A Brief Biography
About Captain Christopher Newport
(ca. 1560 -- 1617)1
One might ask who Captain Christopher Newport was, and desire an explanation of his role in the story of Jamestown. For those having some small knowledge of the establishment of the first permanent English colony on the shores of the New World, Newport is a name not unknown. But was he of any other importance? And of what importance was he? One historian describes him as "one of the greatest of England's sea-captains, his services both before and after his connection with the Virginia enterprise being highly honorable."2
Born about 1560, Christopher Newport rose to an extremely distinguished position, being one of six masters of the royal navy. Entering sea service at an early age, he quickly became a capable mariner. Sailing for South America in 1581, he left ship in Brazil for unknown reasons eventually returning to England. Records attest to his sailing as a privateer in West Indian waters. Records of three of four voyages indicate that on "January 25, 1592, he sailed in command of four vessels; July 28, 1592, [he] contracted with Sir John Boroughs, and September 7, 1592, brought the celebrated Spanish 'Caract,' the Madre de Dios, into Dartmouth Harbor." Another voyage was scantily recorded as being made in 1604-05.3
Newport was eventually recognized for his capabilities as a seaman. On "January 11, 1606, Sir Robert Mansell, Sir John Trevor, and others, recommended [him] to Lord Admiral Nottingham for the [advancement to] the office of one of the principal masters of the navy." Two days later, on "January 13, 1606, the Lord Admiral replied to Sir Robert Mansell, Sir Henry Palmer, Sir John Trevor, and Sir Peter Buck, the principal officers of the Royal Navy, that he [had] granted ... the [advancement] solicited, ..."4
With this "special confidence and trust" bestowed in him, he was, on December 10, 1606, commissioned to sail under the auspices of the London Company, with "sole charge and command of all the captains, soldiers, and mariners, and other persons, that shall go in any of the said ships and pinnace in the said voyage from the day of the date hereof until such time as they shall fortune to land upon the said coast of Virginia." Christopher Newport, then, had total responsibility for success or failure of the English expedition that finally landed on Jamestown Island. (As an aside, and as noted by historian Alexander Brown, "the name Christopher is worthy of remark. Columbus bore the same name. It means 'bearing Christ.' This was one of the ideas of the expedition.") Being "well practised" in the waters off the Americas was an asset considered in his selection for this great burden. Further, he not only commanded the expedition, but was in charge of a "box" which contained the names of the first Councillors. Following the landing at Cape Henry, this box was opened to reveal the names of the Councillors of the first Council in Virginia--among them Captain Christopher Newport.5
The dates of his initial and subsequent voyages between England and the plantation at Jamestown have been recorded as, "December 19, 1606, to July 29, 1607, his first voyage to Virginia; October 8, 1607, to May 20, 1608, his second voyage to Virginia; July, 1608 to January, 1609, his third voyage to Virginia; June 2, 1609, to September, 1610, his fourth voyage to Virginia; and March 17, 1611, to December 1611, his fifth voyage to Virginia." These dates are consistent with the claim by Philip L. Barbour that Newport served the Virginia Company for about five years and made numerous supply trips between England and the colony.6
Beside the first voyage in which he was responsible for planting the colony in the New Word, his fourth voyage is also notable. Sailing from Plymouth on June 2, 1609, in company with Sir George Somers, in the Sea Venture, a violent storm separated them from the rest of the supply, and shipwrecked them on what is now the island of Bermuda. Building a small pinnace rather than await rescue (if it even arrived), they set sail, arriving in Virginia in May 1610.7
Upon conclusion of this service to the London Company, and still not ready to settle down, he was employed by the East India Company in 1612 to carry Sir Robert Sherley to Persia. This obligation was carried out between January 7, 1613, to July 10, 1614, when in command of "the Expedition of London of about 260 tunnes burthen," he made his first voyage to the East Indies. His second voyage was made in Lion, when he accompanied "Sir Thomas Roe, Embassador from the King of England (James I.) to the Great Mogoll of India (Shah Jehan)," from January 24, 1615, to about September 1616. Newport's third and final voyage to the East Indies began early in 1617, when he sailed in command of Hope, with Hound as consort.8
Alexander Brown takes up the tale whereby the Hope arrived at Bantam, on the isle of Java, on August 15, 1617, with "commander Captain Newport, who reported that seven ships were sent this year from England to Surat." Soon after the arrival of Newport, and prior to September 1, "there dyed out of the Hope, Captaine Newport that worthy Seaman and Commander." The Hope remained at Bantam until January 20, 1618, taking on cargo before returning to England, arriving on September 1, 1618, and bringing, as Alexander Brown speculates, "the first account of Newport's death."9
Ranging the both Atlantic and Indian oceans, Captain Christopher Newport was not one to remain idle while the Seven Seas remained to be sailed and explored. From his beginnings--somewhere, someplace in England--we perceive our first glimpse of him "commanding in the waters of the West Indies; we leave him as he sinks to rest beneath the far-off waters of the East Indies." His legacy remains: a founder of the English colonies in America, it may be said that he was one among a few that prepared the foundation for future generations. If there were to ever be a monument to this most notable among notables, it would be incomplete without this accompanying description:
"The admiral of Virginia lived on the ocean; he died on the ocean; the ocean is his tomb, and his admirable monument, and the city of Newport News, whether named for him or not, will be his memorial in America."10
1. K.R. Andrews, "Christopher Newport of Limehouse, Mariner," William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 11, no. 1(January 1954):28.
2. Conway W. Sams, The Conquest of Virginia, The Third Attempt 1610-1624 (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1939), 83.
3. Alexander Brown, The Genesis of the United States, vol. II (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1890), 956; Philip L. Barbour, The Complete Works of Captain John Smith in Three Volumes, vol. I (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), xliv; Brown, Genesis, 956.
4. Ibid., 956-957; 957.
5. Ibid.; Barbour, Complete Works, xliv.
6. Brown, Genesis, 957; Barbour, Complete Works, xliv.
7. Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee, The Dictionary of National Biography, vol. XIV (London: Oxford University Press, 1959-1960), 356.
8. Brown, Genesis, 957.
10. Ibid., 958.
Works Cited (Links for CNU affiliated users Only)
Andrews, K.R. "Christopher Newport of Limehouse, Mariner. "William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 11, no. 1 (January 1954): 28-41.
Barbour, Philip L. The Complete Works of Captain John Smith in Three Volumes, Vol. I. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.
Brown, Alexander. The Genesis of the United States, Vol. II. Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1890.
Sams, Conway W. The Conquest of Virginia, The Third Attempt 1610-1624. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1939.
Stephen, Sir Leslie and Sir Sidney Lee, eds. The Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XIV. London: Oxford University Press, 1959-1960.
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