Sunday, September 30, 2012

John Clarke of Jamestowne

My 10th great grandfather was John Clarke (1575-1623), a Jamestowne Virginia settler originally from Cambridge, England.

John shows up on the passenger manifest for the 1608 Second Supply ship, which was the eighth ship to arrive in Jamestowne.  He was listed as a "tradesman".

It is believed that Thomas Clarke, who came over on the 1623 ship Anne, just three years after the Mayflower, was son to John.  This is only supported by baptismal records showing that Thomas' father was named John.

I paid a visit to Jamestowne in the Fall of 2012, and enjoyed learning of all the amazing archaeological discoveries still being made.  It was truly thrilling to see happy excavators at work.





According to many sources, John was captured by the Spanish in 1611 and spent five years in captivity before being traded with the English.

It has been written that either John or Thomas was employed on the Mayflower as a shipmate.  There are differing accounts here, depending on who you believe.  I have written a separate page on Thomas Clarke, which speaks of what is known and speculated regarding Thomas, and how much has been written crediting Thomas with the shipmate job.

According to The Mayflower and Her Passengers by Caleb H. Johnson (copyright 2006 Xlibris), which is a very fun and informative read, John Clarke is given credit as ship mate, and not Thomas:

The Mayflower's Crew Master Jones and the Mayflower had never been across the Atlantic before. Their stormiest seas were those of the North Sea off Norway in 1609, and their longest voyage was just to Malaga, Spain, and back in 1615. To bring on some experienced hands, two men were hired, John Clarke and Robert Coppin, to be master‘s mates and pilots. Both had been to the New World before. Robert Coppin had been an early investor in the Virginia Company, buying a share of stock for £12 and 10 s; he was named on the Second Virginia Charter of 23 May 1609. He quite possibly was from a Coppin family found in Harwich, the same hometown as Christopher Jones. He appears to have had some experience in whaling and may have spent time in Newfoundland; he had some knowledge of the New England coastline and had been to the region at least once previously. otherwise, very little is known about him. Much more is known about Master‘s Mate John Clark—his adventures in Virginia could fill an entire book. John Clark had been a ship‘s pilot since 1609, but his first experience with the New World came in March 1611, when he left London piloting a three-hundred- ton ship to Jamestown, Virginia. Along with the ship that he was piloting, there were two other ships: one 150 tons and one 90 tons, all under the command of Sir Thomas Dale. In all, the ships brought three hundred men to the Jamestown colony, then in its fourth year. The voyage lasted two and a half months, although they made brief stops in Dominica and on the „island of Nevis“ to the north-northwest before reaching Jamestown. Once in Virginia, John Clark piloted the ships into the mouth of the James River, to Point Comfort—the farthest point up the river that large ships could sail. For many weeks after arriving, he piloted barges back and forth between Point Comfort and the Jamestown fort, unloading the six hundred barrels of flour, fifty barrels of gunpowder, and other supplies that had been brought to the colony, and loading the ships back up with timber and sassafras for the return voyage to England. After living and working in the Jamestown colony for about forty days, John Clark noticed a Spanish ship enter the mouth of the James River. The ship sent out a longboat with about thirteen men to the small English fort at Point Comfort. Three men got out of the longboat—one of which John Clark recognized as an English pilot he had seen in Malaga, Spain, in 1609. The three men informed the English that they were seeking a Spanish ship that had gotten lost on the coast. The English captain at Point Comfort sent for the governor, who came down from Jamestown on a barge to speak with the men. The governor informed them that their ship was not anchored in a safe place in the bay—they should bring it in closer to the fort. The Spanish replied that they did not have a capable pilot to do that. So the governor had the three Spanish men remain on shore and ordered John Clark and a couple others to take the longboat out to the Spanish ship and then pilot the ship into safer harbor. When John Clark arrived at the Spanish ship with the longboat, he informed the ship‘s master, Don Diego de Molina, that he was to pilot the ship into a safer harbor near Point Comfort. But Don Diego was leery of a trap and refused, saying he would not sail in until the Spanish men onshore were returned to his ship. John Clark was taken captive, and tied up for good measure. The next day, still bound, he was carried over the shoulder by one of the Spanish mariners onto the longboat, and with the master of the Spanish ship, they went to speak with the English. Don Diego demanded the return of their three men in exchange for Clark. The English at Point Comfort said they would have to consult with the governor at Jamestown first, before they could make such a decision. But the governor was many hours away. Fearing the English would send out some of their ships to attack, the Spanish, with captive John Clark, fled back to their ship and sailed away. They ended up taking him as their prisoner to the Spanish settlement at Havana, Cuba. John Clark remained in Spanish custody in Havana, where he was interrogated on his knowledge of the English settlements in Virginia, and English plans to colonize the region. After two years, he was transferred to Madrid, where he was again interrogated by Spanish authorities. Finally, in 1616, after having been in Spanish custody for five years, he was freed in a prisoner exchange with England. It was not long before John Clark was back in the piloting business. In 1618, he found himself working for Captain Thomas Jones, an English sometime pirate who happened, in this case, to be taking a load of cattle to Jamestown in his ship the Falcon. Shortly after his return, Clark was hired to be a pilot for the Mayflower’s voyage to America.

According to, John was the Master's Mate on the Mayflower.

According to FindaGrave, ...
John Clark was the Master's Mate and pilot of the "Mayflower", and accompanied the Pilgrims on many of the exploring parties, piloting the shallop. Clark's Island in Duxbury Bay is named after him, because he miraculously brought the shallop ashore during a strong storm on one of these expeditions. John was given two shares in the Virginia Company for his service. He sailed to Virginia on 10 April 1623 in Daniel Gookin's ship, the "Providence", and died shortly after he arrived.
But on this very page of FindAGrave, there is a picture of the Mayflower commemorative plaque for the First Encounter, and a transcription.  It merely references "Master Mate Clark", so that could be either Thomas or John!

According to Packrat, which carries an online transcription of the 1608 Second Supply ship manifest, he was a tradesman on the 1610 voyage to Jamestowne.  In fact, this site purports to transcribe all the early Pilgrim ship manifests and doesn't list a single Clarke on any of the 1610 ships.

According to The First Republic in America: An Account of the Origin of this Nation, by Alexander Brown, John Clarke was among the men who fell at the Indian Massacre of 1622 in Jamestown, and was pilot of the ship Providence in 1622.  The ship manifest, however, has been transcribed by Packrat to read that William Clarke was the only Clarke on the Providence.  According to a genforum post, this William was John's son, who was the pilot of that ship.  Yet, I see no reference to John having been pilot of this ship, when viewing the transcribed manifest.

A Richard Clarke was one of many of the Mayflower passengers who died the first winter in Plymouth, and left no descendants. I wonder if he was related to either John or Thomas?


Below is a well sourced writing I was given by Clark researchers:

John Clarke was hired to be the Master's Mate on the Mayflower by the Virginia Company and the Merchant Adventurers because he had been to the American coast on several prior occasions.

Much of John Clarke's biographical history is known, but his genealogical history is less certain. He is possibly the John Clarke who was baptized in Redriffe (Rotherhithe), Surrey, England on 26 March 1575, and may have been the father of Thomas Clarke, an early Plymouth settler. A baptism for Thomas Clark, son of John Clark of Rotherhithe is found on 8 March 1599/1600 at St. Dunstan's, Stepney, Middlesex, England. He may be the John Clarke who married Sibil Farr on 18 April 1610 in Rotherhithe, or the John Clarke who married Mary Morton on 18 February 1598/9 in Stepney, Middlesex--or perhaps he was married twice.

John Clarke had made several trips to Jamestown, Virginia, as well as to New England. Clarke had been in Malaga, Spain in 1609, and in March 1611 sailed from London to Virginia. About June 21, 1611, he was captured at Point Comfort by the crew of a Spanish caravel that had brought Don Diego de Molina to Virginia. He was taken to Havana, where he was interrogated on 23 July 1611. He was then taken to Seville, Spain, and then to Madrid where he was again examined on 18 February 1613. He calls himself 35 years old in his 1611 deposition, and calls himself 40 years old in 1613, giving his residence as London. He was released to the English in 1616, in a prisoner exchange between England and Spain.

John Clarke is mentioned in a letter written by Robert Cushman on 11 June 1620: "We have hired another pilot here, one Mr. Clarke, who went last year to Virginia with a ship of kine." This 1619 trip to Virginia was with Captain Thomas Jones of the Falcon, a some-time pirate.

He was the Master's Mate and pilot of the Mayflower, and accompanied the Pilgrims on many of the exploring parties, piloting the shallop. Clark's Island in Duxbury Bay is named after him, because he miraculously brought the shallop ashore during a strong storm on one of these expeditions.

On 13 February 1622, the Virginia Company records state:

Mr. Deputy acquainted the court, that one Mr. John Clarke beinge taken from Virginia long since by a Spanish ship that came to discover that plantation; that forasmuch as he hath since that time done the companie good service in many voyages to Virginia, and of late went into Ireland for transportation of cattle to Virginia, he was an humble suitor to this court, that he might be admitted a free brother of the companie, and have some shares of land bestowed upon him.

John was given two shares in the Virginia Company for his service. He sailed to Virginia on 10 April 1623 in Daniel Gookin's ship, the Providence, and died shortly after he arrived.

1. Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 3d series, 54 (1920):61-77, "John Clark of the Mayflower".

2. American Historical Review 25:448-479, "Spanish Policy toward Virginia, 1606-1612; Jamestown, Ecija, and John Clark of the Mayflower".

3. The American Genealogist 42:201-202, 47:3-16

4. Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford, written 1630-1654

5. The Genesis of the United States, by Alexander Brown, 1964, pages 854-855.

6. Records of the Virginia Company


  1. Thank you for this information. Greetings from your distant cousin - John is my 10th great-grandfather as well. I am looking forward to looking through the rest of your site.

  2. He is my 12th great grandfather :)

    1. mine too :) -ccp, south carolina by way of kentucky

  3. I acquired recently a book by Jean Ingelow written in 1884 called the birthday book it is filled with names information history of Thomas Clarke it says he came to Plymouth in 1623 on the brig Anne. deacon 40 yrs died 1697. also inside book a photo taken in 1880 of a young girl Elizabeth A, Childs born 1875 died 1890
    filled with priceless history births and deaths follows Thomas Clarke family tree from 1623 into the 1900's, if you have any interest in acquiring this book e-mail me : Ezra