Governor. Sayle was likely born in England in the early 1590s, though his exact place of origin, date of birth, and ancestry are unknown. Married, he fathered three sons named Thomas, Nathaniel, and James.
Sayle served as governor of English colonies in both Bermuda and South Carolina. He was first appointed governor of Bermuda on September 15, 1641, and occupied this office intermittently for the next two decades. In 1646 Sayle and William Rener purchased one-half share in a ship sent to explore the Bahama Islands. By July 1647 Sayle and a “Company of Adventurers for the Plantation of the Islands of Eleutheria” may have obtained a patent to settle one hundred Bermuda Independents in the Bahamas. Sayle departed Bermuda with about seventy adventurers and reached the Bahama Islands before October 1648. The challenges of establishing a new colony, coupled with infighting among the settlers and the inadequacy of provisions, forced Sayle to appeal to other colonies for aid. Sayle, accompanied by his wife and three children, returned to Bermuda in March 1657. Reappointed governor the following year, Sayle held this position until 1662.
In 1663 the Lords Proprietors received the right to settle and govern thousands of acres in a land called “Carolina” from Charles II of England. In August 1669 three ships carrying more than one hundred colonists departed England, under the command first of Captain Joseph West and later of Sir John Yeamans. Sailing by way of Barbados, two vessels were lost to Atlantic storms, another was blown off course to Bermuda, and a replacement ship was blown to Virginia. Returning to Barbados, Yeamans appointed William Sayle governor of the intended colony just as the sole remaining vessel set sail from Bermuda for its final destination in February 1670. Possibly nearly eighty years old at the time, Sayle was described by Yeamans as “a man of noe great sufficiency yett the ablest I could then meete with.” Arriving first in Port Royal, Sayle and the colonists eventually chose to settle on the western side of the Ashley River. This later proved an undesirable site. In 1670 Sayle reserved six hundred acres on a neck of land called “Oyster Point” located at the convergence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Colonial officials relocated the government to this land in 1680 and designated the property “Charles Town.”
As in Bermuda and the Bahamas, political strife plagued Sayle’s administration. In letters to the proprietors several prominent colonists blamed Sayle’s puritan religious outlook, advanced age, and failing health for many of the colony’s problems. One observer described Sayle as “a persone verie anchant or Aged and verie feble” and so riddled by illness that “what small reason he had is almost taken.” A faction led by William Owen tried unsuccessfully to unseat the governor. Sayle died shortly thereafter on March 4, 1671. A copy of an addendum to his will and its proof by his successor Joseph West remain the earliest surviving probate documents in South Carolina. He bequeathed all his property to his sons Nathaniel and James.
Cheves, Langdon, ed. The Shaftesbury Papers. 1897. Reprint, Charleston, S.C.: Tempus, 2000.
Miller, W. Hubert. “The Colonization of the Bahamas, 1647–1670.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 2 (January 1945): 33–46.
Salley, A. S., Jr., ed. Records of the Secretary of the Province and the Register of the Province of South Carolina, 1671–1675. Columbia: Historical Commission of South Carolina, 1944.