Hunt to identify American founder

By John HowardA MAJOR scientific search will begin today in Suffolk for the DNA of the man who founded the first English-speaking colony in America.Scientists are planning to take DNA from the skeletons of two women who died 400 years ago in an attempt to discover more about an English explorer, who historians said was one of America's founders.

By John Howard

A MAJOR scientific search will begin today in Suffolk for the DNA of the man who founded the first English-speaking colony in America.

Scientists are planning to take DNA from the skeletons of two women who died 400 years ago in an attempt to discover more about an English explorer, who historians said was one of America's founders.

Archaeologists believe they have found the remains of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, who was born in Grundisburgh, and is said to have founded the first English-speaking American colony in Virginia in 1607.


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To confirm their suspicions, they propose to make cross-checks with the DNA of Gosnold's sister or niece, who are both thought to have been buried in Suffolk churchyards in the 1600s.

Church officials believe the project is the first of its kind in the UK and said all proper legal steps will be taken before graves are disturbed.

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They said extensive checks had revealed that Gosnold has no living relatives and so experts will be making radar searches of burial grounds in Shelley and Stowmarket today to establish the feasibilty of taking DNA samples.

Records show that Gosnold's sister, Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney, lies in the chancel of All Saints' Church in Shelley. His niece, Katherine Blackerby, is believed to be buried at St Peter and St Mary Church, Stowmarket.

James Halsall, project spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich said: "This is a very exciting and unique venture. The ground radar survey is just the first step.

"It must be stressed that there are a number of legal and other hurdles that must be crossed before a trowel is put into the earth."

He added the next step for surveyors would be to photograph the remains a using a mini-camera that would be attached to a tube and inserted into the graves.

"The experts say it will not be necessary to exhume remains, but that samples can be taken after digging a narrow shaft in specific areas," said the spokesman.

"That means there would be no need for reburials or religious services. A genealogist has been working on this and traced 13 generations after Gosnold. The family then seems to have died out, we can find no living relatives.

"If the results of the ground radar survey are positive, then the final decision to approve the exploration will be taken by the end of March, with archaeologists from Suffolk County Council beginning work in late spring or early summer."

The driving force behind the project is the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, a historical society based in Richmond, Virginia.

Association officials said research showed Bartholomew Gosnold established the Jamestown settlement, in what is now Virginia, in 1607 and died a few months later aged 36.

A spokeswoman said: "He is undoubtedly the most overlooked of the country's founders. Gosnold was the principal promoter, vice-admiral and one of the most influential leaders of the Jamestown colony, which eventually gave birth to the development of the United States.

"America's English language, rule of law and representative government all evolved from the pioneering efforts of Gosnold and others at Jamestown."

The association said it had unearthed the remains of a 17th-century sea captain at the site of the Jamestown colony two years ago and hoped to prove that they were those of Gosnold.

William Kelso, its director of archaeology, added: "Based on the archaeological evidence and forensic analysis, we are confident that the remains excavated at Jamestown are those of Bartholomew Gosnold.

"If we can find matching DNA, we will have done everything possible to confirm the identity of this great man and raise awareness about his contribution to the founding of the United States.

"We sincerely appreciate the co-operation of the people in the two Suffolk parishes and the Church of England in this important endeavour."

john.howard@eadt.co.uk

CAPTAIN BARTHOLOMEW GOSNOLD FACTFILE

n Gosnold was born in Grundisburgh and buried at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, aged 36.

n He lived in Bury St Edmunds and his family seat was at Otley Hall, near Ipswich.

n Historians say Captain Bartholomew Gosnold made two historic voyages from England to the New World.

n In 1602, 18 years before the Pilgrim Fathers left Plymouth in The Mayflower, he sailed to what was to become New England in his ship Concord.

n During that journey records show that he built a fort on Cuttyhunk Island, named Cape Cod and named Martha's Vineyard after his daughter.

n Five years later he returned on the ship Godspeed and was instrumental in establishing the first permanent English settlement in north America at Jamestown, Virginia.

n Some historians believe that but for Gosnold the USA would have become Spanish territory.

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