William Sayle

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William Sayle
1st Colonial Governor of South Carolina
In office
15 March 1670 – 4 March 1671
Succeeded by Joseph West
Personal details
Born 1590
Died 1675
Residence Bahamas
Occupation Explorer, colonial administrator

Captain William Sayle (c. 1590–1671) was Governor of Bermuda in 1643 and again in 1658. He later became the first governor of colonial South Carolina from 1670–71. As an Independent in religion and politics, and an adherent of Oliver Cromwell, he was dissatisfied with life in Bermuda, and so founded the company of the Eleutheran Adventurers who became the first settlers of the Bahamas.

Settlement of the Bahamas[edit]

William Sayle established the first English settlement of the Bahamas between 1646–48 on the island of Eleuthera, establishing England's claim to the Bahamas archipelago. He left Bermuda with seventy settlers, mostly Bermudians and some English, who were looking for a place where they could worship God freely. To this end they settled on the Island of Segatoo which they gave the name Eleuthera, from the Greek word meaning freedom. Many of the settlers 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, after the 'Bermuda Civil War' between Royalists and Cromwellians, the victorious Royalist Government of Bermuda ordered two other Cromwellian ministers, and sixty of their followers, to emigrate to the Bahamas.[1]

The exact dates and circumstances of Sayle's voyage are uncertain. Some sources say that Sayle first left Bermuda in 1646, however, Sayle and his Eleutheran Adventurers did not agree on their "Articles and Orders of Incorporation" until 9 July 1647.[2] 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.

Sayle's legal claim to proprietorship in the Bahamas now seems questionable. In 1646, 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.[3] However, 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."[4] 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.[4] 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.[3]

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.

In 1657, Sayle returned to Bermuda, and in 1658, he was re-appointed Governor, a position he lost in 1662.

Articles and orders of 1647[edit]

The Articles that Sayle drew up in 1647 reflect the ambiguities of the English Civil War taking place at that time between Royalists and Parliamentarians. Therefore, while the preamble refers to the Raign of our Soveraign Lord Charles, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland; Defender of the Faith, &c, the articles themselves make clear that the new settlement was to be effectively independent, making no further mention of royal authority. On the contrary, they concern the rules governing the Members of the Republick and the Magistracie or officers of the Republicke. The articles established freedom of religion and opinion, three hundred acres of land per settler, governance under a governor and twelve councillors chosen from a senate composed of the first 100 settlers, and humane treatment of any indigenous people still on the island. It has been noted that if Sayle's settlement had been successful, then he would have created in the Bahamas "the first democratic state in the New World,"[2] some 130 years before the American Revolution.

Governor of South Carolina[edit]

In 1669, Sayle took over the command of a party of settlers to a new settlement in South Carolina after Sir John Yeamans resigned, while undergoing repairs of his vessel in Bermuda. He arrived in South Carolina aboard a Bermuda sloop with a number of Bermudian families, and founded the town of Charleston. In 1670, William Sayle, then in his eighties, became the first Governor of South Carolina. Sayles was also instrumental in encouraging the Lords Proprietors to successfully apply for a grant of The Bahama Islands in 1670. He died in 1671.


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


  • Bethell, A. Talbot. Early Settlers of the Bahamas and Colonists of North America, 1937. Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., (2008) Reprint.
  • Jarvis,Michael The Exodus, in 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.

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