Adams was apprenticed in the merchant marine at the age of 12 where he learned shipbuilding, astronomy, and navigation. At the age of 24 he joined the Royal Navy and served under Sir Francis Drake including action against the Spanish Armada as master of the Richarde Dyffylde, a resupply ship, in 1588.
In 1598, when he was 34-years old, William served as chief pilot on the flagship De Hoop (Hope) of a five ship fleet dispatched from Holland to the East Indies via the Strait of Magellan. The names of the other ships in the fleet were:
Het Geloof (Faith)
De Trouw (Fidelity)
Blyde Boodschop (Good News).
The voyage to Japan was hazardous and out of the five ships that set out, only De Liefde completed the journey. Out of a crew of 110, 86 men perished. Although 24 were alive when they reached Japan, barely 6 were able to stand by themselves, among these was William Adams. The captain of De Liefe was summoned by the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu but he was far too ill to obey so that Will Adams and another Dutchman went in his place to Osaka. Despite an initial imprisonment William gained favour with Ieyasu and helped him in his naval affairs. Following a decisive battle over his enemies in 1600 Ieyasu became Shogun and William was established in a house not far from the Shogun's castle in Edo. Adams asked for permission to repair the De Liefde and return to England and his wife but his request was refused. Instead Ieyasu ordered Will to build another ship like the De Liefde for his navy. At first he refused to comply, but seeing that he had no real choice, he eventually built a ship at Ito.
With the assistance of Adams, in 1609 the Dutch East India Company were permitted to set up a factory in Hirado as were merchants from the English East India Company. However, Japanese xenophobia and fear of Christian missionaries meant that these trading posts had a limited lifespan.Japanese, and when he diied in 1620 at the age of 55 was buried in Hikado.
The character John Blackthorne in James Clavell's novel Shogun, is loosely based upon his life.
Notes & references
- Britannica Online: William Adams
- Will Adams - Gillingham's famous blue-eyed Samurai
- Wards Book of Days