolk pride. I would appreciate any information that your readers might have about the connections between the Gosnolds and the Allertons. David A. Furlow 4126 Rice Blvd. Houston, Texas 77005 USA furlowd@tklaw.com (713) 653-8653 (U.S.A.).
David A. Furlow

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