Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Argall, Samuel

ARGALL, Sir SAMUEL (d. 1626), adventurer and deputy-governor of Virginia, was descended from an old Kentish family who afterwards settled at Walthamstow in Essex. His first appearance in history is among the early adventurers to Virginia, where we find him in July 1609 in charge of a small barque lying at anchor off Jamestown, where he was sent to trade on behalf of a Mr, Cornells, and to fish for sturgeon. His next task, after his return home, appears to have been that of conducting Lord Delawarre from England to Virginia, where they arrived on 6 June 1610, in time to prevent the abandonment of Jamestown by the colonists, who, under the guidance of Sir Thomas Gates, the governor, had already embarked on board four vessels for Newfoundland, For further relief of the colony, Argall was despatched with Sir George Somers to the Bermudas for hogs to replace the stock which the colonists had eaten up the previous winter; he was, however, separated by stress of weather from Somers, and driven northward to Cape Cod, where he found good fishing, afterwards returning to Jamestown at the end of August (Purchas). In the early part of 1611 he appears to have returned to England with Lord Delawarre, who was in ill health, but not before he had established a trade in corn with the natives above Jamestown. At an early period in his history, Argall appears to have distinguished himself as a skilful seaman by making rapid voyages to Virginia. In September 1612 we find him again at Jamestown after a quick passage of fifty-one days, his course, as he tells us, 'being fifteen leagues northward of the Azores,' the remainder of the year until November being employed in the repair of the ships and boats that he found fast going to decay 'for lacke of pitch and tar,' and in pursuing Indians for their corn with Sir Thomas Dale, the governor, who nearly lost his life. On 1 Dec. Argall set out for his first voyage up the Potomac in search of corn, of which he secured 1,100 bushels for the colony, after giving three men and two boys as hostages to the king of Pastancy. It was while on this business that he devised the well-known stratagem of the abduction of Pocahontas. Argall writes: 'I was told by certaine Indians, my friends, that the great Powhatans daughter Pocahontis was with the great king Powtowneck, whither I presently repaired, resolving to possesse myself of her by any stratagem that I could use, for the ransoming of so many Englishmen as were prisoners with Powhatan; as also to get such armes and tooles as he and other Indians had got by murther and stealing from others of our nation, with some quantitie of corn for the colonies reliefe.' With this view he went to the king of Pastancy, and told him 'that unless he delivered vp Pocahontas to the English wee would be no longer brothers or friends' (Purchas). This threat, backed up, according to another account, by the promise of a copper kettle, proved too much for the fidelity of king Pastancy, her uncle; Pocahontas was beguiled on board Argall's vessel, and found herself a prisoner. It has long been the fashion to regard this as an infamous act of treachery on the part of Argall, but the wisdom of the enterprise was proved by the English captives being restored and peace secured to the colony. As for Pocahontas, she regarded the abduction as the happiest event of her life, declaring that 'she would dwell with the English, who loved her best.' After handing over his fair captive to Sir T. Gates, Argall proceeded to explore the east shore of Chesapeake Bay, forty leagues to the northward, varied by fishing and trading with the Indians. At this period (12 May 1613) Argall's own narrative ceases (Purchas, part iv. p. 1765). Later in the year he proceeded with a vessel of fourteen guns, under orders to reduce the newly established French settlements of Mount Desart, off the coast of Maine, St. Croix, on an island in the river of the same name, and Port Royal, six miles below Annapolis, Nova Scotia, on the opposite shore of the bay of Fundy, settlements which were regarded by the authorities in Virginia as infringements of their charter. In June 1614 Argall left Virginia for England with his French prisoners, where, soon after his arrival, he was put upon his defence for his late proceedings. His dignified and judicious reply, which completely silenced his adversaries, and which has been strangely overlooked, is preserved among the Cotton MSS. in the British Museum (Otho E. 8, 29). Of his movements for the next three years we have no certain knowledge. In May 1617 he arrived once more in Virginia as deputy-governor and admiral of the adjacent seas. Few incidents in American colonial history have been more hotly debated than his career during these two years. Recent writers, misled by the apparent but injudicious impartiality of Stith, have hastily and acrimoniously condemned Argall and all his works, in spite of contemporary evidence to the contrary, which has never been gain-sayed, of the well-known Captain John Smith and several others. Argall always courted the strictest investigation, while a suit got up mainly by his successor, Sir G. Yardley, who was only too anxious to succeed him, finally collapsed after running a feeble course of four years. On 12 Oct. 1620, Argall served in an expedition against Algiers, under the command of Sir R. Mansell, as captain of a merchant vessel armed with twenty-four guns. The fleet returned in August of the following year without having rendered any real service to the nation. On 26 June 1622 Argall received the honour of knighthood from King James I at Rochester; he was then described as of Walthamstow in Essex (Nichols, Prog. James I, iv. 770). As admiral of a squadron of twenty-four English and four Dutch ships, Sir Samuel left Plymouth, 6 Sept. 1625, in search of a fleet of Dunkirkers supposed to be sailing along the coast of France towards Spain. Although he failed to find the fleet, he took other prizes, and returned to Plymouth after a cruise of seven days. On 3 Oct. following, this squadron joined the expedition against Cadiz under the command of Lord Wimbledon, Argall commanding the Swiftsure as captain, having on board Robert, earl of Essex, as vice-admiral and colonel-general of the land forces. Argall, reconnoitring the town, reported it to be too strongly fortified to be taken except by a regular siege for which no provision had been made, the merchant ships under the command of Argall having been ill supplied and badly paid; the masters, after waiting in vain in hopes of relief from the king (Charles I), refused to serve any longer and returned to Plymouth in December, the expedition proving a failure. We learn from a letter to Buckingham, 28 Jan. 1625-6, that the end of Sir S. Argall was in this wise: 'The master of the Swiftsure being very backward and very cross, as the report was, to his captain Sir Samuel Argall, which broke his heart, and four days since he died.'

[Doyle's English in America, 1882; Hannay's Hist. of Acadia, 1880; Massachusetts Hist. Soc. Coll. 1871, fourth series, vol. ix.; Neill's English Colonization of America, 1871; Nichols's Prog, of James I; Purchas's Pilgrims, 1625, part 4; Smith's Hist. of Virginia, 1627; Stith's Virginia, 1747; Cal. State Papers (Dom. series), 1625-6; Cotton MS. Otho E. 8 (229); Addit. MS. 16279, 429; Harl. Miscell 13, 137.]

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