Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parker, William (d.1618)

PARKER, WILLIAM (d. 1618), sea captain, was probably the William Parker who was master of the Mary Rose victualler in the fleet against the armada of 1598. In November 1596 he sailed from Plymouth, in command of the ship Prudence of 120 tons, in company with the Adventure of 25 tons, commanded by Richard Henn, and, coming to Jamaica in March 1597, joined Sir Anthony Shirley [q. v.] in an attempt to surprise Truxillo, and, finding that impossible, took and sacked Puerto de Cavallos, but ‘made no booty there which answered their expectations.’ After other unsuccessful attempts they separated, and Parker, going towards Campeachy, landed thirty-six men in a canoe, and surprised the town on the morning of Easter day. At first the Spaniards fled; but, recovering from their panic, they returned in overwhelming numbers and drove out the English, killing six and wounding others, Parker himself among them. The English, however, carried off their dead, and with colours flying marched down to their canoe, placing the prisoners, among whom were the alcade and others of the chief men of the place, in their rear, ‘as a barrier, to receive the Spaniards' shot, if they had thought fit to continue firing.’ In the harbour they captured a ship with 5,000l. in silver on board ‘and other good commodities,’ which they carried off. Afterwards the Spaniards, having fitted out two frigates, captured the Adventure, and hanged Henn and the thirteen men who formed his crew; but Parker, in the Prudence, got off safely, and arrived in Plymouth in the beginning of July.

Three years later, in November 1600, he sailed again in the Prudence, having on board, besides several gentlemen volunteers, a crew of 130 men, and with him the Pearl of 60 tons and 60 men. Sacking and burning the town of St. Vincent, in the Cape Verd Islands, on the way, they proceeded to the West Indies, and after capturing and ransoming a Portuguese ship, with a cargo of nearly 400 negroes, went to the island of Cabezas, near the mainland. Leaving the ships, they went in boats with 150 men to the Bastimentos, and thence, by night, on 7 Feb. 1601, into the harbour of Porto Bello; there they landed, and after a stubborn fight, in which they lost many men, they made themselves masters of the town. Unfortunately the treasury was nearly empty, 120,000 ducats having been sent to Cartagena only a week before. Ten thousand ducats was all that remained; but ‘the spoil of the town, in money, plate, and merchandise, was not inconsiderable.’ With this and two frigates, which they found in the harbour and carried off, they retired to their ships, ‘releasing the prisoners, among whom were the governor and several persons of quality, without any ransom, satisfied with the honour of having taken, with a handful of men, one of the finest towns the king of Spain had in the West Indies.’ They arrived at Plymouth in May. The date of this expedition is given by Purchas, whom all later writers have followed, as 1601–2; but it is quite certain that in the latter part of 1601 and through 1602 Parker was at Plymouth, and the correct date, it may be safely assumed, was a year earlier.

In August and September 1601 he was at Plymouth, busy sending out vessels to watch the Spanish fleet of 120 ships said to be collected at Lisbon, part of the time being at sea himself, cruising between Scilly and Ushant. In December 1601 he was mayor of Plymouth, examining prisoners and suspected persons, and 163l. 17s. 9d. was awarded him for the expense of a bark and caravel sent to watch for the Spanish fleet.

After the peace with Spain he probably settled down as a merchant at Plymouth and took no further part in public life, except as one of the adventurers in the Virginia Company. He may probably be identified with the William Parker who was ‘a suitor’ in November 1617 ‘for the chief command’ of a voyage to the East Indies. The rival competitors were Sir Thomas Dale [q. v.] and Sir Richard Hawkins [q. v.] Dale was appointed chief commander, and Parker his vice-admiral. He was then, according to Dale, unfit for his work, being old and corpulent. The fleet sailed in the spring of 1618, and on 26 June arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, whence Parker wrote requesting that 100l. might be paid to his wife, which was ordered to be done. He died on the voyage to Bantam on 24 Sept. 1618. He left a son John, in the service of the company, apparently an agent.

[Hakluyt's Principal Navigations, iii. 602; Purchas his Pilgrimes, iv. 1243; Lediard's Naval Hist. pp. 351, 380; Calendars of State Papers, Dom. and East Indies; Brown's Genesis of the United States, p. 961.]

J. K. L.