Captain Peter Heyes of the Walrus

The first several pages of the article by Arnold Edmund Hayes in Historical Southern Families, Volume 15 contain a mostly imaginary genealogy of the Hayes family of Isle of Wight County, Virginia.  This fake genealogy is widely repeated on the internet and it seems that no one has bothered to examine the actual facts.  Hence, the reason for this page.  Let’s dissect what Mr. Hayes wrote about Peter Hayes who first appears as a headright in a 1635 Virginia patent.

Dissecting the assertions about “Captain Peter Hayes” made by Arnold Edmund Hayes’ article in Historical Southern Families, Volume 15

A reading of this article immediately raises the suspicion that Mr. Hayes, in an apparent effort to construct an appealing  family history, conflated at least three or four different persons who happened all to have borne the name “Peter Hayes”.  Note that he offered no evidence at all that any of these men were, in fact, the same person.  Diving into the source records makes it clear that these were different persons.  Let’s look at the claims:

  • Captain Peter Hayes, Sea Captain, the third child of John Hayes and his wife Elizabeth (Starkey) Hayes, was born in Great Budworth Parish in Cheshire about 1571…

According to a brief Hayes genealogy published in two English histories, a John Hayes of Little Leigh (Litley), Cheshire married Elizabeth the daughter of Richard Starkey and had four sons, the youngest of whom was named Peter.1  However, a birth year of 1571 is too late, as the third son, John, was “aged 15 in 1580″ according to one of these sources. 2  That would place Peter Hayes’ birth prior to 1565 and make him much too old to be the same man who appears in Isle of Wight, Virginia more than 70 years later.

  • …at the proper age (was) apprenticed to his cousin Edward Hayes of Liverpool who owned a ship called “The Golden Hind” (Quinn, Hist. Soc. Lancashire & Cheshire, Vol. III, p25 et seq.).

There is not a shred of evidence that he was apprenticed to anyone, nor that Edward Hayes was his cousin.  The reference provided does not support either assertion, rather is a lengthy  biography of Edward Hayes of Liverpool.  In fact, the genealogy provided in that reference makes it clear that Edward Hayes was from a different Hayes family altogether. 3

  • After completing his nautical apprenticeship, Peter Hayes married Mrs. Margaret Howse, a young widow living in Heston Parish, Middlesex; the date, 18 September 1591.

There is indeed a marriage record in Heston Parish for a Peter Hayes and a widow named “Margareta Hewes”.4 However, there is no reason to think that this was the same Peter Hayes who was living clear on the other side of the country.  After all, there were quite a few men named Peter Hayes in England.  One of them, in fact, died in 1637 and was buried only fifteen miles from Heston.

Consider this far more likely item:  Ezabell the wife of Peter Hayes of Whitegate, Cheshire — just six miles from Little Leigh — was buried in 1594.5  Surely that man was the same Peter Hayes of the Cheshire Hayes family.  If his wife was Ezabell in 1594 he could hardly have married Margareta three years earlier.

  • Peter Hayes, now a sea captain, was hired by the Dutch to sail between the port on Texel Island and Greenland, where the Netherlands had a colony. He made his home in Edam, not far from Amsterdam… In 1630 the Dutch West India Company ordered Captain Hayes to conduct a party of emigrants, with their supplies, to a small Caribbean island called Tortugas. He sailed his merchant ship “Walvis” from Texel on December 20, 1630… proceeded north to Virginia.  His destination was the South River of Delaware, known to day as Delaware Bay. Here the patrons of the West India Company planned to establish a whaling-fishing station and a new Netherlands colony…

Again, there is absolutely no evidence that Peter Hayes of Edam was the same person.  There was a Dutch whaling captain named Peter “Heyes” who is mentioned in at least a dozen 19th and 20th century histories, all of which appear to have been sourced from two documents that were written during his lifetime.  The first of these is found in the journal of a principal of the Dutch West Indies Company named David Pietersen de Vries, himself an experienced naval captain and the commander of the voyage which followed the Walvis:

“In September our ship returned from New Netherland and the West Indies. They should have disembarked a lot of people on Tortugas, but they found that France had been killed by Spain. The ship conveyed the rest to the South River in New Netherland, and brought a sample of oil from a dead whale found on the shore. The captain said that he arrived there too late in the year. This was a losing voyage to us because this captain, Pieter Heyes, of Edam, whom we had put in command, durst not sail by the way of the West Indies with only one ship of eighteen guns, where he must have made good the expense of this voyage. He was a person who was only accustomed to sail to Greenland, where he made the voyage in three or four months, and then came home.” 6

The only other mention of him in contemporary records is the record of his appearance at the Dutch settlement in Manhattan in June 1631, before sailing home, to report on the company’s purchase of additional land from the Indians:

“Appeared before us Peter Heysen, skipper on board the ship named Walrus.”7

These records tell us that Peter Heyes was of Edam — a major whaling port in the 17th century — and that he was an experienced whaling captain for what was at the time the Dutch whaling cartel. But there is not even a hint in these records that he was English, much less was the same person as the Peter Hayes who settled in Virginia.

  • The “Walvis” returned home safely and Captain Peter Hayes terminated his work with his Dutch employers. Evidently he decided to make his home in the new world, where he had found many Cheshire families living on the southside of the James River in Virginia.

This seems ridiculous, as immigrants in the early years of Virginia were overwhelmingly young men.  The census of Virginia in 1624/5 showed that  three-fourths of the residents had arrived prior to the age of 25, only eleven had arrived after the age of 35 and not a single one had arrived in their 50s or older.8 There is no evidence whatsoever that Peter Heyes of Edam was the same person as the Peter Hayes who resided in Virginia in 1636.  Nor would he seem to be the same man as the Peter Hayes born about 1571 (or before 1565)  — it is simply not credible that a seafaring man in his mid-60s, well beyond the average life expectancy, would decide to take up farming in the wilds of Virginia.

Indeed,  everything we know about Peter Hayes of Virginia suggests a much younger man who  married after arriving in Virginia — his widow was still alive in 1678 more than 40 years later — and his children all appear to have been born in Virginia.

So, can we determine anything about the ancestry of Peter Hayes the immigrant to Virginia?

Unfortunately, it appears not.  If we assume that he was between the ages of 20 and 45 when he appears as a headright in 1635 (which range would encompass nearly 98% of Virginia landowners at the time) we might look for a baptismal or birth record between 1590 and 1615.  There are large gaps in English records that probably obscure possible candidates, but surviving parish records list the births of nine persons named Peter Hayes at various places around England during that period.9  There are not enough remaining records to successfully track them down to determine which of them, if any, were the immigrant.

  1. John Paul Rylands, ed., The Visitation of Cheshire in the Year 1580 (London, 1882), page 121.  On page 4 is a reference to “John Hayes of Litley, gent.”  Page 121 appears to give his wife’s father’s surname as “Stoney” rather than Starkey.  The second source, which gives the name as “Starkey” is below. []
  2. George J. Armytage and Paul J. Rylands, ed.,”Pedigrees Made at the Visitation of Cheshire 1613”, The Records Society for the Publication of Original Documents Relating to Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol. LVIII (1909), page 122. []
  3. D. B. Quinn, “Edward Hayes, Liverpool Colonial Pioneer”, The Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, Vol. 111 (1959), pages 25-45. []
  4. Greater London Marriage Index at findmypast.uk []
  5. Cheshire Parish Registers, familysearch.org. []
  6. David Pietersz. de Vries, Volyages from Holland to America A. D. 1632 to 1644, Translation by Henry C. Murphy, (Billin & Brothers, 1853), page 23. []
  7. Translation by Samuel Hazard, Annals of Pennsylvania (1850), page 25. []
  8. Searchable census of 1624/5 at Virtual Jamestown.  Three men were listed in their 50s, both of who had arrived while in their 40s.  A third man, was listed as age 65 with no arrival date noted. []
  9. A quick search at familysearch.org, findmypast.co.uk, and thegenealogist.co.uk uncovered birth records for males named Peter Hayes in 1589, 1950, 1598 (3), 1603, 1605, and 1611 (2), []