Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vassall, Samuel

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707410Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58 — Vassall, Samuel1899Bertha Porter

VASSALL, SAMUEL (1586–1667), parliamentarian, second son of John Vassall [q. v.] by his second wife, Anna Russell, was baptised at Stepney on 5 June 1586. He became a merchant in London, and traded to New England, the West Indies, and Guinea. He was one of the incorporators of the first Massachusetts company in March 1628, and in 1630 was one of those who advanced 50l. in the enterprise. He and his brother William [see under Vassall, John] afterwards acquired by purchase, as original proprietors, two-twentieths of all Massachusetts in New England. In September 1628 Samuel refused to pay the tonnage and poundage demanded by the custom-house on a large quantity of currants which he was importing. An information in the exchequer was exhibited by the attorney-general against him, when Vassall himself pleaded his own cause and the illegality of the imposition. The barons of exchequer refused to hear Vassall's counsel in the case, asserting that it would fall under the same rule as the famous Bate case already adjudged (Gardiner, ii. 5–6). Vassall was imprisoned and his goods retained. In June 1630 he was again contending against ‘that pretended duty,’ having brought up to Tilbury a vessel laden ‘with that drug called tobacco’ from Virginia. He had joined in April of the same year with George, lord Berkeley, and others, in an agreement to form a settlement in Virginia. In 1634 he was again in trouble, this time for breach of contract, having undertaken to convey certain settlers to the new colony of Carolina, and through some mismanagement having deposited them in October 1633 in Virginia, where they remained without further transport till the following May. Vassall was still imprisoned in the Fleet in 1636, proceedings against him continuing meanwhile. He appears to have been released at the end of the year.

On 2 March 1639–40 Vassall was elected to represent the city of London in the short parliament that sat from 13 April to 5 May. In June of the same year he, with Richard Chambers [q. v.], was summoned by the council in order to be ‘committed to some prisons in remote parts for seducing the king's people.’ On 20 Oct. 1640 he was re-elected to represent the city of London in the Long parliament. At this time he was styled clothier or clothworker. On 2 Dec. Vassall ‘delivered his grievances by word of mouth’ to the commons, and a committee was appointed to consider them (Rushworth, pt. iii. vol. i. p. 72). On 2 Feb. 1641 the House of Commons ordered the restitution to him by the farmers of the customs and imports of the tobacco which had been seized. In July the committee meeting in the Star-chamber was still considering ‘of some fit way for reparation.’

Vassall was one of the members of the House of Commons who took the ‘protestation’ on 3 May 1641. In 1642 he was one of the commissioners for plantations in the colonies, and as such in November took part in the appointment of Sir Thomas Warner [q. v.] as governor of the Caribbee Islands. He was one of the commissioners for the incorporation of Providence plantations in the Narraganset Bay in New England in 1643. On 22 Sept. 1643 he took the covenant. On 20 Feb. 1645 he was one of the committee for the city of London for raising funds towards the maintenance of the Scottish army, and on 11 July 1646 he was named one of the commissioners for the kingdom of England for the conservation of peace between the two kingdoms. Early in 1650, as a trader to Guinea, he was giving information to the house respecting some disputes between various merchants and the Guinea Company.

Meanwhile, Vassall was endeavouring to secure compensation for his losses and imprisonment for refusing to pay tonnage and poundage in 1628. The matter had on 14 June 1644 been referred to the committee for the navy, and on 18 Jan. 1646–7 the commons voted him 10,445l. 12s. 2d. He had also advanced money to pay the parliamentary forces in Ireland, and on 6 May 1647, 2,591l. 17s. 6d., due to Vassall on this account, was ordered to be made chargeable on the grand excise, ‘with interest on the same’ payable every six months. Vassall, however, received nothing. On 6 April 1654, in a petition presented to the Protector, he stated that in consequence of resisting tonnage and poundage he lost money to the value of 15,000l., and begged leave to refund himself by means of privileges to import French wines, ship coals and lead, or receive forest land. The debt with interest now amounted to 20,202l. 7s. 3d. On 6 May 1656 he was granted 150l. annually as interest on the debt formerly charged on the excise. On 26 May on the taking of a ‘Spanish prize’ a warrant was issued by the council for the payment to him of 1,000l. He was nevertheless informed on 8 Sept. 1657 that he should make his application for payment to parliament, ‘as no revenue remains at his highness's disposal to satisfy the said debt.’ On 18 March 1658 the petition was again read to the council, and again on 3 June 1658, at which time Vassall was a ‘prisoner in the upper bench.’ On 1 April 1659 the commons recommended the Protector to grant a privy seal for the payment to him of 500l. as part of the debt. A bill was accordingly prepared for signature on 5 April. On 18 Aug. 1660 it was ordered that the remainder of the debt should again be made chargeable on the excise, and ‘forthwith paid to Mr. Vassall.’ In 1663 he was in Carolina occupied in making arrangements with the lords proprietors of the colony with respect to a claim laid by him for part of a term not yet expired. In all probability he died in Massachusetts, but the exact time or place is not known. He may be identical with the Samuel Vassall of Bedale in Yorkshire, who was living in 1665 (will of his son John, P. C. C. 29 Hyde). But when letters of administration were granted in London to his son Francis on 24 Sept. 1667, it was stated that he died abroad.

[Unpublished pedigree by the late Rev. William Vassall; Hutchinson's Hist. of Massachusetts Bay, i. 10; Rushworth's Hist. Coll. pt. i. p. 641, pt. iii. vol. i. p. 246, pt. iv. vol. i. pp. 313, 619, pt. iv. vol. ii. p. 1099; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1629 to 1659, passim; Neill's Virginia Carolorum, pp. 75–6; Cal. State Papers Colonial, 1574–1660, passim; Official List of M.P.'s, i. 482, 491; Commons' Journals, vols. ii. iii. iv. v. vii. and viii.; Lords' Journals, vii. 224; Massachusetts Hist. Soc. Coll. 2nd ser. v. 121–2; manuscript notes by late Rev. W. Vassall, kindly supplied by Douglas Sladen, esq.]

B. P.