English navigator
Born ? Died 1620

William Adams was born at Gillingham, near Chatham, England. When twelve years old he was apprenticed to the seafaring life, afterwards entering the British navy, and later serving the company of Barbary merchants for a number of years as master and pilot. Attracted by the Dutch trade with India, he shipped as pilot major with a little fleet of five ships despatched from the Texel in 1598 by a company of Rotterdam merchants. 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 Iyeyasu, 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 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. W. 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. 1 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.

Being the entry for ADAMS, WILLIAM in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.