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Samuel Argall's time in the Virginia Company

Posted August 13th, 2017 at 07:15 AM by Baltis
Updated August 13th, 2017 at 07:32 AM by Baltis

Samuel Argall

Samuel Argall was born in Kent, England sometime between 1572 and 1580, when he was baptized. He grew up in the shadow of great sea captains like Francis Drake, also from Kent and the greatest English hero of the time. Samuel was no older than 16 in 1588 when Drake defeated the Spanish Armada but likely a bit younger since there is no record of his taking part in that battle. However, at some point Samuel did follow the local tradition and became a noted sea captain. According to records of the Guild of Merchant Sailors Samuel Argall was employed as a ship’s captain in 1609 with instructions to sail to Virginia and then look for a shorter route and good fishing grounds from which to help supply the colony.

Captain Argall first arrived in Jamestown during the ‘starving time’. He intended to stay but there was such need in the colony that he sold them all of his supplies and returned to England. “God having seene our misery sufficient, sent in Captain Argall to fish for Sturgion with a ship well furnished with wine and bisket, which though it was not sent us, such were our occasions we tooke it at a price, but left him sufficient to returne to England, still dissembling Valdo his villany, but certainlie hee had not escaped had the President continued.”

In a later update to the history of Jamestown, John Smith updated his text and corrected a good bit of the spelling. “Arrived one Captaine Argall, and Master Thomas Sedan, sent by Master Cornelius to truck with the colony, and fish for Sturgeon, with a ship well furnished, with wine and much other good provision. Though it was not sent us, our necessities was such as inforced us to take it. He brought us newes of a great supply and preparation for the Lord La Warre, with letters that much taxed our President for his heard dealing with the Salvages, and not returning the shippes fraughted. Notwithstanding we kept this ship tell the fleete arrived. True it is Argall lost his voyage, but we revictualled him, and sent him for England, with a true relation of the causes of our derailments, and how imposible it was to returne that wealth they expected, or observe their instructions to indure the Salvages insolencies, or doe anything to any purpose, except . . . “

Argall returned to Jamestown with ‘Lord De la Ware’ in June 1610. They had 3 ships of provisions and new colonists and literally met the remaining Jamestown colonists sailing out of the James River in a desperate attempt to avoid starvation. De la Ware then sent Argall to Bermuda to arrange a regular supply route. “Sir George Somers, and Captain Argall he presentlie dispatcheth to require the Bermondas to furnish them with provision.” Unfortunately, Argall became separated from Somers and failed to find Bermuda. “In this time Argall not finding the Bermondas, having lost Sir George somers at sea, fell on the coast of Sagadahock [Maine], where refreshing himselfe, found a convenient fishing for cod. With a tast thereof hee returned to James towne.”

Once his return to Virginia, Argall took his ship on a trip up the Potomac River to establish trade with the Indians there. Not only did he succeed in trading but also managed to rescue an English boy who had previously been a prisoner of Powhatan. “Lord De-la-ware sent him to trade in the river of Patawomecke, where finding an English boy those people had preserved from the furie of Powhatan, by his acquaintance had such good usage of those kind Salvages, that they fraughted his ship with corne, wherewith he returned to James Towne, and so for England with the Lord governour.”

In June 1611, Lord De La Warre reported back to the company concerning the trade relations opened up by Argall. He said that “Captaine Argoll, who hath found a trade with Patamack (a king as great as Powhatan, who still remains our enemie, though not able to doe us hurt.) This is a goodly river called Patomack, upon the borders whereof there are growne the goodliest trees for masts, that may be found elsewhere in the World: Hempe better then English, growing wilde in aboundance: Mines of anitmonie and leade.”

Early in 1612 Argall came up with a plan to force Powhatan to make peace and return all the English prisoners that he was holding. He would bribe Japazeus, the chief of his friends along the Potomac (Pataomecke Indians), who was also friends with Powhatan’s tribe and, particularly, Pocahontas. For a “small copper kettle and from other less valuable toys”, Argall convinced Japazeus and, more importantly, his wife, to bring Pocahontas aboard his ship under false pretenses. Once there, he took her prisoner to be held hostage. Argall took the girl to Jamestown until such time as her father, Powhatan, was willing to “ransom her with our men, swords, pieces, & other tools treacherously taken from us.”

It took three months for Powhatan to give in but then he sent 7 men with broken muskets and 500 bushels of corn along with an explanation that the rest of the swords and muskets were lost or stolen. The Virginians refused to release the girl but, in March 1613, sent Argall along with Sir Thomas Dale and 150 men up the river to meet with the chief. They intended to force Powhatan to return the remaining property “which were our pieces, swords, tools” along with a few of the original 7 men who had already returned to the Indian village voluntarily. If the Indians refused, Argall and Dale intended to “fight with them, burn their houses, take away their canoes, break down their fishing weirs, and do them what other damages we could.”

The Indians replied to the ultimatum with threats of their own which were followed by a barrage of arrows flying “amongst us in the ship, themselves unseen to us, and in the forehead hurt one of our men, which might have hazarded his life without the present help of a skillful surgeon.” At that point, Argall and Dale felt “justly provoked” and “presently manned our boats, went ashore, and burned in that very place some forty houses, and of the things we found therein, made freeboot and pillage, and as themselves afterward confessed unto us, hurt and killed five or six of their men, with this revenge satisfying” them, the soldiers returned to the ship and continued upriver.

Once the party got to Powhatan’s village an uneasy truce for 24 hours was agreed to during which time negotiations took place. Additionally, two of Pocahontas’s brothers came on board the ship to visit with her and discuss her situation. During the time of her capture, Pocahontas had fallen in love with John Rolfe. She told her brothers about it and, in turn, discussed it with Powhatan. He was happy with the planned marriage and agreed to a peace with the English. Powhatan sent his brother, Opachisco, to give her away and “to see the marriage solemnized, which was accordingly done about the 5th of April.”

When Powhatan made peace with the colonists, other tribes grew anxious to make their own peace. The Chikahominy Indians were the first to come make contact. Thomas Dale went with Argall to meet with them but left the negotiations to Samuel. “I resolved to goe; so taking Captaine Argall, with fifty men in my frigot, and barge I went thither: Captaine Argall with forty men landed, I kept aboord for some reasons. Upon the meeting they told Captain Argall they had longed to be friends, that they had no king, but eight great men, who govern them. He would them that we came to be friends, asked them if they would have King James to be their King, & whether they would be his men? . . . All this being agreed upon, Captaine Argall gave every Councellor a tomahawk, and a peece of copper, which was kindly taken.” In return, the Indians, “as testimonies of their loves, venison, turkies, fresh fish, baskets, mats, and such like things as they were then furnished with.” After the official meeting, something like a flea market broke out and “every man brought to sell to our men skinnes, boules, mats, baskets, tobacco, & etc. and became as familiar amongst us, as if they had been English men indeede.”

No sooner had Argall completed his dealings with the Indians in Virginia, word reached the colony that a French settlement had appeared in Maine which, at that time, they considered to be part of Virginia. Dale sent Argall to attack them. Argall surprised the French near the Penobscot River and seized their supply ship before burning the not yet completed fort. “Sir Thomas Dale understanding there was a plantation of Frenchmen in the north part of Virginia, about the degree of .45 sent Captaine Argall to Port Royall and Sancta Crux, where finding the Frenchmen abroad dispersed in the woods, surprised their ship and pinnance, which was but newly come from France, wherein was much good apparel, and other provision, which he brought to James towne, but the men escaped, and lived among the salvages of those countries.”

According to the French sources, not all their men escaped. Argall and his men killed a number of them in the assault and took about 14 prisoners, including a pair of Jesuit priests named Biard and Masse. Before moving on to the next French settlements, Argall sailed the Treasurer back to Jamestown. After hearing Argall’s story, the council turned him immediately around to attack the remaining French settlements on his way back to England. With his Jesuit prisoners and/or the charts he discovered on board the captured French ships, Argall sailed north where he easily surprised and destroyed the settlements at both Sainte Croix and Port Royall. Argall burned both forts, butchered or carried off the livestock, and even destroyed the crops in the field.

After leaving Port Royall, Argall sailed south along the coast to New York where he may have stopped in briefly to inform the Dutch settlers of their encroachment on land claimed by the Virginia colony. In his frequent trips to England Argall had also discovered a prevailing current that would carry ships back to England from North America. It was the northern part of the Gulf Stream. Once back in England, Argall enjoyed acclaim as a hero. In his report to the company, Hamor credited Argall with gaining respect from the Indian tribes and therefore peace with them. He said that most letters “penned have intimated, how the ever-worthy gentleman Captain Argall in the heat of our home furies & disagreements by his best experience of the disposition of those people, partly by gentle usage & partly by the composition & mixture of threats hath ever kept fair & friendly quarter with our neighbors bordering on the other rivers of affinity, yea consanguinity, no less near then brothers to Powhatan, such is his [Argall] well known temper and discretion, yea to this pass hath he brought them, that they assuredly trust upon what he promiseth, and are as careful in performing their mutual promises.”

In addition to the various services and actions attributed to Captain Argall, the 1614 report also indicated that he started competition with the French for the fur trade. After at least one of his victories against the French, Argall met with tribes that had been involved with the fur trade. While true the Indians “there inhabiting (before Captain Argalls arrival) esteemed the French as Demi-Gods, and had them in great estimation: but seeing them vanquished and overcome by us, forsook them, yea, which is no mean point of policy, desired our friendship, telling Captain Argall, that he had undone them forever, for that the French by yearly trade with them for furs, furnished them with many necessaries, whereof they had great want, which trade by this means might happily be hindered. But Captain Argall hath agreed with them to reserve their furs for him, and promised them, once a year to come thither, and truck with them: they seemed very well content, assuring him, that thought the French should at any time arrive there, and proffer them trade, they would reserve all their furs for him [Argall] and what profit by this means only, may be returned to the Virginia adventurers.”

An inquest was held to determine whether Argall acted legally in his attacks against the French settlements. Unsurprisingly, Argall was exonerated and cleared of any charges. Within a few months he was back at sea making voyages to and from Virginia. In early 1616 he captained the ship that carried John Rolfe and Pocahontas (along with a number of young Indian women, some of whom did not return to Virginia) to England. While there, Argall was named as the new Deputy Governor of Virginia to replace Thomas West. Unfortunately, when he tried to return and assume his new duties, illness (and death) to Pocahontas early in the voyage forced Argall to return to Kent. Months later, Deputy Governor Argall arrived in Jamestown (May 1617) and assumed control of the colony.

“The Treasurer, councell and Companie, having well furnished Captaine Samuel Argall, the Lady Pocahontas alias Rebecca, with her husband and others in the good ship called the George, it pleased God at Gravesend to take this young Lady to his mercie, where shee made not more sorrow for her unexpected death, than joy to the beholders, to heare and see her make so religious and godly an end. Her little childe Thomas Rolfe therefore was left at Plimoth with Sir Lewis Stukly, that desired the keeping of it. . . . in May he arrived at James towne, where hee [Argall] was kindly entertained by Captaine Yearley and his Companie in a martiall order, whose right hand file was led by an Indian.”

Once back in Jamestown, Deputy Governor Argall made an assessment of the situation. He found a total state of disrepair. The Church was “downe” and the walls around the fort were broken. Only five or six houses stood in the community and most of the people had scattered into the colony. The well had gone spoiled and the entire compound had been planted in tobacco. Indians came and went freely among the colonists and had become “expert in our armes, and had a great many in their custodie and possession.” Argall strongly disapproved of these events and decided to crack down on the colonists. The company instituted a legal system a couple of years earlier and Argall tried to institute the laws in a strict manner. He insisted on bringing Jamestown into regular repair which limited time for individual pursuits, such as tobacco growing.

Unfortunately, Argall was not well received by the colonists or the Indians. He behaved in an aggressive manner in trading with the Indians and barred anyone but himself from participating. While he collected sufficient corn from the trade to feed the colonists, all the profits and the fur trade were kept to himself. “Hee proclaymes that noe man shall dare to buy any Furr of the Indians but himself as if the Plantation and People” existed only to secure his personal fortune. Argall’s accusers pointed out that he made free use of the “Summer Island Frigott, and our men to his owne benefit.”

The accusations of using the men went a bit deeper. At that time, most of the colonists were indentured to the company for the first seven years of their time in Virginia. A few early colonists had actually survived the starving time and the next five years thereafter. Those individuals were known as ‘ancient colony men’ and should have been free of their obligations. Argall had received a large land grant up the James River a few miles from Jamestown. He began using the “auncient Collony men” in the clearing and improvements for his property. As if using the laborers wan’t bad enough, Argall was also feeding his men “with the collony’s share of Corne.”

Once the various complaints reached London, the company emphasized a few issues of their own. Argall had neglected their profits and not properly accounted for all the company property. For example, Argall claimed to have “disposed of” all the company’s cattle according to his Commission. However, in their reply to him, the directors pointed out that “wee gave you no such Commission but the contrary in expresse words, as that you should preserve and nourish them to the common use.” They went on to caution Argall to “allowe of no such sale, nor of the delivery of any one cowe” beyond the express authority of his instructions.

The directors in London decided to take action on the complaints against Argall. In the ending paragraph of their reply to the accusations, it was suggested to Argall that “you must think highly of yourselfe” and little of the company. Otherwise, how could he presume so openly to operate in such a corrupt manner “without being called account.”

The directors decided to recall Argall to London for a hearing. The charges were considered serious enough that the shareholders in London “will noe way be satisfied without his personal appearance.” One of the accusations was that Argall had armed himself with false claims against the company in order to justify having taken personal control of the company supplies. During this same time period that Argall had been enriching himself, the reports back to London had been quite dreary with requests for additional colonists, animals, and supplies. The company now responded by sending Lord Delaware to Jamestown with orders to “fetch him home” and pray that he avoids “further scandall and slaunders to the government”. In the meantime, Lord Delaware was instructed to send Argall back to England “in this ship the William and Thomas to satisfy the Adventurers [shareholders] by” answering the charges against him. Unfortunately, before

Back in Virginia, Argall was definitely feeling the pressure. He was well aware of the complaints against him and had become a bit desperate. In October of 1618, Argall had a dispute with Captain Edward Brewster. Argall’s high handed behavior had not stopped when the William and Thomas arrived at Jamestown. The ship had spent time in bad weather which caused a number of deaths among the passengers, Lord Delaware among them. This left Argall free to ignore the immediate summons and remain in Jamestown. At that point, he took control of Lord Delaware’s servants. Stunned by this defiant behavior, Captain Brewster openly complained about Argall’s acts. Argall responded quickly and decisively. He had Brewster arrested, immediately tried, and sentenced to death. However, before the sentence was carried out, the other officers talked Argall down from the hasty and harsh sentence. They petitioned for and received a reprieve to “banishment, with the promise that he would not return.”

Sometime in 1618, perhaps as early as April, Argall had sent the Treasurer to the West Indies with conflicting instructions. While it officially made the cruise to trade for “salt and goats”, there was testimony that Argall had used the Earl of Warwick’s name to commission the ship as a privateer sent to ‘ravage the West Indies’. The testimony appeared true since the Treasurer took a year to make the trip and then showed up with a Dutch privateer operating under a Commission from the Duke of Savoye to take Spanish prizes. Of course the evidence looks even more convincing when one considers that Samuel Argall and the Earl of Warwick were both part owners of the Treasurer and reaped considerable personal gain from the voyage. The charge of privateering was quite serious since there was no authorization for English ships to raid Spanish shipping.

Once the ships arrived in Jamestown, the Dutch man of war “sold us some 20 negroes”. However, according to Governor Butler of Bermuda, half of the slaves left by the Dutch ship were “never of the Treasurer’s company” but had been stolen from a Dutchman named Youpe. This helps to explain the disposition of the slaves left in Jamestown. A census of Slaveholders in Virginia taken in 1625 shows that Samuel Argall’s successor, Sir George Yeardley had taken ownership of 8 of the slaves which represented 40% of the total 20 slaves counted in the colony. Quite likely these would have been slaves owned by Argall had he remained in the colony. Samuel Argall was responsible for importing the first African slaves to North America.

Even though Argall likely set the chain of events that brought slavery to Virginia in motion, he had already left by the time the Treasurer arrived. After his dispute with Captain Brewster, Argall remained in Virginia for several months. Finally, in the early Spring, he got word that Yeardley had been appointed Governor and was on the way to arrest Argall. Rather than return under taint of arrest, Argall took a ship back to London before Yeardley arrived. He needed to face the accusations in person so he could explain the situation and clear his name. Once before the company, Argall was able to explain some of his actions. He told them about the dire state of the colony on his arrival and how unpopular it had been to force repairs. Also that he cut off the Indian trade because the Indians had obtained many weapons and he had worked hard to get them back. Argall indicated the lack of animals and food supplies had been aggravated by a drought in the summer of 1618. The problem of privateering in the Treasurer was a bit difficult. There was ample testimony that Argall had commissioned privateering against the Spanish at a time when it was not authorized. Fortunately for Argall, the accusations also stood against his partner, the Earl of Warwick. The Earl had considerable influence and managed to get the case “dismissed without prejudice to Argall.”

Even though the case was dismissed, the company voided the action against Captain Brewster and sent Argall on his way, Argall’s influence greatly diminished. His position as Deputy Governor vanished. The shareholders realized that Argall had not really been acting in their best interest and did not employ him again for any adventures in the new world. A few months later, Governor Yeardley (Argall’s replacement) sent some confessions back to London that provided even more proof that Argall had sent his ship illegally against Spanish commerce. The evidence was forwarded to the Spanish who took great offense and caused “much ill feeling” toward the Earl of Warwick.

Yeardley's report also confirmed the waste of company resources that had occurred during Argall’s administration. Even though the Company Garden operated at a profit, salt works had been set up, and land rents had amounted to 1200 bushels of corn, 80 cows, and 88 goats, at the time of Yeardley’s arrival, Argall had left the company without corn and with only 6 goats. “About two years after [Argall’s appointment] . . .his whole state of the publique was gone and consumed, there being not lefte att that time to the company either the land aforesaid or any Servant, Tennant, Rent, or Trybute corne, cowe, or saltworke, and but six goats only, without one penny yeilde to the Company for their so great losse.”

Once the other issues were disposed of, the company took up the matter of Captain Brewster. By this time their feelings toward Argall had soured considerably and the court had no trouble finding against him. Argall’s conviction and sentence were tossed aside as “unjust and unlawfull”. Not only was he without authority to hold the trial at all, it appeared that Brewster in no way deserved “the severe penaltie of death.” Instead, he “was to be held as a loyall man and not lawfully condemned.”

Argall’s service for the Virginia Company came to an end.






W. Austin Squires, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/argall_samuel_1E.html
Captain John Smith, The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia, reprinted in Captain John Smith with other Narratives, James Horn, (Library of America, Penguin Putnam, NY 2007), 105.
John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles, reprinted in Horn at 394-395.
Captain John Smith, The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia, reprinted in Horn at 116.
Captain John Smith, The Proceedings of the English Colonie in Virginia, Horn at 116.
Lord De La Warre, A Short Relation, reprinted in Horn at 1172.
Ralph Hamor, A True Discourse of the Present Estate of Virginia, (John Beale, London 1615), 6.
Ibid
Ibid
Ibid at 7, also note that a detailed description of the events appears in Hamor’s text but did not seem to add a great deal to Argall’s part of the story and has been left out.
Henry Dale, To the R. and my most esteemed friend Mr. D.M. at his house at F.Ch. in London, reprinted in Horn at 1160.
Hamor at 8.
John Smith, To Make Plaine the True Proceedings of the Historic 1609, reprinted in Horn at 428.
Squires
Hamor at 5.
Hamor at 14.
J. Frederick Fausz, Encyclopedia of Virginia, http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/...26#start_entry, (July 10, 2016).
John Smith, To Make Plaine the True Proceedings of the Historic 1609, reprinted in Horn at 443.
Samuel Argall & John Rolfe, Government devolved to Captaine Samuel Argall, 1617, reprinted in Horn at 444.
Virginia Company to Lord Delaware, 1618, reprinted in Edward D. Neill, History of the Virginia Company of London, (Joel Musell, Albany NY, 1869), 118 – 119.
Ibid
Virginia Company to Samuel Argall, 22 August 1618, Neill at 114 – 117.
Ibid
Virginia Company to Lord Delaware, 22 August 1618, Neil at 119.
Neill at 120, see also Samuel Argall & John Rolfe, Government devolved to Captaine Samuel Argall, 1617, reprinted in Horn at 445.
John Pory to Dudley Carleton, reprinted in part in Edward Neil, Virginia Vetusta, The History of the Virginia Colony During the Reign of James the First, (Munsell’s Sons, Albany NY, 1885), 113.
Ibid at 113 – 114, 116.
Ibid at 136.
Ibid at 115.
Ibid
Yeardley’s report reprinted at Neill, 180.
Neill at 187.
Attached Images
File Type: pdf Samuel Argall notes.pdf (109.5 KB, 0 views)
File Type: jpg Samuel Argall portrait.jpg (5.6 KB, 1 views)
File Type: jpg Samuel Argall burning Port Royal.jpg (96.2 KB, 1 views)
File Type: jpg Samuel Argall Chicahominie .jpg (100.3 KB, 1 views)
File Type: jpg Samuel Argall - capture of Pocahontas.jpg (92.9 KB, 1 views)
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