WILLOUGHBY, THOMAS, member of the first English colony in Newfoundland; b. 1593, the third son of Sir Percival Willoughby and his wife, Bridget, of Wollaton, Nottinghamshire.
Thomas’s father had been one of the foremost subscribers to the Newfoundland company on its foundation in 1610 and had been appointed to the council which managed the company’s affairs. Sir Percival had inherited a large but impoverished estate and engaged in many financial schemes to restore his fortunes; it was probably the speculative aspect of the Newfoundland venture which attracted him.
Thomas was evidently the black sheep of the family and, by 1612, had so angered his parents that he was sent out to the recently established colony at Cuper’s Cove (now Cupids) to reform. In May 1612 Willoughby and Henry Crout who was his guardian and agent to his father, reached Newfoundland. With a group of new settlers they landed at Renewse where they remained for some time, Crout making Willoughby help in the company fishery to keep him out of mischief and bad company. By August they had both joined the main colony under John Guy at Cuper’s Cove. Willoughby evidently found life as a pioneer a sobering experience for he soon wrote a most dutiful letter home, repenting of his former indiscretions and promising so to “indever [my] selfe in all goodnesse, that I hope in time you may live to se[e] mee become a newe man.”
With 60 fellow settlers he spent that winter in the island. Severe weather caused the death of eight men and the loss of much livestock; it also immobilized the colonists but, when the weather permitted, Willoughby participated in their main activities of exploring and hunting. Crout informed Sir Percival that he should find his son much improved and Thomas was allowed to return to England in the late summer of 1613. A letter which he wrote to his mother in 1614 expressed his joy at being restored to favour.
In 1615 Sir Percival decided to make over the land in Newfoundland, which he hoped to receive from the company, to Thomas and his second son, Edward. This land was part of the peninsula between Conception and Trinity bays, north of a line drawn from Carbonear to Heart’s Content. The grant, however, was not confirmed until 1617 by which time Sir Percival had changed his mind.
It would appear that Thomas had again fallen from grace for, in the previous year, he had been sent back to Newfoundland. It was his father’s wish that he and Crout should establish an independent settlement at Carbonear but the plan was frustrated by the desertion of most of his men before they left England. Thomas wrote from Cuper’s Cove telling his father of this and advising him to set out his own fishing vessel, as he considered fishing the only way to make any profit from the island. Young Willoughby’s advice certainly was sound, for at this time only by fishing could the costs of supporting men in the island be covered.
It is not clear how long Willoughby remained in Newfoundland; he certainly spent the winter of 1616–17 there. In March 1617 his father wrote to Crout in Newfoundland that “for mr Thomas, it is not words nor writinge but deeds and better courses, can geive me satisfaction” (Middleton ms, Mi X 1/45). It is probable that he left with Henry Crout, who had quit Sir Percival’s service by 1619.
Thomas Willoughby does not figure in the family papers after 1621 when he was again at Wollaton. His total omission from the family pedigree (Visitation of Nottinghamshire, 1569 & 1614, p. 185, which includes material collected in 1631) suggests that he might have been disowned by his family. His father, however, was one of the most persistent promoters of the Newfoundland enterprise and maintained his interest in the island as late as 1631.
Other sources on the family: Cassandra Brydges, The continuation of the history of the Willoughby family, ed. A. C. Wood (Nottingham, 1958). Hist. mss Com., 69, Middleton mss. Visitations of the county of Nottingham in the years 1569 and 1614, ed. G. W. Marshall (Harleian Soc., IV, 1871), 185. See also: Prowse, History of Nfld. Rogers, Newfoundland.