Strachey, William (DNB00)
|←Strachan, Richard John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55
STRACHEY, WILLIAM (fl. 1609–1618), colonist and writer on Virginia, has been somewhat doubtfully identified with a William Strachey of Saffron Walden, who married in 1588 and was alive in 1620, and whose grandson was a citizen of the colony of Virginia (he was living in 1625 on Hog Island, aged 17). A William Strachey had verses before Ben Jonson's ‘Sejanus’ (1603). The colonist sailed on 15 May 1609 for Virginia in a fleet of nine small vessels. His ship, the Sea Venture, having on board the commanders Sir Thomas Gates [q. v.] and Sir George Somers [q. v.], was wrecked on the Bermudas during the great storm of July 1609. Strachey wrote an account of the circumstances in a letter dated 15 July 1610, and addressed to a lady of rank in England. This letter was published fifteen years later in ‘Purchas his Pilgrimes,’ 1625 (iv. 1734), under the title ‘A true Reportory of the wrack and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, knight, upon and from the islands of the Bermudas his coming to Virginia, and the estate of that colony;’ it gives an animated account of the flora and fauna of the islands, disclaiming, however, the population of ‘divels’ with which they had been credited (a large portion of the ‘Reportory’ is reprinted in Lefroy's ‘Memorials of the Bermudas,’ 1877, i. 25–51; cf. Tyler, Hist. of American Literature, i. 41–5). The writer implies that he had seen service on the coast of Barbary and Algiers.
Somers and his party, including Strachey, spent the winter of 1609 upon the Bermudas in constructing two small vessels, in which they succeeded in reaching James Town, Virginia, on 23 May 1610. In the following month the hopes of the desponding colony were revived by the advent of Thomas West, third lord De la Warr [q. v.], an account of whose opportune arrival was written by Strachey, and printed in Purchas (iv. 1754). An account of the adventures and the ultimate safety of Somers and his party was forwarded by De La Warr during the summer of 1610, in the form of a despatch, to the Virginia patentees in England (the original, signed in autograph by Thomas La Warre, Thomas Gates, Wenman, Percy, and Strachey, is in Harl. MS. 7009, f. 58, and it is printed in Major's volume, see below). This account was probably written mainly by Gates and Strachey, whom De la Warr had formally appointed secretary and ‘recorder’ of the colony, and it appears to be in Strachey's handwriting. The patentees caused to be drawn up from the material afforded by this despatch their ‘True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia,’ London, 1610, 4to (conjectured to have been written mainly by Sir Edwin Sandys). The official version was, however, anticipated by a ‘Discovery of the Barmudas,’ an unauthorised work hurried through the press by Silvester Jourdain [q. v.], who returned in the same ship with De La Warr's despatch. The appearance of these two works at a short interval during the autumn of 1610 probably occasioned Shakespeare's allusion in the ‘Tempest’ to the ‘still-vex'd Bermoothes’ [see Gates, Sir Thomas; Somers, Sir George]. Strachey returned to England at the close of 1611, bearing with him the stern code of laws promulgated for the use of Virginia by Sir Thomas Gates and Sir Thomas Dale during 1610–11, and based upon the ‘Lawes for governing the Armye in the Lowe Contreyes.’ Having been revised by Sir Edward Cecil, afterwards Viscount Wimbledon, they were edited, with a preliminary address to the council for Virginia, by Strachey under the title ‘For the Colony in Virginea Britannia Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall. Alget qui non ardet,’ London, 1612, 4to (reprinted in Force's ‘Tracts,’ 1844, vol. iii.). Strachey wrote from his lodging ‘in the Blacke Friars.’ In the same year he took part in editing the ‘Map of Virginia,’ with descriptions by the famous Captain John Smith (1580–1631) [q. v.] and others. He seems at the same time to have planned an extensive work on Virginia, and of this he completed before the close of 1612 a considerable portion, to which he gave the title ‘The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia expressing the Cosmographie and Comodities of the Country. Togither with the Manners And Customes of the People. Gathered and Observed As Well by those who went First Thither, As Collected by William Strachey, gent. Three yeares thither Imployed Secretarie of State,’ &c. He inscribed the manuscript to Sir Allen Apsley (1569?–1630) [q. v.], but he seems to have met with no encouragement to publish, either from him or from the Virginia Committee (the manuscript is now in the Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS. 1754; a copy with a few necessary verbal alterations was made in 1618 and inscribed to Bacon, and this second manuscript is in the British Museum, Sloane MS. 1622). The fragment was not printed until 1849, when it was edited by Richard Henry Major [q. v.] for the Hakluyt Society. Of the numerous accounts of the early settlement of Virginia it is probably the most ably written. To the original manuscript, but not in the copy, is appended a brief ‘Dictionary of the Indian Language,’ which is printed as an appendix to the Hakluyt volume. Strachey's subscription to the Virginia Company was 25l. Nothing appears to be known of him subsequent to his attempt in 1618 to interest Bacon in his ‘History.’
[Strachey's History of Travaile into Virginia, ed. Major (Hakluyt Soc.), 1849; Brown's Genesis of United States, ii. 1024; Winsor's Hist. of America, iii. 156; New England Hist. and Geneal. Regist. 1866, p. 36; Massachusetts Hist. Soc. publications, 4th ser. i. 219; Stith's Hist. of Virginia, 1747, pp. 113 sq.; Brit. Mus. Cat. For the controversy upon the connection, or want of connection, between the literature relating to the casting away of the Sea Venture upon the Bermudas and Shakespeare's ‘Tempest,’ see Prior's Life of Malone, p. 294; Boswell's Malone, 1821, vol. xv.; Douce's Illustrations of Shakespeare, 1807, i. 5–7; Hunter's Disquisition … on the ‘Tempest’ (1839); Shakespeare, ed. Dyce, i. 172; and art. Shakespeare, William.]