JAY, JOHN, merchant of Bristol, participant in North American ventures between 1480 and 1505; d. 1528.
Jay’s identity is puzzling; he was certainly the nephew of John Jay, tucker, of Bristol, thought to have died in 1480, and may have been the son of John Jay, merchant of Bristol (d. 1468). The latter left a ship called the Trinity to his son, while a John Jay and John Withipoll supplied in 1477 five ships for the king’s use: if these references are to our John Jay he was already an important shipowner by 1480.
In that year he was named by William Worcester as part-owner of the first ship known to have left England on a voyage of discovery in the Atlantic. Worcester’s account, translated, runs: “1480, on July 15, a ship . . . and of John Jay, the younger, of the burden of 80 tons, began a voyage from the Kingroad at Bristol to the Island of Brasylle in the western part of Ireland, to traverse the seas for . . . and Thloyde is the most expert shipmaster of all England; and news came to Bristol on Monday, September 18, that in the said ship they sailed the seas for about 9 months [recte weeks], but were driven back by storms to a port . . . in Ireland for the preservation of the ship and the sailors.” (The gaps were left by the writer to be completed subsequently.)
“Thloyde” evidently was master of the vessel, and is probably “John Lloyd,” the shipmaster and merchant who was trading from Bristol between 1461 and 1480. The Welsh surname “Lloyd” would sound like “Thloyde” in English, which could also be intended for “Th[omas] Loyde,” although no man of this name has yet been found. The voyage was clearly unsuccessful. Other partners in the voyage may have included Thomas Croft, a customs official, and his associates, who received a royal licence on 18 June 1480, apparently to make exploring voyages, and who sent out a further expedition of discovery in 1481 in which Jay could also have participated.
John Jay lived in a house in Broad Street, Bristol, and engaged in trade to Spain, Portugal, Norway, and other places. He was bailiff of the city, 1486–87, and sheriff, 1498–99. Though no evidence has yet been found to make it certain, he is likely to have been one of the Bristol merchants associated with John Cabot’s voyages in 1497–98 and with the Company Adventurers into the New Found Lands, which sent out expeditions to America between 1501 and 1505, since he was in close commercial relations during the latter years with Hugh Eliot, Thomas Asshehurst, and William Clerk, who were concerned in the company. He survived to be mayor of Bristol in 1518 and died in 1528.
Bristol and Gloucestershire Arch. Soc. Trans., XLVII (1925), 123–29. The great red book of Bristol, ed. E. W. W. Veale (5v., Bristol Record Soc.), pts. III, IV (XVI, 1951, XVIII, 1953). The overseas trade of Bristol in the later Middle Ages, ed. E. M. Carus-Wilson (Bristol Record Soc., VII, 1937), 157–63, with Latin text of William Worcester. The English translation is given in Williamson, Voyages of the Cabots (1929), 18–19, and Cabot voyages (1962), 187–88.