Major step in hunt for founding father

By John HowardReligious Affairs CorrespondentCHURCH authorities have given scientists permission to open up a 400-year-old grave in East Anglia to extract DNA from the remains interred there.

By John Howard

Religious Affairs Correspondent

CHURCH authorities have given scientists permission to open up a 400-year-old grave in East Anglia to extract DNA from the remains interred there.

The move will help a project that is trying to identify remains found in Virginia, USA, which are believed to be those of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, the Suffolk man who founded the first English-speaking colony in the New World.


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It is the first time in Britain that Church authorities have granted special permission for DNA material to be extracted from a grave to aid a scientific project.

In 1607, Capt Gosnold established the Jamestown settlement in what is now Virginia, but he died a few months later and is now considered the most overlooked of America's founding fathers.

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Scientists from the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities will travel to All Saints Church, Shelley, near Hadleigh, in the summer to try to extract DNA from the remains of Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney, sister of Capt Gosnold.

Archaeologists from the association have already excavated the remains of a 17th century captain in Virginia.

They hope to prove they are the remains of Capt Gosnold by comparing DNA bone samples with those taken from his maternal relatives in Suffolk,

James Halsall, the Gosnold project spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: “It is a very exciting development.

“For the first time a scientific project has been given the go-ahead to seek to extract DNA material to establish the identity of a family member.”

Elizabeth Kostelny, executive director for Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, said: “We feel very privileged that the Church of England has granted us permission to proceed.

“It seems very appropriate that this great explorer, who founded what has become the United States of America, should be at the centre of this historic venture to rediscover our nation's origins.”

A second application relating to the remains of Capt Gosnold's niece, Katherine Blackerby, who is buried in St Peter's and St Mary's Church, Stowmarket, is still being considered.

Dr Joseph Elders, of the Council for the Care of Churches, said: “The Church has a strong presumption against the disturbance of human remains in its care.

“The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities project has been conducted to high professional and academic standards, and this is an important factor enabling a more positive approach in this particular case.

“The council will assist the diocese in ensuring that proper standards of decency and care are observed during the work.”

john.howard@eadt.co.uk

n Captain Bartholomew Gosnold was born in Grundisburgh, near Woodbridge, 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 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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