William Strachey was sailing to Virginia on board the supply ship Sea Venture in 1609 when it wrecked in a hurricane in the Bermudas. He and the survivors spent months there constructing ships in which to continue their voyage. It is believed that Strachey’s account of this voyage inspired William Shakespeare to write The Tempest.
Arriving in Jamestown in 1610, Strachey became the Secretary of the colony for one year, writing much about Virginia Indians and Jamestown life. Strachey’s description of James Fort and its buildings have been an invaluable resource to the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists. His detailed description of the dimensions of the 1608 church helped the archaeologists identify its location:
“the fort growing since to more perfection, is now at this present in this manner: …about half an acre…is cast almost into the form of a triangle and so palisaded. The south side next the river (howbeit extended in a line or curtain sixscore foot more in length than the other two, by reason the advantage of the ground doth require) contains 140 yards, the west and east sides a hundred only.”
In 1996 excavations in the fort yielded a signet ring, which were often used to impress symbols on wax seals for important documents in a time when most people were illiterate. This particular ring bore a “displayed” eagle embossed with a cross-crosslet on its breast, the official crest of the Strachey family. The ring reflects on the caliber of the men who ventured to Jamestown: Strachey was a poet who invested in the London theater, when William Shakespeare was at the height of his career.
Strachey came to Virginia for the same reason many other English gentlemen did: to finally secure his fortune. He had moved in London’s literary circles but usually had money troubles — he served as secretary to Thomas Glover, the English ambassador to Turkey, in 1606 but was quickly dismissed after quarreling with Glover.
Like many of the other Virginia adventurers, Strachey found only harder times in the colony. He returned to England and died there a poor man in 1621. His Bermuda and Jamestown manuscript was published in 1625.