William Sayle

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William Sayle
William Sayle.jpg
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 a prominent Bermudian landholder who 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.

Life in Bermuda[edit]

Sayle Road, in Devonshire, Bermuda

Bermuda, or the Somers Isles, was settled in 1609 as a result of the wrecking of the Sea Venture, the flagship of the Virginia Company. Although most of the passengers and crew continued to Jamestown, Virginia, the following year on two Bermuda-built ships, the Royal Charter of the company and the boundaries of Virginia were extended to include Bermuda in 1612, when the first Governor and sixty colonists joined the three men who had remained behind from the Sea Venture. Bermuda's 21 square miles were subdivided into nine parishes (at first called tribes). The easternmost, St. George's (where St. George's town was established), was designated common or Crown land, but the remainder were further subdivided into shares, each equivalent to a specific share held in the company. The parishes (other than St. George's) were each named for a major shareholder (or adventurer) in the company. Administration was handed to the crown in 1614, and then in 1615 transferred to a spin-off of the Virginia Company called the Somers Isles Company.

Although Bermuda quickly became a thriving company, the agriculture that was the basis of the economy under company administration was unprofitable. Few shareholders in the company actually settled in Bermuda, and the land was occupied and worked by indentured servants who repaid the cost of their transport to Bermuda with seven years labour. The more successful settlers (whether they arrived as shareholders at their own expense or as indentured servants) increased their landholdings by purchasing shares from adventurers who were finding their investments unprofitable. They began to switch to maritime trades, replanting the fields that had been cleared from the forest with Bermuda cedar, which was vital to shipbuilding and more valuable than cash crops like tobacco. This put them at odds with the company, which only earned profits from the cash crops grown for export. This contest between the settlers and the company would end when the settlers took their complaint to the Crown and the company's Royal Charter was revoked in 1684.

Sayle appears to have settled in Bermuda by about 1630. He owned considerable property in the colony, with 165 shares totalling 220.5 acres in Southampton, Smith's, and Pembroke parishes, according to the 1662-1663 survey by Richard Norwood. Among his possessions was the property where the house in Smith's known as Verdmont was built about 1710 on Sayle Road. [1][2] As one of the colony's most prominent men, he was at times a member of the Council (that combined the roles now performed by the Senate and the Cabinet). By this period, the Somers Isles Company had ceased sending new Governors from abroad, and appointed a succession of prominent residents to the position. Sayle was appointed Governor in 1643, but as an Independent Puritan, aligned with the Parliamentary cause, the Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell's Protectorship, he was to be at odds with the majority of Bermuda's dominant elite.

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). Bermuda, like Virginia and a handful of other colonies remained loyal to the Crown. The Commonwealth barred trade with these colonies, and Parliamentary and Royalist privateers preyed on each other's trans-Atlantic shipping. 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 the Royalist Army and Cromwellians, the victorious Royalist Government of Bermuda ordered two other Cromwellian ministers, and sixty of their followers, to emigrate to the Bahamas.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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."[6] 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.[6] 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.[5]

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 (he was first appointed Deputy Governor and Captain General on the 30th of June),[7] a position he lost in 1662, when he was appointed to the Council of Bermuda.[8]

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,"[4] 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. ^ "Verdmont Historic House and Garden". Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  2. ^ "Places of Interest - Smith's Parish". Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  3. ^ Bermuda online
  4. ^ a b Riley, 28
  5. ^ a b Bethell, 83
  6. ^ a b Riley, 31
  7. ^ A. C. Hollis Hallett, Bermuda Under Sommer Islands Company 1612 - 1684 (Bermuda:Juniperhill Press, 2005)
  8. ^ A. C. Hollis Hallett


  • 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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