William Symonds (priest)

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William Symonds D.D. (1556 – c. 1616) was an English clergyman, known as a promoter of the Colony of Virginia. The arguments of Symonds in favour of the colony in 1609, equating the British nation with the biblical Abraham, and stating that Native Americans lacked property rights, have been seen as presaging later developments in the colonisation of North America.[1]


Born in Hampshire, Symonds matriculated at Oxford on 3 March 1573, and was elected a demy of Magdalen College in 1573, then described as from Oxfordshire. He graduated B.A. on 1 February 1578, was elected a probationer-fellow of Magdalen in 1578, and graduated M.A. on 5 April 1581.[2]

In 1583 Symonds was appointed by the President Laurence Humfrey to the mastership of Magdalen College School, where he was in post to 1586. During that time complaints were made against him for non-residence. In 1583 he became rector of Langton-by-Partney, Lincolnshire; in 1584 he was presented by the Queen to the rectory of Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire; on 14 November 1587 he was admitted to the rectory of Stock, Essex, by John Aylmer, the bishop of London. In 1594 Symonds obtained the rectory of Theddlethorpe, Lincolnshire; in 1597 he was instituted to the rectory of Well, Lincolnshire; and in 1599 he was presented by Robert Bertie, to the rectory of Halton Holgate, Lincolnshire. [2]

Symonds was also for several years preacher at St Saviour's Church, Southwark. He was presented to the rectory of Wyberton, Lincolnshire, in 1612. According to Anthony Wood, he was created D.D. in 1613. He held the living till 1616. [2]


Symond's works were:[2]

  • Pisgah Evangelica, according to the Method of the Revelation, presenting the History of the Church, and those Canaanites over whom she shall triumph, London, 1605. A commentary on the Book of Revelation, it terminates its history at the Union of the Crowns in 1603.[3] The work announces a "first resurrection" as imminent.[4]
  • A Heavenly Voyce. A Sermon tending to call the people of God from among the Romish Babylonians; preached at Paules Crosse, the 12 of Ianuarie 1606, London, 1606.

Virginia (1609)[5] was the first sermon preached before the Virginia Company.[2] The text was Genesis 12:1–3, God's promise to Abram on his emigration.[6]:105 Related sermons of the time were those by John Donne, which put forward similar religious arguments, and William Crashaw.[7] Symonds invoked the British Constantine as a model for James VI and I, a pacifier and propagator of the Christian gospel.[6]:62 Alluding to the Book of Numbers, he implied that Virginia should be taken as promised land.[8] The sermon has been seen as picking up from the endpoint of Pisgah Evangelica.[3]

From some Observations by Symonds, printed in Captain John Smith's General History of Virginia, 1624, it was thought at one time that he had been resident in the Virginia colony; but that is now not thought to be supported by the evidence. He did look over Smith's manuscripts, and helped him in having them published at Oxford (against the wishes of the Company).[2][9] Symonds has been identified as a ghost-writer of the General History.[10]


  1. ^ Djelal Kadir (January 1992). Columbus and the Ends of the Earth: Europe's Prophetic Rhetoric as Conquering Ideology. University of California Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-520-07442-2. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1898). "Symonds, William (1556-1616?)". Dictionary of National Biography. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  3. ^ a b Richard Connors; Andrew Colin Gow (1 January 2004). Anglo-American Millennialism, from Milton to the Millerites. BRILL. p. 65. ISBN 90-04-13821-8. 
  4. ^ Joseph Anthony Wittreich (1984). The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature: Patterns, Antecedents, and Repercussions. Manchester University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-7190-1730-8. 
  5. ^ Virginia. A Sermon preached at White-Chappel, in the presence of many honourable and worshipfull, the Adventurers and Planters for Virginia, 25 April 1609. Published for the benefit and vse of the Colony, planted and to bee planted there, and for the Aduancement of their Christian Purpose, London, 1609.
  6. ^ a b Avihu Zakai (22 August 2002). Exile and Kingdom: History and Apocalypse in the Puritan Migration to America. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-52142-0. 
  7. ^ David Hackett Fischer (1989). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-19-506905-1. 
  8. ^ Edward L. Bond (2000). Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-century Virginia. Mercer University Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-86554-708-7. 
  9. ^ Wright, Stephen. "Symonds, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26892.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  10. ^ David Hackett Fischer (1989). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press. p. 232 note 1. ISBN 978-0-19-506905-1. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1898). "Symonds, William (1556-1616?)". Dictionary of National Biography. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co.