Search for US founder's DNA

TWO Suffolk churches are to be at the centre of a major scientific search for the DNA of a man who helped found America, the Church of England has today announced.

TWO Suffolk churches are to be at the centre of a major scientific search for the DNA of a man who helped found America, the Church of England has today announced.

In 1607 Captain Bartholomew Gosnold established the Jamestown settlement in what is now Virginia, but died just a few months later.

A St Edmundsbury and Ipswich diocese spokesman said American historians are hoping to prove remains recently found in Virginia are Gosnold's by using remains buried in All Saints church Shelley, near Hadleigh, and St Peter and St Mary church, Stowmarket.

The spokesman said: "The Association for the preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA Preservation Virginia) has excavated the remains of a 17th century sea captain at the James Fort site.

"With the 400th anniversary of Gosnold's landing approaching the APVA Preservation Virginia is seeking to archeologically obtain DNA bone samples from two of Gosnold's maternal relatives in Suffolk."

Genealogical research has discovered Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney, Gosnold's sister, who is buried in the chancel of Shelley All Saints church, and Katherine Blackerby, his niece, who is believed to be buried in Stowmarket parish church.

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The spokesman explained the historical significance of Gosnold, who lived in Bury St Edmunds.

He said: "He is undoubtedly the most overlooked of the country's founding fathers. Gosnold was the principal promoter, vice-admiral and one of the most influential leaders of the Jamestown colony, which eventually gave birth to the development of the USA.

"America's English language, rule of law and representative government all evolved from the pioneering efforts of Gosnold and others at Jamestown."

James Halsall project spokesman for the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich said the study will start with a ground radar survey at the two proposed excavation sites.

He said: "This is an exciting and unique venture. The ground radar survey is just the first step. It must be stressed that there are a number of legal and other hurdles that must be crossed before a trowel is put into the earth."

William Kelso, APVA director of archaeology, said he was grateful for the opportunity to excavate in the two Suffolk churches.

He added: "We are confident that the remains excavated at Jamestown are those of Batholomew Gosnold. If we can find matching DNA we will have done everything possible to confirm the identity of this great man."

The project is being funded by the National Geographic Society and if DNA samples can be found the result of comparative tests will be shown in a documentary transmitted in November 2005.

If the results of the ground radar survey are positive then the final decision to approve the exploration will be taken by the end of March. Suffolk County Council archaeologists are expected to begin work in late spring.

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