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William Adams

William Adams (September 24, 1564 - May 16, 1620) is an English navigator who went to Japan.

He was born at Gillingham[?], near Chatham, England. After losing his father at the age of 12, he was apprenticed to shipyard owner Master Nicholas Diggins at Limehouse for the seafaring life. He spent the next 12 years learning shipbuilding, astronomy and navigation afterwards entering the British navy. After serving in the Royal Navy under Sir Francis Drake, Adams became a pilot for the company Barbary Merchants. During this service, he took part in an expedition to the Arctic that lasted about two years in search of a Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia to the Far East.

Attracted by the Dutch trade with India, Adams, then 34, shipped as pilot major with a five-ship fleet despatched from the Texel to the Far East in 1598 by a company of Rotterdam merchants.

He set sail from Rotterdam in June 1598 on the 'De Hoop' and joined up with the rest of the fleet ('De Liefde,' 'Het Geloof,' 'De Trouw,' and 'Blijde Boodschop') on June 24. During the voyage, which took them via the west coast of Africa, across to the east coast of South America, through the Magellan Straits, and up the coastline of Chile, the fleet was scattered and several ships were lost. Adams changed ships to the 'De Liefde' (originally 'Erasmus' because of the wooden figurehead of Erasmus on her bow) and waited for the other ships at Santa Maria Island. Only the 'De Hoop' arrived. It was late November 1599 when the two ships sailed westwardly for Japan. A typhoon claimed the 'De Hoop' in late February 1600.

The vessels, boats ranging from 75 to 250 tons and crowded with men, were driven to the coast of Guinea, where the adventurers attacked the island of Annabon for supplies, and finally reached the straits of Magellan[?]. Scattered by stress of weather the following spring the " Charity," with Adams on" board, and the "Hope," met at length off the coast of Chile, where the captains of both vessels lost their lives in an encounter with the Indians. In fear of the Spaniards, the remaining crews determined to sail across the Pacific. On this voyage the " Hope " was lost, but in April 1600 the " Charity," with a crew of sick and dying men, was brought to anchor off the island of Kiushiu[?], Japan. Adams was summoned to Osaka and there examined by lyeyasu[?], the guardian of the young son of Taiko Sama[?], the ruler, who had just died. His knowledge of ships and shipbuilding, and his nautical smattering of mathematics, raised him in the estimation of the shogun, and he was subsequently presented with an estate at Hemi[?] near Yokosuka[?]; but was refused permission to return to England. In 1611 news came to him of an English settlement in Bantam, and he wrote asking for help. In 1613 Captain John Saris arrived at Hirado[?] in the ship " Clove " with the object of establishing a trading factory for the British East India Company, and after obtaining the necessary concessions from the shogun, Adams postponed his voyage home (permission for which had now been given him) in order to take a leading part, under Richard Cocks, in the organization of this new English settlement. He had already married a Japanese woman, by whom he had a family, and the latter part of his life was spent in the service of the English trading company, for whom he undertook a number of voyages to Siam in 1616, and Cochin China in 1617 and 1618. He died on the 16th of May 1620, some three years before the dissolution of the English factory. His Japanese title was Anjin[?] Sama, and his memory was preserved in the naming of a street in Yedo[?], Anjin Cho[?] (Pilot Street), and by an annual celebration on June 15 in his honour.

See England's Earliest Intercourse with Japan, by C. VV. Hillary (1905); Letters written by the English Residents in Japan, ed. by N. Murakami (1900, containing Adams's Letters reprinted from Memorials of the Empire of Japan, ed. by T. Rundall, Hakluyt Society, 1850); Diary of Richard Cocks, with preface by N. Murakami (1899, reprinted from the Hakluyt Society ed. 1883); R. Hildreth's Japan (1855); J. Harris's Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca (1764), i. 856; Voyage of John Saris, ed. by Sir E. M. Satow (Hakluyt Society, 1900); Asiatic Society of Japan Transactions, xxvi. (sec. 1898) pp. I and 194, where four more hitherto unpublished letters of Adams are given; Collection of State Papers; East Indies, China and Japan. The MS. of his logs written during his voyages to Siam and China is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

In James Clavell's "Shogun," the fictional heroics of John Blackthorne are loosely based on Adams' exploits.

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When the 'De Liefde' made landfall April 19, 1600, off Bungo (present-day Usaki City, Oita Prefecture), only nine of the remaining 24 crew members could even stand. Allegations by Portuguese priests that Adams' ship was a pirate vessel led to seizure, and the sickly crew was imprisoned at Osaka Castle on orders by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.

But the Shogun took a liking to Adams, eventually making him a revered diplomatic and trade adviser and bestowing great privileges upon him. In 1604, Ieyasu ordered Adams to build a western-style sailing ship at Ito, on the east coast of Izu Peninsula. An 80-ton vessel was completed and the Shogun ordered a larger ship, 120 tons, to be built the following year.

Ieyasu's rewards for Adams' service and loyalty were grand, and included a large house in the new capital of Tokyo. The most impressive, however, were two swords. A badge of rank and authority, the swords transformed Adams the English pilot into Miura Anjin the samurai. Along with this came a fief at Hemi, within the boundaries of present-day Yokosuka City, a handsome salary, and the means to marry Oyuki, the daughter of Magome Kageyu, a noble samurai and official of Edo Castle, which stood in present day Tokyo. (1)

Adams and Oyuki settled in Hemi and had a son, Joseph, and a daughter, Susanna. The Anjin, however, found it hard to rest his feet and was constantly on the road. Initially, it was in the vain attempt to organize an expedition in search of the Arctic passage that had eluded him previously. But in 1613, he became preoccupied with trading after helping the British East India Company set up a trading post near Nagasaki, then setting up his own. Under contract with the English company, Adams sailed to Okinawa, Thailand and Indochina.

Adams died at Hirado, north of Nagasaki, on May 16, 1620. He was 56.


NOTE (1): Adams had a wife and children in England, but Ieyasu had forbidden the Englishman to leave Japan. In a true stroke of wisdom, the Shogun decreed that William Adams was dead and that Miura Anjin, a samurai, was born. This made Will's wife in England, in effect, a widow, and "freed" Adams to serve him on a permanent basis. Also, only as a samurai, was he eligible to marry a samurai's daughter.



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