Christopher Newport has been immortalised in history thanks to his part in helping found the settlement of Jamestown in Virginia, one of America’s early colonial settlements. As such, there are many sources out there detailing his life and the major moments thereof, so this blog post will look at various things that are more relevant to Harwich, and perhaps less discussed in general.
Newport was baptised at Harwich St Nicholas in 1561, the record for this stating “Christopher the sonne of Christofer Neweporte and of Jane his w. was bapt. the 29 of December“. Looking at various records that discuss him, it seems as though the connection between this baptism record and Newport was not established until as late as the 1950s, most historians estimating the year of his birth as 1565 until then.
The family of Newports originated from the parish of Stepney, specifically the hamlet of Limehouse, explaining why they eventually moved back there, and our Christopher lived there for the best part of 20 years. They appeared to move back there due to Jane’s failing health; her burial record at St Dunstan, dated July 3 1584, states “Jone [sic] wife of Christofer Newport of Harw’ch buried from Mr Bigates of Limehous“. Mr Bigate was William, husband of an Agnes Newport, assumed to be the sister of Christopher Newport senior (there are plenty of little connections relating to Newport women and their marriages that link various people together, but are too numerous and bitty to go into here).
As an aside, there was another Newport family living in Harwich at the time of Christopher’s baptism, which was highly unusual due to the dearth of Newports otherwise, yet despite this, these two Newport families did not appear to be directly related. The second family, of which John Newport was the head, originated from Walton in Suffolk, a small parish just north of Felixstowe – during the mid-16th century, a number of Harwich residents either originated from there, or held property there. John’s will, written in 1570, is available.
Back to Christopher, on October 19 1584, a Christopher Newport married Katherine Procter. While this could feasibly be Christopher sr remarrying, a 1586 burial record of an unbaptised child suggests this was our Christopher. Confusingly, the next reference to the wife of a Christopher Newport, dated January 4 1591, is the burial of “Em wife of Christofer Newport of Lymehowse”; the implication is that Katherine died and Newport married an Em (Eme/Emma), but neither the burial nor the marriage are recorded in the St Dunstan registers. By the end of the month, Newport had married Ellen Ade, and five months later his father Christopher sr was buried.
From here, Newport’s life is well-documented, so let us skip to the end of it. In about November 1616, the East India Company set forth a voyage, one of many that they had organised, and Newport had been a part of. Within the fleet set forth was the Hope of London, which Newport captained. On board was his son Christopher Newport, later described as master’s mate, and one Henry Ravens, the master, whose relevance will be explained shortly.
The Court Minutes of the East India Company explain that Newport and the Hope arrived at Bantam (in Indonesia) on August 15 1617, and that he died “shortly after“, but to this day the exact date and cause of death remain unknown. By browsing through the wills proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, as provided by the National Archives, we can determine that this fleet returned to England in about September 1618, as in the month or so following, many wills of mariners who died during the voyage were proved, including those of Newport, his son, and the aforementioned Henry Ravens.
Newport’s son Christopher wrote his will on board the Hope in April 1618, so we know he survived his father by at least eight months. Newport jr made note of many of the Ravens family, including Henry and his brother Christopher, but most intriguingly he says of “my Aunte Johane Ravens“, implying the Newports were connected to the Ravens via marriage.
It is not yet known how exactly, but the registers of Harwich St Nicholas provide a clue. On April 22 1588 we learn that “Harye Ravens was maried unto Jone Daye” (Harry being an alternative of Henry), this Joan almost certainly being the aunt mentioned. For further proof, in the baptism register, dated May 22 1589, we find the baptism of one “Henrie Ravens“; while his parents are not given, they will have been Henry & Joan, and this young Henry was surely the future master of the Hope (in fact Henry names his mother as “Johane” or Joan in his will). It seems as though this Ravens family moved to Limehouse by 1591, as they disappear from Harwich St Nicholas and appear in Stepney St Dunstan. Of note is that the Ravens eventually made it back to Harwich, records existing of them onwards from the 1630s.
For a bonus bit of historical content, Henry Ravens senior was part of the infamous 1609 wreckage of the Sea Venture, along with Newport. We learn through Hakluyt that Ravens set off for Virginia by himself, but was unsuccessful. Ravens had sailed with Newport on a number of voyages before this, as well.