Gates, Sir Thomas, appointed the first and absolute governor of Virginia under the second charter to the Virginia Company of London, is said to have been born at Colyford, in Colyton parish, Devonshire; was a lieutenant of Captain Christopher Carleill's own company in the celebrated Drake-Sidney voyage to America 1585-86; published the Brigges Croftes account of this voyage in 1589,which he dedicated to the Earl of Essex; served gallantly at the capture of Cadiz and was knighted by Essex in June, 1596. He also served in the island voyage August-October, 1597; entered Gray's Inn March 14, 1598. About 1603 he enlisted in the service of the Netherlands, but when King James granted the first charter to the Virginia Company of London, he "had the honor to all posterity" of being first named in that celebrated document. He was in the garrison at Oudwater in South Holland with Dale in November, 1666; and in 1608 he received leave of absence to go to Virginia. The Virginia Company selected him as first governor under the new charter (1609), and in June he took passage with about 500 settlers. The expedition is known as the "Third Supply," and the emigration was the largest that ever left England up to that time. But the voyage over was very unfortunate, for an epidemic broke out among the passengers and there followed a great storm which scattered the fleet and wrecked upon the Bermuda Islands the Sea Venture which bore the governor and one hundred and fifty passengers; and though the rest of the fleet reached Jamestown in safety, their arrival only added to the trouble already existing there. The new settlers brought with them the yellow fever and the London plague, and, as their provisions were all ruined by sea water, the next nine months were a season of disease and starvation.
In the meantime, Gates and his fellow passengers on the Sea Venture were comfortably housed on the Bermuda Islands, and out of the cedar that grew there they constructed two vessels in which they at length got away. On May 23, 1610, they arrived at Jamestown to find all but sixty of the settlers dead. Gates relieved the immediate distress by the prompt distribution of provisions, and then asserted order by the publication of a code of martial law drawn up in England. Deeming the conditions desperate, Gates, with the advice of his council, determined to abandon Jamestown, and on June 7, 1610, embarked with all the surviving settlers. On the way down the river he learned of the arrival of Lord Delaware at Point Comfort as governor for life, and in obedience to instructions took his fleet back to Jamestown. Under Delaware's commission Gates became lieutenant-governor and commanded an expedition against the Indians, whom he drove from Kecoughtan. In July, however, of the same year, he was sent to England for supplies. He returned to Jamestown August 1, 1611, when finding that Lord Delaware had departed he again assumed direction of affairs. He remained in Virginia nearly three years, and returned to England in April, 1614. Soon after, he resumed his service in Holland and was paid by the states all past dues. He appears to have retained his interest in Virginia, and in 1620 we find him as one of "the Ancient Adventurers" petitioning to have some man of quality sent over as governor. During his administration new settlements were established at Henrico, Bermuda Hundred, City Point and other places; the French were driven from New England; and Pocahontas, daughter to the Emperor Powhatan, was captured and soon after married to John Rolfe. He left a son of the same name, who distinguished himself in 1626 in the expedition against Cadiz and in 1627 at the Ilse of Ré and Rochelle, when he was killed by a cannon shot.