Keswick - Lake District
Copyright Marcus Roberts (with additional material by Dr Yaakov Wise (also with special thanks to Ian Tyler for his expertise on local mining history)


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For Gaunse the return from his American adventure was to be potentially even more dangerous. Gaunse remained in England until 1589, and by this time he was resident in Bristol. There a heresy allegation was made. Gaunse known for his facility in Hebrew, and while staying at the house of a local land owner, Richard Mayes, he had arranged to meet and converse there in Hebrew with a Proestant cleric, Richard Curteys. The "old and new testaments" were the subject of discussion and it seems that someone (who it seems was a member of the mines company) at the property told Curteys that Gaunse was an unbeliever, whereupon Mayes declared that he was an infidel.

Curteys challenged Gaunse to answer some question in Hebrew and Gaunse denied the divinity of Ossur Ha-ish. Then Curtey continued the conversation in English, so all could witness, and Gaunse repeated his "heretical views" to all that, '...there was but one G-d, who had noe wife nor chielde ... What needeth the almightie G-d to have a sonne, is he not almyghtie?'

The gathered company, were terribly affronted by Gaunse's open denial of Christianity. In consequence, he was brought before the Mayor and Aldermen of Bristol on 17th September 1589 and again he publically declared himself a Jew, educated in Talmud. Here the Mayor and his men declared Gaunse to be 'a moste wicked infidell' and then he was sent for trial to the Privy Council in London.
There are no official surviving records of what subsequently happened to him. It is thought that he may well have escaped the most severe penalty for heresy, probably because he was to so useful to the Crown and perhaps, because technically you cannot be a heretic, if you were not a Christian in the first place, which clearly Gaunse had not been. However, since we have no other record of Gaunse in this country, it is almost certain that he was removed from England under the dormant edict of expulsion of Edward I, a fate which befell the Jew Jacob Barnett in Oxford some 40 years later, when he failed to carry through with his promise to convert before the University. An engineer named Gaunse appears in Bohemia about this time and many local historians believe him to be our Chaim or Joachim Gaunse.

Gaunse's achievements in England and its fledgling American colony were considerable. He was proudly and openly Jewish, when challenged, and declared his beliefs in a period, when challenging Protestantism would lead to death. He was rational empirical thinker, experimental chemist, metallurgist, explorer, colonist and America's first Jewish citizen. He exemplified the emergence of a new kind of expert in the early modern period, who would not only have deep practical skill and artisanship, but had a deeper theoretical knowledge backing his expertise. He was a master of one of the most difficult feats in early modern metallurgy: the correct assay and smelting of copper sulphide ores. He can also lay claim to being the first American scientist and technologist. The site of his technological work on Roanoke Island in 1585-6, has even been called 'the Birthplace of American Science'. This kind of expertise gave power and influence and enabled him to find advancement in an age which was often anti-Semitic. He helped provide the means for England to repel the Spanish Armada, and to lay the foundations for the modern mining industry in England, in Cumbria, Wales and Cornwall. In his use of a rational scientific method, in metallurgy, there is some suggestion that he may have indirectly influenced the scientist, Sir Francis Bacon, in his advocacy of experimental scientific method and Bacon's conviction that the heart of England's future should be technological and scientific.

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