Samuel Vassall

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Samuel Vassall (baptised 1586 – 1667) was an English merchant and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1640 to 1648. He was active trading in and settling the American colonies of Massachusetts, Virginia and Carolina.

Bust in King's Chapel, Boston

Early life[edit]

Vassal was the second son of John Vassall and his second wife, Anna Russell, and was baptised at Stepney on 5 June 1586. His father was a Huguenot refugee sent to England from Rinant in Normandy before August 1572 and who fitted out two ships, "The Samuel" and the "Little Toby" which he commanded against the Spanish Armada.

Merchant career[edit]

Vassall became a merchant in London, and traded to New England, the West Indies, and Guinea. He was one of the incorporators of the first Massachusetts company in March 1628, and in 1630 advanced £50 for the enterprise. He and his brother William Vassall purchased as original proprietors, two-twentieths of all Massachusetts in New England. In September 1628 Vassall refused to pay to the custom-house the tonnage and poundage on a large quantity of currants which he was importing. The attorney-general exhibited an information in the exchequer against him, and Vassall pleaded his own cause and the illegality of the imposition. The barons of exchequer refused to hear Vassall's counsel in the case, asserting that it would fall under the same rule as the Bate case already adjudged. Vassall was imprisoned and his goods retained. In April 1630 he joined George, Lord Berkeley and others in an agreement to form a settlement in Virginia. In June 1630 he was again contending against the tonnage and poundage, having brought from Virginia to Tilbury a vessel laden ‘with that drug called tobacco’. In 1634 he was sued for breach of contract,after he had undertaken to carry some settlers to the new colony of Carolina, but through some mismanagement they had been deposited in October 1633 in Virginia, where they remained without further transport till the following May. Vassall was still imprisoned in the Fleet prison in 1636 while proceedings continued against him. He appears to have been released at the end of the year.

Political career[edit]

In April 1640, Vassall was elected Member of Parliament for City of London in the Short Parliament.[1] In June of the same year he was summoned together with Richard Chambers by the council in order to be ‘committed to some prisons in remote parts for seducing the King's people'. In November 1640 he was re-elected MP for the City of London in the Long Parliament and sat until he was excluded in 1648 under Pride's Purge. At this time he was styled clothier or clothworker. On 2 December Vassall "delivered his grievances by word of mouth" to the commons, and a committee was appointed to consider them. On 2 February 1641 the House of Commons ordered the farmers of the customs and imports to restitute to him the tobacco which had been seized. In July the committee meeting in the Star-chamber was still considering "of some fit way for reparation."

Vassall took the ‘protestation’ on 3 May 1641. In 1642 he was one of the commissioners for plantations in the colonies, and as such in November took part in the appointment of Sir Thomas Warner as governor of the Caribbee Islands. He was one of the commissioners for the incorporation of Providence plantations in the Narraganset Bay in New England in 1643. He took the covenant on 22 September 1643. On 20 February 1645 he was one of the committee for the city of London for raising funds towards the maintenance of the Scottish army, and on 11 July 1646 he was named one of the commissioners for the kingdom of England for the conservation of peace between the two kingdoms. Early in 1650, as a trader to Guinea, he was giving information to the house about disputes between various merchants and the Guinea Company.

With regard to Vassall's attempts to secure compensation for his losses and imprisonment, the matter was referred on 14 June 1644 to the committee for the navy, and on 18 January 1647 the commons voted him £10,445 12s. 2d. He had also advanced money for the parliamentary forces in Ireland, and on 6 May 1647, £2,591 17s. 6d., due to Vassall on this account, was ordered to be made chargeable on the grand excise, "with interest on the same’ payable every six months". Vassall, however, received nothing. On 6 April 1654, in a petition presented to the Protector, he stated that as a result of resisting tonnage and poundage he had lost £15,000, and begged leave to refund himself by means of privileges to import French wines, ship coals and lead, or receive forest land. The debt with interest now amounted to £20,202 7s. 3d. On 6 May 1656 he was granted £150 annually as interest on the debt formerly charged on the excise. On 26 May on the taking of a "Spanish prize" the council issued a warrant to pay him £1,000. He was nevertheless informed on 8 September 1657 that he should make his application for payment to parliament, "as no revenue remains at his highness's disposal to satisfy the said debt." On 18 March 1658 the petition was again read to the council, and again on 3 June 1658, at which time Vassall was a "prisoner in the upper bench." On 1 April 1659 the commons recommended the Protector to grant a privy seal to pay him of £500 as part of the debt and a bill was prepared for signature on 5 April. On 18 August 1660 it was ordered that the remainder of the debt should again be made chargeable on the excise, and "forthwith paid to Mr. Vassall."

Later life[edit]

In 1663 Vassall was in Carolina making arrangements with the lords proprietors of the colony regarding a claim laid by him for part of a term not yet expired. He probably died in Massachusetts, but the exact time or place is not known. When letters of administration were granted in London to his son Francis on 24 September 1667, it was stated that he died abroad.

Vassall married Frances Cartwright, daughter of Abraham and Joan Cartwright of St. Andrew's Undershaft, London. They had several children.[2]

References[edit]

The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource:  "Vassall,_Samuel_(DNB00)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

Parliament of England
Preceded by
Parliament suspended since 1629
Member of Parliament for City of London
1640-1648
With: Thomas Soame
Isaac Penington
Matthew Cradock 1640-1641
John Venn 1641-1648
Succeeded by
Isaac Penington
John Venn