Captain Bartholomew Gosnold

The first settlers at Jamestown knew how important Captain Bartholomew Gosnold (Gosnoll) was to the venture. He was a successful mariner and privateer, and Captain John Smith named him the “prime mover” of the founding of Jamestown. Yet Gosnold has been largely forgotten to history.

Gosnold was born in 1571 and hailed from Otley Hall in Suffolk. In 1602, he led the brief colonization of the Elizabeth Isles. He explored and named Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Gosnold’s experiences along the New England coast informed his views on organizing and establishing the Virginia colony. For the 1607 adventure, Gosnold commanded the second largest ship, the Godspeed, and was among those chosen by the Virginia Company to sit on the council that governed the settlement locally.

Gosnold’s contributions to the establishment of the colony have been minimalized because he died on August 22, 1607, a few months after the first settlers landed at Jamestown. George Percy described how the colonists gave Gosnold an honorable burial with a gun salute “with many volleys of small shot.”

Gosnold’s legacy remained obscure until 2002, when the Jamestown Rediscovery team discovered the probable final resting place for the colony’s “prime mover.” The burial was found just outside James Fort’s western corner, and there were several indications it had been for a high-status individual. The grave shaft contained metal portions of a captain’s leading staff, and dark staining left from the wooden staff measured five and a half feet. The nail pattern left after the deterioration of the wooden coffin suggested it was gable-lidded, which was another indicator of status. Forensic analysis by the Smithsonian Institute determined that the skeleton belonged to a European male about five and a half feet tall who died in his mid- to late-thirties. Gosnold died at age 36.

Gosnold was “a worthy and religious gentleman . . . upon whose life stood a great part of the good success and fortune of our government and colony.”
– President Edward Maria Wingfield