The Many Wives of Henry Woodward by Suzannah Smith Miles

This was written by my friend, Suzannah Smith Miles for the Moultrie News in Mt. Pleasant.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
By Suzannah Smith Miles

Charles Town Landing Display

Talk about the right stuff. Dr. Henry Woodward was quite a man – and in more ways than one, if you get my drift. Read on.

Woodward, pronounced “Woodard” in the Lowcountry, is rightfully acclaimed as the “first South Carolinian.” Even before Charles Town was founded, he lived with the Indians on St. Helena Island near present day Beaufort. His knowledge of Indian languages and customs was so valuable to the colony’s tenuous first years that the endeavor might not have succeeded without Woodward’s knowledge and friendship with the Indians.

Woodward was the epitome of the new world adventurer. He lived a hundred years before explorers like Daniel Boone, yet he journeyed into the unexplored wilds as far as the Mississippi River and walked all the way to what is now Norfolk, Va. From his marriage to Mary Godfrey, he produced a line of descendants of great South Carolinians that likely knows no equal.

Much has been written about Woodward’s outstanding exploits. Yet one part has been largely overlooked: his remarkably active love life. Woodward apparently had a way with the ladies and his marriage to Mary Godfrey was not his only trek down the matrimonial aisle.

Historians believe Woodward was born in England around 1646, arriving at Barbados in 1665 at age 19, well-educated and with medical training enough to call himself “doctor.”

In 1665, Woodward signed on as the ship’s surgeon with Robert Sandford’s expedition for an exploration of the lower Carolina coast, what would eventually become South Carolina. Leaving Barbados, the expedition’s first stop was North Carolina, where a small English colony, the first and short-lived Charles Town, was struggling on the Cape Fear River.

This was just long enough, say some historians, for Woodward to fall in love and marry a woman named Elizabeth Yeardley, an alliance that apparently produced a son named Francis.

Woodward had a job to do, however, so when the Sandford expedition finally set sail in June 1666 to explore the lower coast, Woodward was aboard, leaving Elizabeth behind. They explored the entire coast between what is now Charleston and Beaufort, eventually meeting with the Indians on St. Helena, a tribe called the Escamacu. Their relations with these Indians were so friendly it was decided that an Englishmen would stay with the Indians and learn the language and customs. In turn, a member of their tribe would join Sandford’s expedition. Woodward volunteered for the job.

Sandford wrote that Woodward was “treated with the greatest love and courtesy” and, indeed, one of the first things Woodward was given was the sister of the Indian who had joined the Sandford expedition. She was to “tend him and dresse his victualls and be careful of him so her Brother might be the better used amongst us.”

While the plan was for Woodward to stay with the Indians until Sandford returned, after six months Woodward was with the Spaniards at St. Augustine. Some say he was captured; Spanish records offer a more plausible explanation – that Woodward went there purposely to spy.

The Spanish account is enlightening.

Needless to say, no one in their right mind wanted to be “questioned” by the Spaniards (think Inquisition), especially about religion. Woodward was not a Catholic. And most historians agree that he had purposely gone to St. Augustine to see what the Spanish were up to.

Woodward had incredible luck. At about this same time the privateer-cum-pirate, Captain Robert Searle, decided to attack and sack St. Augustine. Woodward was freed.

He sailed with Searle and other privateers in the Caribbean until August 1669, when he boarded a ship for London – only to be shipwrecked in a hurricane and washed ashore on the island of Nevis. It was here, waiting for another ship to happen by, that the Carolina, part of the “first fleet” bringing the original English colonists to South Carolina, put in for water. Woodward joined the Carolina and, incredibly, after an adventure-filled three years, found himself back on Carolina soil.

Woodward’s knowledge of Indian languages was invaluable as Charles Town, then at Albemarle Point (now Charles Town Landing), was established. It was also through Woodward that the lucrative Indian trade for skins and furs got started.

In 1671, Woodward made his way back to North Carolina and Virginia on foot. One can only imagine the surprise his wife, Elizabeth, must have felt when he arrived. Thinking him dead “on his explorations,” she had remarried.

Thus ended marriage one. Or two if you count his Indian wife.

Woodward returned to Charles Town and for his “industry and hazard” was made a Lords Proprietor’s deputy and given 2,000 acres of land.

He also met young Margaret Midwinter, an indentured servant to colonist Original Jackson (for whom Jacksonboro eventually received its name.) Woodward had to purchase Margaret’s freedom in order to marry her. Thus, by cancelling the debts Jackson owed him for professional services and the “further consideration of a peppercorn,” the two were married.

It was a short-lived union. Exactly what happened to Margaret is fuzzy history. Some say that while Woodward was building their home on Johns Island’s Abbapoola Creek, Margaret died at sea. The most frequently related story is that while she was sailing to England, the boat was captured by pirates who sank the vessel with all aboard.

Thus ended marriage two. Or three, if you count the Indian woman in Port Royal.

In 1679 or thereabouts, Woodward married again, this time to Mary Godfrey Browne, the widow of Robert Browne and daughter of one of the colony’s most important men, Colonel John Godfrey. This union produced three children. Son John, born in 1681, married Elizabeth Stanyarne; son Richard, born in 1683, married Elizabeth’s sister, Sarah Stanyarne. Daughter Elizabeth married William Wilkins.

In 1685, Woodward is credited with introducing what some consider the most important crop in South Carolina’s history, rice. Legend states that, John Thurbur, the captain of a New England sailing vessel that had put into Charles Town for refitting, gave Woodward a bag of Madagascar rice seed in thanks for the kindness he had been shown during his stay. Woodward distributed this “seed from Madagascar” to others, it was grown successfully, and from this came the “Carolina Gold” rice which would eventually bring vast wealth to Lowcountry planters.

Woodward died sometime between 1686 and 1690. Like his many marriages, there are varying stories surrounding the exact circumstances. All accounts seem to agree that it was with great solemnity and sadness that his Indian friends ceremoniously brought his body back to Charles Town. Where he was buried is not known. Most likely it was on his lands on Abbapoola Creek. By all accounts he was only in his early 40s.

But what a legacy he left! His descendants read like a who’s who of famous South Carolinians. They include three past governors, at least a dozen congressmen, some of the state’s most famous generals and numerous men of the cloth, including a bishop or two.

In his short life, Woodward lived with the Indians, outfoxed the Spanish, sailed with privateers and survived more shipwrecks than most.

(Suzannah Smith Miles is a writer and Lowcountry and Civil War historian).

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I was called to be an artist. And as an old old midwife said to me "If the Lord wants you to do something, you won't have no good luck' til you do." So, here I am, sharing what I love, longing to illuminate the work of art, which is everywhere.

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Posted in Native American, South Carolina History
3 comments on “The Many Wives of Henry Woodward by Suzannah Smith Miles
  1. Paula Hutson Simmons says:

    I loved this rendition of Dr. Henry Woodward’s wives. As a descendant I have spent a lot of time exploring Henry’s adventures. Thanks to Charlotte for passing this on.

  2. Steven Urquhart says:

    Great history. Does anyone know any details about his gunshot wound to the head he apparently survived?

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What’s this?

Welcome to my blog about the Lowcountry of South Carolina, a place proud with beauty, history and art. Sometimes we feel a call, to be, to go, to do. I was called to be an artist, and as an old midwife from Alabama said, “If the good Lord wants you to do something, you won’t have no good luck until you do it.”

So here I am writing about what I know, about the 'under glimmer' as the poet Basho, says, the way I have learned to see, to notice. I am inspired by, and talking about the history and art and culture of this place that has called me to herself. By the ancestors.

My background includes a degree in fine arts from a small private college in Florida, and before that, four years of all girls' boarding school in Asheville. I worked as a professional photographer, helped my children grow up, and now and I love seasoned things, good food, better conversation, beauty, my beloved and beautiful Italian Greyhound, Beau. Moved by the sacred places and stories of this beautiful historic land called the Lowcountry, I am here in spirit and I hope to infect you with my love of this place.

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