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A.Bierstadt's 1858 painting: "Gosnold at Cuttyhunk, 1602"

Bartholomew Gosnold (1572–August 22, 1607) was an English lawyer, explorer, and privateer, instrumental in founding the Virginia Company of London, and Jamestown, Virginia. He is considered by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) to be the "prime mover of the colonization of Virginia." Gosnold also led the first recorded European expedition to visit Cape Cod, on May 15, 1602.


Early life

He was born in Grundisburgh in Suffolk, England in 1572, and his family seat was at Otley, Suffolk. His parents were Anthony Gosnold and Dorothy Bacon. He graduated from the University of Cambridge and studied law at Middle Temple.[1]

Gosnold was a friend of Richard Hakluyt and sailed with Walter Raleigh. He obtained backing to attempt a colony in the New World and in 1602 he sailed from Falmouth in a small Dartmouth bark, the Concord, with thirty-two on board. They intended to establish a colony in New England, which was then known as Northern Virginia.

Bartholomew Gosnold pioneered a direct sailing route due west from the Azores to New England, arriving in May 1602 at Cape Elizabeth in Maine (Lat 43 degrees). He skirted the coastline for several days before anchoring in York Harbor, Maine, on May 14, 1602.

The next day, he sailed into Provincetown Harbor, where he is credited with naming Cape Cod.[2] Following the coastline for several days, he discovered Martha's Vineyard and named it after his daughter, Martha . He established a small post on Elizabeth's Island, which is now called Cuttyhunk Island and is part of the town of Gosnold. The post was abandoned when intending settlers decided to return on the ship to England since they had insufficient provisions to overwinter.

A notable account of the voyage, written by John Brereton, one of the gentlemen adventurers, was published in 1602, and this helped in popularising subsequent voyages of exploration and colonisation of the northeast seaboard of America. A second account by Gabriel Archer was not published until over 20 years later, after Gosnold's death.

Virginia Company, Jamestown

Gosnold spent several years after his return to England promoting a more ambitious attempt; he obtained from King James I an exclusive charter for a Virginia Company to settle Virginia. To form the core of what would become the Virginia Colony at Jamestown, he recruited his cousin-by-marriage Edward Maria Wingfield, as well as John Smith, his brother and a cousin, in addition to members of his 1602 expedition. Gosnold himself served as vice-admiral of the expedition, and captain of the Godspeed (one of the three ships of the expedition; the other two being the Susan Constant, under Captain Christoper Newport, and the Discovery, under Captain John Ratcliffe [3 ]).

Gosnold also solicited the support of Matthew Scrivener, cousin of Edward Maria Wingfield. Scrivener became Acting Governor of the new Colony, but drowned in a tragic accident in 1609 along with Anthony Gosnold, Bartholomew's brother, while trying to cross to Hog Island in a storm. (Ironically, Scrivener's brother Nicholas had also drowned while a student at Eton.)

Stone cross marking what is believed to be the gravesite of Bartholomew Gosnold

Gosnold was popular among the colonists and opposed the location of the colony at Jamestown Island; he also helped design the fort that held the initial colony. He died of dysentery and scurvyonly four months after they landed, on August 22, 1607. George Percy's 'Discourse' that was printed in the fourth volume of Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625) records Gosnold's death (...Captain Bartholomew Gosnold one of Councile, he was buryed thereupon having all the ordinance in the Fourt shote offwith manye vollyes of small shot...) and then sayse "...Oure men were destroyed with cruel dyseases as swellings, fluxes, burning fevers, and by wars and some exyted souddenlye, but for the moste part they dyeth of mere famine..."

Possible discovery of his grave

In 2005, the APVA announced that its archaeological dig at Jamestown had likely discovered the explorer's grave, and that it had begun genetic fingerprinting to verify Gosnold's identity. By June researchers had received the approval of the Church of England to take DNA samples from the remains of his sister, located in an English church, the first exemption granted for such purposes. However, in November 2005 the APVA announced that while they remained confident her remains were beneath the church floor, they had been unable to locate them.

The DNA analysis will be conducted by the Smithsonian Institution. The skeletal remains of what is believed to be Gosnold are currently on public display in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.


  1. ^ Gosnold, Bartholomew in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ Archer, Gabriel (1912). Ed. Frances Healey. ed. GREAT EPOCHS IN AMERICAN HISTORY: The Relation of Captain Gosnold's Voyage. Funk & Wagnalls Co.. pp. 38.  
  3. ^ Brown, Alexander (1890). Genesis of the United States pg 85. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company.. pp. 85.  

Further reading

  • David A. Price, Love and Hate in Jamestown (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003: ISBN 0-375-41541-6)
  • David R. Ransome, ‘Gosnold, Bartholomew (d. 1607)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BARTHOLOMEW GOSNOLD (d. 1607), English navigator. Nothing is known of his birth, parentage or early life. In 1602, in command of the "Concord," chartered by Sir Walter Raleigh and others, he crossed the Atlantic; coasted from what is now Maine to Martha's Vineyard, landing at and naming Cape Cod and Elizabeth Island (now Cuttyhunk) and giving the name Martha's Vineyard to the island now called No Man's Land; and returned to England with a cargo of furs, sassafras and other commodities obtained in trade with the Indians about Buzzard's Bay. In London he actively promoted the colonization of the regions he had visited and, by arousing the interest of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and other influential persons, contributed toward securing the grants of the charters to the London and Plymouth Companies in 1606. In 1606-1607 he was associated with Christopher Newport in command of the three vessels by which the first Jamestown colonists were carried to Virginia.

As a member of the council he took an active share in the affairs of the colony, ably seconding the efforts of John Smith to introduce order, industry and system among the motley array of adventurers and idle "gentlemen" of which the little band was composed. He died from swamp fever on the 22nd of August 1607.

See The Works of John Smith (Arber's Edition, London, 1884); and J. M. Brereton, Brief and True Relation of the North Part of Virginia (reprinted by B. F. Stevens, London, 1901), an account of Gosnold's voyage of 1602.

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