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 genealogy is widely repeated on the internet despite the absence of evidence, 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.

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 whatsoever 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, transcribed verbatim and highlighted in blue below:

  • 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 family chart published in two English histories, a John Hayes of Little Leigh (Litley), Cheshire married Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard Starkey, and had four sons, one of whom was Peter.  The first source, “The Visitation of Cheshire in the Year 1580”, shows Peter as the youngest son in that family.1  The second source, “Pedigrees Made at the Visitation of Cheshire 1613″, lists the four sons in a different birth order, implying that Peter was older than John, who was born in 1565. 2  Arnold Hayes estimated Peter’s birth at 1571.

Unfortunately, birth records for this family in Great Budworth parish do not survive. However, what parish records survive show that there were at least three other men named Peter Hayes born about that time in Cheshire, one of them born in 1578 in Great Budworth parish.3  Note that the “Visitation” only recorded families of Knights, Esquires, and Gentlemen and ignored merchants, tradesmen, and yeomen who were far more numerous.

Why did Mr. Hayes pick this particular Peter Hayes to begin his genealogy?  I have no idea.  After all, there were quite a few men in England named Peter Hayes, any one of whom might have been related to the Virginia immigrant.  In Cheshire alone lived For instance, a Peter Hayes was buried in 1600 just six miles from Little Leigh; how do we know that he was not the son of John Hayes of Little Leigh?4

  • …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 zero evidence for this claim.  Tracking down the referenced historical society publication — a lengthy paper entitled “Edward Hayes, Liverpool Colonial Pioneer” — we find that it does not mention Peter Hayes at all.5  Nor is there any evidence that Edward Hayes was related to the Hayes of Little Leigh.  The genealogy included in that article makes it clear that Edward Hayes was from a different and unrelated family — and that Edward’s father, son of a yeoman, had changed his name from Heye to Heyes in 1570.  (Ibid., page 26.))  While Liverpool is close to Cheshire, nothing in that paper suggests any sort of kinship between the two families.  Bottom line:  There is no evidence at all to support the assertion.

Nor does it seem likely that a son of the landed gentry would be apprenticed to a merchant.

I might note in passing that Edward Hayes’ merchant ship, the Golden Hind, was not the same vessel as the famous warship of the same name commanded by Sir Francis Drake. The Golden Hind was described as a “small forty-ton vessel”6  Drake’s warship was a 160 ton gunship.

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

The marriage record in Heston Parish is for a “Peter Haies” and a widow named “Margareta Hewes”.7 However, there is no particular reason to think that this was the same Peter Hayes who had supposedly been living clear on the other side of the country.  After all, there were quite a few men named Peter Hayes in England — at least four in Cheshire alone as we have seen.  One of them, a Peter Hayes of Cheshire married Alice Johnson in 1590 just 20 miles east of Little Leigh.8  Another Peter Hayes died in 1637 and was buried at Stepney, only fifteen miles from the site of the marriage to Margaret Hewes.9  How do we eliminate these men as possibilities?  There is no evidence to determine which Peter Hayes was the husband.

Consider also a Peter Hayes who lived withing a brisk walk of Little Leigh:  Ezabell the wife of Peter Hayes of Whitegate, Cheshire — just six miles from Little Leigh — was buried in 1594 followed by the burial of her husband Peter Hayes in 1600.10

  • 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 this man 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 the same two original documents.  The first of these is 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 1644 de Vries wrote this about that voyage:

“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.” 11

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.”12

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 that he was the same person as the Peter Hayes who settled in Virginia.

Clearly, an inspection of Dutch records is required to learn more about this man.  We cannot simply make up stories about him and still call ourselves genealogists.

  • 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 is extremely unlikely to say the least.  Immigrants in the early years of Virginia were almost entirely young men and women.  If Arnold Hayes is to be believed, Peter Hayes was over 60 when he arrived in Virginia — where an immigrant of his age would be vanishingly rare.

The 1625 census of Virginia, which listed ages and dates of arrival of residents, shows that three-fourths of the population had arrived prior to reaching the age of 25, only eleven had arrived after the age of 35 and not a single person living in Virginia had immigrated after the age of 50.13  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 — it is simply not credible that a seafaring man in his mid-60s, well beyond the average life expectancy of the time, would decide to take up farming in the wilds of Virginia where disease and other perils limited lifespans to roughly forty years.  Of course, Mr. Hayes offered no evidence that they were the same man.

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

In short, there is no evidence at all that the immigrant Peter Hayes was the same person as the sea captain.  Or the Peter Hayes of Little Leigh.  Nor is it credible for the reasons stated.

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 perhaps 98% of Virginia landowners at the time) we might look for a baptismal or birth record between 1590 and 1615.

There are very large gaps in English records that obscure possible candidates, but what parish records still survive list the births of at least ten persons named Peter Hayes at various places around England during that period.14  There are not enough preserved records of the time to successfully 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.  This lists the sons in a different order: Richard, Thomas “Petter”, then John.  The only detail other than the names is that John was “aged 15 in 1580” and married Elizabeth Bould, producing a daughter Eleanor who was evidently the end of the line. []
  3. Cheshire Parish Records list a Peter Hayes christened in Great Budworth parish on 28 July 1578, another christened in Lymm on 27 May 1578, and a third christened in Frodsham on 25 December 1581. []
  4. Whitegate, Cheshire burial recorded in Diocese of Chester Bishop’s Transcripts of Burials c1600-1910. []
  5. D. B. Quinn, “Edward Hayes, Liverpool Colonial Pioneer”, The Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, Vol. 111 (1959), pages 25-45. []
  6. Ibid., page 35. []
  7. Boyd’s marriage index, 1538-1850 and the Greater London Marriage Index at for a slightly different spelling of the names. []
  8. Cheshire Diocese Of Chester Parish Marriages 1538-1910 []
  9. England Deaths & Burials 1538-1991. []
  10. Cheshire Parish Registers, []
  11. David Pietersz. de Vries, Voyages from Holland to America A. D. 1632 to 1644, Translation by Henry C. Murphy, (Billin & Brothers, 1853), page 23. []
  12. Translation by Samuel Hazard, Annals of Pennsylvania (1850), page 25. []
  13. 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. []
  14. A quick search at,, and uncovered birth records for males named Peter Hayes in 1589, 1590, 1598 (3), 1603, 1605, 1611 (2), and 1613 []