The lives and some experiences of our leading men – Woodes Rogers

Governor Woodes Rogers

Rogers statue NassauWoodes Rogers was a boy in Poole until his teens, when his family went to Bristol with their shipping and trading business.

He went to Newfoundland as an apprentice seaman and set off later at the age of 28 on a voyage around the world as a privateer captain with two vessels under his command, the Duke and Duchess.

He found the castaway Alexander Selkirk on Juan De Fernandez Island in the Pacific, whose experiences became known world-wide through Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe book, following Rogers’ return to Bristol.

Later in life and at his own expense, and that of merchant backers, he established the colony of the Bahamas after first ridding the islands of pirates. His fame endured there – the motto of the Bahamas until 1973 was “piracy expelled and commerce restored” a direct reference to his significance.

Our Three Leading Men – Governor Woodes Rogers (1679 –1732)

Rogers statue Nassau (2)

Statue in Nassau – Woodes Rogers, Royal Governor of the Bahamas (1718 – 1721 & 1728 – 1732) “Piracy expelled, commerce restored” – Bahamas’ motto; to 1973

Woodes Rogers grew up in Poole he appeared in a census at the age of nine. He is thought to have been born here but that is not evident from the records. Nonetheless he will have learnt his early seamanship first in these waters.

Rogers’ father was a sea captain and burgess of Poole; in a 1690 Poole Poll Tax list, the family was living in Thames Street and consisted of Woods Rogers senior, Frances his wife, Woodes his son and another child.

When Woodes was in his teens the family moved to Bristol where his father built a large house for the in Queen Square, within a stone’s throw of the docks. He was apprenticed to a seaman in Bristol and saw trips to Newfoundland amongst other places.

Rogers became a sea captain and in 1708 aged 28 he was charged as a privateer to command two ships – the Duke and Duchess, on a circumnavigation of the globe via the Pacific where he was invited to seize any Spanish interests, and did! His three year round-the-world voyage was full of action and found long-lasting interest as the basis for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe story.

Rogers set off with the Duke and Duchess vessels, backed by private interests (several Bristol merchants were involved) and on reaching the coast of Chile found Alexander Selkirk on St Juan de Fernandez Island. Selkirk who had been a castaway for four years was taken on board. On the way back to England Rogers interrogated the castaway and wrote up his extraordinary story.

Before returning to Britain Rogers engaged the Manilla Galleon – a Spanish treasure ship – and won the skirmish, capturing the vessels and securing around £150,000 (or several million £s in today’s money) for himself, his backers and his crews. In the action Rogers was the one person to take a serious injury; a bullet in the face carried away parts of his jawbone. Apparently, despite this event, he continued to issue orders in writing from a seated position on deck. He returned from the trip weakened by his exploits; in an earlier battle a wooden splinter from cannon shot swept away parts of his foot and ankle.

Rogers published the story of his voyage and of the castaway Selkirk on his return to Britain. Daniel Defoe, living in Bristol at the time, is thought to have developed the Robinson Crusoe story from the tale.

Back in England, Rogers’ next project led to Madagascar where he intended to set up a colony with private backing. After a couple of years the idea fell through and he returned to England. This time he set up a plan to go to the Bahamas and soon was appointed Governor there, again financed privately, with a view to rid the Islands of a piracy scourge and to establish a better farming and trading environment.

In 1718 Rogers set off and took with him at his (and his backers’) expense a force of 300 foot soldiers to convert the wooden fort on the Caribbean island of New Providence into a stone one. Landing there as Governor of the island in September that year he established a court, and tried and hanged several pirates by Christmas.

Before his arrival on the islands famous pirates such as Charles Vane, Anne Bonny and Benjamin Hornigold had just left so as not to attract his attentions; this despite the King’s offer of a free pardon to all those who were willing to give up piracy, an offer that many took up.

After some years Rogers returned penniless to Britain and ended up in debtors’ prison. It was not until the Admiralty was convinced of the legitimacy of his claim for payment backdated to the beginning of his previous sojourn that his fortunes turned and he was able to return to the Bahamas to carry on his work as Governor. As William Hogarth’s painting of Rogers and his family below shows; he evidently found himself better off before going out to the Bahamas again.

Rogers and family

Woodes Rogers receiving the map of New Providence Island from his son, his daughter is seated and a maid looks on – William Hogarth C 1727/8 Queens House – National Maritime Museum


5 thoughts on “The lives and some experiences of our leading men – Woodes Rogers

  1. Can you please provide a bibliographical reference to the 1690 Poole Poll Tax list that is mentioned? Thank you.

    • Hello David

      Thank you for your question and yes I will do that; we are in the last formal couple of weeks of the project and so there is a lot to do in final reporting to our funders etc.. But I should be bale to get back to it early next week if that is OK.

      kind regards
      Don Nutt
      Project Manager

      • Yes, that will be fine. I’m hoping to eventually look at the list at Kew or Dorchester or whereever it now finds itself. I’m particularly curious to see what it might suggest regarding Pike family relationships.

        – David (in Newfoundland)

      • I am so sorry that it has taken this long to get back to you; the end of the project marked a long year and it is onlynow that we are getting back to dealing with the remaining work!
        I suspect from my contact at the Poole Local History Centre here that you may already have followed the matter up with others.
        In any event I can advise that the poll rate entry is available at the Dorset History Centre in the Poole Archive – reference: DC- PL/DA/6/5
        I was able to look over the archived material yesterday when I identified the following references that will interest you, I imagine:
        The Poll Tax List was dated June 4th 1690 and in it I found the following under High Street:
        • Thomas Pyke and Susannah his wife
        o Tho Pike Child
        o Susana Pyke Child

        • William Pyke Senior
        Wm Pyke Junior
        Susanna his wife
        Wm his child

        • Wm Small
        Ellnor his wife
        Mary Pyke his daughter

        Kind regards
        Don Nutt

      • Thanks for getting back with these details Don. Yes, I was subsequently in touch with the Poole Local History Centre, who were also helpful. Now that I know where to find the original document, I can include it on my list of things to see when I’m next in Dorset 🙂

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