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Woodes Rogers

1679?-1732

Woodes Rogers was born in Poole, England and spent part of his early teens in Bristol as a mariner's apprentice. After assuming ownership over his father's shipping business in 1706, Rogers was approached by English explorer and privateer, William Dampier.

After a failed expedition and the loss of HMS ROSEBUCK, Dampier had been court martialled for cruelty and relegated by the Royal Navy. Desperate to revive his privateering career, Dampier initiated another expedition involving two frigates, the DUKE and the DUCHESS. With Rogers as captain, Dampier was sailing master and the ships set off in August 1708.

In 1709, Rogers and his expedition reached the Juan Fernández Islands near Chile. There, they found Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who had been marooned in the Isla Más Afuera in 1704. Rogers documented the rescue in, 'A Cruising Voyage Round the World', published in 1712. In it, Rogers describes life at sea but most interestingly, he provides clues about how Selkirk survived on the uninhabited island:

'...whatever there is in these Stories, this of Mr. Selkirk I know to be true; and his Behaviour afterwards gives me reason to believe the Account he gave me how he spent his time, and bore up under such an Affliction, in which nothing but the Divine Providence could have supported any Man…Necessity is the Mother of Invention, since he found means to supply his Wants in a very natural manner, so as to maintain his Life….'

Rogers nicknamed Selkirk 'The Governor' and his published work later became the source of inspiration for Daniel Defoe's narrative 'Robinson Crusoe' (1719). Rogers invited Selkirk to continue with him and his crew and for the next two years, the expedition continued its voyage and plundered Spanish ships. In total, the expedition accumulated nearly £200,000 of profit, which today amounts to around £20,000,000.

Despite these large sums, Rogers received only a small portion which he used to pay his family's accumulated debts. After his return, Rogers declared a state of bankruptcy and decided that the only avenue left for him was to resume a career in privateering. After voyages to Madagascar and the West Indies, Rogers was appointed Governor of the Bahamas in 1718. Rogers served a second term as Governor of the Bahamas in 1728. He died in Nassau in July 1732.