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How A Bury Lawyer Founded Jamestown

Discover how lawyer Bartholomew Gosnold left Bury St Edmunds to found the first permanent English settlement in America - Jamestown and how he named Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.

Bartholomew Gosnold is considered by Preservation Virginia to be the "prime mover of the colonization of Virginia". His legacy - Jamestown in Virginia - led him to become one of the world's most renowned travellers. 

Visitors to Bury St Edmunds can see a permanent reminder of Bartholomew Gosnold’s adventures in the Refectory garden of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, outside the Pilgrims Kitchen cafe. 

There sits a beautifully modern piece of art by Jonathan Clarke which depicts Gosnold’s ship, the Godspeed. Gosnold commanded the ship when it set sail for on December 10 1606 to found the first permanent English settlement in America, 14 years before the famous Mayflower which took Pilgrims, from Plymouth, England to the New World.


Bartholomew Gosnold and his wife Mary (nee Golding) lived in Bury St Edmunds and had seven children, six of whom were baptized at Bury St Edmunds, between 1597 and 1607. Although a lawyer, between 1595 and 1601 it seems Gosnold spent little time practicing the law, choosing to spend time planning his adventures on the sea!

Bartholomew started his first voyage to the New World departing Falmouth on 26 March 1602 commanding the ship 'Concord', carrying twenty colonists and a dozen crew members.

On 14 May 14 1602 the ship made landfall off the southern coast of Maine and 15 May 1602 - Bartholomew Gosnold sailed into Provincetown Harbor, naming the peninsula Cape Cod after the huge schools of fish sighted. On 21 May 1602 Bartholomew Gosnold sighted the island he named Martha's Vineyard, after his daughter who died in Bury St Edmunds before the age of 2. Martha is buried in St Edmundsbury Cathedral churchyard.

It is not until 10 April 1606 that King James I grants an exclusive Royal Charter for Gosnold to settle Virginia. This was the start of The Virginia Company of London (although the original charter did not mention a ‘Virginia Company’; the name were applied later to the overall enterprise).


It was on his second journey to the New World, which departed on 20 December 1606, that Gosnold commanded the ship 'Godspeed'. They made landfall on the coast of Virginia on 26 April 1607 and later reached the settlement which Gosnold was to name Jamestown, in honour of the king, on 13 May 1607.

His adventures in Jamestown were to be short lived, as Gosnold died just 4 months later on 22 August 1607 after falling ill.

On 16 September 1620, 13 years after Gosnold's death, The Mayflower would follow the northern route across the North Atlantic that he pioneered, following his charts into Cape Cod Bay.


Did You Know?

1. You can find a memorial plaque on the Chapel of the Charnel in St Edmundsbury Cathedral's Churchyard at Bury St Edmunds. It was erected in 2007 as part of the celebrations to commemorate the founding of Jamestown.

2. Buzzards Bay (a bay of the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to the U.S. state of Massachusetts) was originally named Gosnold's Hope by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold. It is a popular destination for fishing, boating, and tourism.

3. In 2003, archaeologists at the Jamestown site unearth a skeleton they believe may be that of Bartholomew Gosnold, an original settler who died in August 1607. In 2005, after an unsuccessful attempt to obtain DNA samples from the bones of Bartholomew Gosnold's sister Elizabeth Tilney, APVA/Preservation Virginia announces that it cannot confirm that a skeleton found in 2003 is that of Gosnold.

4. Gosnold's signature was found by accident in 2007. The Gosnold family sold some land at Great Barton, and the deed survives in the West Suffolk Record Office to this day. It was discovered when research was being undertaken into the family to prepare for the centenary celebrations of the founding of Jamestown and was displayed as part of those celebrations. Gosnold's signature and seal is second from the left below.

5. Gosnold Street at the town's arc shopping centre also pays tribute to the intrepid Bury St Edmunds lawyer and explorer.


Gosnold’s widow Mary Gosnold married Jasper Sharpe on 23 May 1615 at Fornham St Martin near Bury St Edmunds. She was buried at St James’ Church, Bury St Edmunds, now St Edmundsbury Cathedral, on 23 October 1665.