Woodes Rogers (c.1679-1732) was a privateer who eventually became Governor of the Bahamas. Born in Bristol to a prominent family, he married Sarah Whetstone in 1705, the daughter of Admiral Sir William Whetstone, also from Bristol. Concerned at the monopoly that the French and Spanish had in the South Sea, he presented a plan to the merchants of Bristol. Two ships, the ‘Duke’ and the ‘Duchess’ were fitted out and in 1708 they set sail with Captain William Dampier as pilot and master of the ‘Duke’.
On Dampier’s third voyage (1703-06) discord occurred amongst the crew which led to the quartermaster Alexander Selkirk requesting to be left behind on Juan Fernandez Island. A wise decision as the ‘Cinque Ports’ foundered leading to the loss of all but seven men.
After leaving Bristol in 1708 with Woodes Rogers, they set sail for the Canary Islands supressing a mutiny on the way. Working their way down the Atlantic coast of South America they rounded Cape Horn in bad weather in January 1709. They then headed for Juan Fernandez Island arriving on 31 January. The journal recounts two days later that ‘our pinnace return’d from the shore, and brought abundance of Craw-fish, with a Man clothed in Goat-Skins, who look’d wilder than the first Owners of them. He had been on the Island four Years and four Months’ (pages 124-5). Selkirk was still alive after being the solitary human inhabitant of the island. An account of his true adventures is given.
After refitting they sailed off the coasts of Chile and Peru capturing several vessels. In October 1709 off the coast of Mexico, they captured the Spanish Manilla galleon ‘Nuestra Senora de la Encarnacion Desengano’. Woodes was seriously injured in the incident but her holds were laden with riches. In January the fleet set sail across the Pacific, staying in Guam for a short while. Sailing for Batavia where they sold a captured vessel they then made for the Cape of Good Hope by late December 2010 where they stayed for four months. They reached the River Thames in Kent in October 1711. The total value of the treasure they captured was then placed at £800,000 which was split according to the prior shareholding agreement.
Encouraged by his friends Rogers first published his ‘Journal’ in 1712. ‘The work is considered a buccaneering classic’ (Hill). The first edition is rare having last been seen complete at auction in 2007. This second edition issued in 1718 is complete with all the folding plates. Whether the writer Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731) did meet Selkirk in a public house in Bristol is not known for sure, but we do know he knew Woodes Rogers. Either way, the book and Selkirk provided the inspiration for Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’, considered by many as the first English novel.
After a period of inactivity, Rogers was persuaded to become Governor of the Bahamas and sort out the 1,800 pirates who had taken over the island of New Providence. In 1729 he returned as Governor and died there in 1732. Cox (1935-39) I, 46; ESTC T131767; Hill (1974) p. 258; Howgego (2003) D9 & R61; Howes (1962) R421; ODNB; Preston (2004); Sabin (1868-1936) 72754; Suarez (2004) pp. 111-12.