ROBERTS, LEWIS, merchant and writer; b. Beaumaris, Anglesey, in 1596, the son of Gabriel and Ann Roberts; d. March 1641 in London where he was buried.
In his youth Roberts, diverted “by adverse fortune or crosse fate, from the study of Arts to the studie of Marts,” became an apprentice or factor to a London merchant, Thomas Harvey. He was sent to Constantinople, whence, in 1617, he petitioned the East India Company for employment. Roberts served both that company and the Levant Company in Constantinople and, on his return to England, became a member of both organizations and a director of the former.
In 1638 Roberts published his most important work, The merchants mappe of commerce, in which he set out to provide an exhaustive guide to the world’s trade for the benefit of the young merchant. He dealt in turn with each of the four known continents, putting the trade with America first as being “the least and worst knowne.” In this most painstaking and comprehensive of manuals, Roberts described the geography of each continent, the location of the principal cities and centres of commerce and the peculiarities of the methods of trade in each. He also advised on the techniques of business and revealed an intimate knowledge of the intricacies of trade in the early 17th century.
Much of his material was gleaned from personal experience including the brief description of Newfoundland which Roberts claimed to have visited in his younger days, although exactly when is not apparent. He gave a short but accurate account of the English fishery on the coast of Newfoundland and the Bank, stating that they were frequented annually by 500 English ships – an estimate which seems too high. He mentioned the method of sale of fish by contract, the use of sack ships and the transportation of the catch to Mediterranean markets.
In the last years of his life Roberts published two less well-known works. He died in March 1641 and his will is registered at Somerset House, P.C.C. 45 Evelyn, and was proved 9 April 1641 by his widow Ann.
Roberts’s published works are: The merchants mappe of commerce (London, 1638; other eds. 1671, 1677, and 1700) which contains a portrait; Warre-fare epitomized (London, 1640); The treasure of traffike (London, 1641). Familiae minorum gentium, ed. J. W. Clay (4v., Hakluyt Soc., 1st ser., XXXVII–XL, 1894–96), I. PRO, CSP, Col., East Indies, 1617–21, 1630–34. DNB. H. A. Innis, The cod fisheries (rev. ed., Toronto, 1954).