Author: Mark Nicholls

a Fellow and former president of St John’s College, Cambridge. He is the author, with Penry Williams, of Sir Walter Raleigh: in Life and Legend (2011)

Sir George Somers (1554–1610)

Sir George Somers was an English privateer and sea captain who served as admiral of a large resupply voyage to Jamestown in 1609; his ship the Sea Venture was wrecked and its passengers stranded for almost ten months on the islands of Bermuda. A native of Dorset, in the southwest of England, Somers preyed on Spanish shipping in the West Indies during his early years, earning enough money to buy land and build a nice home near his native town of Lyme Regis. Described as being “a lion at sea,” he was knighted by King James I in 1603, and in 1606 was named in the Virginia Company of London‘s royal charter to settle Virginia. In 1609, Somers sailed on the Sea Venture, the resupply fleet’s flagship that was shipwrecked in the Bermudas. There, despite disagreements with the governor, Sir Thomas Gates, Somers helped lead the castaways in their return to Virginia in May 1610. A few weeks later, a new governor, Thomas West, baron De La Warr, ordered Somers back to Bermuda to gather supplies. He died there early in November. His nephew Matthew Somers buried his heart and entrails in Bermuda—soon after named the Somers Islands—before returning the rest of his body to England for burial.


George Percy (1580–1632 or 1633)

George Percy was one of the original Jamestown settlers and the author of two important primary accounts of the colony. He served as president of the Council (1609–1610) during the Starving Time, and briefly as deputy governor (1611). Born in Sussex, England, to the eighth earl of Northumberland, Percy hailed from a family of Catholic conspirators; his father died while imprisoned in the Tower of London, his uncle was beheaded, and his older brother, the ninth earl of Northumberland, was also imprisoned. While his accounts suggest that Percy was awed by the natural beauty of Virginia, he was nevertheless overwhelmed by the many problems the first colonists faced, including hunger, disease, internal dissention, and often-difficult relations with Virginia Indians. While president of the Council, he and his fellow colonists suffered through the Starving Time, initiated in part by the Indians’ siege of Jamestown at the beginning of the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614). Through support from his older brother, Percy seems to have lived in relative comfort, but he also suffered from recurring illness, finally leaving Virginia in 1612. His second account of Jamestown, A Trewe Relacyon , was written in the mid-1620s with the intention of rebutting Captain John Smith‘s popular version of events in the colony. Percy died in the winter of 1632–1633, leaving no will.