With apologies for posting this in the evening, on this day in 1572 William Strachey was born in Saffron Walden, Essex, in the southeast of England. Strachey was one of the great characters of early Jamestown—ambitious but frustrated; literary but not always a fine writer; judgmental, sometimes insufferably so; and curious about the world in a way that was second only, perhaps, to John Smith. After surviving the wreck of the Sea Venture, Strachey penned an account of his experience that Shakespeare probably used as a model for The Tempest. He arrived in Virginia in time to bear witness to the Starving Time, and then spent a year or so studying the Indians and their culture. He compiled an Indian language dictionary, published various laws and rules associated with Virginia, and—at the Virginia Company’s request—wrote a history of the colony that the company then refused to publish. He composed a poem that one critic labeled “one of the most cryptic things in the whole of Elizabethan literature,” and was friends with Ben Jonson and John Donne.
Our entry on Strachey is one of the best we have, and you’ll find it full of links to great primary resources (see above paragraph) and an audio clip of the anthropologist Helen C. Rountree talking about how she would have loved to have met the man—a notion I hereby second.
IMAGE: Sea Venture by Christopher M. Grimes