Lt. Col. John Godfrey: The Barbadian Adventurers Part V
By Peg Eastman
“A Prospect of Bridge Town in Barbados. 1695 by Samuel Copen.” Image in the public domain.
Part IV of the Barbadian Adventurers series was about Henry Woodward, the first permanent settler in the Carolina Province. His second wife was Mary Browne, widow of Robert Browne and the daughter of Col. John Godfrey, one of the most prominent men in the province. Like Woodward, Godfrey had an interesting career.
As published in the biographies of members of Parliament, Godfrey was the son of Sir Richard Godfrey from Lydd, a small town on the coast of Kent. Richard Godfrey attended St. John’s College, Cambridge, and in 1610 was enrolled in the Middle Temple. In 1616, he and a small group of friends and relatives spent £28 10s for a six-week tour of northern France, the Spanish Netherlands and the United Provinces.
In 1624, he was elected to the last Jacobean Parliament as the New Romney borough’s junior burgess. New Romney was part of a medieval trade confederation of ports on the English Channel called Cinque (Five) Ports.Godfrey was reelected to Parliament in 1625; his service was unexceptional. Between sessions, he was elected a jurat of New Romney and served as its representative at the Cinque Ports Parliament.
During target practice, Godfrey accidentally killed a man but because he was in office, he received a pardon. Although it was their right, Cinque Ports corporation’s charter refused to seize his goods in consequence because of Godfrey’s service as the borough’s parliamentary representative without compensation and at his own expense, “which is more than any other jurat hath done heretofore.”
Despite his unremarkable tenure, Godfrey was given a number of recognitions. In February 1626, Godfrey carried the New Romney canopy at the Coronation of Charles I, and after his election to Parliament for a third time in 1626, he was gifted a silver cup for his service in Parliament.
In 1627, Godfrey was appointed to help audit accounts of two ships set out by Cinque Ports following rumors of an imminent Spanish invasion. He did not seek reelection to Parliament in 1628 and later went to live near his wife’s family at Wye. He died in March 1642. None of his descendants followed in his steps to sit in Parliament.
It is unknown when his son John emigrated to Barbados; however, with his political connections, he was a deputy in the Barbados Council and was one of the shareholders, called Adventurers, who contributed 1,000 pounds of muscovado sugar to fund William Hilton’s voyage in August 1663 (see Part I of the Barbadian Adventurers) He is mentioned numerous times in the Shaftesbury Papers, published by the South Carolina Historical Society in 1897.
It was not until Anthony Ashley Cooper, not yet the Earl of Shaftesbury, took charge of the proprietary grant that the proprietors agreed to outfit an expedition to settle their province. Under the command of Capt. Joseph West, a fleet of three ships carrying English settlers left Kinsale, Ireland. When they landed in Barbados, Sir John Yeamans appointed himself governor of the expedition, having been authorized to do so by the Lords Proprietors. Because it set sail during hurricane season, the little fleet had many misadventures before two of the original ships landed in Bermuda en route to Carolina.
In Bermuda Sir John Yeamans again decided to return to Barbados and the comforts of his wife, the widow of his former business partner, Col. William Berringer, and the Jacobean mansion he acquired when he married her. He appointed the 80-year-old William Sayle to be governor in his place.
In spite of his age, Yeamans described him as “a man of noe great sufficiency yett the ablest I could then meete with.” Sayle had been governor of Bermuda in 1641, and in 1648 led a group of Adventurers to settle the Bahama Islands. The venture was unsuccessful, and he returned to Bermuda where he was reappointed governor in 1657. Sayle was a Puritan who had been a Parliamentarian in the English Civil Wars. This put him at odds with Bermuda’s dominant elite, who were Church of England, and did not bode well for the government of Carolina. Accompanied by his sons and three African slaves, Sayle set sail on the Carolina in February 1670.
Landing first in the Port Royal area, in April 1670, the settlers came north and founded Charles Towne on the west bank of the Ashley River at Albemarle. At the same time, Sayle reserved 600 acres on a peninsula called “Oyster Point” located at the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers.
Back in Barbados, on August 25, 1671, Capt. John Godfrey was among five persons the Parliament appointed to be joined with Sir John Yeamans and Lords Proprietors. The governor and executive council ordered ten select men to take up proportions of land and either inhabit or forfeit them. John Culpeper was named surveyor general of the province and Florence O’Sullivan was also named a surveyor.
At the urging of Yeamans, in 1672 Godfrey was among the 42 settlers who arrived in Carolina aboard John and Thomas, bringing with him five men. Also on the ship were Captain Thomson, John Culpepper and Mr. Grey, Yeaman’s overseer who was accompanied by ten able men, most of whom were carpenters and surveyors.
Not long after Godfrey’s arrival, Yeamans, with consent of the council, directed Culpepper to lay out 500 acres of land in payment for 1,000 pounds of Muscovado sugar contributed by prominent Barbadians (Adventurers) for the colonialization venture.
Before long it was obvious that the aged and sickly Sayle was again unable to govern. As in Bermuda and the Bahamas, Sayle’s administration was rank with political strife. One observer described Sayle as “a persone verie anchant or Aged and verie feble” and so riddled by illness that “what small reason he had is almost taken.” A faction led by William Owen tried to unseat the governor, but Sayle died on March 4, 1671, and the council chose Capt. Joseph West as his successor.
When Yeamans, arrived later that year, as a landgrave, he expected to take over the government. Unsurprisingly, Yeamans’ desertion of two colonies was resented by the early settlers who feared that he would make Carolina another Cape Fear disaster. Council chose to keep West as governor and asked the proprietors to remove Yeamans from office. Yeamans died in Carolina before notification of his replacement arrived.
On another front, the harmonious relationships with local Indians established by Dr. Henry Woodward (see Part IV) began to deteriorate. In January 1672 Godfrey, Thomas Gray and Maurice Matthews were commissioned to explore the Wando River for a site suitable for a permanent town. While they were exploring, the Kussoe Indians began stealing from the settlers and threatening Indians friendly to the colonists. They became so insolent that by the end of September, the council declared war against the tribe and their confederates. Within a week the colonists formed companies of armed men who made a surprise attack on their territory. Many Indians were taken captive and ordered transported from Carolina unless the Kussoes sued for peace and paid ransom for the prisoners. By 1675 they were forced to cede their lands at the headwaters of the Ashley River. The Kussoe deed was signed with symbols by their various chiefs, who included some female chiefs, an indication of the high regard the Indians had for female leadership.
Meanwhile, the warlike Westos, who were allied with the Spanish, tried to destroy the new colony. In July the council resolved to send 52 men against the Westos. Godfrey was promoted to lieutenant colonel. When Godfrey’s volunteer militia approached the Spanish at St. Helena, they quickly retreated to the safety of St. Augustine. (See again Part IV.)
Although Lt. Col. John Godfrey was one of the most connected of the early colonists, very little information remains about him. He is described in the Shaftesbury papers as an Adventurer in 1663-1665 and again in 1671 who was “a very able man and good planter. Council records show that in 1675, during the absence of Governor West, as senior deputy, Godfrey acted as governor.
Also in 1675, Governor West directed Stephen Wheelwright, a surveyor, to lay out for Lieutenant Colonel Godfrey 300 acres of land for himself, his wife and one servant. Direction was given to lay off 440 acres of land due him for John Godfrey Jr., Richard Godfrey, self, his wife and one servant, namely Matthew English. Godfrey was appointed a deputy for the Duke of Albemarle in 1684. He died March 12, 1689.
Although Godfrey’s name appears in most of the council meetings, it is his will that depicts a more complete picture of the man. He had considerable property, which he generously distributed among family members. His son Capt. John Godfrey inherited his law books, lands and houses after the death of his wife, Mary Godfrey. His son Richard was bequeathed his “gould” ring, which he had at the funeral of Sir John Yeamans, and the plantation he had bought from James Sheppard. Son Benjamin inherited a plantation of the north side of the Stono River.
His daughter Mary Davis was bequeathed land near Shembee plus “one small gould ring, one sett of gould buckles, four younge cowes and younge mare, or younge horse, and unto her husband Lt. William Davis, my fuzee with the brass barrill, and for what else she must have patience until ye decease of her mother &c. And furthermore, I give unto my daughter Mary Davis, that a full balance be had and made of her two former husbands debts, Robert Browne and Doct. Henry Woodward, which did any wayes attaine to me, provided my account is to be fully balanced also, that no further trouble may any wayes arise or accrue.”
His granddaughter Mary Browne inherited half of Hobcaw Point and the tract adjoining. Grandson John Woodward was left his “physical books, or as many of them as his grandmother shall think fit.” Grandson John, son of Capt. John Godfrey, was left land bought from Henry Blanchard. The will was recorded in 1692.
Lt. Col. John Godfrey has many distinguished descendants, some of whom have used him for membership in The Society of Colonial Wars, a hereditary society of men who trace their forebears to those who assisted in the establishment, defense and preservation of the British mainland American colonies.
The Barbadian Adventurers will be continued in the next issue of the Mercury.
My appreciation to Bob Stockton, Rhoda Greene and Lish Thompson for contributing to this story, which is a prequel to Evening Post Press’s upcoming book, Broad Street, Charleston’s Historic Nexus of Power. Anyone with a good Broad Street story is invited to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone with an interesting historical story for the Charleston Mercury is welcome to contact email@example.com.
Godfrey, John. “Historical Notes: Will of Col. John Godfrey.” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 16, no. 3 (1915): 134–38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27569369.
Duff, Meaghan N. “Sayle, William.” University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies, Aug. 1, 2016. https://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/sayle-william/
South Carolina Under Proprietary Government 1670-1719 by Edward McCrady (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1897).
Thrush, Andrew and Ferris, John P., ed. “GODFREY, Richard II (1592-1642), of New Romney, Kent,” The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/godfrey-richard-ii-1592-1642
Salley, J. Alexander Jr., Secretary of the Historical Commission of South Carolina, ed. Original Narratives of Early American History, Narratives of Early Carolina 1650-1708. (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911). https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044037103033&view=1up&seq=30&skin=2021
Barnwell, Joseph W. The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, vol. 8, no. 1 (Jan. 1907), pp. 29-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27575150
The Shaftesbury Papers. Collections of the South Carolina Historical Society, Volume V. (Richmond, Virginia, William Ellis Jones, Book & Job Printer, 1897).
“Native Americans of the Low Country.” http://www.jaspercountyhistoricalsociety.org/native-americans/
“President & Acting Governor Joseph West's Executive Council,” https://www.carolana.com/Carolina/Governors/jwest_council.html