Bartholomew Gosnold arrives

Our key role in the birth of a nation

Monday, December 18, 2006
10.56 AM

FOUR-hundred years ago, Suffolk's Bartholomew Gosnold was making his final preparations for a voyage that would make history. On December 19 or 20 - accounts vary - three ships would sail from London with more than 150 males on board, most of them committed to making a new life thousands of miles from home.

FOUR-hundred years ago, Suffolk's Bartholomew Gosnold was making his final preparations for a voyage that would make history. On December 19 or 20 - accounts vary - three ships would sail from London with more than 150 males on board, most of them committed to making a new life thousands of miles from home.

After a dreadful false start - blizzards meant they didn't go far, and then three of the crew had to be chained up for mutinous talk! - the vessels finally reached the mouth of the James River at the end of April, 1607, and landed in Virginia on May 13 or 14.

Life was hard. The site chosen for the new settlement, Jamestown (James Towne) was boggy and a breeding ground for mosquitos. Food was scarce, the water brackish, and diseases such as dysentery and swamp fever rife. There were also skirmishes with Native Indians.

Thirteen people died in the August - including Gosnold himself. His younger brother and cousin also succumbed. By December, according to accounts, 67 of the settlers were gone.

However, despite the hardships and challenges, this spark grew into a flame - and is regarded in the U.S. as the birthplace of modern America.

According to Jamestown 2007, the body planning America's celebrations, “the traditions established at Jamestown - including representative government, the rule of law, free enterprise and cultural diversity - form the basis of American culture today. Plymouth, settled by the Pilgrims 13 years later, was established primarily for religious reasons”.

Historian Nicholas Hagger agrees. Until a few years ago he owned Otley Hall - the 16th Century building a few miles from Ipswich where Gosnold is thought to have interviewed prospective settlers. It's the fireplace in The Great Hall around which Gosnold's voyage was planned, along with an earlier trip in 1602.)

A brochure Mr Hagger wrote about the hall's history explains that Jamestown “became the modern USA of the Kennedys, Clintons and Bushes. The civilisation Gosnold co-founded would one day dominate the world militarily, achieve nuclear and global political supremacy, and walk on the moon”.

The Gosnold family has a long association with Suffolk. It owned or rented land in Otley from 1401. Early 20th Century newspaper articles state that Otley Hall was built by John Gosnold I in 1440. Members of the family would live there for 300 years or so.

Bartholomew was born in 1571, the son of Anthony Gosnold and Dorothy Bacon, of Hessett. Anthony Gosnold owned a number of properties, including Otley High House. Although there's no evidence to suggest Bartholomew lived there, says Mr Hagger, he might have done - travelling to Otley Hall each day to be taught by the manorial tutor.

When Otley High House was sold in 1589, Grundisburgh Hall became Anthony Gosnold's main home and it's possible his son was based there with his father until 1592.

The teenage Bartholomew went to Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1587, then to New Inn, and in 1592 became a member of Middle Temple, the most famous Inn of Court - the inns being the professional associations to which barristers belong.

His uncle, meanwhile, had forged a link with the Earl of Essex, who took Bartholomew on iconic maritime adventures in 1596 (Cadiz) and 1597 (Azores), and to Ireland in 1599 - when they captured a ship that was probably Spanish. Bartholomew, captain of the Diamond, seized the vessel's goods. He later received £200 as his share of the £1,700 take.

Things appeared to be going swimmingly for the Gosnold clan, but at the turn of the century life became less comfortable - and the consequences would have an effect on the Jamestown settlement a few years later.

Early in 1601 the earls of Southampton and Essex were part of a London protest against the influence on the queen of Sir Walter Raleigh and Lord Cobham.

Essex, who had fallen out of favour with Queen Elizabeth I after ignoring her instruction to stay in Ireland and put down the rebellion, was accused by some of attempting a coup d'état.

Bartholomew's wife's cousin, Sir Thomas Smythe, one of the two sheriffs of London, had been due to supply 1,000 troops to support Essex in his endeavours, but failed to do so - a black mark against him. He found himself in prison, accused of being implicated in the abortive coup d'état. The Privy Council said he had “forgotten his duty to her Majesty”.

Smythe was sent to the Tower of London, but denied any part in the plot and managed to escape with a spell in jail and a hefty fine.

Southampton's “crime”, meanwhile, was that he had produced Shakespeare's Richard II at the Globe theatre - allegedly to show that a monarch could be deposed. At their trial, both earls were sentenced to death and Essex was later beheaded. Southampton's punishment was commuted to imprisonment in the Tower of London. Robert Gosnold III, Bartholomew's uncle, was fined £40 for an alleged part in the putative rebellion.

Despite being incarcerated, Southampton was still able to bankroll the 1602 voyage his friend Bartholomew had long planned, with the aim of setting up both a trading post and a colony in the New World. Part of Gosnold's motivation was that his father was by now languishing in a debtor's prison in Southwark, having fallen on hard times. Bartholomew hoped the voyage would make enough money to pay off the outstanding sums and win Anthony's release.

The Dartmouth-based vessel Concord was chartered - a leaky ship only about 13 paces long and six wide - and set sail in the spring. Crammed on board were 32 people, including 20 would-be settlers.

The voyage took 49 days. As he sailed around the headland of Providence, Gosnold christened it Cape Cod. An island further south was called Martha's Vineyard after his daughter, who had died in 1598 at the age of one. (He had married Mary Golding, of Bury St Edmunds, and lived in the town for much of the time.) Both names stuck and can today be found on the map of America's east coast.

The group went on to settle “Elizabeth Island”, but the settlement didn't last, explains Nicholas Hagger's history. There were problems with food and incidents involving Native American Indians. The settlers chose to go home in the summer. Sadly, Gosnold returned empty-handed. But his determination hadn't waned and he was soon planning the next voyage.

After the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Mary's cousin, Sir Thomas Smythe, was freed from the Tower of London. His yo-yoing fortunes were quickly on the rise. Smythe had inherited the Muscovy Company and made a mint in fur-trading. He became London's richest merchant and in 1604/5 appears to have met Gosnold at Otley Hall to plan the expedition.

The hall was used as a recruiting base. Gosnold - said to be the prime mover, and organising the finance through his wife's cousin - vetted 104 would-be settlers and 55 crew. Among them was John Smith, a farmer's boy from Norfolk who had been made a captain for his bravery while fighting in Hungary. He would later come to prominence . . .

All seemed set fair, though at the last minute the festering resentment from the Earl of Essex episode flared up in what seemed like an act of minor revenge. In December 1606, the First Virginia Company - dominated by Sir Robert Cecil, who had been the power behind Elizabeth I's throne - chose Christopher Newport as admiral.

On paper, Gosnold was demoted to number two spot, though Nicholas Hagger says Bartholomew was leader in all but name.

He left behind his wife and five children when he set sail from Blackwall aboard Godspeed. Admiral Newport was in command of Susan Constant. The third ship was Discovery.

After its false start - and John Smith was one of the mutinous crew members put in chains - the party eventually arrived at the mouth of the James River on April 26, 1607, and landed on Jamestown Island in the middle of May.

Gosnold still wasn't getting his own way. His choice for an encampment was vetoed by his cousin Edward-Maria Wingfield, of Letheringham, who had been recruited as a stockholder, and by Newport. The favoured Jamestown site, however, was swampy and beset by mosquitoes. There were incidents, too, with Native Indians as the settlers built a triangular fort whose walls were constructed of sharp, pencil-shaped palisades.

Once, says Nicholas Hagger, an attack by 400 Native Indians were beaten off only after Gosnold fired the heavy cannon on board Godspeed.

Interestingly, it wasn't until 1608 that the first two English women arrived at Jamestown. Males outnumbered females for most of the 17th Century.

The winter of 1609-10 would be viewed as “the starving time,” and it's even claimed that some settlers ate the bodies of dead colleagues. When Lieutenant Governor Thomas Gates arrived with shiploads of fresh colonists in May, food shortage, illness and attacks had cut the 250 or so settlers to about 60 disheartened souls.

Only the arrival of Governor Thomas West, with 150 more recruits and fresh supplies, kept Jamestown alive.

Bartholomew is credited with helping to design the initial fort - and, during the earlier attempt at settlement, building the first known English house in America. After his death in the summer of 1607, probably from dysentery and scurvy, he was the only settler to be honoured with a full military funeral - proof, argues Nicholas Hagger, of his status within the group.

Some historians feel Gosnold has never fully been given the credit for his role in the birth of America. Much has been made of the part of Captain John Smith, who would serve as Colonial Governor of Virginia from 1608 to 1609. Fuelling this is the enduring tale of the Indian chief Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, who would later visit England and died here in 1616. She is buried in Gravesend.

In the December of 1607 Smith was captured and taken to meet Powhatan 15 miles north of Jamestown. He feared for his life but, according to his own account, Smith was released without coming to harm, saying the intervention of Pocahontas saved him.

Some historians doubt the truth of Smith's claims, feeling his writings are often boastful. Opinions differ on the alleged “rescue”. The Virginia Council on Indians says: “Some think it happened much as Smith described it in his 1624 writings, although he did not mention the incident at all in his earlier writing of his time at Werowocomoco. Others think it never happened, and still others believe the event occurred, but was an 'adoption' ritual that was misunderstood by Smith.”

However, Gosnold has his supporters. The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities calls him the “prime mover of the colonization of Virginia”.

AUTHOR and historian Nicholas Hagger has a controversial new book coming out in 2007 to coincide with the anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

The writer and wife Ann owned Otley Hall from 1997 until 2004. The Secret Founding of America will argue that the nation was the Freemasons' first step toward a New World Order.

Meantime, he told the EADT: “I am delighted that the US's observance of its 400th anniversary this coming May will give those who planned the Jamestown voyage the recognition they deserve.

“The Spanish settlement in St Augustine, Florida, of 1565 was the first permanent settlement in the U.S. The decision to base the 400th anniversary on 1607, 13 years before the voyage of the Mayflower, disregarded the earlier Spanish - and French - voyages and angered the Hispanic population, who felt that the anniversary should have been observed in 1965.

“There had been a number of English voyages and temporary settlements such as Sir Walter Raleigh's short-lived colony at Roanoake, which was founded in 1585. By 1590 the colonists had disappeared, either captured or killed by native Americans. Bartholomew Gosnold may have been commissioned by Raleigh to undertake his 1602 voyage to look for these missing colonists; hence a report to Raleigh at the end of the voyage.”

Gosnold, who until early November, 1606, bore the brunt of the organisation of the Jamestown expedition, “is at the origin of Anglo-American interconnectiveness. He straddled Elizabethan England and New World America, and was one of the first English-speaking Americans. He was a prototype of today's America and a symbol of American rootedness in Britain which brings our transatlantic cousins to our shores again and again”.

It's unfortunate Gosnold's achievement was overshadowed by John Smith, whose statue stands over Jamestown.

“When I went to Richmond, Virginia, and gave a lecture on Gosnold in 1998, the 200 Virginians in the audience had scarcely heard of him,” says Nicholas. “They thought John Smith was responsible for Jamestown although, as I pointed out, he had been in chains in the hold for much of the voyage and was not released until after the settlers had built the Jamestown fort.

“I told the audience 'You've put up a statue to the wrong man.' Shocked, heads shook, but since then many Virginians have come round to my way of thinking, which one Virginian professor described as 'the Hagger gospel of Gosnold'.

“Whether or not a skeleton discovered in Jamestown in 2002 is in fact Gosnold's, I am delighted that Gosnold can now be given some credit for being 'one of the first movers' in the first permanent English-speaking settlement in the New World.”

THE story of the Jamestown settlement is told in a major exhibition at the Museum in Docklands - a converted Georgian warehouse, next to Canary Wharf. It's a stone's throw from Blackwall, from where the three ships sailed 400 years ago.

It was James I who granted a charter to The Virginia Company to “make habitation, plantation and … deduce a colony of sundry of our people” in North America - the first important transference of English personnel and stock to a foreign shore.

The exhibition makes clear the motivation behind the voyage, and also the extent of the “muscle” committed towards sustaining the settlement. Some of the measures taken would horrify modern society.

London goldsmiths and metallurgists were sent to Virginia to hunt for gold and other precious metals that the investors hoped would make them a quick profit. Virginia lotteries were started in London to raise money for the venture and a Lottery House was built near St Paul's Cathedral.

The Virginia Company worked hard to enlist recruits. In one of the first concerted advertising campaigns in English history, it highlighted the riches waiting in the New World.

Without a ready supply of people to grow crops, help in the home and lend skills, the settlement would fail - so the company introduced a system of indentured servitude.

Vagrant children and orphans were drawn from the streets, and poor families were persuaded to hand over their youngsters. London was keen on getting rid of its “superfluous multitude” - beggars and so on - though many folk grumbled at the taxes imposed to cover the bill.

The settlers traded with the Algonquian tribes for food, though, as Museum in Docklands points out, there was a large degree of exploitation. Captain John Smith noted that the Indians were “generally covetous of beads . . .and other trifling Jewels”, and so cheap knives, shears, bells and other tat from London shops were offered in exchange for fish, game, corn and even people. When Jane Dickenson was kidnapped by the Powhatan in 1622, she was ransomed for 2lbs of glass beads.

The Virginia Company hoped to make money from minerals, but the only product that would turn a profit was tobacco. Norfolk's John Rolfe, the businessman who would marry Pocahontas, introduced Virginia tobacco to London, with the first shipment arriving in 1614.

The exhibition raises some uncomfortable questions. For some people there was freedom and prosperity; for others, enslavement. For many American Indians it brought the destruction of aspects of their lives and cultures.

Journey to the New World: London 1606 - Virginia 1607 runs until May 13, 2007, at Museum in Docklands. Museum admission is £5 for adults (concessions £3). Open daily10am-6pm. www.museumindocklands.org.uk

According to the Jamestown 2007 organisation, the settlement is considered to mark the beginning of free enterprise in America because shares of stock were sold by the Virginia Company of London to those interested in investing in the New World. Settlers worked to produce goods such as glass objects and cash crops - the profits going to the shareholders.

Local people who travelled out to America in 1606/7 -

Essex: Henry Adling, Gabriel Archer, Edward Browne, Robert Ford, Mathew Fitch, George Martin, John Martin, Eustace Cloville, Edward Morris, Christopher Newport, Kenelme Throckmorton.

Suffolk: William Brewster, Anthony Gosnold, Anthony Gosnold, Bartholomew Gosnold, George Goulding, Thomas Webb, Thomas Cowper, Edward Brookes, Anas Todkill, William Unger.