Peter Hay the Envoy

A Faulty Legend

In 1971 Arnold Edmund Hayes authored an article on the Hayes family published in Historical Southern Families, Vol. 15 in which he claimed — with no evidence whatsoever — that the son of the immigrant Peter Hayes was an envoy of Charles I who emigrated from Barbados to Virginia about 1640.  The crucial portion of Mr. Hayes’ article is this:

In 1628 a dispute arose over the Governorship of the West Indies… after much wrangling, King Charles I finally decided to settle the matter. He named a Royal Commission go to Barbados, arrest the illegal governor and bring him back to London for trial. A new governor would be named by the rightful grantee, the Earl of Carlisle. Peter Hayes was appointed envoy with the Royal Commission to the West Indies. The dispute was settled in 1640.

The work of the commission completed, the gentlemen returned to London. However, Peter Hayes decided to extend his travels as far as Virginia. His father was well established on his plantation on Pagan Creek, just across the river from Jamestown…

This is hogwash.  There is a great deal more to this story and just a little more research (admittedly not easy in 1971’s pre-Internet world) would have clarified that Peter Hay the Envoy died in Barbados, never went to Virginia, and was not related to our Virginia Hayes/Hays family.

A little background on Barbados

In 1627 King Charles I granted to a favorite courtier, the Scot James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, the Proprietorship of Barbados and the Leeward Islands.  Carlisle had limited interest in the islands and appointed a succession of Governors who collected rents and fees mostly for their own pockets.  Carlisle died in March 1636 leaving an estate heavily in debt.  His son James, the new Earl of Carlisle, was a minor at the time and the management of the Caribbean proprietorship had been assigned by his father to his creditors, represented by trustees coincidentally named Sir James Hay and Archibald Hay.  In their effort to produce income from Barbados to satisfy the estate’s creditors, the trustees appointed their cousin Peter Hay as the island’s receiver general.

Peter Hay arrives in Barbados in 1636

Peter Hay was appointed Receiver of Rents of Plantations and Ports for Barbados on 13 June 1836 and arrived there from England in September 1636.1 2 He was instructed by the trustees to maintain a detailed census of the island along with complete records of production and both imports and exports.  And, of course, to diligently collect duties and rents.

The Governor of Barbados, Henry Hawley, who had been collecting many of those fees for himself, actively opposed Hay’s efforts to collect income for the trustees.   And by 1638 the young Earl was suing the trustees in Chancery to wrest control of the island’s income away from the trustees for his own use.3  In 1639, finally convinced of Hawley’s disloyalty and frustrated by the trustees, the young Earl named Henry Huncks the new Governor of Barbados.  But Hawley, backed by the island’s Assembly, refused to leave office, disputed Carlisle’s authority, and even jailed Peter Hay for nine days when he protested.4  Amid escalating threats of violence, Huncks fled to Antigua and Peter Hay went back to England.5 6

The King’s commission

In December 1639 King Charles I intervened by declaring Huncks the rightful Governor and appointing a four-man commission to travel to Barbados to deliver his decree and remove Hawley.  Peter Hay returned to Barbados as one of the commissioners in March 1640 and resumed his position as receiver general. 7  He also resumed life as a Barbadian planter, even hosting the other KIng’s commissioners at his plantation house.8   Unfortunately Huncks, whose loyalty was to Carlisle and not the trustees, effectively sidelined Peter Hay as receiver general and removed Peter Hay’s cousin William Powrie from his position as Secretary of State.  Both men complained to the trustees, declaring that that Huncks was a “drunken, vindictive tyrant” who had retaliated by threatening to make Peter Hay “shorter by the heade”.9

Peter Hay is fired in 1641 and retires to his Barbados plantation

In early 1641 Carlisle replaced Huncks with a new Governor, Phillip Bell, and replaced Peter Hay as receiver general with a man named James Browne whose loyalty lay with Carlisle rather than the trustees.   Carlisle wrote to Governor Bell that “Peter Hay Esq., late receiver for my late dear father’s trustees… [will] henceforth he remain a private man for and without any charge under me.”10  On 3 August 1641 Archibald Hay wrote to Peter Hay informing him that the Earl had become displeased with him, for which reason the trustees had been “forced to discharge you from your place.”11

After losing his position Peter Hay settled onto his plantation in Barbados.12  Peter Hay had a plantation on Barbados as early as 1638 when his name appeared on the census of landowners. 13  He had established himself as a plantation owner and importer of servants almost immediately after arriving according to his letters home. 14

He was, however, still a member of the Barbados General Assembly and a prominent man on the island.15  On 3 November 1646 he wrote from Barbados to encourage his brother Alexander Hay to move to Barbados, and a year later in August 1647 when his brother arrived, Peter Hay sold him land.16

Peter Hay died in Barbados in 1654

Peter Hay left a will in Barbados dated 6 July 1654 and proved three weeks later on 28 July 1654.17 In his will he named a daughter Ann Hay and two brothers named Alexander Hay and Thomas Hay.  Among other bequests he mentioned his brothers-in-law Andrew Walmsey and John Robinson and sisters-in-law Elizabeth Walmsey and Dorothy Robinson. His wife, whose name is unknown, evidently predeceased him.

More missed clues

My suspicion of Arnold Edmund Hayes’ paper was originally aroused by the fact that Peter Hay the Envoy was clearly literate while the man in Virginia could not sign his own name.  Even if Hayes researchers failed to explore Barbados records, there are other records that dispose of the theory that he was the same man who lived in Virginia.  It is obvious that “Peter Hay the Envoy” was literate, not only due to the demands of his assignment as receiver general and commissioner but also evidenced by the numerous letters and reports he wrote to the trustees in England. 18 19  Those letters are preserved in the “Hay of Haystoun” document collection housed at the National Archives of Scotland.  The Peter Hayes who left his will in Isle of Wight in 1678 clearly could not sign his own name, as he signed a court record, a petition and his own will by his mark. 20

Further, Peter Hay was a Scot who consistently signed his name as “Hay”.  I did not see a single record referring to him as “Hays” or “Hayes”.

OK, so who was Peter Hay the Envoy?

Peter Hay’s numerous letters to his kinsmen Sir James Hay and Archibald Hay were preserved in the “Hay of Haystoun” document collection housed at the National Archives of Scotland.  The trustees who hired him from 1636 to 1641, Sir James Hay (a baronet)  and Archibald Hay (an usher to the Queen), were first cousins once removed — but how they might have been related to Peter Hay is not clear.  Several histories refer to Peter Hay as their “cousin”, a term that often meant “nephew” in the 17th century.

The genealogy of the broader family is not altogether clear.  A John Hay and his wife Jane Scot are said to have had three sons: Gilbert Hay (father of Archibald Hay), Thomas Hay (grandfather of Sir James Hay) and John Hay.   Peter Hay (and his brothers Alexander and Thomas) probably fit into this tree somewhere but records that might explain how are elusive.  One possibility is that they were related either directly or by marriage to the third son above, known as John Hay of Kingsmeadow.  That John Hay had three sons named Andrew, John, and William about whom little is known — except that the son Andrew Hay in 1655 bought the lands that he named “Haystoun” (meaning Hay’s farm).  Peter Hay seems likely to be related in some way to Andrew Hay.

I note that Sir James Hay and Archibald Hay appointed close relatives to posts in Barbados — they installed Sir James’ son (also named James) as Provost Marshall in Barbados and Archibald Hay’s nephew William Powrie as Secretary of State.21


  1. J. Harry Bennett, “Peter Hay, Proprietary Agent in Barbados 1636-1641”, Jamaica Historical Review, Vol. 5, No. 2. []
  2. “Grant by Sir James Hay, bart, Archibald Hay, gentleman usher to the Queen, and Richard Hurst, to Peter Hay to be Receiver of all rents etc. out of the plantations and ports of the Islands of Barbadoes [Barbados], due to them as assignees of the deceased Earl of Carlisle.” preserved in Hays of Haystoun papers, item catalogued as GD34/920. []
  3. e.g., Calendar of State Papers, Vol. 15, page 480. []
  4. Gragg, page 42. []
  5. J. Harry Bennett, “Peter Hay, Proprietary Agent in Barbados 1636-1641”, Jamaica Historical Review, Vol. 5, No. 2. []
  6. Larry Doyle Gragg, Englishmen Transplanted: The English Colonization of Barbados 1627-1660 (Oxford University Press, 2003), page 40-41. []
  7. Gragg, page 41 and  Bennett, page 23. []
  8. Bennett, page 23. []
  9. Gragg, page 41. []
  10. Barbados Department of Archives, dictated 27/28 March 2007,  Deeds RB3/1, pages 4-5. []
  11. Hay of Haystoun Papers, item indexed as GD34/923/35. []
  12. Gragg, and also David Dobson, Scottish Emigration to Colonial America 1607-1785, page 67. []
  13. Apparently Peter Hay’s own census, reproduced in The Narragansett Historical Register, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Jan. 1885), page 285. []
  14. Hays of Haystoun papers, item catalogued as GD34/925. []
  15. Barbados Department of Archives, dictated 27/28 March 2007,  Deeds RB3/1, page 5 is a 1641proclamation signed by Assembly members one of whom was Peter Hay. []
  16. Gragg, page 45. []
  17. Joanne McRee Sanders, Barbados Wills and Administrations, Vol 1, page 171. []
  18. Hays of Haystoun papers, collections catalogued as GD34/923-924. []
  19. Gragg, pages 40-45 lists a variety of letters to the trustees. []
  20. See Isle of Wight records page. []
  21. William Powrie’s will in Barbados refers to his father Richard Powrie and his uncle Archibald Hay.  A few letters to and from him are in the “Hay of Haystoun” collection was well, at least one of which refers to Archibald Hay as his uncle. []