Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Percy, George

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PERCY, GEORGE (1580–1632), author and colonist, was eighth son of Henry Percy, eighth earl of Northumberland [q. v.], by his wife Catherine, eldest daughter and coheiress of John Neville, lord Latimer. Henry Percy, ninth earl of Northumberland [q. v.], was his brother. Born 4 Sept. 1580, he served for a time in the Low Country wars, and subsequently took part in the first permanent English colonisation of America. He sailed for Virginia in the first expedition of James I's reign (December 1606). On 23 May 1609 his name appeared among the incorporators of the Second Company of Virginia. On 31 Aug. of the same year Gabriel Archer mentions him as one among the ‘respected gentlemen of Virginia’ who can testify how false are the stories of mutiny in Jamestown at this time. Percy was made deputy-governor on the recall of John Smith in September 1609 to answer some misdemeanours, as Percy and others of Smith's enemies declared. He held office during a critical period until the arrival of Sir Thomas Gates [q. v.] in May 1610. Lord De la Warr became governor a month later, and appointed Percy a member of his new council (12 June 1610) (cf. R. Rich, Metrical News from Virginia, London, 1610). On the departure of Lord De la Warr in March 1611, Percy, in recognition of his former services, was reappointed deputy-governor until the arrival of Dale in the following May. According to Spelman's ‘Relation of Events,’ 1609–11—probably written in the autumn of 1611—Indians at this time came from the ‘great Powhatan’ with venison for Captain Percy, ‘who now was president,’ and Sir Thomas Dale wrote to the Virginia Company from Jamestown, 25 May 1611, that he was received by Percy, who, after hearing his commission read, surrendered up his own, ‘it being accordingly so to expire.’

On 17 Aug. 1611 Percy excused himself for his large expenditure to his brother Henry, who had paid on his account 432l. 1s. 6d. during the past year. He argued that, as governor of Jamestown, he was ‘bound to keep a continual and daily table for gentlemen of fashion.’ A Spanish writer (in the Simancas archives) drew the distinction between Percy and his successor Dale, that the former had been ‘appointed for himself,’ the latter by order of the king. Percy left Virginia for England on 22 April 1612. Dudley Carleton, in a letter on the exploration of the James River, credits Percy with having named the main settlement James Fort. On 15 May 1620 he transferred to Christopher Martin four of his shares in the Virginia Company, and, after the war broke out again in the Low Countries, returned for a time, probably in 1625, to his old occupation of volunteering against Spain in the service of the United Netherlands. Here, we are told, he distinguished himself, had one of his fingers shot off, and was active in commanding a company, in 1627. He died unmarried in 1632.

Percy played a leading part in the controversy between Captain John Smith and the other original settlers in Virginia. After the appearance of Smith's ‘General History,’ with its account of affairs during the time of Percy's government, Percy wrote, in answer, about 1625, ‘A True Relation of the Proceedings and Occurrents of moment which have happened in Virginia from the time Sir Thomas Gates was shipwrecked upon the Bermudas, 1609, until my departure out of the country, 1612.’ This he sent to his brother, the Earl of Northumberland, who fully accepted his statements, and treated him through life with the utmost kindness and confidence. Percy was also the writer of a ‘Discourse [or Observations] of the Plantation of the Southern Colony in Virginia,’ one of the manuscripts printed by Hakluyt. This manuscript came to Purchas, who printed in his collection illustrative extracts. It is chiefly devoted to accounts of native customs, and describes the famine and diseases from which the colonists suffered.

If the ‘True Relation’ is to be believed, Smith, who was once known as the ‘Saviour of Virginia,’ must be treated as a braggart and a slanderer. But Percy, who appears from his letters to have been a needy, extravagant dependent of his brother, wrote this full thirteen years after the events it records; and his evidence hardly carries sufficient weight to warrant the full adoption of his statements. His ‘Discourse’ (in Purchas) does not contain a word of censure on Smith.

[Percy's Discourse and True Relation; Gardiner's Hist. of England, ii. 61, &c.; Cal. of State Papers, Col. 1574–1660, pp. 8, 67 (4 Oct. 1609, and July 1624); Purchas his Pilgrimes, vol. iv. 1685–1690; Wingfield's Discourse; Allibone's Dictionary of British and American Authors; Brown's Genesis of U.S.A. passim, and esp. pp. 964–5; Harris's Voyages, i. 818–37.]

C. R. B.