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29 October 2014

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Bartholomew Gosnold

You are in: Suffolk > History > Bartholomew Gosnold > Jamestown: The Birth of a Nation

Replica ships at Jamestown settlement

Replica ships at Jamestown settlement

Jamestown: The Birth of a Nation

In May 1607, just over 100 men and boys arrived on the East Coast of America. They'd go on to set up the first permanent English settlement in the US and it's a Suffolk man who's credited with being the 'Prime Mover' behind the voyage.

Otley Hall

Otley Hall

It's believed Bartholomew Gosnold was born in Grundisburgh, his family seat was Otley Hall where he received his education.

His adult life was spent in Bury St Edmunds with his wife and her family. Gosnold wasn't his parents' eldest son which meant that he wasn't expected to inherit great wealth - he had to go looking for it.

"Through his uncle, Bartholomew had access to a very influential set of people."

Ian Beaumont

The 1606/07 voyage was his second trip to America. Five years earlier he'd landed at Martha's Vineyard and named it after his daughter, who died whilst still a toddler.

Records show she is buried in Bury’s Great Churchyard, although it's not known where, and there is no gravestone.

The Great Hall fireplace at Otley Hall

The fireplace at Otley Hall

Prime mover

Bartholomew Gosnold is described by his fellow voyager John Smith as the 'Prime Mover' behind the Virginia Company of London, which was responsible for the Jamestown Settlement. Its main objective was to make money.

The romantics among us have him planning the trip in front of the great fire at Otley Hall near Ipswich, which was owned by his uncle Robert  - secretary to the Earl of Essex.

The Hall's current owner, Ian Beaumont, is a little more realistic: "Through his uncle, Bartholomew had access to a very influential set of people and I think there's a very good chance that he would have been here between 1602 and 1606 and that he would have sat around the fire place discussing his plans with his uncle."

View across the James River

The view across the James River

Three ships

Three ships full of men and boys left Blackwall in East London in December 1606. The largest, the Susan Constant was captained by the Admiral of the fleet, Christopher Newport from Harwich. Bartholomew Gosnold, the Vice Admiral of the trip, took charge of the Godspeed, while the crew of the smallest ship, the Discovery were led by John Ratcliffe (real name John Sicklemore), who it's thought came from Tuddenham St Mary near Ipswich. 

Gosnold and John Ratcliffe weren't the only Suffolk residents on the journey, there was also a barber called Thomas Cowper, labourers George Golding and William Unger, Antony Gosnold (Bartholomew's brother), carpenter Anas Todhil and 'gentlemen' Thomas Webb and Edward Brookes.

Difficult passage

One hundred and fourty four difficult days later they arrived in the Chesapeake Bay. Around 40 of them died on the journey, including Suffolk 'gentleman' Brookes, who was the first casualty of the trip.

Not everyone agreed with the choice of landing spot – the land was fairly inhospitable – but in May 1606 they moored on the edge of the River James and built Jamestown Fort, both of which they named Jamestown after King James I, who had given them his approval in the form of a Royal Charter.

The initial months weren't happy – many of the settlers just couldn't cope with the conditions, there was hostility from the Indian communities who lived nearby and there was a lot of infighting within the settlement.

A cross at Gosnold's 'grave' in Jamestown

Cross at Gosnold's 'grave' in Jamestown

Bartholomew Gosnold died in August 1607, less than four months after their arrival.  Archaeologist Bill Kelso, who's been working on the Jamestown site since 1994, says things may have run much more smoothly if he had lived.

"The leaders knew they were in trouble when he died because he was holding the thing together, there were some bad times after that."

Kelso believes he's discovered the body of Gosnold in Jamestown. DNA tests have so far proved inconclusive, but a cross has been placed in his memory in the place the body was found.

Cultural diversity

The colony did survive, though, and it's now seen by many as the birthplace of modern America. In May 2007 commemorative events in America and the UK will celebrate the legacy left by the early settlers and those that followed them.

It's down to the Jamestown settlers that America is an English speaking nation, with free enterprise, representational government and cultural diversity. 

BBC Radio Suffolk in Jamestown

The breakfast show presenter Mark Murphy broadcasted live from Jamestown on Saturday 12 May 2007. Take a look at the photos below:

last updated: 11/04/2008 at 13:19
created: 03/05/2007

Have Your Say

Have you traced your family back to the original settlers?

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

My family have a recorded lineage which stretches back to the reign of Edward III. William de Dale or just William Dale was constable/warden of Carisbrooke Castle in 1345 when, according to an entry in the Calender of Inquistions p.486. The king issued a commission to the Sheriff of Hampshire, William de Dale, Constable of Karesbrok Castle in the Isle of Wight, and Henry Romyn, to value the possessions of the Priory of Karesbrok. Westminster. 20 April Edward III by the King. Hants. If anyone is attempting to trace the lineage of Sir Thomas Dale the foregoing may prove to be of some assistance.


What about the Jamestown Paradox? That the same people who set up a free society for themselves set up a slave society for others. And let's not forget the curse of tobacco addiction! Is it any wonder Americans have mixed feelings about Jamestown?

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