Biography of Sea Venture passenger published after years of family history

The Henry Bagwell StoryFAMILY research has led to a biography being published on a figure previously lost to history, who was among the first settlers of Bermuda with former Mayor of Lyme Regis, Admiral Sir George Somers.

Ten years ago, Margaret Rice set out to research the history into the Chappell family, who were merchants and mayors of Exeter, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Thomas Chappell was mayor of Exeter in 1588, and is Margaret’s direct ancestor.

One of Thomas’s grandsons, Henry Bagwell, born in 1589, was a passenger in 1609 on a ship called the Sea Venture, part of a fleet of ships led by Admiral Sir George Somers, a former Mayor of Lyme Regis.

The fleet were bringing supplies and colonists to the struggling settlement, known as James Fort, later Jamestown – England’s first permanent colony in the New World.

The Sea Venture was wrecked in a storm on the reefs of Bermuda but all 250 crew and passengers survived and were marooned for nine months on the islands, eventually reaching Jamestown on May 21 1610.

The shipwreck was supposedly the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’ and has led to ongoing links between Lyme Regis and Bermuda, with the town now formally twinned with St George’s in Bermuda and ‘tripled’ with Jamestown, Virginia.

Along with Admiral Sir George Somers, other officials on board the Sea Venture included Sir Thomas Gates, from Colyford, the appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Jamestown Colony, and a young man from Lyme Regis called Silvester Jourdaine, who along with William Strachey, wrote and published eye-witness accounts of the voyage.

Henry Bagwell first settled on the mainland, a few miles north of Jamestown. He later moved across Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where he became a substantial landowner and family man.

In 1629 he was elected as a burgess to represent the Eastern Shore at the General Assembly, held in Jamestown. The General Assembly had been established in July 1619 with a Council of State and two burgesses elected to represent their community.

Henry’s claim to fame was his role in 1632, as the first Clerk of Accomack-Northampton County Court, the first judicial court established in what is now the USA.

Henry’s signature is on the very first minutes of the court meetings, and they still exist today.

The result of Margaret’s research into her ancestors is the first biography of Henry – a 220-page book that sets out what is known about him, a figure previously lost to history, though important in his time.

Records in Devon and Virginia provided the clues and Margaret has made the most of them, principally from archives in the Devon Heritage Centre, in Exeter, and other local Heritage Centres in Devon, as well as the Eastern Shore Public Library, the Library of Virginia, among others.

Mike Sampson, honorary editor of ‘Devon Historian’, published by the Devon History Society, said: “This is how history should be written and this volume is a fitting memorial to Henry and the determination which he and others showed in finally establishing permanent settlements in Virginia.”

‘The Henry Bagwell Story: English Adventurer, Virginia Planter 1589-1663’ is now available in a hardcover edition for £20 and e-book format for £7.50

Print copies can be ordered from the publisher at and e-book copies are available from leading retailers including Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Kobo, and Book Depository.

Margaret Rice, a first-time author, is a retired teacher and child-care lecturer. She lives with her husband Ray in Tiverton and they have two children and three grandsons. You can find out more about the author at

Secant Publishing is an independent publisher located on the East coast of the USA, in Salisbury Maryland. Now entering its eighth year of issuing and re-issuing books of particular interest to writers and readers in the Maryland area.

Woodmead Halls

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