Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Henry Fleet
MSA SC 3520-2831
Freeman in Attendance 1637/8

Biography:

Founding of Maryland - Educational Project for Elementary and Middle School Students
Maryland Public Television and Maryland State Archives (January-February 2003)
written by Maria A. Day, MSA Archival Intern

Captain Henry Fleet explored the Chesapeake Bay region before the Maryland colonists arrived in 1634. Fleet was an English adventurer from a wealthy family, who came to the Virginia colony in 1621.  He was interested in trading with the Patawomeke (Potomac) Indians who lived along the Potomac River near the present site of Washington, D.C.  However, the Patawomeke's enemies, the Nacotchtank (Anacostan) Indians, raided the Patawomeke village in 1623. They killed both Virginians and Patawomekes and took the survivors captive.  Fleet was among the survivors.  The Nacotchtanks kept him as their prisoner for five years. Finally, the Virginia government paid the Nacotchtanks a ransom to release Fleet.  Fleet had carefully observed the Nacotchtanks while living with them, learning to speak their language. His decided to use his experiences with the Indians and skills as a sailor to earn his living. He created a trading partnership with Indian villages in 1627.  Fleet acquired a trading ship, Paramour, and crew with money invested by a merchant named William Clobbery.  For several years, he sailed along the Potomac trading English goods with the Indians for animal furs and skins.1  When the Maryland colonists arrived in Virginia in 1634, Fleet agreed to act as a guide for Governor Leonard Calvert.  He translated the Indian language into English when the Governor first met with the Piscataways and Yoacomacos, natives of southern Maryland. Governor Calvert and the Werowance, or village chieftain, of the Yoacomacos agreed to exchange:  the Yoacomacos gave a village to Governor Calvert. In return, Calvert promised to protect the Yoacomacos from their enemies. Captain Fleet helped make this exchange possible, so that the Calverts had land to build St. Mary's City, the first capital of Maryland.2

The Calverts gave Fleet the rights to trade with the Indians for beaver skins in Maryland territory. On one trading mission for Lord Baltimore, Fleet sailed a ship called Deborah that was loaded with a valuable cargo of goods:

74 axes, 26 hoes, 19 yards of Dutch cloth, 16 pairs of Irish stockings, 2 yards of cloth [called "peak"], and a chest containing beads, knives, combs, fish hooks, Jew's harps [musical instruments], and looking glasses [mirrors].3
Captain Fleet's career demonstrates that traders were important as middlemen between the English and Native American populations.

1J. Frederick Fausz, "Present at the 'Creation':  The Chesapeake World That Greeted the Maryland Colonists," Maryland Historical Magazine, 79 (Spring 1984): 9-10.
2These events are described in Jerome Hawley and John Lewger, "A Relation of Maryland (1666)," in Clayton Coleman Hall, ed., Narratives of Early Maryland, 1633-1684 (New York:  Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910), 72-73.
3GENERAL ASSEMBLY (Proceedings), Archives of Maryland, vol. 3, 67-68, February 28, 1637. http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2900/sc2908/000001/000003/html/am3--67.html

SOURCES:

Fausz, J. Frederick.  "Present at the 'Creation':  The Chesapeake World That Greeted the Maryland Colonists," Maryland Historical Magazine, 79 (Spring 1984): 7-20.

Hawley, Jerome and John Lewger. "A Relation of Maryland (1666)." In Clayton Coleman Hall, ed., Narratives of Early Maryland, 1633-1684.  New York:  Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910.

Roundtree, Helen C. and Thomas E. Davidson. "Chapter Three: The First Century with Maryland." In Eastern Shore Indians of Virginia and Maryland.  Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 1977.
 

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