Leigh, Charles (d.1605) (DNB00)

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LEIGH, CHARLES (d. 1605), merchant and voyager, was younger son of John Leigh (d. 31 March 1576) and of Joan, daughter and heir of Sir John Oliph of Foxgrave, Kent, an alderman of London. His eldest brother, Sir Oliph Leigh (1560-1612), claimed at the coronation of James I, 'as seized of Addington, to make a mess of "herout or pigernout" in the kitchen,' but it does not appear that the claim was admitted (Cal. State Papers, Dom., 24 July 1603; cf. Bell, Gazetteer of England, s.n. 'Addington, Surrey'). In the early part of James's reign he was keeper of the great park of Eltham, the surrender of which he sold, 21 May 1609 for 1,200l. (ib.) On 14 Nov. 1610 he was granted a 'license to impark 500 acres of land in East Wickham and Bexley in Kent' (ib.) He died 14 March 1611-12, and was buried in Addington Church, Surrey. His will is in Somerset House (Fenner, 74). He married Jane, daughter of Sir Matthew Brown of Betchworth in Surrey, and had issue one son, Sir Francis, baptised 6 Sept. 1590, buried 17 Nov. 1644. Lady Leigh, Sir Oliph's widow, was buried 28 June 1631 (Coll. Topogr. et Geneal. vii. 288, 290).

Charles fitted out, in partnership with Abraham Van Herwick, two ships, the Hopewell of 120 and the Chancewell of 70 tons burden, for a voyage to 'the river of Canada,' the St. Lawrence; and sailed from Gravesend on 8 April 1597, Leigh himself and Stephen Van Herwick, the brother of Abraham, going as chief commanders. The purpose of the voyage was partly fishing and trade, but partly also the plundering of any Spanish ships they might meet with. They left Falmouth on 28 April, and after touching at Cape Race, and sighting Cape Breton, on 11 June the Hopewell anchored off the island of Menego–apparently St. Paul's–to the north of Cape Breton. They had lost sight of the Chancewell off the bay of Placentia. On the 14th they came to 'the two Islands of Birds, some 23 leagues from Menego' the Bird Rocks and on the 16th to Brian's Island, 'which lyeth five leagues west from the Island of Birds'–Bryon Island. On the 18th they came to Ramea–probably the Magdalen Islands–where in a harbour called Halabolina they found four ships, two being French from St. Halo, the others from St. Jean de Luz. Leigh insisted that these must be Spaniards, and seized their powder as a mea-sure of security. But next day the Frenchmen gathered in force, to the number of two hundred, from other ships and residents in different parts of the island, retook the powder, claimed Leigh's largest boat, and drove the English out of the harbour. Coming again to Menego and Cape Breton on the 27th they met a boat with eight of the Chancewell's men, from whom they learnt that the Chancewell had been wrecked on the coast of Cape Breton. After rescuing all the Chancewell's men, they crossed over to Newfoundland. On 25 July they took, after a sharp action in the harbour of St. Mary, 'a notable strong [Breton] ship,' 'almost two hundred tun in burden,' belonging,it appeared, to Belle-Isle. Leigh moved to this ship, dividing the men between her and the Hopewell, and put to sea on 2 Aug.; but finding the new ship less well appointed than he had thought, left the coast of Newfoundland on 3 Aug. to make directly for England. The Hopewell parted company shortly afterwards, going for an independent cruise off the Azores; but Leigh landed on the Isle of Wight on 5 Sept., and a few days later the ship arrived in the Thames,' where she was made prize as belonging to the enemies of this land.'

After this, Leigh made other voyages, the accounts of which have not been preserved, with a view to establishing a colony to look for gold in Guiana. He sailed from Woolwich on 21 March 1603-4 in the Olive Plant, a barque of 50 tons, with forty-six men and boys all told. Touching at Mogador, sighting the Cape Verde Islands and some of the West Indies, they arrived on 11 May in the fresh water of the Amazon. After some traffic with the Indians they left the Amazon; and on 22 May arrived in a river, which Leigh calls the Wiapogo, in latitude 3° 30′ N. The Indians, who lived in terror of the incursions of the Caribs, were friendly, and were anxious that the English should settle there; they gave them their own huts and clearings, supplied them with food, and feigned a desire to learn the Christian religion. One of the Indians had been in England, could speak a little English, and had probably given his countrymen some idea of the power and prowess of the strangers. But after the Caribs had been driven off, the attentions of the Indians relaxed. Leigh went on an exploring expedition ninety miles up the river Aracawa, trading with the Indians and making vain inquiries for gold. When he returned almost every one in the little colony was sick. On 2 July 1604 Leigh wrote to his brother giving an account of his proceedings, and desiring him to send out further supplies. The letter is dated from Principium or Mount Howard. At the same time he wrote to the council, begging for the king's protection for emigrants to the colony, and that able preachers might be sent out for the Indians (Cal. State Papers, Dom., 2 July 1604). The supplies sent out by Sir Oliph Leigh arrived in January; they found everybody ill. Leigh himself was very weak and much changed. He resolved to go home, promising the men that he would come back to them as soon as possible. He was in readiness to go, when 'he sickened of the flux and died aboard his ship.' He was buried on shore 20 March 1604-5.

A son, Oliph, was baptised at Addington 16 Jan. 1597-8 (Coll. Topogr. et Geneal. vii, 290); but nothing more is known about him.

[The detailed history of the voyage to Ramea is in Hakluyt's Principal Navigations, iii. 195; see also Add. MS. 12505, f. 477. The story of the Guiana settlement is in Purchas his Pilgrimes, iv. 1250-62. See also Manning and Bray's Surrey, i. 76 n., ii. 138, 425, 543, 560; Mr. Thompson Cooper in Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv. 514.]

J. K. L.