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VAUGHAN, SIR WILLIAM, scholar, writer, poet, colonial promoter; b. 1575, second son of Walter Vaughan of Golden Grove, Carmarthenshire, and his wife Katherine; d. August 1641 at Llangyndeyrn, Carmarthen, where he was buried.

Vaughan matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford, in 1592; in 1595 he received the degree of b.a. and two years later that of m.a. He supplicated for b.c.l. in December 1600 but went abroad before taking his degree. He travelled widely in Europe, receiving the degree of doctor of law in Vienna. He had returned to England by the summer of 1603 and in July 1605 was incorporated d.c.l. at Oxford.

At this time Vaughan settled at Llangyndeyrn, became a justice of the peace, and married Elizabeth, the daughter of David ap Robert of Llangyndeyrn, by whom he had a son Francis. The child seems to have died young and his wife also died in 1608. Vaughan probably devoted most of his time to writing; his first book had been published in 1597 and in 1600 his most famous work, The golden grove, appeared. The purpose of the book was to assist “all such as would know how to gouerne themselues, their houses and their country”; it dealt with the three phases of man’s life according to the Aristotelian concept – the moral, the economic, and the political.

In The golden grove, Vaughan revealed his preoccupation with the economic plight of Wales and it seems to have been the idea of helping his fellow countrymen that first interested him in overseas colonization. A colony, Vaughan thought, would relieve the overpopulation, poverty, and apathy surrounding him. In Wales he saw men starve while land went uncultivated and maritime enterprise was ignored, although across the Severn, trade – and especially the Newfoundland fishery – brought prosperity to Devon. To Vaughan, as to many contemporaries, colonization was a remedy for the ills afflicting their society.

As a site Vaughan thought first of Soldana or St. Helena but these he rejected as too distant, having a bad climate, and being liable to Spanish attack. He turned next to America; neither Bermuda nor Virginia attracted him and finally he chose Newfoundland as being easy of access and providing a staple, saleable commodity, fish. “I saw,” he wrote later in The golden fleece, “that God had reserved the Newfoundland for us Britaines.”

In 1616 Vaughan purchased land from the Newfoundland company which had been established in 1610. It was the first of a number of alienations made by the company, probably for financial reasons. Vaughan received part of the Avalon peninsula lying south of a line from Caplin Bay to Placentia Bay, according to John Mason’s map (1625), and including the much frequented harbours of Ferryland, Fermeuse, and Renewse. The name which he bestowed upon his land reflected his impractical idealism; he called it Cambriol for it was to be a second Wales founded in the New World. His over-optimistic enthusiasm is revealed in The golden fleece: “This is our Colchos, where the Golden Fleece flourisheth on the backes of Neptunes sheepe, continually to be shorne. This is Great Britaines Indies, never to be exhausted dry.”

That Vaughan was not the man to transform these dreams into reality became apparent in the first year of settlement. In 1617 he despatched his first colonists to Renewse. We do not know how many he sent or what sort of people they were, but as pioneers in a hard land they proved totally inadequate. Furthermore, they appear to have had no experienced leader for it was not until 1618 that Richard Whitbourne took up his appointment as governor. On arrival he found that they had not even built themselves a habitation but had lived out the winter with only the fishermen’s shacks for shelter.

Although Whitbourne succeeded in reorganizing the settlement, by 1619 the venture had collapsed and the colonists left. The following year Vaughan, “finding the Burthern too heavy for my weake Shoulders,” assigned a part of his grant to Henry Cary, later Lord Falkland. Subsequently, at the instigation of his brother, the Earl of Carbery, Vaughan made over some of his land to Sir George Calvert (later Lord Baltimore). There remained to Vaughan the land south of a line from Renewse to Placentia Bay. About 1621 or 1622 Vaughan re-established his colony at Trepassey Bay; in 1624 it was said to be prospering but of its later fortunes we know little.

Vaughan certainly retained his interest in Newfoundland. In 1625 he published John Mason’s map of the island in his book Cambrensium Caroleia, written to celebrate the accession of Charles I, and in the following year The golden fleece appeared. The golden fleece is an extraordinary work, in vivid contrast to the more prosaic and practical propagandist tracts on Newfoundland which Whitbourne and Mason had written. Its purpose was simple enough: Vaughan was anxious to promote the island as a place for settlement. Success, he believed, would relieve overpopulation at home, treble England’s present income from the fishery which he estimated to be £20,000, and generally increase trade.

In none of this does The golden fleece vary much from other promotion literature; it is rather Vaughan’s method of presentation which is unique. He imagines Apollo holding court as arbiter in all matters – religious, political, economic, and moral. The first part of the book is largely an attack on Roman Catholicism; the second deals with the ills afflicting the state and their remedies, the third with ways to obtain wealth so as to restore the state. It is this third part which is most concerned with Newfoundland. Vaughan calls on those most intimately connected with the colonization of the island, among them John Guy and John Mason, to give evidence on Newfoundland’s resources and potentialities; to prove, in fact, that the golden fleece is to be found there. Much of what Vaughan has to say here is sound and practical, if not very original; however, such passages are so well concealed amongst pages of fantasy, classical, biblical, and historical allusions, and tirades against Catholicism that, as a propaganda document, the whole makes very little impact.

One passage in The golden fleece suggests that Vaughan has been forced to suspend his colonizing activities through lack of funds (sig. Blv). Two years later, in 1628, the erstwhile governor of the Bristol plantation, Robert Hayman, encouraged Vaughan to take up the enterprise again; he also says that Vaughan had intended to visit the plantation himself but had been prevented by ill health. It has been said that Vaughan went to Newfoundland himself before this, the usual date given being 1622, that he wrote The golden fleece there, and returned to England in 1625 or 1626 (Prowse, History of Nfld., 111; DNB). The source of this statement is most probably the title page of The golden fleece for the work is described as being “Transported from Cambrioll Colchos, out of the Southermost Part of the Iland, commonly called the Newfoundland.” As the book is written in such a high, fantastic style and under the pseudonym of Orpheus Junior, it seems most likely that this is merely a poetic formula not to be taken literally. Vaughan describes his Newfoundland activities and gives a good deal of autobiographical material in both The golden fleece and The Newlanders cure (1630); if he had been to the island, he would surely have mentioned it. Moreover he was involved in a suit before the Exchequer court in 1624 (PRO, E146/113/21 Jac. I). These two facts, together with Hayman’s statement, suggest that Vaughan did not go to Newfoundland, at least before 1628.

In that year Vaughan was in Ireland where he was knighted. There is a slight possibility that he did visit Newfoundland after this date for, about this time, he had interested a new group of adventurers in the scheme. Chief among them was his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Salusbury of Llewenni. Salusbury had apparently received from Lord Falkland a narrow belt of land, stretching north from Fermeuse to the boundary of Lord Baltimore’s estates. Salusbury was given advice on plantation by such experts as John Guy, first governor of the Cuper’s (now Cupids) Cove colony, and Nicholas Guy, a settler of long experience. He had taken no action by 1630 when Vaughan published The Newlanders cure. This was a medical work designed to help emigrants and it contained remedies for such maladies as scurvy and seasickness; it was perhaps occasioned by the sufferings of Baltimore’s colonists in 1628. It has been said that Vaughan spent the years 1628 to 1630 in Newfoundland (DNB; Thomas, “Iscenum . . . ,” 121), but the impression which he gives in The Newlanders cure is that he is still hoping to go.

It is most probable, however, that the rest Vaughan’s life was spent in Wales. He had married as his second wife Anne, the daughter of John Christmas of Colchester, by whom he had six children. In the last years of his life he published two works of a religious nature and he died in August 1641, his will being proved at Carmarthen on 27 August.

As a colonial promoter Vaughan failed to realize his ambitions. His settlements, first at Renewse then at Trepassey had a precarious existence partly through lack of money, partly because with the exception of Richard Whitbourne they do not seem to have had a competent and experienced governor. Such a man was essential for Vaughan himself was not practical nor does he seem to have possessed powers of organization and leadership. His books reveal that many of his plans were sound. He saw that the fishery should not be the sole support of a colony; he intended that industry, agriculture, and fishing should be so co-ordinated as to provide income and employment throughout the year. But he lacked the ability to put his schemes into operation.

In defence of Vaughan it may be said that he displayed great qualities of perseverance and that few of his contemporaries met with much success in their attempts to settle in Newfoundland. Vaughan also provided us with some of the earliest English literature on North America.

Gillian T. Cell

Vaughan’s published works are: ’Eρωτoπαίγνίoν pium (London, 1597); ’Eρωτoπαίγνίoν pium : Pars secunda (London, 1598); Poematum libellus (London, 1598); Speculum humane condicionis (London, 1598); The golden grove (London, 1600; 2d ed. 1608); Natural and artificiall directions for health (London, 1600; 2d ed., 1602; 3d ed., 1607); Approved directions for health (4th ed., 1612), Directions for health (5th ed., 1617; 6th ed., 1626; 7th ed., 1633); The spirit of detraction conjured and convicted in seven circles (London, 1611; another issue, with the title The arraignment of slander, 1630); Cambrensium Caroleia (London, 1625; another issue, 1630); The golden fleece [Orpheus Junior, pseud.] (London, 1626); The Newlanders cure (London, 1630); The church militant (London, 1640); The soules exercise (London, 1641).

National Library of Wales, mss 1595 E, 5390 D. Nottingham University, Middleton mss, Mi X 1/51. PRO, E. 146/113, 21 James I. R. Eburne, A plaine path-way to plantations (London, 1624). R. Hayman, Quodlibets, lately come over from New Britaniola (London, 1628).

Carmarthenshire Antiq. Soc. Trans., X (1914–15), 70. DNBDictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940, ed. J. E. Lloyd and R. T. Jenkins (London, 1959). J. J. Jones, “The golden fleece,” Nat. Library Wales J., III (1943–44), 58–60. Northwestern University Graduate School, Summaries of doctoral dissertations, XVII (1949), 30–34, summary of W. F. Marquardt’s “A critical edition of Sir William Vaughan’s The golden grove.” Prowse, History of Nfld. Register of the University of Oxford (1571–1622), ed. C. W. Boase and A. Clark (2v. [II in 4 pts.], Oxford Hist. Soc., 1884–89), II, pts. 1–3. W. A. Shaw, The knights of England (2v., London, 1906). D. Ll. Thomas, “Iscennen and Golden Grove,” Honourable Soc. of Cymmrodorion Trans., 1940, 115–29. E. R. Williams, “Cambriol, the story of a forgotten colony,” Welsh Outlook, VIII (1921), 230–33.

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Cite This Article

Gillian T. Cell, “VAUGHAN, SIR WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 26, 2017, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/vaughan_william_1E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/vaughan_william_1E.html
Author of Article: Gillian T. Cell
Title of Article: VAUGHAN, SIR WILLIAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1966
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: March 26, 2017