Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/North, Roger (1585?-1652?)

NORTH, ROGER (1585?–1652?), colonial projector, born about 1585, was grandson of Roger, second baron North [q. v.], and third child of Sir John North [q. v.] He was one of the captains who sailed with Sir Walter Raleigh in his last and fatal voyage to Guiana in 1617 [see under Raleigh, Sir Walter]. Sir Walter's reputation, says Wilson, brought many gentlemen of quality to venture their estates and persons upon the design. North was probably also directly influenced by his connection through his sister-in-law Frances, lady North, with the originator of the expedition, Captain Lawrence Kemys [q. v.]

The lists of the fleet, which consisted of fourteen sail, are incomplete, and in the extant accounts the number of ships is exceeded by that of the captains named. Some must of course have been officers of the land companies on board, and there is reason to believe North was among these; but when sea-captains died on the voyage, land officers took their places. North's ensign, John Howard, died on 6 Oct., after leaving the island of Bravo, probably a victim to the ‘calenture’ or infectious fever which then ravaged the fleet. At length (17 Nov. 1617) the adventurers came in sight of the coast of Guiana, and cast anchor off Cayenne. Thereupon Raleigh, who was disabled by fever, ordered five small ships to sail into Orinoco, ‘having Captain Laurence Kemys [q. v.] for their conductor towards the mines, and in those five ships five companies of fifty.’ Of one company North was in command, and Raleigh describes him and another captain, Parker, Lord Monteagle's brother, as ‘valiant gentlemen, and of infinite patience for the labour, hunger, and heat which they have endured.’

After a long and difficult passage up the river the explorers disembarked, and bivouacked on the left bank, in ignorance that they were in the neighbourhood of the little town of San Thomé, founded by the Spaniards in a district long since claimed by Raleigh as an English possession. No sooner had night closed upon the little camp than the Spaniards, who had watched every movement from the surrounding woods, made a sudden attack, which, says Raleigh, ‘being unlooked for, the common sort of them were so amazed, as, had not the captains and some other valiant gentlemen made a head and encouraged the rest, they had all been broken and cut in pieces.’ The English force, however, soon prevailed, pursued the enemy into the town, and, finding small plunder, soon reduced it to ashes.

These disasters, which included the death of Raleigh's son, a captain of one of the five companies, led Kemys to return to the fleet, now at anchor off Punto de Gallo. Throughout this unhappy enterprise North's endurance had been severely tried. The expedition, victualled for one month, had been absent for two. His men, at the outset degraded and ill-disciplined, were rendered doubly so by hardship and disappointment. Both soldiers and sailors were now in a state of mutiny. One by one the ships weighed anchor and slipped away, until three only, mutilated and miserably provisioned, remained to escort Raleigh's ship, the Destiny, on her voyage home. Among the few who chose to bear their old commander company was Roger North. It appears that he was on board one of the two vessels afterwards sent on to Plymouth with despatches, and to him was assigned the task of breaking the evil tidings to the king on 23 May 1618. Oldys describes him as having done this ‘in a very just and pathetical manner,’ adding ‘it might have had a good effect had the king's pity been as easily moved as his fear.’

The spirit of adventure was still strong in North, and in 1619 he petitioned for letters patent authorising him to establish the king's right to the coast and country adjoining the Amazon river; to found a plantation or settlement there, and to open a direct trade with the natives. The project provoked the determined opposition of Gondomar, who seems to have secured the support of Lord Digby; Roger's brother, Lord North, attacked Digby with much bitterness when he argued against the expedition as being to the prejudice of the king of Spain. James, however, provisionally granted the required letters patent under the great seal, and nominated North governor of the proposed settlement. The Earls of Arundel and Warwick, Lord North, and ‘others of great estate’ were among the adventurers, engaging to pay, for the first voyage, a third of the whole sum guaranteed by them.

But Gondomar's agents had procured a command from the king that the voyage should be stayed until further orders, and when Gondomar himself arrived, he ‘spared neither solicitation nor importunitie to stop ye voyage, insomuch as he came to ye Counsel Table for this only busines, and did there bouldly and confidently affirme that his Master had ye actuall and present possession of these countries, but he would not hear our witnesses to ye contrary.’ North's petition for leave to start consequently obtained no answer. He nevertheless received through the Duke of Richmond a message of encouragement from the king, and was suffered to make his preparations without hindrance. His ship and pinnace lay idle in Plymouth Harbour, manned by a goodly company of mariners and landsmen, who, impatient of delay, and in despair of their captain's coming, grew disaffected. This fresh element of perplexity induced North to join his ship. ‘I desired my friends,’ he writes, ‘to let me know how it would be taken. I staied by the way, and at Plimouth some three weeks after my going from London, till I receaved letters that all was well, and that ye world expected I should goe without bidding.’

Thus encouraged, he sailed out of Plymouth Sound early in May 1620, having obtained from Buckingham one of the passports which as lord high admiral it was his privilege to sell. A proclamation was at once issued (15 May), which set forth that ‘Roger North having disloyally precipitated and embarqued himselfe and his fellows, and sodainly set to sea … a rash, undutifull, and insolent attempt,’ no merchants nor ship's officers, should they meet with him, are to ‘comfort him with men, money, munition, victuals, merchandise, or other commodities,’ but are to ‘attack, seize, and summon him to returne.’ Lord North was moreover imprisoned on a charge of connivance at the offence. Gondomar now assailed the king with indignant remonstrance. James admitted, in a personal interview with Gondomar, that he had cause to complain ‘of Captain North's voyage,’ but he laid the blame on Buckingham. Buckingham was then called into the room, and when asked by the king why he had sold a passport to North without the king's knowledge, replied, ‘Because you never give me any money yourself.’

Meanwhile North seems to have prospered in his venture, until, falling in with a Dutch vessel, he heard of the proclamation out against him, and returned of his own accord. By this time his ship was ‘well fraught’ with seven thousand pounds of tobacco. He had not encountered the Spaniards, and had only lost two men. His ship and cargo were nevertheless seized at the instance of Gondomar, and he himself committed to the Tower (6 Jan. 1621). It was reported (28 April 1621) that he ‘put up a bill to have justice and a lawful hearing against Don Gondomar for his ship and tobacco.’ Owing to the intervention of Buckingham, North was released (18 July 1621) on the same evening as Henry, earl of Northumberland. Once more at liberty, he succeeded in making good his claim to the restitution of his ship and cargo, together with certain of the immunities promised him at the outset. His tobacco was returned to him free of all charges.

North next obtained (2 June 1627), in conjunction with Robert Harcourt, letters patent under the great seal from Charles I, authorising them to form a company under the title of ‘the Governor and Company of Noblemen and Gentlemen of England for the Plantation of Guiana,’ North being named as deputy governor of the settlement. The king lent much favour to ‘soe good a worke,’ which, he writes to his attorney-general (Heath), is undertaken ‘as well for the conversion of ye people inhabiting thereabouts to ye Christian faith as for ye enlarging of his Majestie's dominions, and setling of trade and trafique for diverse Comodities of his Majestie's Kingdom with these nations.’ The king desired not only that the adventurers should be free from all imposts, but that they should have the fullest possible powers and privileges for the transport of ships, men, munitions, arms, &c.

In the face of much difficulty with regard to funds, this expedition was at length fitted out, a plantation established in 1627, and trade opened with the natives by North's personal endeavours. In 1632 he was, however, again in England, detained by a tedious chancery suit, into which he had been drawn as administrator to his brother-in-law, Sir Francis Coningsby, of North Mimms in Hertfordshire, and as executor to Mary, lady Coningsby, his widow. In this suit the manors of North Mimms and Woodhall, as well as other important lands, were involved. In 1634 North petitioned the king for a speedy settlement of these proceedings, which had then lasted for seventeen years, and—the petitioner states—had not only caused the death and ruin of his sister and her husband, but had made his own life miserable since they died. He further pleads the loss and injury to the king's interest consequent upon delay. The plantation was left without government, the French and Dutch were gaining ground upon it, and their trade supplanting that of the English.

North expressed a strong desire to spend the remainder of his ‘life and fortunes’ on the plantation in Guiana; but whether he ever again, for any cause, put to sea does not appear. In July 1636 Sir John North wrote that he wished his brother Roger could be captain of one of the king's ships, and in November 1637 sent him a message from court that the king desired the formation of a new company, but ‘there is a way to be thought upon first.’

During this time of suspense Roger was much at Kirtling, the home of Dudley, third baron North, and the constant resort of his brothers. In 1652 he was ill at his own house in Princes Street, Bloomsbury. He died late in 1652, or early in 1653, leaving to his brother and executor Gilbert his lands in the fens, and all his real and personal property, excepting only some legacies to relatives of insignificant value. His will bears the impress of a religious and affectionate nature.

[Information from the Rev. Augustus Jessopp, D.D., and Prof. (Sir) J. K. Laughton; Brydges's Peers of England of the Reign of James I, vol. i.; Camden's Annals; Captain Roger North to Sir Albertus Morton, 15 Sept. 1621, Record Office; Chamberlain's Letters to Carleton, Record Office; Gardiner's Hist. of England, vol. iii.; Howell's Letters; Letters of Sir John North, K.B.; Oldys's Life of Raleigh; Pinkerton's Voyages; Raleigh's Apology and Journal; Raleigh to Sir Ralph Winwood, Record Office; R. Woodward to F. Windebank, 22 May 1620, Record Office; Rev. J. Meade to Sir Martin Stuteville, 1620, 1621, Record Office; Statement and Petitions of Captain Roger North, Record Office; St. John's Life of Raleigh, 2nd ed.; Thomas Locke to Sir Dudley Carleton, 1619, 1620, 1621, Record Office; Wilson's Hist. of Great Britain.]

F. B.