USA's forgotten founding father

AMERICA is today preparing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its first English settlements - and East Anglia was at the forefront of its establishment.

By Paul Geater

AMERICA is today preparing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its first English settlements - and East Anglia was at the forefront of its establishment. As the results of scientific tests on the bones of the Suffolk-born founder of the first colony are about to be released, PAUL GEATER looks at how founding fathers from this region helped establish what was to become the greatest power on earth.

FOR generations, schoolchildren on both sides of the Atlantic learned that north America was founded by the Pilgrim Fathers, who set up the first colony in New England after landing there in 1620.

However that is not strictly accurate - the first English-speaking colony in North America was Jamestown in Virginia, founded in 1607. And it was a Suffolk man, Bartholomew Gosnold, who led the way with the foundation of that settlement.

Gosnold, from Otley Hall, was the captain of the Godspeed, which took the first settlers to the new world. They named their new colony Virginia in honour of Elizabeth I - the “Virgin Queen” - who had died four years earlier.

But the trip to Jamestown was not Gosnold's first to the new world - five years earlier he had sailed to what is now known as New England.

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Sadly Gosnold did not live to see the colony his expedition founded become established - he died at the end of 1607. His role in the foundation of America was overlooked for centuries as popular history concentrated on the exploits of the Pilgrim Fathers.

However over recent years his importance in the foundation of America has been reassessed and recognised.

It is now recognised that the foundation of the first English colony ensured that the north east coast of the continent became an English-speaking land and not part of a rapidly-expanding Spanish empire.

It was 13 years after the foundation of Jamestown in Virginia that the Pilgrim Fathers set out from Plymouth to found their own colony in the new world.

They too were aiming for Virginia and planned to establish their new homes near Jamestown - however they made land 600 miles north of the existing settlement in what is now known as Massachusetts, New England.

The Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower were religious dissenters fleeing persecution in England. Most of those on that vessel were from the west country - but over the next 20 years the number of refugees seeking religious freedom increased.

Many of these came from dissenting families in East Anglia which led to the foundation of communities with familiar names on the other side of the Atlantic.

Jamestown itself is now part of the historic city of Williamsburg, the original capital of Virginia before Richmond took on that mantle in the 18th century. The original settlement is now part of a national park which will be visited by The Queen and Prince Philip at the height of its 400th birthday celebrations in May.

The royal couple visited Jamestown during their first ever trip to the USA in 1957 when the country was celebrating its 350th birthday.

The City of Williamsburg also includes the famous battlefield of Yorktown - the site of the final decisive battle in the American War of independence in 1781 when Washington's army defeated the British.

TWO distinct clusters of communities developed in these early days of English settlement. In Virginia, the oldest colony, Norfolk and Suffolk are two of the largest cities on the Atlantic coast.

Norfolk is now the US Navy's largest east coast base.

But it is in New England that there are the greatest number of familiar names. It is here that you can find Ipswich between Haverhill and Gloucester and just a few miles from Boxford.

Chelmsford is not far away and Cambridge is the home to Harvard University. The capital of Massachusetts is Boston, neighbouring New Hampshire's capital is Manchester.

In this part of New England you can find Norwich, Attleboro, Framingham (they lost the 'l' somewhere), Holbrook, Dedham, and Braintree.

Born: In Suffolk in either 1571 or 1572 and lived at Otley Hall which was the family home for 300 years.

Motive: Unlike the Pilgrim Fathers who travelled to America to escape persecution at home, Gosnold's voyages were motivated by a desire to explore the new world and those who sailed with him saw themselves as pioneers extending England's role in the world - not fleeing from an oppressive government.

Travels: His voyages to across the Atlantic were, it is said, planned at home in Suffolk - by the fireside at Otley Hall. During his first trip to the Americas in 1602/3 he charted the seas around the coast of what was to become known as New England.

He discovered Martha's Vineyard - which he named after his infant daughter - and Cape Cod in what is now Massachusetts. The stories his crew brought back from that trip attained immortality when they formed the basis of The Tempest, William Shakespeare's last play.

However Gosnold's trip to Virginia four years later was to be his last.

Died: Shortly after the colony landed at what it called Jamestown, in honour of the new King of England, he was struck down by illness. It is unclear what the illness was with some reports saying he died of dysentery, others saying he had malaria - an illness which very few English people had ever come across before.

Although he had planned to return to his Suffolk home, he never made that journey - he was buried in Jamestown.

Archaeologists thought they may have found his grave back in 2002 but after gaining permission to compare the DNA with that of Gosnold's relative Elizabeth Tilney Gosnold who is buried in Shelley church, near Hadleigh, the results proved inconclusive.

A REPLICA of the Godspeed recreated Gosnold's voyage across the Atlantic in 1985.

The replica vessel was built in 1982 to a genuine 17th century design - no image exists of the original Godspeed - and took three months to sail from London to Jamestown.

The American-built replica arrived in Britain at Felixstowe on the deck of a container ship before being refloated for the voyage back to Jamestown where it remains a tourist attraction today.

Three vessels, the Godspeed, the Susan Constant, and the Discovery were in Gosnold's flotilla that sailed into Jamestown.

Replicas of all three are now docked in the Virginia in what is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in America.

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