ROWLEY (Rowlie), THOMAS, settler in the first English colony in Newfoundland; fl. 1612–28.
He was the son of Roger Rowley of Rowley, Shropshire, gentleman, a member of the London Haberdashers’ company, as were several subscribers to the Newfoundland company of 1610. He himself did not subscribe but, as he was said to have lived in the island since its first plantation, he may have been one of the original colonists who went with John Guy in 1610. Rowley was certainly in Newfoundland by 1612, when he went on the expedition, led by Guy, which established friendly relations with the Indians.
Later he became associated with Sir Percival Willoughby, an important member of the company, probably through Thomas Willoughby, Sir Percival’s son, who had been a colonist. In 1618 or early 1619, Willoughby drew up a deed making over half his land in the island to Rowley and William Hannam, the son of John Hannam of Huish, Somerset, gentleman. Willoughby’s grant, received from the company in 1617, consisted of the peninsula between Conception and Trinity bays, north of a line from Carbonear to Heart’s Content. It was intended that Rowley and Hannam should develop this land independently of the original settlement at Cuper’s (now Cupids) Cove. They were to hold the land under the same terms as Willoughby, paying him a peppercorn rent. However the document bears no signatures and Rowley later expressed discontent at not having received his land.
Rowley was also to act as Willoughby’s agent in Newfoundland; early in 1619 he was in Bristol making preparations to sail. By September he was in the island, but his intention to settle independently at Carbonear that summer and at Heart’s Content the following year had been frustrated by disagreements with Hannam, whom he accused of keeping two of his men and also of cheating him over the provisions. Rowley then decided to winter at the company’s settlement in Cuper’s Cove, from which he might explore Trinity Bay and trade with the Indians. Because of this delay, Rowley and Willoughby agreed to abandon the plan to settle at Carbonear and to go immediately to Heart’s Content in 1620. That winter Rowley made preparations and enlisted eight men, including five fishermen, to accompany him.
There is no definite evidence as to what followed but the settlement cannot have been established for, in 1631, Willoughby was still looking for someone to plant his land. In February 1620 Rowley complained of not having received his land or any commission to prove his authority; perhaps he refused to act further for Willoughby. Nevertheless he seems to have persevered in his interest in Newfoundland, for in a poem by Robert Hayman, governor of the Bristol plantation, which was published in 1628, his constancy was praised: “from the first plantation [he] hath lived in Newfoundland, little to his profit.” Nothing more is known of him, although he may have been the Thomas Rowley, haberdasher, whose will was proved in June 1641.
Rowley’s letters and other papers relating to him and Hannam are at Nottingham University, Middleton mss, Mi X 1/1–66. For Rowley see also: Guildhall Library, London, Act Book 7.77 P. R. Hayman, Quodlibets, lately come over from New Britaniola (London, 1628). Lambeth Palace, ms 250. Visitation of Shropshire taken in the year 1623, ed. George Grazebrook and J. P. Rylands (2 parts Harleian Soc., 1889) pt. 2. For Hannam see: Somerset House, P.C.C., 75 Fenner, 65 Soame.