Warner, Thomas (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59
Warner, Thomas

by Gerald le Grys Norgate
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticles Edward Warner (fl. 1632–1640), Thomas Warner (1630?–1675), & Philip Warner (d. 1689).

WARNER, Sir THOMAS (d. 1649), coloniser of the first British West Indian Islands, was a younger son of William Warner, a gentle-yeoman of Framlingham and Parham, Suffolk, and Margaret, daughter of George Gernigan or Jerningham of Belsted in the same county. He entered the army at an early age, and became a captain in James I's bodyguard. In the spring of 1620 he accompanied Captain Roger North [q. v.] on his expedition to Surinam. Here he made the acquaintance of a certain Captain Painton, ‘a very experienced seaman,’ who suggested to him the advisability of a settlement on one of the small West Indian islands, such as St. Christopher's, which were neglected by the Spaniards. At the end of the year he returned to England with the view of finding means to carry out his project. Having obtained the support of Ralph Merrifield, a London merchant, and his Suffolk neighbour, Charles Jeaffreson, Warner, with his wife and son Edward, and some thirteen others, chiefly from Suffolk, sailed for Virginia. Having rejected Barbados, ‘for the great want of water was then upon it naturally,’ the expedition landed in St. Kitts (St. Christopher's) on 28 Jan. 1623–4. The misgovernment of the Amazon settlement and the suitability of St. Christopher's for a tobacco plantation were the motive causes of the expedition. They were welcomed by the Carib chief Tegramund, and allowed to make a settlement at Old Road, where water abounded. By September the colonists had raised their first tobacco crop, but it was destroyed by a hurricane immediately afterwards. On 18 March 1624–5 Jeaffreson arrived from England in the Hopewell, bringing men and provisions, and soon afterwards Warner went home in the Black Bess of Flushing to beat up more recruits and to take over tobacco (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1625–6, p. 156).

Warner was commissioned on 13 Sept. 1625 king's lieutenant for the four islands of ‘St. Christopher, alias Merwar's Hope, Mevis [Nevis], Barbados, and Monserate,’ of which he is described as the ‘discoverer.’ In case of his death Jeaffreson was to succeed him. This was the first patent relating to the West Indies which passed the great seal. On 23 Jan. 1626 a letter of marque was issued to the Gift of God, forty tons, owner R. Merrifield, captain Thomas Warner, and during the year Warner and a Captain Smith made prizes of vessels from Middelburg and Dunkirk (ib. 1625–6 pp. 322, 327, 1628–9 p. 286).

In the autumn of 1626 Warner returned to St. Kitts ‘with neere a hundred people,’ having on his way made a bootless attempt upon the Spaniards ‘at Trinidada.’ In the ensuing year the settlement underwent great privations, but on 26 Oct. 1627 Captain William Smith brought food and ammunition in the Hopewell, and other ships came in later. In the same year the few Frenchmen under d'Esnambuc, a protégé of Richelieu, who had arrived soon after Warner's first landing, had also been reinforced; and in May a treaty was concluded between Warner and d'Esnambuc for a division of territory and mutual defence against the Spaniards and Caribees. The Caribees were now driven completely off the island.

In 1629 Warner paid another visit to England, in the course of which he was knighted (27 Sept.) at Hampton Court. James Hay, first earl of Carlisle [q. v.], had received in June 1627 a grant of the Caribean Islands and Barbados, in spite of Warner's patent of 1625; but on 29 Sept. Carlisle appointed Warner sole governor of St. Christopher's for life (Cal. State Papers, Amer. and W. Indies, 1574–1660, p. 101). On 4 Nov. 1643 Warner received a third patent—from the parliamentary commissioners of plantations—under which he was constituted ‘governor and lieutenant-general of the Caribee Islands under Robert [Rich], earl of Warwick [q. v.], governor in chief of all the plantations in America’ (ib. p. 324).

The success of the plantation at St. Christopher's, which seemed now assured, excited the jealousy of the French. In August 1629 d'Esnambuc, having returned from France with three hundred colonists and six sail of the line, summoned Warner to retire within the treaty limits, and to give up the land occupied since his departure. Soon after matters had been settled somewhat to the advantage of the French, a Spanish expedition under Don Frederick de Toledo appeared. The French deserted the English, who, overpowered by superior force, seem to have made some sort of cession. The chief settlers, however, retired to the mountains; and when, in a few months, the Spanish abandoned the island, both the English and French colonies in St. Kitts were re-established. Henceforth they were always at open or secret enmity. In 1635 d'Esnambuc, who obtained the aid of the negroes by a promise of freedom, wrung further concessions from Warner; and four years later a report that De Poincy, the French governor of St. Kitts, had had a design of poisoning Warner nearly produced open war. In September 1636, on his return from a voyage to England, Warner complained to Secretary Windebank of being ‘pestered with many controversies of the planters.’ During the voyage his crew had been decimated. He had intended to send a colony to Metalina under his son-in-law, but, having touched at Barbados to raise volunteers, had been opposed by the governor, Captain Henry Hawley (cf. ib. 1574–1660, p. 240).

In 1639 Warner estimated the amount of annual duties derived from the island at 12,000l. (ib. p. 295). So rapid had been the growth of the colony at St. Christopher's that in 1628 Warner was able to send settlers to colonise the isle of Nevis. Four years later religious dissensions in St. Kitts induced him to despatch another body of planters to found a colony on the island of Antigua, and a second, chiefly composed of Irishmen and Roman catholics, to settle Montserrat. These undertakings were successful, but the settlers sent to St. Lucia about 1639 were almost exterminated by the natives two years later.

Warner died on 10 March 1648–9, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Thomas, Middle Island, St. Kitts. On a broken tomb under a coat of arms is a barely legible rhymed epitaph in which he is described as

    one that bought
    With loss of Noble bloud Illustrious Name
    Of a Commander Greate in Acts of Fame.

It is printed in Captain Laurence-Archer's ‘Monumental Inscriptions of the British West Indies’ and in ‘Notes and Queries’ (3rd ser. ix. 450). He was a good soldier, and ‘a man of extraordinary agillity of body and a good witt,’ and won the respect of all his subordinates.

He was thrice married: first, to Sarah, daughter of Walter Snelling of Dorchester; secondly, to Rebecca, daughter of Thomas Payne, of Surrey; and, thirdly, to a lady who afterwards married Sir George March (Cal. State Papers, Amer. and W. Indies, 1675–6, p. 321). By his second wife he had two sons, and a daughter who was buried at Putney on 29 Dec. 1635.

The eldest son, Edward Warner (fl. 1632–1640), was deputy-governor of St. Kitts when Sir Thomas went to England. He was made by his father in 1632 the first English governor of Antigua. His wife and two children were carried off from the island in an incursion of the Caribs in 1640. A local tradition, embodied in the ‘Legend of Ding a Dong Nook,’ said that the governor pursued the Caribs to Dominica and brought back his wife and one child, but afterwards, under the influence of jealousy, imprisoned her in a keep built for the purpose in a lonely nook. The date of Edward Warner's death is uncertain. Dutertre, in his ‘Histoire des Antilles,’ speaks highly of his personal qualities.

Thomas Warner (1630?–1675), governor of Dominica, was a natural son of Sir Thomas Warner by a Carib woman (whom Labat saw in Dominica in January 1700, and described as then ‘une des plus vieilles créatures du monde’); he is known in West Indian history as ‘Indian Warner.’ About 1645, at the age of fifteen, he escaped from St. Kitts to his Carib countrymen in Dominica, among whom he soon took a leading position. He led their expeditions, indifferent apparently whether they were directed against the French or English. But having in some way obtained the favour of Francis, lord Willoughby [q. v.] of Parham, he was in 1664 made governor of Dominica. During the next two years he turned his activities against the French in Martinique and Guadeloupe, who eventually captured him. He was sent to Guadeloupe and kept in irons till after the peace, and was only released on 26 Dec. 1667 in consequence of the personal interposition of William, lord Willoughby. The French had contended that he was not included in the treaty with England, as ‘having never lived as a Christian but as a Caribee.’ By Warner's mediation a peace with the Caribs of Dominica and St. Vincent was concluded in 1667 (Schomburgk, Hist. of Barbados, pp. 292, 293). He continued to act as governor of Dominica, where he was practically omnipotent, but the description of him as ‘chief Indian governor’ seems to indicate that his position was not exactly official (Cal. State Papers, Amer. and W.Indies, 1669–74, pp. 226, 330), but in May 1673 it was confirmed by the council of Barbados. His instructions were so drawn as to conciliate the French (ib. p. 494), which lends colour to the subsequent charge made against Warner of intrigues with the French. In spite of his position he appears never to have ceased attacking the English on the other islands. In December 1674 an expedition started from Antigua against the Indians in Dominica. It was commanded by the governor, Colonel Philip Warner (see below), reputed brother of Thomas Warner. On their landing ‘Indian Warner’ received them well and gave them assistance against the Windward Indians. According to some authorities, ‘Indian Warner’ was treacherously killed by his brother's own hand during a banquet on board his sloop; according to others, he fell on shore in open fight with the English.

Philip Warner (d. 1689), another son of Sir Thomas Warner, commanded a regiment of foot at the taking of Cayenne from the French in 1667, and in the same year served at the capture of Surinam from the Dutch (cf. Antigua and the Antiguans, 1844, cp. iii.). In 1671 he was in command of a regiment of nine hundred English in Antigua, and in the following year he was appointed governor of that island. His term of office was marked by the introduction of several useful reforms. In December 1674 he led the expedition to Dominica, and was accused of having directed his half-brother Thomas's murder. He was sent to England and imprisoned for several months in the Tower. On 23 June 1675 Secretary Coventry wrote to the governor of Barbados that his majesty was ‘highly offended’ at ‘that barbarous murder or rather massacre,’ and ordered that ‘speedy and exemplary justice should be done;’ while the Indians were to be conciliated by ‘sending them some heads’ as a demonstration of the punishment of the authors (ib. 1675–6, p. 228). Warner's cause was, however, warmly espoused by the colonists in Antigua; early in 1676 he was sent for trial to Barbados, where he was acquitted; but by an order in council, dated 18 May 1677, he was ‘put out of the government of Antigua and any other employment or trust in the king's service.’ The colonists, however, still placed confidence in him, and on 29 Jan. 1679 he was elected speaker of the Antiguan assembly. He died on 23 Oct. 1689, and was buried at St. Paul's, Antigua. When in the Tower of London he delivered to Sir Robert Southwell an ‘Account of the Caribee Islands,’ dated 3 April 1676. It is now in the Record Office (Cal. State Papers, Amer. and W. Indies, 1675–6, pp. 367, 368). By his wife Henrietta, sister and heiress of Colonel Henry Ashton, Warner had two sons and four daughters. The eldest son, Colonel Thomas Warner (d. 1695), had by his wife Jane Walrond three sons: Edward Warner, a colonel in the army and member of the council of Antigua; Ashton Warner (1691–1752), speaker and attorney-general, whose son was Joseph Warner [q. v.]; and Henry Warner (1693–1731), clerk of the assembly.

[The primary authorities for the settlement of St. Christopher's and Nevis are the account given by John Hilton, storekeeper and chief gunner of Nevis (dated 29 April 1673), in Egerton MS. 2395, ff. 503–8 (in Brit. Mus.). A Brief Discourse of Divers Voyages made into Guiana, and The Beginning and Proceedings of the New Plantation of St. Christopher's by Captain Warner, The Works of Captain John Smith, ed. Arber, chaps. xxiv. xxv., contributed by some of Warner's crew, and the Manuscript Account by Col. Philip Warner in the Record Office, mentioned in the text. Next in importance is Antigua and the Antiguans, 1844, by a resident in the island who had access to the records and received information from the Rev. Daniel Francis Warner among others. The pedigree given in Burke's Landed Gentry, 4th ed. pt. ii., is inaccurate in the early part (cf. Laurence-Archer MSS. in Brit. Mus.). T. Southey's Chron. Hist. of the West Indies, vols. i. ii., and Bryan Edwards's Hist. of the British West Indies, vol. i. chap. iv., are founded on the early English authorities as well as Dutertre's Histoire des Antilles and Labat's Nouveau Voyage and Iles de l'Amérique. A clearly written modern account is in A Young Squire of the Seventeenth Century, 1878, vol. i. chaps. i.–v., edited from the papers of Christopher Jeaffreson by Mr. J. C. Jeaffreson. Some additional information may also be gleaned from the Hon. Nicholas Darnell Davis's Cavaliers and Roundheads of Barbados, 1650–2, Georgetown, British Guiana, 1887, chap. ii. The Calendars of Colonial State Papers, America and West Indies, edited by W. Noel Sainsbury, are invaluable.]

G. Le G. N.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.275
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
403 i 24 Warner, Sir Thomas: for Meanwhile Warner had been read Warner was
404 i 15f.e.  for a negro woman read a Carib woman