Woodes Rogers

Woodes Rogers

Sea captain and privateer Woodes Rogers (c. 1679 – 15 July 1732) who commanded the privateering expedition on which Dampier made his third circumnavigation is known as the captain of the vessel that rescued the marooned Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, from Juan Fernandez Island in February 1709. 

The expedition was back in England in October 1711, having circumnavigated the globe in the vessels they departed in with most of the original crew alive, and the voyage's financial backers doubled their money.

Along the way, however, the crew of the vessels had become increasingly discontented, and mutiny was only averted thanks to the capture of a rich prize off the Mexican coast. 

Back in England, the crew successfully sued Rogers because they had not received a fair share of the expedition's profits and there were other legal complications. 

Dealings with the Dutch in Batavia violated the British East India Company's monopoly, and a legal battle ensued. The East India Company picked up £6,000 to settle their claim. While Rogers' share of the proceeds was some £1,600, most of that went settling debts his family had run up in his absence

As a result, and although his book A Cruising Voyage Round the World sold well Rogers was forced into bankruptcy.

After a successful expedition to Madagascar in 1713, Rogers' proposal to establish a colony there was vetoed by the East India Company, and he turned his attention to the West Indies. Rogers forged an agreement for his company to manage the pirate-infested colony in the Bahamas, receiving a share of the colony's profits in return. In two terms as Governor of the Bahamas, he succeeded in warding off Spanish threats and ridding the colony of pirates. 

His first term was, however, financially ruinous, and he was imprisoned for debt when he returned to England. Rogers was eventually absolved of his debts and went on to supply much of the information for a best-selling work (A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates) by one of London's writer-publishers. The author may have been Daniel Defoe, but the work was credited to Captain Charles Johnson. 

The book's success did, however, bring Rogers back into the national limelight. In 1726 he successfully petitioned George I for a pension, conveniently backdated to 1721, and George II reappointed him as governor of the Bahamas in October 1728. His second term as governor presented internal rather than external challenges centred around taxation and revenue, and Rogers died in Nassau in July 1732.

© Ian Hughes 2017