Colonial History Quiz: Bartholomew Who? ; A Skeleton in Jamestown, Va., Brings New Fame to One of America's Forgotten Founders

Article excerpt

Seventh-grader Vivienne Clark from Albuquerque, N.M., can rattle off facts about Bartholomew Gosnold: In 1602 he sailed to New England, becoming the first English explorer to set foot on Cape Cod. He captained one of the ships that carried settlers to Jamestown, Va., in 1607.

"I actually think he may have made a better leader in Jamestown than John Smith," Vivienne says with some authority. Smith is widely credited with establishing what would become the first permanent English settlement in North America, but Vivienne concludes: "John Smith was kind of an opportunist."

She first came across Gosnold while researching relations between early settlers and native Americans. This week, Vivienne is in Washington to present her paper in the finals of the National History Day competition - the culmination of a yearlong program sponsored by the University of Maryland.

But Vivienne, who is home-schooled, is unusual among middle- schoolers. She might even stand out in a university lecture hall.

That's because Bartholomew Gosnold is a man history classes have largely left behind.

His minor role in the Jamestown historical record, and near invisibility in popular legend, is partly a matter of who writes history. In this case, it was Smith, the brash adventurer who recounted his version throughout his long life.

But a skeleton believed to be that of Gosnold may change all that. The discovery in 2003 at the site of the Jamestown fort has captured the attention of Colonial historians, who are closely following efforts this week in England to determine - through DNA testing of relatives' remains - whether the bones are in fact Gosnold's.

Perhaps more important, the Gosnold excavation has refocused a spotlight on the true seat of this country's founding. William Kelso, director of archaeology with the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, which uncovered the bones, has called him "a founding father of modern America."

After Gosnold and Smith's arrival in Jamestown, it would be another 13 years before the Pilgrims sailed the Mayflower to Plymouth, Mass., using Smith's navigational maps. But that outpost has long overshadowed the Jamestown Colony - which will celebrate its 400th anniversary in 2007.

It's also been easy to let a few major characters dwarf all the other players.

Gosnold, a lawyer turned privateer, played a pivotal role in organizing the expedition and securing a charter from King James. …


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