Thomas Savage

The Interpreter



Thomas Savage video script

In 1621, John Pory wrote: “This Thomas Savage… hath served the public without any public recompense, yet had an arrow shot through his body in that service.”

Thomas Savage left England at the age of 13 to cross the Atlantic with Captain Christopher Newport, arriving in Virginia on the first supply ship in 1608, eight months after Jamestown colony had been established.

Within weeks, he accompanied Newport and Captain John Smith to the village of Chief Powhatan, who welcomed and entertained them lavishly. After days of bargaining, Newport left him “as his son” with the chief in return for an Indian, Namontack, who would accompany Newport on his return voyage to learn the “strength and condition” of the English.

Savage served as interpreter and messenger between Indians and English, which both facilitated trade and raised his status among the colonists. His ability to speak to and for both cultures and share information was key to the survival of the settlement.

Although his knowledge of the Algonquian language helped avoid misunderstandings and distrust between the two cultures, when he was sent to Jamestown fort to secure the release of several captured hostile Indians, the effort failed. Even so, Powhatan asked that “the Boy might come again, which he loved exceedingly.”

Exploring river

In 1609, Savage arrived at Jamestown with messages from Powhatan. Savage asked that “some of his countrymen” return with him to Powhatan; and another young boy, Henry Spelman, was willingly “appointed to go” and remained with Powhatan several weeks. (Spelman would return to Powhatan, and subsequently lived with the Patawomeck Indians on the Potomac River for more than a year.)

Powhatan allowed Savage to return to the colonists in 1610, and they did not see each other for four years, when Savage once again served as interpreter on behalf of Thomas Dale.

Chief Powhatan

By 1621, Savage was reported to be living among the Indians, after an Indian known as “The Laughing King,” gave him a tract of land on Virginia’s Eastern Shore — later called “Savage’s Neck.”

His wife, Hannah, arrived in Virginia in 1621 and, six years later, to defray the cost of her transportation, was given 50 acres of land in Accomac.

Historians have recorded Thomas Savage as having died in the early 1630s. Both he and Henry Spelman died before they were 35 years of age.

Trading with Indians

Images from 1607: A Nation Takes Root.