Richard Hakluyt (ca. 1552–1616) geographer
Richard Hakluyt was the principal exponent of English colonization in the Americas, long before England acquired its transatlantic empire. After the failure of the Roanoke colony (1585–87), Hakluyt’s writings helped sustain a lagging interest in New World settlement that would only be realized with the founding of Jamestown in 1607 (see Virginia colony).
Born in Hertfordshire, Hakluyt attended Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he later became a lecturer on geography. As a boy, his imagination was fired by a relative, a geographer sometimes known as Richard Hakluyt the Elder, who provided a library of rare travel literature and directed him to the 107th Psalm, verses 23–24: “they which go downe to the sea in ships and occupy the great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.” Hakluyt eventually took Holy Orders and began a remarkable career in geographical investigation, always with a view toward impressing upon Queen Elizabeth the value that American settlements might hold for England.
Although he never traveled to the New World, he did more than anyone else to publicize the potential benefit of a land that “bringeth fourth all things in aboundance, as in the first creations without toil or labour.” In 1582, he published Divers Voyages touching the Discovery of America, commissioned by Sir Walter Raleigh in support of Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s charter, to convince Elizabeth of the viability of an American venture. While in Paris as chaplain to the English embassy, Hakluyt collected many manuscripts in French, Spanish, and Portuguese relating to discovery, which served as the basis for his Discourse concerning Western Discoveries (1584). In his most enduring work, the three-volume Principal Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English Nation (1598–1600), he demonstrated the fruits of a lifelong search for materials, bringing together a number of firsthand and widely scattered accounts written in many languages. The Hakluyt Society was established in London in 1846 to promote the publication of geographical writing.