In the end, in thirty-two degrees 1 1/2, wee cam in sight of the lande, being the nineteenth day of April. So that betweene the Cape of Santa Maria and Iapon, we were four moneths and twentie-two daies; at which time there were no more than sixe besides my selfe that could stand vpon his feet. So we in safetie let fall our anchor about a league from a place called Bungo. . . .
This Hand of Iapon is a great land, and lyeth to the northwards, in the lattetude of eight and fortie degrees, and it lyeth east by north, and west by south or west south west, two hundred and twentie English leagues. The people of this Hand of Iapon are good of nature, curteous aboue measure, and valiant in warre. . . .
Your Worships, to whom this present wry ting shall come, is to geve you understand that I am a Kentish man, borne in a towne called Gillingham, two English miles from Rochester, one mile from Chattam, where the Kings ships doe lye: and that from the age of twelue years olde, I was brought up in Limehouse near London, being Apprentice twelue years to Master Nicholas Diggines; and my selfe haue served in her Maiesties ships; and about eleuen or twelue years haue served the Worshipfull Companie of the Barbarie Merchants, vntill the Indish traffick from Holland (began), in which Indish traffick I was desirous to make a lettel experience of the small knowledge which God had geven me. So, in the yeare of our Lord 1598, I was hired for Pilot Maior of a fleete of five sayle, which was made readie by the Indish Companie. . . .
So wrote the English pilot, Will Adams, from Japan in the eleventh year of the seventeenth century, to the “Right Honourable Companye, ye Marchants of London trading into ye East Indyes.”
More, too, he wrote, this Elizabethan seaman who was a samurai of Japan, the confidant and adviser of one of the mightiest rulers of Asia, Iyeyasu, the first of the Tokugawa shoguns. He told of sailing from the Texel on June 20, 1598, as second in command of a fleet of five Dutch Indiamen under Admiral Mahu; ships named with ironical optimism the Faith, Hope, and Charity, the Fidelity, and the Good News. Only one of the five came limping to Japan on that April morning in 1600, de Liefde or the Charity, manned by a crew of sick and dying men. The other vessels perished in the sea or were lost on the inimical coast of Chile. Yet de Liefde brought to Japan one of the most remarkable of those foreigners to whom the opening of that land has been due. Will Adams was for a decade the trusted adviser in foreign affairs of the greatest of the Tokugawa shoguns. He it was who brought the English East India Company to Japan and who secured for British trade privileges more liberal than were granted to any other nation during all but the last years of the three centuries of Tokugawa rule. The story of this pilot, seaman, and samurai, is one of the most romantic in an age that was crammed with deeds of adventure. It is told in his own words in the form of a half dozen or more letters and in the fragmentary log books which remain as evidence of his many voyages in the China Sea. It is from the letters and log books of Adams that the writer has taken most of the material for this brief study.
Because the life of Adams was so replete with adventure, most writers about him are content to start their narratives after his arrival in Japan. It is almost imperative to do so if adequate mention is to be made of the score of years he dwelt in that Empire; but one passes with regret the narration of the traverse of the Dutch fleet down the Gulf of Guinea, where they “tooke” the island of Anabon and tarried two months before continuing to the Straits of Magellan. Apparently Timothy Shotten, another English pilot in the Dutch service and a man who had gone around the world with Cavendish, led the way to the straits, where the fleet wintered in 1599.
Upon leaving the Pacific entrance of the straits, the five ships were dispersed by storm, but it had been previously arranged to rendezvous on the coast of Chile in latitude 46. De Liefde anchored off Cape Santa Maria to provision from the Indians, but the fierce Auracanians ambushed the captain of the vessel and a score of the crew, killing them to a man, so that the vessel with her depleted complement was forced to seek shelter in the lee of the near-by island of Santa Maria. Here she encountered the flagship, which had met with a similar disaster at the hands of the aborigines on the island of Mocha. A council was held and it was agreed that the skeleton crews of both ships should join forces in one, the other vessel being burned; but at this juncture the rivalry of the two Dutch commanders intervened and at last neither was willing to give up his ship. So it was that the two vessels in company, fearing the King’s ships of Spain and hearing that in Japan there was an ample market for the Dutch cloth they carried, set forth from Chile for Japan on November 27, 1599. The two Indiamen passed the equator in company and held together until above 20 degrees north latitude, when there was encountered “a wonderous storme of winde” and the flagship was forever lost from view. On April 19, de Liefde limped up the Strait of Bungo and Will Adams had come to Japan. He was in the prime of manhood, in the thirty-fifth year of his age.
The crew of de Liefde, numbering twenty-four in all, were given aid by the Daimyo of Bungo, while messengers were dispatched to the shogun with news of the arrival of the Dutch. The Japanese had known foreigners in their islands for two generations, but these had been Portuguese merchants and missionaries. De Liefde was the first ship from a nation of northern Europe. Iyeyasu, the shogun, was therefore naturally interested to learn what manner of men these newcomers might be and sent “fiue gallies, or frig- gates,” to bring Adams to his court, which was then sitting at Osaka, in the vast castle which Hideyoshi had built a decade or so before.
At Osaka, Adams was kept in confinement, but he had three or more interviews with the great Tokugawa. At the second of these the pilot relates,
A two dayes after, the Emperour called me again, demaunding the reason of our comming so farre. I aunswered: we were a people that sought all friendship with all nations, and to baue trade in all countries, bring such marchandiz as our countrey did afford into strange landes, in the way of traflick. He demanded also as conserning the warres between Spaniard or Portingall and our countrey, and the reasons; the which I gaue him to understand of all things, which he was glad to heare, as it seemed to me.
Nevertheless, Adams was in constant fear of death during the 41 days he lay in captivity at Osaka. He was aware that the Portuguese Jesuits, fearing the presence of an enemy and a “heretic,” were constantly urging upon the government that he be crucified. Crucifixion in Japan was no pleasant thing, consisting as it did of transfixation of the body diagonally with two spears. However, Iyeyasu was one of the wisest rulers who ever guided the destinies of Japan and he took his own counsel in the case of the English pilot. Eventually Adams was given his liberty and, de Liefde having in the meantime been brought up the Inland Sea to Sakai, he piloted her to the Bay of Yedo (Tokyo), at which city the shogunate was established.
Of the first thirteen years Will Adams spent in Japan the only sources of information are the letters of the pilot himself and the records of the Jesuit missionaries, with some auxiliary mention in the Spanish annals of the galleon trade between Mexico and Manila. We know from Adams’s own account that for the first two years the survivors of the crew of de Liefde were kept under surveillance, and that at the end of this period the ship’s money was divided among them, share and share, each man being free to settle where he might choose. Iyeyasu endowed the foreigners with a stipend of two pounds of rice per day per man and an additional income amounting to about eleven or twelve ducats a year. None, however, was given permission to leave Japan. Adams himself sought this dispensation of the shogun but was refused. A measure of his rising influence with Iyeyasu, nevertheless, is given by the fact that in 1605 he was successful in securing the permission of the shogun for the Dutch Captain, Quaeckernaeck, and Melchior van Santvoort to leave Japan.
Adams set great store upon Quaeckernaeck sending home news of his fate, and it was real poignancy that he set forth in the first of his extant letters:
In the end he [Quaeckernaeck] went from Patane [Patani] to lor [Johore], where he found a fleet of nine saile: of which fleet Matleef was General, and in this fleet he was made Master againe, which fleet sailed to Malacca, and fought with an armado of Portingalls: in which battel he was shot, and presently died: so that as yet, I think, no certain newes is knownen, whether I be liuing or dead. Therefore I do pray and intreate you in the name of Jesus Christ to doe so much as to make my being here in Iapon knownen to my poor wife: in a manner a widdow, and my two children fatherlesse: which thing only is my greatest griefe of heart, and conscience . . . [for] I doe as yet liue in this vale of my sorrowfull pilgrimage. . . .
Notwithstanding this dolorous tone, Adams had done better in “this vale of his sorrowfull pilgrimage” than had he been piloting the seas of the world with occasional visits home with his “wife in a manner a widdow and his two children fatherlesse.” The West does not clearly realize how truly great a ruler was Tokugawa Iyeyasu. In an age replete with genius he could hold his own with Babar or Elizabeth. Of the great trio who formed the mold of Japan at the turn of the sixteenth century—Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Iyeyasu—the latter was beyond doubt the greatest statesman, although the peasant- born Hideyoshi was perhaps the greatest general Japan ever produced. Therefore, it is the more astounding that the humble English pilot attained a favor with Iyeyasu not shared by the greatest Daimyo of Japan. Adams states it himself with the simplicity of a seaman:
... at his commaund I buylt him a ship of the burthen of eightie tunnes, or there about: which ship being in all respects as our manner is, he comming aboord to see it, liked it very well: by which meanes I came in more fauor with him. so that I came often in his presence, who from time to time gaue me presents, and at length a yearly stipend to liue vpon, much about seuentie ducats by the yeare, with two pounds of rice a day, daily. Now beeing in such grace and fauor, by reason I learned him some points of jeometry, and vunderstanding of the art of mathematickes, with other things: I pleased him so, that what I said he would not contrarie.
There was no whit of exaggeration in this statement, as the Chronicles of the envious Portuguese well demonstrate. At length Will Adams attained such favor with Iyeyasu that he was made a nobleman of Japan, less than a daimio, but clearly a samurai, privileged to wear two swords and to execute summary justice on offenders of lower estate. To use Adams’s own words,
Now for my seruice which I haue doen and daily doe, being employed in the Emperours seruice, he hath giuen me a liuing, like unto a lordship in England, with eightie or ninetie husbandmen, that be as my slaues or servants: which, or the like president, was neuer here before geven to any stranger.
This fief of Will Adams was at Hemi, on the Tokaido or Road of the Eastern Sea, on which all traffic passed from western Japan to Yedo. Today Hemi-mura is near the great naval base of Yokosuka and on a hill in Hemi are buried the pilot and his Japanese wife. She was the daughter of Magome Kageyu and by her Adams had two children, Joseph and Susannah. The house in which Adams lived in Yedo is now located in the heart of Tokyo, only a block or so from the largest department store in Asia. The street is still called Anjin-cho from the Japanese name of Adams, An jin or pilot. By some process of illogic nevertheless appropriate, the people of Anjin-cho have made the house of Adams a memorial both for him and for that other great opener of Japan, the American diplomat, Townsend Harris. They were two centuries and a half apart in time, but infinitely close in the role each played.
So pleased was Iyeyasu with the first foreign-style vessel which Adams had built for him that he caused the pilot to construct a second and larger craft of 120 tons burden. The history of this ship is interesting. In 1609 the Manila galleon San Francisco, bearing the Governor of the Philippines, Don Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco, was cast away on the coast of Japan. She was a huge vessel for those days, of 1,000 tons burden, with a complement of 380 passengers and crew. Iyeyasu, with true Japanese courtesy, placed at the disposal of the distressed Governor the ship which Adams had built and in this vessel, renamed the Santa Buenaventura, Don Rodrigo crossed the Pacific to New Spain. Murdoch, the historian, says that a Japanese crew took her across, receiving great acclaim in Mexico before they returned in the same vessel to Japan. The Santa Buenaventura on this passage carried Soto- mayor as Ambassador to Iyeyasu from the Viceroy of New Spain. She was later used in the Manila trade and possibly was in the galleon transit out of Acapulco.
As the result of the return of the ill-fated Quaeckernaeck and van Santvoort to the Dutch Indies in 1605-6, the Dutch East India Company sent a vessel with van Santvoort as interpreter which arrived at Hirado on the north coast of Kyushu in 1609 and received permission to trade. Two years later the Dutch Indiaman Brack came up to Hirado and Adams met the Dutch envoys at the seat of Iyeyasu, which was the city of Suruga, now modern Shizuoka. The great Tokugawa had ostensibly retired from the shogunate in favor of his son, Hidetada, but the real power of Japan was exercised by Iyeyasu and the capital was more in Suruga than in Yedo. Adams accompanied the Dutch when they were received by Iyeyasu on August 17, 1611, and was instrumental in securing for them a license to trade. In the same year he also acted as interpreter for Iyeyasu in receiving the Spanish mission of Soto- mayor and brought upon the Spaniards the disfavor of the ruler by his blunt statement that the action of the Spanish ships in taking soundings off the coast of Japan would be in Europe considered an act of war. Nevertheless, in the next year both the Spaniards and the Portuguese entreated Adams to intercede for them at court in the matter of trading privileges, in itself significant indication of his unusual power in the shogunal hierarchy. Adams refused this request.
This building of ships to be used by Spaniards and this intercession at court on behalf of the Dutch were all very well, but what Adams really sought was the establishment of trading relations between Japan and England. It is clear from the evidence of dates that he had either written earlier letters to the East India Company in London than his first extant letter of October 22, 1611, or that news of his position in Japan had previously reached the Company of Merchant Adventurers, for on April 18, 1611, the company’s ship Clove under Captain John Saris sailed for Japan by way of Bantam. She reached Hirado on July 11,1613.
Of all the servants of the East India Company charged with ventures of great moment, perhaps none was so unfortunately chosen as John Saris. He was opinionated without knowledge, stubborn without justification, and proud without reason. Through the work of Will Adams he was granted by Iyeyasu privileges of trade more ample than were again given foreigners in Japan for 250 years; but through his mistaken handling of this opportunity the English factory in Japan was a loss to the company.
An initial mistake was the selection of the wrong place for the factory. Adams had explained to Saris as he did in a letter to the Company’s Cape-Marchant at Bantam, Spalding, that
yf a ship do coum, lett her coum for the esterly part of Japan, lying in 35d. 10m. whear the Kinge and ye Emperour court is: for coum our ships to Ferando (Hirado) whear the Hollanders bee, it is farr to ye court, about 230 L., a werysoum way and foul. The citti of Edo lyeth in 36, and about this esterly part of the land thear be the best harbors and a cost so cleer as theayr is no sholdes nor rokes 1/2 a myll from the mayn land. It is good also for the sale of marchandis and security for ships, for which cass I haue sent a pattron [chart] of Japan, for which my self I hau been all about the cost in the shipping I haue made for ye Emperour, that I hau experyence of all yt part of ye cost that lyeth in 36d. etc.
Notwithstanding this unimpeachable logic, Saris turned a deaf ear to Adams and insisted that the English factory be at Hirado on the north coast of Kyushu, hundreds of miles from the capital and distant a journey of three weeks’ duration. This was his initial blunder.
Saris’ second great mistake was in misleading the company as to the nature of the trade with Japan. His list of “Goods Vendible in Japan” included commodities which could not be sold when they reached that Empire; while his glowing account of how the company could obtain great store of silver from Japan for the conduct of trade with other parts of Asia was totally erroneous. Will Adams, to whom was due the entire success of Saris in even reaching Iyeyasu, to say nothing of the privileges he secured for the English company, he dismissed with the contemptuous remark, “And for Mr. Adams he is onlye fittinge to be mr. [master] of the junke.”
However, the character of the “Captain Generali” of the Clove was not known to Adams when that ship first reached Japan. The pilot was then at Suruga at the Court of Iyeyasu and hastened at once to Hirado, where he met the Englishmen on July 29, 1613. He accompanied Saris and his part}' back to Suruga and acted as interpreter when Saris was presented to Iyeyasu. Privately the great Tokugawa discussed with Will Adams the whole problem of the coming of the Englishmen. He asked the advice of the pilot as to the request of Saris for trading privileges, whereupon Adams replied,
I told him to settell a factory in his land. He asked me in what plac. I told him, hereon, I did think not far from his court, or the kinges [Ilidetada, the nominal shogun] courtt; at which he seemed verry glad. And hauing mvch speech heer and thear, he asked me if part of his [Saris’] covming was not for discouer to farther partes to the northwestward, or, northwards.
In other words, Iyeyasu and undoubtedly Adams were interested in exploration to the north of Honshu. Iyeyasu sought to bring the Hokaido and the northern islands under his dominion, while in Adams’s heart burned the great Elizabethan dream of the Northwest Passage. Adams again and again asked the company to let him take a ship northward on a voyage of exploration, and the great Admirals of Japan, Mukai Bungo-no-Kami and his son, Mukai Shogen, were keenly interested in such an exploit, as was Iyeyasu; but the Company of Merchant Adventurers was concerned in voyages which promised a more tangible return and Adams died without his dearest ambition being realized.
After proceeding to Yedo to pay their respects to the ostensible Shogun, Hide-tada, Adams and Saris returned to Suruga, where Iyeyasu granted the British trading privileges of astounding liberality. The first article, written in Japanese and translated by Adams, read, Imprimis. We give free license to the King of England’s Subjects, Sir Thos. Smith, Governor, and Companye of theast India Marchants forever safely to come into anye of our Portes or Empire of Japan . . . and to abide, buy, sell, and barter according to there one manner with all Nations: And to tarye so long as they will, and depart at there Pleasures.
There was even provision in the fourth article for extraterritoriality, all offenses by the English factors to be punished in the discretion of the resident Cape-Mar- chant, “and our Lawes to take no hould either of there Persons or Goods.”
The amplitude of these privileges is to be realized when compared with the restricted trade of the Portuguese and Dutch in Nagasaki or Hirado, and with the later confinement of all trade to those ports by Hidetada. Ultimately foreign trade under the Tokugawa shoguns was restricted solely to the Dutch, imprisoned on their isle of Deshima in Nagasaki Harbor, and to a few Chinese. Thus the carte blanche given the English by Iyeyasu for trade anywhere in Japan is the more remarkable.
This amazingly liberal grant was due solely to the influence of Will Adams with Iyeyasu. This is confirmed by the Company’s own servants, other than Saris. Thus one finds Richard Wickham, who lost no love for Adams, admitting in a letter to the Company that
the Privileges obtained . . . were never before granted to any other foreigners, nor ever had been granted to them but through the favour the ould Emperour bare to Captain Adames.
This was the acme of Will Adams’s career. He lived seven more years in Japan, still a samurai, still the lord of Hemi; but the climax of his power was when he secured the privilege for the English trade in the terms set forth above. Although Iyeyasu gave him leave to depart in 1613 and the Company’s orders to Saris expressly provided for him to take Adams back to England as a passenger, the pilot did not go, as further association with Saris was intolerable.
Instead he remained, serving the Company for three years at a salary of £100 a year and more than requiting the trust placed in him. In 1616 he made a voyage for the Company in the junk Sea Adventure destined for Siam, but stress of weather forced him into the Luchu Islands and the venture was lost, although he did return with a cargo of wheat and ambergris from Naha. In the next year Adams piloted the same junk to Siam and returned with a successful venture. His contract with the East India Company expired in December, 1616, but he still assisted Richard Cocks, the Cape-Mar- chant, in negotiations at Yedo and in further voyages. In 1617, Adams sailed in his own junk, the Gift of God, on a voyage for Chochin China, and the following year went as pilot of a Chinese junk for the same destination, but got no farther than the Luchus. His last voyage was to Tonkin in 1619. Between voyages he was constantly occupied in negotiations with the shogunate on behalf of the English factory, or with his own private trading ventures.
Iyeyasu died on June 1, 1616, and in him went the most powerful friend Adams had in Japan. The successor of Iyeyasu, Hidetada, regarded the pilot coldly and paid no heed to Adams when the latter protested the revocation of the trading privileges which the shogun’s great father had given the British. As part of his anti- Christian campaign and partly through the influence of the Japanese merchants, Hidetada restricted the British trade to the ports of Nagasaki and Hirado and the folly of Saris in not first locating at Yedo became fully apparent.
I should therefore prefer to leave this latter phase of the life of Will Adams to another time and another telling. It is a great story, as Adams’s log books bear testimony, but the climax of his life was reached in 1613 when the full measure of his influence with the greatest of the Tokugawa shoguns was made evident. There is a quality of very real drama in the picture of this Elizabethan seaman garbed as a Samurai of Japan, in private conference with one of the most powerful rulers of Asia, securing for his countrymen a boon which destiny did not permit them to realize, and planning for himself one final adventure which was likewise denied—the discovery of the Northwest Passage.
Will Adams died, probably in Hirado, on May 16, 1620. He was then almost 56 years old. His will, which is among the records of the Court of the Commissary of the Bishop of London, divided his estate equally between his wife and children in England and his children, Joseph and Susannah, in Japan. Richard Cocks, the Cape- Marchant in Hirado, and William Eaton of the same factory were named his executors in the will.
It is regrettable that there are not preserved the “one Celestiall Globe in a case and all my Seacardes and plates [charts]” which the dying pilot willed to Cocks. What voyages of adventure would those Seacardes show, of one who fought the Spanish Armada, served as pilot of Elizabeth’s men-o-war, cruised the coasts of Barbary, sailed from South America to Japan and there became, as Richard Cocks wrote on his death,
such a man as Capt. Wm. Adames .. . , he having byn in such favour with two Emperours of Japon as never was any Christian in these partes of the world, and might freely have entered and had speeche with the Emperours when many Japon Kinges stoode without, and could not be permitte
Every General is culpable who undertakes the execution of a plan which he considers faulty. It is his duty to represent his reasons, to insist upon a change of plan; in short, to give in his resignation rather than allow himself to become the instrument of his army’s ruin.—Napoleon.