Christopher Newport

Christopher Newport bigraphy, stories - English privateer

Christopher Newport : biography

– 1617

Christopher Newport (1561–1617) was an English seaman and privateer. He is best known as the captain of the Susan Constant, the largest of three ships which carried settlers for the Virginia Company in 1607 on the way to find the settlement at Jamestown in the Virginia Colony, which became the first permanent English settlement in North America. He was also in overall command of the other two ships on that initial voyage, in order of their size, the Godspeed and the Discovery.

He made several voyages of supply between England and Jamestown; in 1609, he became Captain of the Virginia Company’s new supply ship, Sea Venture, which met a hurricane during the Third Supply mission, and was shipwrecked on the archipelago of Bermuda. Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia is named for Newport. It is also possible, but less than certain, that Newport News Point (later within the city of the same name) was named for him.

Later voyages, death

Years later (1613–1614) Newport sailed for the British East India Company to Asia. He died in Java (now part of Indonesia) in 1617 on a voyage to the East Indies.

First and Second Supply missions to Jamestown

In June 1607, a week after the initial Fort at Jamestown was completed, Newport sailed back for London on the Susan Constant with a load of pyrite ("fools’ gold") and other supposedly precious minerals, leaving behind 104 colonists, and the tiny Discovery for the use of the colonists. The Susan Constant, which had been a rental ship that had customarily been used as a freight transport, did not return to Virginia again.

However, Newport did return twice from England with additional supplies in the following 18 months, leading what were termed the First and Second Supply missions. Despite original intentions to grow food and trade with the Native Americans, the barely surviving colonists became dependent upon the supply missions. Before the arrival of the First Supply, over half of the colonists perished in the winter of 1607-08.

The urgently needed First Supply mission arrived in Jamestown on January 8, 1608. The two ships under Newport’s command were the John and Francis and the Phoenix. However, despite replenishing the supplies, the two ships also brought an additional 120 men, so with the survivors of the initial group, there were now 158 colonists, as recorded later by John Smith. Accordingly, Newport left again for England almost immediately, to make an additional trip and bring even more supplies.

Newport took Chief Powhatan’s tribesman, Namontack to London on April 10, 1608. Namontack remained there for three months and returned to Virginia with Newport.

The Second Supply arrived in September, 1608, this time with Newport commanding the Mary Margaret, a ship of about 150 tons. In addition to urgently needed supplies, the Second Supply delivered another 70 persons, including the first two women from England, a "gentlewoman" and a woman servant.

When Newport left yet again for another supply run, he was joined by John Smith, who had been seriously injured earlier that summer in a gunpowder explosion. The departure of Smith meant that the struggling colony was losing its most successful (albeit controversial) leader. Smith had been a guest of Wahunsenacawh at Werowocomoco (after initially arriving before the chief as a prisoner). Within that relationship, Smith had been the key to negotiating some successful trade with the Powhatan natives to obtain food and staples to help sustain the colonists. Now, with the departure of Newport, Smith, and the Mary Margaret, they lost their chief leader and negotiator with the natives just as Virginia faced a harsh winter following a period of drought.

The need for another, ideally much larger, supply mission was conveyed to the leaders of the Virginia Company effectively when Newport returned to England. Additional funds and resources were gathered and readied. However, the Third Supply, as well as the company’s new purpose-built flagship, the Sea Venture, were each to become big problems for Jamestown.