Robert Hunt (c. 1568–1608) was vicar of Reculver from 1595 to 1602, at which date he moved to the diocese of Chichester to become vicar of Heathfield. He was probably born around 1568/69 and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford (BA 1592; MA 1595). He had been ordained in Lincoln in 1593 and was installed into the living at Reculver on 18 January 1595.
In 1606, while vicar of Heathfield, he was recruited to become the chaplain of the Virginia Company’s expedition to found a colony in North America, setting out from Blackwall on the Susan Constant on 19 December 1606 and taking a library of books with him. They arrived in Virginia on 27 April 1607 and named their new settlement Jamestown.
In January 1608, much of the colony was destroyed by fire (always a hazard with timber constructions at the time) and Robert Hunt’s house and his library of books were destroyed. Times were hard for the new settlers and Hunt died at some time in the next few months. Probate on his will was granted in London on 14 July.
The archaeologists of the Jamestown Rediscovery project have been conducting excavations to establish the location of the original settlement, including the site of Robert Hunt’s church. In 2013 the team reported the discovery of four graves in the site of the chancel of the original church. Examination of the skeletons and grave contents have enabled Dr William Kelso and his team to identify the left-hand grave as that of Robert Hunt. The other three are thought to be those of three of the colony’s leaders, Captain Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman, and Captain Thomas West.
Recent excavations have discovered over 100 book clasps in various parts of the site, some of which may (just possibly) have been fastenings on the bindings of Robert Hunt’s lost library. However, not all of his books have been lost, as it seems that he did not take them all with him to America. The Chapter Library owns one book with an inscription in Latin recording Hunt as its purchaser, dated Reculver February 1598. The Latin inscription on the title page reads Liber Ro: Hunt Vicarij de Reculver; Februar: 1598. prec: -5-0. The book is a German-Latin dictionary printed in Zurich in 1561, so he must have bought it second-hand, paying 5 shillings for it.
An earlier version was published in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library News, Newsletter 55, Autumn 2015, p.3.