1656, Henry Roach, John Wright, William Wood and partners seek to negotiate the terms of loan repayments to the Navy

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1650s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Henry Roach, John Wright, William Wood and partners of Wapping, mastmakers. SP 46/98 f. 1c (1656).

To his highnes the Lord Protector of England Scotland and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging.

The humble petition of Henry Roach, John Wright, William Wood and partneres of Wapping mastmakeres

Humbly shew, that in the year 1653 when the Navy was in greate distresse for mastes and could not be supplyed from Norway nor Eastland, then to encourag your petitioneres to provide mastes for your highnes Navy, they had imprest unto them, in prize shipps fitting for that service 2218 pounds, which was to be discompted out of the price of the mastes when delivered, and accordingly they repaired furnished and sett forth the said shipps att great charge, and with greate stockes in them for New England, where they procured their lading with such mastes as never before had come into England butt att their comeing home were taken by the Hollanderes nere the Landes Ende, and carried through the Channell into Flushing, notwithstanding your petitioneres were made beleive, that the Channell should be soe well guarded, that they neede not feare.

That your petitioneres have lost in adventureing for mastes by the Dutch warr 9220 pounds, as by the perticulares they cann make appeare, yett neverthelesse the comissioners and treasurer of the Navie [call?] to your petitioneres to cleer the said imprest, which your petitioneres are willing to doe, by such debtes as are justly due from the Navie, by billes of fraight, signed by the said comissioneres, upon the said treasurer which the said treasurer refuseth to satisfie.

Wherefore your petitioneres humbly pray, that your highnes wilbe gratiously pleased, to consider [their?] reall affection to the publique, their greate service in bringing this trade into your highnes owne dominiones, the great saveing in your Navies expence, by their procureing such greate mastes which have served in stead of made mastes, and their exceeding greate losse thereby, they alwaies supplying your navie with mastes, when none otheres would adventure, and therefore that your [highness?] would be pleased, to order the comissioneres and treasurer of the Navie, to discount the said imprestupon such billes as they have for shipps service, according to your highnes favour and justice shewed to otheres, by which your petitioneres shall be enabled and encouraged to prosecute this trade, soe advantagious to this nation

And ever pray etc.

[Paratext:] Whitehall January 26 1655 Its his highnesses pleasure that the commissioners for the Admiralty shall take this into consideration and uppon information had certify theire opinion Nathaniel Bacon


Report by Barbara Prynn 

In this petition, Henry Roach and his fellow mast-makers, recounted how in 1653 the Navy had loaned the petitioners ‘prize ships’ (ships seized in conflict at sea) for them to use to procure much needed masts from New England. The loan was valued at £2,218, to be repaid by the petitioners discounting the price they charged the Navy for the masts. The petitioners, at great expense, repaired and fitted the ships for the voyage to America. On return, the ships, loaded with masts, were captured by the Dutch off Lands End, despite an assurance that the Channel was safe. They estimated their total losses at £9,220 (just under £1m in today’s money).

The Navy was seeking repayment of the loan. The petitioners asked now that the Navy agree to secure the loan’s return by discounting payments it was due to make to them for other services.

The arrangement with the petitioners was agreed in January 1653, when the Commissioners of Dutch prizes authorised ‘delivery of two Dutch prizes, “without putting them to sale by the candle” [that is sale by auction], to Henry Roach, John Wright, and William Wood, who have undertaken to fit them and fetch masts and tar from New England’.[1]  The subsequent difficulties the petitioners faced on the ships’ return from New England, were anticipated if not prevented. In November 1653, a Captain Willoughby asked for ‘some ships sent as a guard off the Land’s End, as two ships have been taken coming from Barbados, and the time is near for the arrival of the New England ships with the masts sought’.[2]

Henry Roach and Wapping

A Henry Roach, a shipwright, was born in the East End of London around 1638. He was the son of Henry (described as a wheelwright) and Julia Roach.[3] It is possible that either of these Henrys was the author of the petition.

Wapping’s proximity to the river gave it a strong maritime character for centuries, and well into the twentieth century. It was inhabited by sailors, mastmakers, boat-builders, blockmakers, instrument-makers, victuallers and representatives of all the other trades that supported the seafarer. Wapping was also the site of ‘Execution Dock’ where pirates and other such criminals faced execution by hanging from a gibbet, constructed close to the low water mark. Their bodies would be left dangling until they had been submerged three times by the tide.[4]

The First Anglo-Dutch War

Eight major battles were fought in the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654). At first the Republic’s fleet was able to claim the upper hand, but by 1653 the English managed to impose a naval blockade. On 10 August 1653, the Dutch broke out and the two fleets met off the Dutch coast near Terheide. Soon into the battle the Dutch received a crushing blow when Admiral Maarten Harpertsz Tromp was killed. The fight continued in all its ferocity. Losses on both sides were huge, and neither side could claim victory, although the English blockade had been broken. Both countries were unable to fight on and peace was signed in 1654.[5] It is likely that the order by the Navy for masts, referred to in the petition, was for those needed during this conflict and that it was this conflict that led to the loss of the petitioners’ ships.

New World masts

Great Britain had depleted its forests by the seventeenth century and looked to the tall, straight white pines of Maine and New Hampshire to supply its appetite for timber for ships, especially the old-growth pines for masts. The trees and the other resources such as fur and fish that Britain sought in the American colonies appeared to be infinite but this was not the case. By the time of the American Revolution, most of the largest trees had been culled.[6]

The Treasurer of the Navy

The Treasurer of the Navy, originally called Treasurer of Marine Causes or Paymaster of the Navy, was a civilian officer of the Royal Navy. He was one of the principal commissioners of the Navy Board responsible for naval finance. The treasurer was based at the Navy Pay Office.[7]

Nathaniel Bacon

On receipt of the petition, Nathaniel Bacon asked the Commissioners for the Admiralty to consider the matter. It is not known what the outcome was.

Nathaniel Bacon was baptised on 12 December 1593 and died in August 1660. He was born at Coddenham in Suffolk, a younger son of Edward Bacon and his wife Helen née Little, who owned Shrubland Hall in Suffolk. Nathaniel Bacon and his wife had seven children. Nathaniel was the brother of Francis Bacon of Ipswich, not the more famous Francis who became Lord Verulam. Bacon was a staunch Presbyterian, and as such a determined opponent of Charles I. In November, 1645, Bacon was elected a recruiter MP for Cambridge University. In December 1648, he was excluded from Parliament at Pride’s Purge but was readmitted, to the Rump Parliament, in June, 1649. In that year he published a political tract, An Historical Discourse of the Uniformity of the Government of England, which was a powerful anti-royalist polemic. By the time of his death in 1660, Bacon was living in Gray’s Inn with an annual salary of £500 (£50,000 today) as master of requests and possibly an additional £1,500 (£150,000 to-day) for his anti-royalist services.[8]


[1] ‘America and West Indies: January 1653’, in W Noel Sainsbury (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 1, 1574-1660 (1860), pp. 396-398. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/colonial/america-west-indies/vol1/pp396-398.

[2] ‘Volume 41: November 1653’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1653-4 (1879), pp. 228-278. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1653-4/pp228-278.

[3] ‘Henry Roach, 1638’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=GBPRS%2FB%2F902523528%2F1; ‘Henry Roach, 1638’, Ancestry,https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=9841&h=140681408&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=gMG1&_phstart=successSource.

[4] ‘Wapping’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wapping.  

[5] ‘1652-1674 Anglo-Dutch Wars Timeline’, The Rijksmuseum, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/timeline-dutch-history/1652-1674-anglo-dutch-wars.

[6] ‘Big Timber: The Mast Trade’, Maine History Online, https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/283/page/546/display.

[7] ‘Treasurer of the Navy’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treasurer_of_the_Navy.

[8] J. Greenberg, ‘Bacon, Nathaniel (bap. 1593, d. 1660), politician and author’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-1000.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the Interregnum, 1649-1660’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.