William Adams (sailor)

William Adams (sailor)
William Adams
Born September 24, 1564(1564-09-24)
Gillingham, Kent, England
Died May 16, 1620(1620-05-16) (aged 55)
Hirado, Kyūshū, Japan
Other names Miura Anjin (三浦按針)
Occupation Navigator
Known for First Englishman to travel to Japan

William Adams (September 24, 1564 – May 16, 1620), also known in Japanese as Anjin-sama (anjin, "pilot"; sama, a Japanese honorific) and Miura Anjin (三浦按針: "the pilot of Miura"), was an English navigator who travelled to Japan and is believed to be the first Englishman ever to reach that country. He was the inspiration for the character of John Blackthorne in James Clavell's bestselling novel Shōgun.

Soon after Adams' arrival in Japan, he became a key advisor to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and built for him Japan's first Western-style ships. Adams was later the key player in the establishment of trading factories by the Netherlands and England. He was also highly involved in Japan's Red Seal Asian trade, chartering and captaining several ships to Southeast Asia. He died in Japan at age 55, and has been recognized as one of the most influential foreigners in Japan during this period.[1]


Early life

Adams was born in Gillingham, Kent, England. After losing his father at the age of twelve, he was apprenticed to shipyard owner Master Nicholas Diggins at Limehouse for the seafaring life. He spent the next twelve years learning shipbuilding, astronomy, and navigation before entering the Royal Navy.[citation needed]

Adams served in the Royal Navy under Sir Francis Drake and saw naval service against the Spanish Armada in 1588 as master of the Richarde Dyffylde, a resupply ship.[citation needed]

Adams then became a pilot for the Barbary Company. During this service, according to Jesuit sources, he took part in an expedition to the Arctic that lasted about two years, in search of a Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia to the Far East.[citation needed]

…I am a Kentish man, born in a town called Gillingham, two English miles from Rochester, one mile from Chatham, where the King's ships do lie: from the age of twelve years old, I was brought up in Limehouse near London, being Apprentice twelve years to Master Nicholas Diggins; and myself have served for Master and Pilot in her Majesty's ships; and about eleven or twelve years have served the Worshipfull Company of the Barbary Merchants, until the Indish traffic from Holland began, in which Indish traffic I was desirous to make a little experience of the small knowledge which God had given me. So, in the year of our Lord 1598, I was hired for Pilot Major of a fleet of five sails, which was made ready by the Dutch Indish Company…. (1611 Letter, William Adams)[citation needed]

Expedition to the Far East

Attracted by the Dutch trade with India, Adams, then 34 years old, shipped as pilot major with a five ship fleet dispatched from the isle of Texel to the Far East in 1598 by a company of Rotterdam merchants (a voorcompagnie or predecessor of the Dutch East India Company).

From left to right: "Blijde Bootschap", "Trouwe", "'t Gelooue", "Liefde" and "Hoope". 17th century engraving.

He set sail from Rotterdam in June 1598 on the Hoop and joined up with the rest of the fleet on June 24. The fleet consisted of:

  • the Hoop ("Hope"), under Jacques Mahu (†1598), expedition leader, succeeded by Simon de Cordes (†1599), and finally, Jan Huidekoper,
  • the Liefde ("Love" or "Charity"), under Simon de Cordes, 2nd in command, succeeded by Gerrit van Beuningen and finally under Jacob Kwakernaak,
  • the Geloof ("Faith"), under Gerrit van Beuningen, and in the end: Sebald de Weert,
  • the Trouw ("Loyalty"), under Jurriaan van Boekhout (†1599), and finally, Baltazar de Cordes,
  • the Blijde Boodschap ("Good Tiding" or "The Gospel"), under Sebald de Weert, and later, Dirck Gerritz.

Originally, the fleet's mission was to sail for the west coast of South America, where they would sell their cargo for silver, and to head for Japan only if the first mission failed. In that case, they were supposed to obtain silver in Japan to buy spices in the Moluccas, before heading back to Europe.[2]

The vessels, ships ranging from 75 to 250 tons and crowded with men, were driven to the coast of Guinea, West Africa where the adventurers attacked the island of Annobón for supplies, and then moved on for the Straits of Magellan. Scattered by stress of weather and after several disasters in the South Atlantic, only three ships out of five made it through the Magellan Straits. (The Blijde Boodschap was adrift after being disabled in bad weather and was captured by the Spanish, whereas the Geloof returned to Rotterdam in July 1600 with 36 of the original 109 crew.

During the voyage, Adams had changed ships to the Liefde (originally named Erasmus and adorned by a wooden statue of Erasmus on her stern.[3] The Liefde waited for the other ships at Floreana Island off the Ecuadorean coast. However, only the Hoop had arrived by the spring of 1599 and the captains of both vessels, together with Adams's brother Thomas and twenty other men, lost their lives in an encounter with the natives. The Trouw later turned up in Tidore (Indonesia) where the crew was eliminated by the Portuguese in January 1601.

In fear of the Spaniards, the remaining crews determined to sail across the Pacific. It was late November 1599 when the two ships sailed westwardly for Japan. On their way, the two ships made landfall in "certain islands" (possibly the islands of Hawaii) where eight sailors deserted the ships. Later during the voyage, a typhoon claimed the Hoop with all hands, in late February 1600.

Arrival in Japan

One of William Adams' shipmates and fellow adventurer in Japan, Jan Joosten.

In April 1600, after more than nineteen months at sea, the Liefde with a crew of about twenty sick and dying men (out of an initial crew of about 100) was brought to anchor off the island of Kyūshū, Japan. Its cargo consisted of eleven chests of coarse woolen cloth, glass beads, mirrors, spectacles, nails, iron, hammers, nineteen bronze cannons, 5,000 cannonballs, 500 muskets, 300 chain-shot and three chests filled with coats of mail.

When the nine crew members were strong enough to stand, they made landfall on April 19 off Bungo (present-day Usuki, Ōita Prefecture), they were met by locals and Portuguese Jesuit priests claiming that Adams' ship was a pirate vessel and that the crew should be crucified as pirates. The ship was seized and the sickly crew were imprisoned at Osaka Castle on orders by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo of Mikawa and future Shogun. The nineteen bronze cannons of the Liefde were unloaded and according to Spanish accounts later employed at the decisive Battle of Sekigahara on October 21, 1600.

Adams met Ieyasu in Osaka three times between May and June 1600. He was questioned by Ieyasu, then a guardian of the young son of the Taikō, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler who had just died. Adams' knowledge of ships, shipbuilding and nautical smattering of mathematics appealed to Ieyasu.

William Adams meets Tokugawa Ieyasu, in an idealised depiction of 1707.

Coming before the king, he viewed me well, and seemed to be wonderfully favorable. He made many signs unto me, some of which I understood, and some I did not. In the end, there came one that could speak Portuguese. By him, the king demanded of me, of what land I was, and what moved us to come to his land, being so far off. I showed unto him the name of our country, and that our land had long sought out the East Indies, and desired friendship with all kinds and potentates in way of merchandise, having in our land diverse commodities, which these lands had not … Then he asked whether our country had wars? I answered him yea, with the Spaniards and Portugals, being in peace with all other nations. Further, he asked me, in what I did believe? I said, in God, that made heaven and earth. He asked me diverse other questions of things of religion, and many other things: as what way we came to the country. Having a chart of the whole world, I showed him, through the Strait of Magellan. At which he wondered, and thought me to lie. Thus, from one thing to another, I abode with him till midnight. (William Adams's letter to his wife)[citation needed]

Adams further explained that Ieyasu finally denied the Jesuits' request for punishment on the ground that:

we as yet had not done to him nor to none of his land any harm or damage; therefore against Reason or Justice to put us to death. If our country had wars the one with the other, that was no cause that he should put us to death; with which they were out of heart that their cruel pretence failed them. For which God be forever praised. (William Adams's letter to his wife)[citation needed]

Ieyasu ordered the crew to sail the Liefde from Bungo to Edo where, rotten and beyond repair, she sank.

Japan's first western-style sailing ships

The Liefde, the earliest recorded Dutch ship to have anchored off Hirado Island -- scultural relief on the monument to Jan Joosten, in the Yaesu district, Nihonbashi, Tokyo.

In 1604, Tokugawa ordered Adams and his companions to help Mukai Shogen, who was commander in chief of the navy of Uraga, build Japan's first Western-style ship. The sailing ship was built at the harbour of Ito on the east coast of the Izu Peninsula, with carpenters from the harbour supplying the manpower for the construction of an eighty-ton vessel which was employed to survey the Japanese coast. The Shogun then ordered a larger ship of 120 tons to be built the following year; (both were slightly smaller than the Liefde, which was 150 tons). According to Adams, Tokugawa "came aboard to see it, and the sight whereof gave him great content". In 1610, the 120-ton ship (later named San Buena Ventura) was lent to shipwrecked Spanish sailors, who sailed back to Mexico with it, accompanied by a mission of twenty-two Japanese led by Tanaka Shōsuke.

Following the construction, Tokugawa invited Adams to visit his palace whenever he liked and "that always I must come in his presence" (Letters).

Other survivors of the Liefde were also rewarded with favours and even allowed to pursue foreign trade. Most of the original crew were able to leave Japan in 1605 with the help of the daimyo of Hirado. Although Adams did not himself receive permission to leave Japan until 1613, Melchior van Santvoort, together with another crewman, Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn, engaged in trade between Japan and Southeast Asia and reportedly made a fortune. Both of them were reported by Dutch traders in Ayutthaya, onboard richly cargoed junks, in early 1613.

Around 1608 Adams contacted the interim governor of the Philippines, Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco on behalf of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who wished to establish direct trade contacts with New Spain. Friendly letters were exchanged, officially starting relations between Japan and New Spain.

Adams is also recorded as having chartered Red Seal Ships during his later travels to Southeast Asia (the Ikoku Tokai Goshuinjō has a reference to Miura Anjin receiving a shuinjō, a document bearing a red Shogunal seal authorizing the holder to engage in foreign trade, in 1614).

First foreign samurai

William Adams is known as the first and only officially-recognised foreign samurai. It is possible that some Korean or Chinese might have served a Daimyo during Sengoku period and earlier. William Adams is, however, a likely candidate for being the first recorded.

The shogun took a liking to Adams and made him a revered diplomatic and trade advisor and bestowed great privileges upon him. Ultimately, Adams became his personal advisor on all things related to Western powers and civilization and, after a few years, Adams replaced the Jesuit Padre João Rodrigues as the Shogun's official interpreter. Padre Valentim Carvalho wrote: "After he had learned the language, he had access to Ieyasu and entered the palace at any time"; he also described him as "a great engineer and mathematician".

1707 map of Japan, with a cartouche representing the audience of William Adams with the Shogun. From Naaukeurige Versameling der Gedenk-Waardigste Zee en Land-Reysen (a series of accounts of famous land- and sea-voyages). Thought to be by Pieter van der Aa.

Adams had a wife and children in England but Ieyasu had forbidden the Englishman to leave Japan. He was presented with two swords representing the authority of a Samurai. The Shogun decreed that William Adams the pilot was dead and that Miura Anjin (三浦按針), a samurai, was born. This made Adams's wife in England in effect a widow (although Adams managed to send regular support payments to her after 1613 via the English and Dutch companies) and "freed" Adams to serve the Shogunate on a permanent basis. Adams also received the title of hatamoto (bannerman), a high-prestige position as a direct retainer in the Shogun's court.[citation needed]

He was provided with generous revenues: "For the services that I have done and do daily, being employed in the Emperor's service, the emperor has given me a living" (Letters). He was granted a fief in Hemi (Jpn: 逸見) within the boundaries of present-day Yokosuka City, "with eighty or ninety husbandmen, that be my slaves or servants" (Letters). His estate was valued at 250 koku (a measure of the yearly income of the land in rice, with one koku defined as the quantity of rice sufficient to feed one person for one year). He finally wrote "God hath provided for me after my great misery" (Letters) by which he meant the disaster-ridden voyage that had initially brought him to Japan.[citation needed]

Adams's estate was located next to the harbour of Uraga, the traditional point of entrance to Edo Bay, where he is recorded to have dealt with the cargoes of foreign ships. John Saris related that when he visited Edo in 1613, Adams was in possession of the reselling rights for the cargo of a Spanish ship at anchor in Uraga Bay.[citation needed]

Adams' position gave him the means to marry Oyuki (お雪), the daughter of Magome Kageyu, a highway official who was in charge of a packhorse exchange on one of the grand imperial roads that led out of Edo (roughly present day Tokyo). Although Magome was important, Oyuki was not of noble birth, nor high social standing, so it was likely that Adams married out of true affection rather than for social reasons. Adams and Oyuki had a son called Joseph and a daughter named Susanna. Adams however found it hard to rest his feet and was constantly on the road. Initially, it was in the vain attempt to organize an expedition in search of the Arctic passage that had eluded him previously.[citation needed]

Adams had a high regard for Japan, its people, and its civilization:

The people of this Land of Japan are good of nature, curteous above measure, and valiant in war: their justice is severely executed without any partiality upon transgressors of the law. They are governed in great civility. I mean, not a land better governed in the world by civil policy. The people be very superstitious in their religion, and are of diverse opinions. (William Adams's letter to Bantam, 1612)[citation needed]

Establishment of the Dutch East India Company in Japan

The "trade pass" (Dutch: handelspas) issued in the name of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The text commands: "Dutch ships are allowed to travel to Japan, and they can disembark on any coast, without any reserve. From now on this regulation must be observed, and the Dutch left free to sail where they want throughout Japan. No offenses to them will be allowed, such as on previous occasions" – dated August 24, 1609 (Keichō 14, 25th day of the 7th month); n.b., the goshuin (御朱印) identifies this as an official document bearing the shogun's scarlet seal.

[citation needed]

The Liefde's captain, Jacob Quaeckernaeck, and the treasurer, Melchior van Santvoort, were also sent by Ieyasu in 1604 on a shogun-licensed Red Seal Ship to Patani in Southeast Asia to contact the Dutch East India Company trading factory which had just been established there in 1602, to bring more western trade to Japan and break the Portuguese monopoly on Japan's external trade. In 1605, Adams obtained a letter from Ieyasu formally inviting the Dutch to trade with Japan.[citation needed]

The Dutch VOC trading factory in Hirado (depicted here) was said to have been much larger than the English one. 17th century engraving.

Hampered by conflicts with the Portuguese and limited resources in Asia, the Dutch were not able to send ships until 1609. Two Dutch ships, commanded by Jacques Specx, De Griffioen (the "Griffin", 19 cannons) and Roode Leeuw met Pijlen (the "Red lion with arrows", 400 tons, 26 cannons), were finally sent from Holland and arrived in Japan on July 2, 1609. The men of this Dutch expeditionary fleet established a trading base or "factory" on Hirado Island. Two Dutch envoys by the names of Puyck and van den Broek, were the official bearers of a letter from Prince Maurice of Nassau to the court of Edo. Adams negotiated on behalf of these emissaries. The Dutch obtained free trading rights throughout Japan (in contrast, the Portuguese were only allowed to sell their goods in Nagasaki at fixed, negotiated prices) and to establish a trading factory there:

The Hollandes be now settled (in Japan) and I have got them that privilege as the Spaniards and Portingals could never get in this 50 or 60 years in Japan. (William Adams letter to Bantam).[citation needed]

Topographical map of the bay of Hirado in 1621. To the right on the shore-line, the Dutch East India Company trading post is marked with the red-white-blue flag of the Netherlands. To the far left, somewhat back from the shore-line, notice the white flag with the red cross, the St George's Cross of England at the East India Company trading post.

After obtaining this trading right through an edict of Tokugawa Ieyasu on August 24, 1609, the Dutch inaugurated a trading factory in Hirado on September 20, 1609. The "trade pass" (Dutch: Handelspas) was kept preciously by the Dutch in Hirado and then Dejima as a guarantee of their trading rights, during the following two centuries of their presence in Japan.[citation needed]

Establishment of an English trading factory

In 1611, news came to Adams of an English settlement in Bantam, Indonesia, and he sent a letter asking them to give news of him to his family and friends in England and enticing them to engage in trade with Japan which "the Hollanders have here an Indies of money" (Adams's letter to Bantam).

One of the two Japanese suits of armor presented by Tokugawa Hidetada to John Saris for King James I in 1613, now in the Tower of London.

In 1613, the English captain John Saris arrived at Hirado in the ship Clove with the intent of establishing a trading factory for the British East India Company (Hirado was already a trading post for the Dutch East India Company (the VOC)).

Adams met with Saris's ire over his praise of Japan and adoption of Japanese customs:

He persists in giving "admirable and affectionated commendations of Japan. It is generally thought amongst us that he is a naturalized Japaner." (John Saris)

In Hirado, Adams refused to stay in English quarters and instead resided with a local Japanese magistrate. It was also commented that he was wearing Japanese dress and spoke Japanese fluently. Adams estimated the cargo of the Clove was of little value, essentially broadcloth, tin and cloves (acquired in the Spice Islands), saying that "such things as he had brought were not very vendible".

The 1613 letter of King James I remitted to Tokugawa Ieyasu (Preserved in the Tokyo University archives).

Adams travelled with Saris to Shizuoka where they met with Ieyasu at his principal residence in September and then continued to Kamakura where they visited the famous Buddha (the 1252 Daibutsu on which the sailors etched their names) before moving on to Edo where they met Ieyasu's son Hidetada who was now nominally Shogun even though Ieyasu retained most of the actual decision-making powers. During that meeting, Hidetada gave Saris two varnished suits of armour for King James I, today housed in the Tower of London. The suits were made by Iwai Yozaemon of Nambu. They were part of a series of presentation armours of ancient 15th century Dō-maru style.[4]

On their way back, they again visited Tokugawa, who conferred trading privileges to the English through a Red Seal permit giving them "free license to abide, buy, sell and barter" in Japan.[5] The English party headed back to Hirado on October 9, 1613.

On this occasion, Adams asked for and obtained Tokugawa's authorization to return to his home country. However, he ultimately declined Saris' offer to bring him back to England: "I answered him I had spent in this country many years, through which I was poor... [and] desirous to get something before my return". His true reasons seem to lie rather with his profound antipathy for Saris: "The reason I would not go with him was for diverse injuries done against me, which were things to me very strange and unlooked for." (William Adams letters)

Excerpt from a letter written by William Adams at Hirado in Japan to the East India Company in London, 1 December 1613. British Library.

He accepted employment with the newly founded Hirado trading factory, signing a contract on November 24, 1613, becoming an employee of the East India Company for the yearly salary of 100 English Pounds, more than double the regular salary of 40 Pounds earned by the other factors at Hirado. Adams was to take a leading part, under Richard Cocks and together with six other compatriots (Tempest Peacock, Richard Wickham, William Eaton, Walter Carwarden, Edmund Sayers and William Nealson), in the organization of this new English settlement.

Adams had actually advised against the choice of Hirado, which was small and far away from the major markets in Osaka and Edo, and instead had recommended to Saris, in vain, that they should select Uraga near Edo.

During the ten year activity of the company between 1613 and 1623, apart from the first ship (the Clove in 1613), only three other English ships brought cargoes directly from London to Japan, invariably described as poor value on the Japanese market. The only trade which helped support the factory was that organized between Japan and South-East Asia and mainly undertaken by Adams selling Chinese goods for Japanese silver:

Were it not for hope of trade into China, or procuring some benefit from Siam, Pattania and Cochin China, it were no staying in Japon, yet it is certen here is silver enough & may be carried out at pleasure, but then we must bring them commodities to their liking. (Richard Cocks Diary, 1617)

Religious rivalries

Adams, a Protestant, was seen as a rival by the Portuguese and other Catholic religious orders in Japan. After Adams' power had grown, the Jesuits attempted first to convert him, then offered to secretly bear him away from Japan on a Portuguese ship. The fact that the Jesuits were willing to disobey the orders set down by Ieyasu—that Adams might not leave Japan—betray the degree to which they feared his influence—for good reason.

Catholic priests insisted that he was using his influence on Ieyasu to discredit them:

"In his character of heretic, he constantly endeavoured to discredit our church as well as its ministers".. He and others "by false accusation ... have rendered our preachers such objects of suspicion that Ieyasu fears and readily believes that they are rather spies than sowers of the Holy Faith in his kingdoms." (Padre Valentim Carvalho).

Ieyasu, influenced by Adams' counsels and social trouble caused by the numerous Catholic converts, expelled the Jesuits from Japan in 1614 and demanded the Japanese Catholics abandon their faith.

Adams also apparently warned Ieyasu against Spanish approaches.


After fifteen years spent in Japan, Adams' relations with his compatriots were not the easiest. He initially shunned the company of the newly arrived English sailors in 1613 and could not get on good terms with Saris.

However, Cocks, the head of the Hirado factory, progressively came to appreciate Adams' character and distinctively Japanese self-control. In a letter to the East India Company:

"I find the man tractable and willing to do your worships the best service he may... I am persuaded I could live with him seven years before any extraordinary speeches should happen between us." (Cocks' Diary)

Participation in Asian trade

A Japanese Red seal ship used for Asian trade -- 1634, unknown artist.

Adams later engaged in various exploratory and commercial ventures. He tried to organize the exploration of the Northern Passage from the East which would have greatly reduced the traveling distance between Japan and Europe. Ieyasu asked him if "our countrimen could not find the northwest passage" and Adams contacted the East India Company to organize manpower and supplies. The project however never materialized.

The latter part of his life was spent in the service of the English trading company. He undertook a number of voyages to Siam in 1616 and Cochin China in 1617 and 1618, sometimes for the English East India Company, sometimes for his own account. He is recorded in Japanese sources as the owner of a Red Seal Ship of 500 tons.

Given the small number of ships coming from England (four ships in ten years: the Clove in 1613, the Hosiander in 1615, the Thomas and the Advice in 1616) and the poor value of their cargoes (broadcloth, knives, looking glasses, Indian cotton, etc.), William Adams played a key role in having the company participate in the Red Seal system by obtaining trading certificates from the Shogun. Altogether, seven junk voyages were made to Southeast Asia with mixed results, including four of them headed by William Adams himself as Captain. Adams acknowledged God as his personal Provider before all people by renaming the ship, which he had acquired, with the phrase "Gift of God", the ship that he used for his expedition to Cochinchina.

1614 Siam expedition

In 1614, Adams wished to organize a trade expedition to Siam in hope of bolstering the factory's activities and cash situation. He bought for the factory and upgraded a 200-ton Japanese junk, renamed her the Sea Adventure, hired about 120 Japanese sailors and merchants as well as several Chinese traders, an Italian and a Castillan trader and the heavily laden ship left on November 1614, during the typhoon season. The merchants Richard Wickham and Edmund Sayers of the English factory's staff also participated in the voyage.

The ship was to purchase raw silk, Chinese goods, sappan wood, deer skins and ray skins (the latter used for the handles of Japanese swords), essentially carrying only silver (£1250) and £175 of merchandise (Indian cottons, Japanese weapons and lacquerware).

The ship met with a typhoon near the Ryukyu Islands (modern Okinawa) and had to stop there to repair from 27 December 1614 until May 1615 before returning to Japan in June 1615 without having been able to complete any trade.

1615 Siam expedition

Adams again left Hirado in November 1615 for Ayutthaya in Siam on the refitted Sea Adventure intent on bringing sappanwood for resale in Japan. Like the previous year, the cargo consisted mainly of silver (£600) and also the Japanese and Indian goods unsold from the previous voyage.[citation needed]

He managed to buy vast quantities of the profitable products, even buying two additional ships in Siam to transport everything. Adams sailed the Sea Adventure back to Japan with 143 tonnes of sappanwood and 3700 deer skins, returning to Hirado in 47 days, (the whole trip lasting between 5 June and 22 July 1616). Sayers, on a hired Chinese junk, reached Hirado in October 1616 with 44 tons of sappanwood. The third ship, a Japanese junk, brought 4,560 deer skins to Nagasaki in June 1617 after having missed the monsoon.[citation needed]

Adams returned to Japan less than a week after the death of Ieyasu and accompanied Cocks and Eaton to court to offer presents to the new ruler Hidetada. Although the death of Ieyasu in 1616 seems to have weakened Adams' political influence, Hidetada agreed to maintain the trading privileges of the English and issued a new Red Seal permit (Shuinjō) to Adams allowing him to continue trade activities overseas under the Shogun's protection. His position as hatamoto was also renewed.[citation needed]

On this occasion, Adams and Cocks also visited the Japanese Admiral Mukai Shogen Tadakatsu who lived near Adams' estate and they discussed plans about a possible invasion of the Catholic Philippines.[citation needed]

1617 Cochinchina expedition

In March 1617, Adams set sail for Cochinchina having purchased the junk Sayers had brought from Siam and renamed it the Gift of God. He intended to find two English factors, Tempest Peacock and Walter Carwarden, that had left Hirado two years before to explore commercial opportunities (the first voyage to South East Asia by the Hirado English Factory). After demanding information from a tight-lipped local, Adams discovered that Peacock had been plied with drink, and when sufficiently drunk, had been set upon and killed for his silver. Carwarden, who was waiting in a boat downstream, realised the fate that had befallen Peacock and hastily sailed away. However, the boat overturned and he drowned.

The ship also sold a small cargo of broadcloth, Indian piece goods and ivory for the modest amount of £351.[citation needed]

1618 Cochinchina expedition

In 1618, Adams is recorded as having organized his last Red Seal trade expedition to Cochinchina and Tonkin (modern Vietnam), the last expedition of the English Hirado Factory to Southeast Asia. The ship, a chartered Chinese junk, left Hirado on 11 March 1618 but met with bad weather that forced it to stop at Ōshima in the northern Ryukyus. The ship sailed back to Hirado in May.[citation needed]

Those expeditions to Southeast Asia helped the English factory survive for some time—during that period, sappanwood resold in Japan with a 200% profit—until the factory fell into bankruptcy due to high expenditures.[citation needed]

Adams's legacy

Grave of Miura Anjin, Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan

Adams died at Hirado, north of Nagasaki, on May 16, 1620, aged 55 and was buried in Nagasaki-ken where his grave marker may still be seen to this day, alongside a memorial to Saint Francis Xavier. The English factory was dissolved three years later due to its unprofitability.

In his will, he left his townhouse in Edo, his fief in Hemi, and 500 British pounds to be divided evenly between his family in England and his family in Japan.

Cocks wrote: "I cannot but be sorrowfull for the loss of such a man as Capt William Adams, he having been in such favour with two Emperors of Japan as never any Christian in these part of the world." (Cocks's Diary)

Cocks remained in contact with Adams' family sending gifts and in March 1622, offering silks for Joseph and Susanna. He handed to Joseph his father's sword and dagger on the Christmas following Adams' death. Cocks also records that Hidetada transferred the lordship from William Adams to his son Joseph Adams with the attendant rights to the estate at Hemi:

He (Hidetada) has confirmed the lordship to his son, which the other emperor (Ieyasu) gave to the father. (Cocks's Diary)

Cocks was also in charge of using Adams' trading rights (the shuinjō) for the benefit of Adams' children, Joseph and Susanna, a task he performed conscientiously and which was handled by the Dutch after 1623.

By 1629, only two of Adams's shipmates were still surviving, living privately in Nagasaki: Melchior van Santvoort and Vincent Romeyn.[6]

The monument to William Adams at the location of his former Tokyo townhouse, in Anjin-chō, today Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-10-8, Tokyo.

Adams' son also kept the title of Miura Anjin and was a successful trader until the closure of the country in 1635 when he disappeared from historical records.

Adams's memory is preserved in the naming of a town in Edo (modern Tokyo), Anjin-chō (in modern-day Nihonbashi), where he had a house, and by an annual celebration on June 15 in his honour.

A village and a railroad station in his fiefdom, Anjinzuka (安針塚, "Burial mound of the Pilot"), in modern Yokosuka, bears his name.

In the city of Itō, Shizuoka, the Miura Anjin Festival is held all day on August 10. Adams' birth town of Gillingham has held a Will Adams Festival every September since 2000.[7] Today, both Itō and Yokosuka are sister cities of Adams' birth town of Gillingham.

On the seafront at Itō is a monument to Adams. Alongside it stands a plaque inscribed with Edmund Blunden's poem, "To the Citizens of Ito", which commemorates Adams' achievement.

The life of William Adams also inspired James Clavell's Shōgun, which was a best-selling novel and then a TV miniseries.[8] The fictional heroics of John Blackthorne were loosely based on Adams' adventures in the first few years after his arrival in Japan.


  1. ^ "So it was that this outspoken English seaman, rather than the wily Jesuits who had looked with jaundiced eyes upon all new-comers to Japan, became the medium through whom Ieyasu learned of the Western world and maintained those slender ties which bound his empire to Europe. Adam's influence grew steadily, but, even more remarkable, there developed between the Englishman and the Japanese a friendship which was to endure until Ieyasu's death." in Eastward ho! The first English adventurers to the Orient, 1931, by Foster Rhea Dulles p.127 [1]
  2. ^ "Recollections of Japan", Hendrik Doeff
  3. ^ The statue has survived and is preserved in a Buddhist temple in Sano-shi, Tochigi-ken. An image can be found here: http://www.maphist.nl/ill/1998629.htm
  4. ^ Notice at the Tower of London
  5. ^ The Red Seal permit was re-discovered in 1985 by Professor Hayashi Nozomu, in the Oxford Bodleian Library. Reference
  6. ^ Hendrik Doeff "Recollections of Japan", p27
  7. ^ Medway Council: Will Adams Festival in Rochester, Kent.
  8. ^ O'Connor, John J. "TV: Shogun, Englishman's Adventures in Japan," New York Times. September 15, 1980.

See also



  • 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)
  • John Harris, Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca (1764), i. 856
  • Voyage of John Saris, edited by Sir Ernest M. Satow (Hakluyt Society, 1900)
  • Asiatic Society of Japan Transactions, xxvi. (sec. 1898) pp. I 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.
  • Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan; Giles Milton (UK 2002: ISBN 0-340-79468-2)
  • William Adams and Early English Enterprise in Japan, by Anthony Farrington and Derek Massarella [2]
  • Adams the Pilot: The Life and Times of Captain William Adams: 1564-1620, by William Corr, Curzon Press,1995 ISBN 1-873410-44-1
  • The English Factory in Japan 1613-1623, ed. by Anthony Farrington, British Library, 1991. (Prints all of William Adams' extant letters, as well as his will.)
  • A World Elsewhere. Europe’s Encounter with Japan in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, by Derek Massarella, Yale University Press, 1990.
  • Recollections of Japan, Hendrik Doeff, ISBN 1-55395-849-7


  • The Needle-Watcher: The Will Adams Story, British Samurai by Richard Blaker
  • Servant of the Shogun by Richard Tames. Paul Norbury Publications Tenterden Kent England.ISBN 0 904404 39 0.
  • Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan, by Giles Milton; ISBN 978-0142003787; Published December 2003


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