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RUT, JOHN, commander of an English expedition to North America; fl. 1512–28.

As yeoman of the crown and master of the king’s ship Mary Guildford, normally employed to bring wine for the king from Bordeaux, John Rut (described as of Ratcliffe, Essex) was chosen by Henry VIII to command an expedition to America in 1527. With the Mary Guildford and the Samson, he was to find a passage to Asia around or through North America and to engage in trade when he had done so. Leaving the Thames on 20 May and Plymouth on 10 June, the vessels parted company in a storm on 1 July. The Mary Guildford met icebergs on 3 July and soon afterwards turned back (reports that some men died of cold are not, at that season, at all unlikely). The sources are corrupt and give figures as varied as 53° (perhaps for 58°) and 64° for the most northerly latitude she reached. Rut, on his way south, explored the Labrador coast, entering one inlet, probably St. Lewis Inlet (52°20´N), and landing with his men. He fished at Cap de Bas (at 52°N as he reckoned and probably Cape Charles) between 21 and 30 July, then sailed south to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where he found 14 French and Portuguese fishing vessels, as he wrote on 3 August to King Henry. Rut was on his way to Cape Race to fish, expecting to rendezvous at Cap Espar (Cape Spear) with the Samson by mid-August and to set out “toward parts to that Ilands that we are commanded,” as Purchas, most obscurely, makes him say.

The historian E. G. R. Taylor has argued that if he did not find a northwest passage he had orders to look for a passage or isthmus about latitude 40°N as shown on a map by Giovanni da Verrazzano, apparently presented to the king in 1525 or 1526. It was almost certainly the Mary Guildford (we must assume the Samson had been lost) which coasted eastern North America from Cape Breton to the Florida channel during the autumn, the first English vessel known to have done so. It is possible that at one landing the pilot was killed by Indians. Nothing further is known of them until an English ship appeared at the island of Mona in the West Indies on 19 November, supposedly having been on a search for “Noruega” (Spanish for “Norway” but perhaps meant for Verrazzano’s “Norumbega”). The Mary, we are told by our Spanish authorities, was well-armed, had a pinnace and long-boat, and about 70 men (that is 40 more than her normal crew of 30). A pinnace put men ashore at the city of Santo Domingo on 25 November, where they offered to exchange woollen cloth, linen, and pewter for dye-wood and food. They were well received but, next day, as the ship was being brought into the harbour, a stone shot was fired from a warning gun. The captain thereupon took fright and brought his vessel out. Later, at Ocoa, when the Spaniards refused to trade, the English took food by force, threatening to return as enemies, though they later traded peacefully at San German, Puerto Rico. The ship must have reached England in the spring or summer of 1528 since, between September and December, the Mary Guildford was employed once more, under John Rut, to bring the king’s wine from Bordeaux. The voyage gave Englishmen some first-hand knowledge of the whole eastern coast of North America, enabling them, in this respect, to catch up with France and Spain. Its lack of success in finding a northwest passage to Asia meant that it was not followed up since Henry VIII had little interest in North America for its own sake.

One member of Rut’s expedition, Albertus de Prato, has attracted a certain amount of attention through the letter he wrote to King Henry, 10 Aug. 1527 (Purchas, Pilgrimes (1905–7), XIV, 303–5; Williamson, Voyages of the Cabots (1929), 105, 258). He was thought by Biggar (Mélanges, 467) to be the “Alberto de Porto” who borrowed £19 15s. on 19 April 1527 from one Raphael Maruffo (PRO, CLP, Hen. VIII, IV, Part II, 1526–28). This, however, does not help to identify Prato. It has been suggested that the “canon of St. Paul in London” who Hakluyt thought was on the voyage (Principal navigations, VIII (1904), 1–2), was Prato but the lists of dignitaries of St. Paul’s Cathedral have been searched for him in vain. Hakluyt heard of him as “a great Mathematician, and a man indued with wealth [who] did much advance the action, and went therein himselfe in person.”

David B. Quinn

Hakluyt, Principal navigations, VIII (1904), 1–2. PRO, CLP, Hen. VIII, IV, Part II, 1526–28. Purchas, Pilgrimes (1905–7), XIV, 303–5. Spanish documents concerning English voyages to the Caribbean, 1527–68, ed. I. A. Wright (Hakluyt Soc., 2d ser., LXII, 1929), 29–56 (on p. 48 “Norumbega” should read “Noruega”). Williamson, Voyages of the Cabots (1929).

H. P. Biggar, “An English expedition to America in 1527,” in Mélanges offerts à MCharles Bémont (Paris, 1913), 459–72. F. A. Kirkpatrick, “The first recorded English voyage to the West Indies,” EHR, XX (1905), 115–24. Precursors (Biggar). E. G. R. Taylor, Tudor geography, 1485–1583 (London, 1930), 11–12.

Biggar’s account (Mélanges, 459–72) is the basis for the assumption made above that Rut’s ship was the king’s wine ship Mary Guildford (and not the Mary of Gilford) and that it was this ship (and not the Sampson) that reached the West Indies. For alternative views see Williamson, Voyages of the Cabots (1929), 258–61 and Hoffman, Cabot to Cartier, 121.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

David B. Quinn, “RUT, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rut_john_1E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rut_john_1E.html
Author of Article: David B. Quinn
Title of Article: RUT, JOHN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1966
Year of revision: 1966
Access Date: December 17, 2014