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Sir Samuel Argall (1572 or 1580 – 24 January 1626) was an English adventurer and naval officer.
As a sea captain, in 1609, Argall was the first to determine a shorter northern route from England across the Atlantic Ocean to the new English colony of Virginia, based at Jamestown, and made numerous voyages to the New World. He captained one of Lord De La Warr's ships in the successful rescue mission to Virginia in 1610 which saved the colony from starvation. As a sea warrior, he is best known for his successful diplomacy with the Powhatan Confederacy. He abducted the Chief's daughter, Pocahontas, and held her as a captive at Henricus as security against the return of English captives and property held by Powhatan on 13 April 1613. Pocahontas had long been a friend of the English and was treated with great respect according to her rank, in the eyes of the English, as an Algonquian Princess. This action eventually resulted in the restoration of peace and trade relations between the English and the Powhatan Confederacy when English Planter John Rolfe of nearby Varina Plantation met and married Pocahontas. Argall was also successful in his actions against French efforts at colonisation in Acadia and North Africa which were upheld in London as violations of the Charter of the Virginia Company.
Knighted by King James I, Argall was accused of having been excessively stern in his term as Governor of Virginia and not having the best interests of the planters at heart, but the examinations of his conduct in London and the opinion of some modern historians have questioned these charges.
Samuel Argall, baptized 4 December 1580, was the fourth son of Richard Argall (c.1536–1588) of East Sutton, Kent, by his third wife, Mary Scott (d.1598), the daughter of Sir Reginald Scott of Scot's Hall, one of the foremost houses in Kent, by his second wife, Mary Tuke, the daughter of Sir Bryan Tuke of Layer Marney, Essex, secretary to Cardinal Wolsey.
In 1609, Argall, as an English ship's captain employed by the Virginia Company of London, was the first to develop a shorter, more northerly route for sailing from England across the Atlantic Ocean to the Virginia Colony and its primary port and seat of government at Jamestown. Rather than following the normal practice of going south to the tropics and west with the trade winds, Captain Argall sailed west from the Azores to Bermuda and then almost due west to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. His voyage took only nine weeks and six days, including two weeks becalmed. This new route enabled the English to avoid enemy Spanish ships and to save on provisions.
Upon his arrival at Jamestown, Captain Argall found the colonists in dire straits. Argall resupplied them with all the food he could spare and returned to England at the end of the summer. The help came to the colony at one of the most critical moments in its history, as it began the Starving Time, during which fewer than one in five survived. However, without the provisions Argall had left, the colony may have been totally destroyed.
Argall's voyage also prevented the Spanish from gaining knowledge of the weakness of the Jamestown colony. In July 1609, Argall encountered a Spanish reconnaissance ship, La Asunción de Cristo under the command of Francisco Fernández de Écija, sent from St. Augustine by governor Pedro de Ibarra to survey the activities of the Jamestown colonists. Argall's larger ship, Mary and John, stationed at Cape Henry, chased the Spanish ship and ultimately denied it entrance into the Chesapeake Bay.
Argall arrived back at the Colony in the summer of 1610, when Royal Governor Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr reinforced the defences of the English against the sometimes hostile Native Americans in Virginia. De La Warr, became so ill that in the spring of 1611 he sailed home to England, and Sir Thomas Dale took his place as Deputy Governor in charge of the Virginia Colony. When he returned to England, Lord de la Warr wrote a book, The Relation of the Right Honourable the Lord De-La-Warre, of the Colonie, Planted in Virginia, and remained nominally the Royal Governor until his death in 1618.
Serving under Dale, in March 1613, Argall, who was looking for food for the settlement, sailed up the Potomac River. There, he traded with the Patawomecks, a Native American tribe. They lived at the village of Passapatanzy.
When two English colonists began trading with the Patawomecks, they discovered the presence of Pocahontas, the daughter of Wahunsonacock, Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy. According to a book by Captain John Smith, she had been there for around three months. As soon as he heard this, Argall resolved to capture Pocahontas. Sending for the local chief, Japazaws, Argall told him he must bring her on board his ship, and suggested luring her with the present of a copper kettle.
With the help of Japazaws, they tricked Pocahontas into captivity. Their purpose, as they explained in a letter, was to ransom her for some English prisoners held by Chief Powhatan, along with various weapons and farming tools that the Powhatans had stolen. Powhatan returned the prisoners but failed to satisfy the colonists with the amount of weapons and tools he returned, and a long standoff ensued.
Argall also commanded the ship that took Pocahontas, her half-sister Matachanna, and Matachanna's husband, Uttamatomakkin, to England in 1616, as well as the ship that was in the Thames Estuary about to carry Pocahontas home to Virginia when she died suddenly.
After the capture of Pocahontas, later in 1613, under orders from London, Argall began to raid Acadia. First he eradicated the French Jesuit colony of Saint-Sauveur on Mount Desert Island (now in Maine). After the first of two trips to accomplish this, he carried fourteen prisoners back to Jamestown. He then went on to burn the settlement and the restant structures of an earlier one on Sainte-Croix (now in Maine) and the occupied site of Port Royal (now in Nova Scotia). One of his principal French captives later wrote in praise of Argall's character and conduct. Argall was also the first Englishman to visit Manhattan where he landed and warned the Dutch of their encroachment upon English territory.
In the Virginia Colony, where he required strict discipline, Argall was viewed as an autocrat who was especially insensitive to the poorer of the colonists. After he served his term as Principal Governor of Virginia beginning in 1617, Lord De La Warr was en route from England to investigate complaints about Argall when he died at sea in 1618. Argall was succeeded by Sir George Yeardley in 1619 (who named a son Argall in his honor). Back in London, Argall was cleared of these accusations and continued his steady rise at court as a useful servant of King James I.
In 1620, he was captain of a merchant vessel which took part in an expedition against Algiers, which at the time was a French Colony in North Africa. On his return, he was made a member of the Council of New England. Later he was named admiral for New England.
On 26 June 1622, he was knighted by King James I. In 1625, he was the admiral of a fleet of 28 vessels which took many prizes off the coast of France and in October commanded the flagship in an unsuccessful attack on Cadiz.
Argall was never married. He died at sea on or about 24 January 1626. He left a will dated 23 May 1625, which was proved 21 March 1626. In it he mentions the following relations: sister Filmer, niece Sarah Filmer, nephew Samuel Filmer; sister Bathurst, nephew Samuel Bathurst; sister Fleetwood; brother John Argall Esq and John's son Samuel whose descendants have flourished in Virginia and the West. His interment was in Penryn, Cornwall's St Gluvias churchyard.
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- Argall, Letter to Nicholas Hawes. p. 754.
- "Genealogical Gleanings in England, Vol II"
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- Coote, Henry Coote (1885). . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 2. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 78–80.
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- Squires, W. Austin (1979) . "Argall, Sir Samuel". In Brown, George Williams (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. I (1000–1700) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
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