William Sayle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
William Sayle
1º Colonial Governor of South Carolina
In office
March 15, 1670 – March 4, 1671
Succeeded by Joseph West
Personal details
Born 1590
Died 1675
Residence Bahamas
Occupation Explorer, colonial administrator

William Sayle (c. 1590–1675?) was an explorer, settler of the Bahamas, and the first governor of colonial South Carolina from 1670–71.

He established the first English settlement of the Bahamas between 1646–48 on the island of Eleuthera, although his legal claim to proprietorship in the Bahamas now seems questionable. In his book The Early Settlers of the Bahamas and Colonists of North America (1937), Bethell says that in 1646, Captain William Sayle, then of Bermuda, claimed to have a grant from the English Parliament to the island of Sagatos, Bahamas, but no record of this grant can be found in The Journal of the House of Commons.[1] However, in her book Homeward Bound (2000), Riley says that on 31 August 1649 The Journal does record that "An Act for Settling the Islands in the West Indies betwixt the Degrees of Twenty-four and Twenty-nine North Latitude was passed."[2] Though the Act does not mention William Sayle specifically, a letter from lawyer John Bolles dated 15 August 1654 refers to an act passed in 1650 "for encouragement of adventurers to some newly discovered Islands," and Bolles mentions "William Saile" as one of the twenty-six proprietors.[2] Authorisation, then, may have come after the fact. Sayles was the only one of the twenty-six proprietors to settle in the Bahamas, and he tried to exercise propriety rights over the island much of his life.[1]

The exact dates and circumstances of Sayle's voyage are uncertain. Bethell says that Sayle first left Bermuda in 1646. However, Riley notes that Sayle and his Eleutheran Adventurers did not agree on their "Articles and Orders of Incorporation" until 9 July 1647.[3] Perhaps Sayle made at least two voyages, for in a letter of March 1646, William Rener of Bermuda writes to John Winthrop of Massachusetts to report that of two ships recently sailed to the Bahamas one had been lost and one returned to Bermuda without having found the Bahamas. Rener also mentions that he and Sayle had purchased half interest in a ship, the William for the purpose of sailing to the Bahamas.

Whenever he made his successful voyage, Sayle left Bermuda with seventy settlers, mostly Bermudians and some English, many of whom were driven out of Bermuda by intolerance and persecution resulting from the conflict between the Church of England and Bermuda's Independent Puritans (mostly Presbyterians). This was the same as the conflict between Bermudian Royalists and republicans, as the English Civil War extended into the English colonies. In Bermuda, at least, the Royalist-Episcopal forces held sway (in England, five of the financiers of Sayle's mission signed the death warrant of King Charles I). As the Church of England attempted to assert its authority, similar conflicts were taking place in other parts of the English realm, and in English-ruled Ireland, from where Presbyterian settlers would re-emigrate to North America, where they became known as Scots-Irish, or Scotch-Irish. A year later, the Government of Bermuda ordered two other ministers, and sixty of their followers, to emigrate to the Bahamas. The Bermudians settled on Eleuthera, establishing England's claim to that archipelago.

Riley characterises William Sayle as an idealist and opportunist who went to the Bahamas in search of religious and political freedom and prosperity, which in mid Seventeenth Century meant land. The Articles that Sayle drew up in 1647 established freedom of religion and opinion, three hundred acres of land per settler, governance under a senate composed of the first 100 settlers, and humane treatment of any indigenous people still on the island. As Riley notes, if Sayle's settlement had been successful, then he would have created in the Bahamas "the first democratic state in the New World,"[3] some 130 years before the American Revolution.

The difficulties of frontier life and of internal conflicts were not fertile ground for a democracy. On the voyage to the Bahamas, a Captain Butler, one of the settlers from England, rebelled against the Articles and caused such trouble in the new settlement that William Sayle left the original settlement in north Eleuthera for the nearby island of St. George's Cay, now known as Spanish Wells.

Roughly ten-thousand Bermudians emigrated before US Independence closed the door on the efflux. Many went to the West Indies, but most undoubtedly went to North American colonies. At first, this meant mostly to Virginia, of which Bermuda had once been a part, and with which it maintained a close relationship. When England, later Britain, began settling the north of Florida, which had been taken from Spain, Bermudian settlers flooded into the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama. In 1670, William Sayle, then in his eighties, became the first Governor of South Carolina, arriving aboard a Bermuda sloop with a number of Bermudian families, and founding the town of Charleston.


  1. ^ a b Bethell, 83
  2. ^ a b Riley, 31
  3. ^ a b Riley, 28


Bethell, A. Talbot. Early Settlers of the Bahamas and Colonists of North America. Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2008. Print. The Exodus, by Michael Jarvis. The Bermudian magazine, June 2001. Riley, Sandra. Homeward Bound: A History of the Bahama Islands to 1850 with a Definitive Study of Abaco in the American Loyalist Plantation Period. Miami, Florida: Riley Hall Publishers, 2000. Print.