Captain Bartholomew Gosnald

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Gosnold, Bartholomew (d. 1607), sea captain and explorer, was the elder son of a Suffolk gentleman, Anthony Gosnold of Grundisburgh, Clopton, and Burgh, and Dorothy Bacon, a kinswoman of the lord keeper, Sir Nicholas Bacon. Bartholomew is first recorded on 20 October 1572 when his great-grandfather John Gosnold of Otley included him in his will. Bartholomew's education, at Cambridge and the inns of court, was intended to fit him for life as a country gentleman: in 1587 he entered Jesus College; in 1589 he and his father together purchased land; and on 9 February 1593 he transferred from New Inn to the more prestigious Middle Temple.

How Gosnold came by his nautical knowledge and when he first went to sea are facts alike unknown. It has been suggested that his interest was stimulated by Richard Hakluyt, from 1590 the rector of nearby Wetheringsett. Although by 1602 Gosnold was familiar with Hakluyt's Principal Navigations, and although the second edition of John Brereton's account of Gosnold's voyage in 1602 included matter clearly supplied by Hakluyt, there is no evidence that the two men were acquainted. Gosnold's interest more probably stemmed from his marriage in 1595 to Mary, the daughter of Robert and Martha Golding of Bury St Edmunds. Through her mother Mary was first cousin not only to the three sons, themselves all sea captains, of Sir William Winter, surveyor of the navy and master of the ordnance until his death in 1589, but also of Sir Thomas Smith. After 1600 this great London merchant all but monopolized the leadership of the joint-stock companies engaged in foreign trade, and already by 1595 he was a founder of the Levant Company, a chief member of the Muscovy Company, and the son of one of those to whom Sir Walter Ralegh had assigned his interest in Virginia. Perhaps by Hakluyt, more probably by one of the Winters or Smith, Gosnold was led to take up a maritime career.

In 1599, in the last years of the war against Spain, Gosnold commanded the Diamond of Southampton on a successful privateering cruise, netting loot valued that September at £1625 17s. 6d. In 1600 he planned another voyage, with a Captain Streynsham. Nothing is known of this second venture (it may never have taken place), but in 1602 Gosnold undertook the voyage of exploration on which his fame is based. His sponsor is unknown. It was certainly not Ralegh. According to William Strachey, it was the earl of Southampton; but in 1602 the earl was in the Tower of London and almost penniless. Captain Edward Hayes of Liverpool almost certainly helped Gosnold to formulate his plans, and Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, was perhaps the expedition's prime mover. Its twin purposes were exploration and the establishment of a trading post, perhaps in Narragansett Bay where Verrazzano had stayed in 1524.

On 26 March 1602 the bark Concord of Dartmouth sailed from Falmouth with thirty-two on board. Jointly captained by Gosnold and Bartholomew Gilbert, the latter 'Lord Cobham's man', she passed the Azores on 14 April and on 14 May was off the Maine coast. Heading south into Cape Cod Bay, she then rounded the cape into Nantucket Sound. On 21 May an island to the south—probably Cape Poge (now part of Chappaquiddick)—was named Martha's Vineyard, from the grapes on the island and in honour of Gosnold's mother-in-law. This name the explorers also gave to the present Martha's Vineyard. Three days later in Gosnolls Hope (Buzzards Bay), Elizabeths Ile (now the two islands of Cuttyhunk and Nashawena) was sighted, and on 28 May adopted as the site for the trading post. While Gabriel Archer oversaw the building of a fort on an islet in a pond there, and others felled cedars on Penikese and dug for sassafras roots, Gosnold explored the north shore of Buzzards Bay. Soon, however, the settlers decided that there were not enough victuals for the twenty under Gosnold who were to remain over the winter. On 17 June the island and fort were abandoned, and the next day the Concord left Martha's Vineyard, arriving off Exmouth on 23 July 1602, and carrying her cargo of furs, sassafras, and cedarwood on to Dartmouth, Portsmouth (where she arrived on 27 July), and Southampton, whence part of her cargo was shipped to London. Ralegh, who claimed the right to license all trade with his Virginia, was enraged by this interloping and enforced a settlement favourable to himself. He received the dedication of Brereton's account of the voyage published that same year, and took the Concord into his service, contemplating for her a voyage in 1603 in his own name. It is not known whether Gosnold was with her during these events, but he was certainly not in Suffolk, for on 7 September, seemingly from London, he wrote to his father, excusing his delay and amplifying an earlier letter (which has not survived).

Between 1602 and 1606 Gosnold vanishes from the record. He must have sometimes been in Suffolk, for his three youngest children were baptized in St James's Church, Bury St Edmunds, on 16 December 1603, 11 December 1605, and 5 February 1607. By the last date, however, he was already on his way to Virginia. According to Captain John Smith, writing in 1612, Gosnold was 'the first mover of this plantation, having many years solicited many of his friends, but found small assistants' (Quinn, Quinn, and Hillier, 5.310); and it was only after he had enlisted the aid of Edward Maria Wingfield, John Smith himself, and others that Gosnold made contact with 'the Nobilitie, Gentrie, and Marchants' who after another year secured the royal charter in April 1606. If Smith is correct, Gosnold had thus been planning the settlement of Virginia since 1604 at the latest. No other contemporary witness, however, gives Gosnold so important a role. Christopher Newport in the Susan Constant (100 tons) was admiral of the fleet which set out in December 1606. Gosnold, commanding the Godspeed (40 tons), was only vice-admiral, but when the colonists reached the Chesapeake in late April 1607, Gosnold was one of the governing council of seven who elected Edward Maria Wingfield their president. Already there were antagonisms among the councillors: Wingfield disagreed with Gosnold over the siting of Jamestown, thought John Smith no gentleman, and in mid-June apparently feared that Gosnold and his friend Gabriel Archer might unseat him. Wingfield was right to fear displacement—it occurred on 11 September—but by then Gosnold, after three weeks' illness, was dead, and it was clear that, far from being a threat to the president, Gosnold had been a peacemaker. Looking back, Wingfield termed him a 'Worthy and Religious gent ... upon whose lief stood a great part of the good succes, and fortune of our government and Collony' (ibid., 278). George Percy recorded Gosnold's death on 22 August 1607, noting that 'he was honourably buried, having all the Ordnance in the Fort shot off with many vollies of small shot' (ibid., 273).