Early Years and Privateering
Newport was christened at Harwich, a prominent port town on the east cost of England, on December 29, 1561. His father, also named Christopher Newport, was a shipmaster; the maiden name of his mother, Jane, is unknown.
At about age nineteen, Newport sailed from Harwich for Brazil on November 3, 1580, aboard the merchant vessel Minion of London. He jumped ship with some other crewmen at Baya (Bahia), Brazil, in 1581 after a quarrel erupted with the ship's master, Stephen Hare. Newport may have returned to England by 1582, when his name appeared on a list of shipmasters in Harwich. He married Katherine Proctor there on October 19, 1584.
The next year, 1585, marked the beginning of a long, undeclared war between England and Spain that eventually concluded in 1604. During the intervening years, in accordance with international practice, England and Spain commissioned private seafarers to prey on each other's shipping. Essentially licensed pirates, the privateers of both sides varied in effectiveness, although a capable captain and his men could become quite wealthy if they were fortunate enough to seize numerous prizes while escaping death or capture. It was during this conflict—notable for the wreck of the Spanish Armada in 1588—that Newport and several other English privateers made their fortunes and their reputations.
Over the next four years, Newport made four voyages to the West Indies, continuing in the employment of London merchants but also remaining active as a privateer. Beginning in 1592, he captained the Golden Dragon. Because of his growing reputation and accomplishments, he commanded a flotilla of privateers and led attacks on Spanish towns in the Caribbean. He helped capture the extremely rich Madre de Dios in 1592 and sailed it back to England.
In 1595, Newport made his only voyage to the Mediterranean. That year he also married his third wife, Elizabeth Glanville, the daughter of a leading London goldsmith. (His first wife had died by 1590, when he married Ellen Ade, who subsequently died.)
When Newport married into the Glanville family, his status changed from an employee of London merchants to a partner with five of them—his brothers-in-law. He became a one-sixth owner of the new, heavily armed trading and privateering vessel Neptune. Between 1595 and the end of the Anglo-Spanish War in 1604, Newport annually raided Spanish-Caribbean settlements and ships. He became one of the most experienced ship captains in England in terms of voyages to and from the Caribbean. After the peace treaty was signed, he turned from privateering to trade and met equal success.
Arrival in Virginia
The journey did not go well. Storms delayed the vessels off the coast of Kent for about six weeks, long enough for a clash of egos to emerge among two of the expedition's leaders aboard the Susan Constant. Edward Maria Wingfield and Captain John Smith locked horns, and after Newport sided with Wingfield, Smith was arrested and nearly hanged at Nevis, in the West Indies. The fleet left the West Indies on April 10 and, after surviving a violent storm, finally landed at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia on April 26.
That night, according to instructions from the Virginia Company of London, Newport opened a box that contained the names of the seven councilmen who would elect a president and govern the colony. They included Newport, Wingfield, Gosnold, Ratcliffe, Smith, Captain John Martin, and Captain George Kendall. Smith, however, was not allowed to take his seat, which further strained relations among him, Newport, and the newly elected President Wingfield.
When they returned on May 27, Newport discovered that several nearby Indian tribes had attacked the settlement only the day before. He and the other leaders immediately set the men to constructing a triangular fort with a bastion in each corner. Although the English had driven off the attackers, the colony's leaders anticipated stronger assaults from the Indians in the future. In addition, the Spaniards in present-day Florida were threatened by the English presence and inclined to drive them off.
Newport sailed for England on June 22, carrying an optimistic letter from the council. The fort had been completed and a crop of wheat had been sown. Smith had been admitted to the council, in part because Newport had played peacemaker. The abundant resources of Virginia, in particular the rich forests, engendered optimism that the colony would thrive and turn a profit for its investors. In the hold of the Susan Constant, Newport carried what he and the other leaders believed to be gold-bearing ore—the best means of quick wealth for the investors.
Once again, "gold" was found near Jamestown, and on April 10, 1608, his hold filled, Newport sailed for England. He arrived in London on May 21, but the gold once more proved false. During the summer, while Newport received additional instructions from the company and gathered more supplies and settlers, Smith undertook two voyages of exploration in the Chesapeake Bay. He established trading relations with numerous tribes both inside and outside Tsenacomoco, learned the approximate locations of mineral deposits (but no gold mines), satisfied himself that there was no "northwest passage" between the bay and the Pacific Ocean, and began drafting a comprehensive map of the Chesapeake. On September 10, Smith—who twice had faced death sentences from the council—was elected president. He quickly set about preparing the colony for the approaching winter.
For the next eight months, as the other ships straggled into Jamestown, Gates, Somers, and Newport struggled to maintain order among the passengers and crew of the Sea Venture. Remarkably, all had lived through the shipwreck, but several did not survive the dissentions, intrigues, and charges of mutiny that surfaced in Bermuda and resulted in executions ordered by Gates. On February 11, 1610, Newport and William Strachey served as witnesses to the christening of John Rolfe's daughter, named Bermuda, and on March 25, Newport, Strachey, and James Swift became godfathers to a baby boy called Bermudas. (Rolfe's wife and daughter both died.) In May 1610, the party finally departed the islands in two small vessels that ship carpenters and crew had cobbled together from local trees and fragments salvaged from the wreck. They arrived in Jamestown later in the month and found disaster.
Having endured the Starving Time over the winter, the few remaining colonists at Jamestown were barely alive. Most of the buildings had been burned for firewood, and the palisade surrounding the fort was down. To the relief of many there, Gates announced they would abandon Jamestown. On June 7, the survivors boarded ships and sailed down the James River to the Chesapeake Bay, where they spent the night. The next morning, while waiting for the tide to turn, they spied a longboat headed toward them from the east. It was the advance of an expedition led by the new, Virginia Company–appointed governor, Thomas West, twelfth baron De La Warr. On his orders, the colonists turned around.
In the spring of 1611, Newport sailed to Virginia for the last time, taking Sir Thomas Dale with him, and arrived on May 12. Dale, the marshal of Virginia and acting governor in De La Warr's and Gates's absence, ran the colony strictly and helped the English finally defeat the Indians in the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614). Newport remained in Virginia for several months, overseeing the construction of a bridge at Jamestown. He sailed for England about the end of August and arrived there late in October.
In 1612, Newport took up the Royal Navy post of "principal master" to which he had been appointed in 1606 and also entered the service of the East India Company. He made three long voyages over the next few years. The first, aboard the Expedition of London to Banten (also called Bantam), a major trading town on the west coast of Java, was undertaken early in 1613. The second, to India, was made in 1615. Newport wrote his will on November 16, 1616, as he was about to sail to the East Indies for the third time. He took his son, also named Christopher Newport, with him as his master's mate. In May 1617, Captain Newport arrived at Saldanha Bay north of Cape Town, South Africa, and then sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. He dropped anchor at Banten on August 15. He died soon afterward.
December 29, 1561 - Christopher Newport is christened at Harwich, England. He is the son of Christopher Newport, a shipmaster.
1580 - Christopher Newport jumps ship at Bahia, Brazil, while serving on the Minion of London.
October 19, 1584 - Christopher Newport marries Katherine Proctor.
1587 - Christopher Newport serves as a privateer against the Spanish for English merchants. He is a master's mate on John Watts's ship the Drake during an attack on the Spanish port city of Cádiz.
1589 - Christopher Newport is the master of the ship the Margaret, of London, the property of merchant Robert Cobb and others.
1590 - Christopher Newport marries Ellen Ade after his first wife, Katherine Proctor Newport, dies.
1591 - Christopher Newport, again sailing for John Watts, is promoted to captain of the Little John. He makes his first privateering trip to the Caribbean and loses his right arm while engaging two Spanish treasure ships off Cuba. He also takes part in the Barbary Coast trade.
1592 - Christopher Newport commands a flotilla of privateers and attacks Spanish towns in the Caribbean. Near the Azores, he helps to capture the very rich Spanish ship Madre de Dios and sails it back to England.
1595–1603 - As captain of the ship the Neptune, Christopher Newport raids Spanish towns in the Caribbean.
1604–1605 - Christopher Newport leads trading voyages in the Caribbean.
December 20, 1606 - Three ships carrying 104 settlers sail from London bound for Virginia. Christopher Newport captains the Susan Constant, Bartholomew Gosnold the Godspeed, and John Ratcliffe the Discovery.
August 12, 1607 - Christopher Newport arrives in London.
December 1608 - Christopher Newport returns to England from Jamestown accompanied by the Indian Machumps. John Smith, meanwhile, attempts to trade for food with Indians from the Nansemonds to the Appamattucks, but on Powhatan's orders they refuse.
Winter 1609–1610 - While the English colonists starve in Virginia, the shipwrecked crew and passengers of the Sea Venture make camp in Bermuda. They build two new boats, the Patience and Deliverance, from Bermuda cedar and the scavenged remains of the Sea Venture.
September 1610 - Christopher Newport returns to England.
October 1611 - Christopher Newport arrives in England.
1612 - Christopher Newport assumes his Royal Navy post of 1606 and enters the service of the East India Company.
1613 - Christopher Newport sails to Banten (Bantam), Java.
1615 - Christopher Newport sails to India.
November 16, 1616 - Christopher Newport writes his will. About to sail for the third time to the East Indies, he takes his son Christopher Newport with him as master's mate.
August 15, 1617 - Christopher Newport arrives in Banten (Bantam), Java, and dies soon afterward.
1961 - Christopher Newport College is established in Newport News, taking its name from the early Virginia explorer.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Salmon, J. Christopher Newport (1561–after August 15, 1617). (2014, February 28). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Newport_Christopher_1561-after_August_15_1617.
- MLA Citation:
Salmon, John. "Christopher Newport (1561–after August 15, 1617)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 5, 2013 | Last modified: February 28, 2014
Contributed by John Salmon, historian for Virginia Civil War Trails, and author of The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. He also helped author the National Park Service's Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment (2006).