Founder’s remains inspire new courthouse statue

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A statue of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold was unveiled outside the WJCC courthouse Friday. (Adrienne Berard/WYDaily)
A statue of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold was unveiled outside the WJCC courthouse Friday. (Adrienne Berard/WYDaily)

Before Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold was cast in bronze and placed beside the Williamsburg James City County Courthouse, he discovered Cape Cod for the English, fought with Sir Walter Raleigh against the Spanish and privateered his way through the West Indies.

His most famous endeavor — and the one for which the courthouse recently erected a statue in his honor  — was the establishment of Jamestown settlement in 1607.

On Friday afternoon, a crowd of nearly two-dozen spectators, including Senator Thomas Norment (R-3rd) and JCC Supervisor John McGlennon, gathered in the stifling heat to witness the unveiling of a statue of Capt. Gosnold, the forgotten founder of English America.

“The unveiling of this statue is sort of the end of a 12-year odyssey for me,” retired Circuit Court Judge Samuel Powell said during opening remarks.

Gosnold is the second addition in a three-part statue installation planned for the courthouse. The first statue, erected in 2008, depicts Native American leader Chief Powhatan and the third statue will commemorate Africans brought to the colony. The project, based on a large mural depicting the arrival of settlers at Jamestown, has been spearheaded by Powell.

Powell’s original intention for the installation was to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the founding of Virginia, which took place in 2007. Due to funding issues, the project has suffered a series of delays.

According to JCC Board of Supervisors minutes from 2007 and 2010, Virginia Department of Historic Resources gave the county $55,000 for the first bronze statue of Powhatan, which was not erected until 2008. Funding for the construction of this second statue came from Towne Bank. The third statue has yet to be designed or constructed.

Bill Kelso and James Horn, of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, watch as a statue of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold is unveiled outside the WJCC courthouse on July 8. (Adrienne Berard/WYDaily)
Bill Kelso and James Horn, of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, watch as a statue of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold is unveiled outside the WJCC courthouse on July 8. (Adrienne Berard/WYDaily)

“I’d like to think that Captain Gosnold would look down upon us now and think ‘it’s about time I got a statue,’” James Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, joked during the unveiling. “I’m very grateful to everyone who made that possible.”

It was not until 2002, when archeologists from the Jamestown Rediscovery Project stumbled upon a grave in James Fort’s western corner, that the legacy of Gosnold was revived. Forensic analysis by the Smithsonian Institution determined that the skeleton buried there belonged to a European male about five and a half feet tall, who died in his mid- to late-thirties.

After considerable research, historians determined that the remains likely belonged to Gosnold, an English lawyer and explorer, whose ships landed on the banks of the James River, where he would help establish the settlement of Jamestown.

“We cannot gather,” Gosnold wrote in a letter to his father following his first expedition to Virginia. “By anything we could observe in the people, or by any trial we had thereof ourselves, but that it is as healthful a climate as any can be.”

Gosnold died of illness after only 90 days in Jamestown. His bones served as the model for the courthouse’s life-size statue.

“We used a facial reconstruction made from the skull,” Horn said of the design. “Because we had the whole skeleton, we could predict how he would have been.”

The original replica of Gosnold’s body is displayed just outside Horn’s office at Historic Jamestowne. Horn says that version looks far less stoic than the courthouse rendition and closer resembles “a swashbuckling privateer.”

“I see him every day,” Horn said. “And every day I’m thankful to him for his part in the founding of Virginia.”