Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Captain Argall sets sail for Virginia


Captain Samuel Argall (1580-1626) was an English merchant adventurer, naval officer, and agent of the Virginia Company. He was a cousin to Sir Thomas Smith, the scholar, and, at that time, Governor of the Virginia Company. In 1608-1609 word had arrived from the Jamestown Colony that things were not going so well. They needed supplies and more colonists. The entire financial future of the Virginia enterprise hinged on a successful plantation at Jamestown. The failure of Raleigh's Roanoke colony was still a potent memory and warning. Thus, the principal investors in the Virginia Company launched a public relations campaign in the spring of 1609 (as has been documented on this blog) to develop greater interest in investment, and to sign up English men and women to go to Virginia. Several voyages and resupply missions were planned for 1609. Argall's was the first. Captain Samuel Argall and crew set sail from Portsmouth on May 5, 1609. His orders were to sail to Jamestown by way of Barbuda and to deliver sturgeon to the colonists. In an interesting twist that has had vast repercussions in history, Argall disobeyed orders. He decided to take a chance on a different route to the New World. Instead of heading for the tropics and following the trade winds, Argall & Co. tried a new route: first to the Azores, from thence to Bermuda, and then to Virginia. This route sliced off many days of travel and kept English vessels out of the Spanish highway across the Atlantic.

Argall decided not to go fishing for sturgeon before docking at Jamestown. Instead, always the benevolent humanitarian, and finding the Jamestown colonists starving and near death, he sold them the ship's extra biscuits and wine. Then he hurried off to the Carolina Banks and caught a heap of sturgeon. Argall, smartly salvaging his reputation, gave the colonists some of the fish but kept all the caviar for private sale back in London. It's always about the money with these Merchant Adventurers! Argall wasted no time, departing back for England on August 31, 1609.


A few years later, Argall displayed his heroism and forthright dealings when he deviously arranged for the abduction of Pocahontas (1613). Inviting her to tour his vessel, Argall and his men showed their bravery by capturing the unarmed, teenage Indian girl. Pocahontas was later brought back to London where she met King James and Ben Jonson and died of fever and heartbreak just as she was about to leave to return to Virginia (1617).

Detail from The Abduction of Pocahontas by Jean Ferris, c. 1910.
Captain Samuel Argall (left) at Jamestown with Pocahontas as his captive.

By RSB copyright 2009

42 comments:

  1. For excellent acounts of the settling of Jamestown, Samual Argall, Pocahontas, and the entire experience read; "Savage Kingdom" by Wooley and "Land as God Made It," by James Horne. Also "Jamestown Narratives" written by the settlers themselves. These are the best researched and most truthful accounts.

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  2. "A True Discourse of The Present State of Virginia" by Ralph Hamor 1615. One of the more honest descriptions. Various pages relate to Captain Argall. Page 35 mentions his voyages.
    "Good News From Virginia" by Alexander Whitaker 1613 also honest descriptions. Bird images on the slate are mentioned in both books. First wildlife and bird reports in Virginia.

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    Samuel was step-son of Lawrence Washington, the ancestor of President George Washington.

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