After completing his apprenticeship, he joined the Royal Navy where he assisted Sir Francis Drake. In 1588, he became the master of a supply ship, Richarde Dyffylde, for the British navy during the invasion of the Spanish Armada.
Later, he took part in an expedition to the Arctic as a pilot for the Barbary Company. The expedition was in search of a Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia to the Far East and took about two years.
In 1598, he was appointed as pilot major with a fleet which was dispatched for a Dutch expedition to the Far East. The fleet consisted of five ships namely; the Hoop, the Liefde, the Geloof, the Trouw, and the Blijde Boodschap.
The ships started off their journey and took the route to the coast of Guinea, West Africa where they attacked the island of Annobón for supplies, and then moved on. But the bad weather disrupted their journey and only three ships--‘the Liefde’, ‘the Hoop’ and ‘the Trouw’—out of five, made it to the Straits of Magellan.
His ship, the Liefde, waited for the other ships until the spring of 1599 but out of the other two ships which had survived the disaster, only the Hoop joined them. Both the ships then sailed westwardly for Japan but in late February 1600, the Hoop was also claimed by a typhoon along with its entire crew.
In April 1600, his ship along with its sick and dying crew of about 20 people, anchored off the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. The ship was immediately seized and the sickly crew was imprisoned at Osaka Castle on orders by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo of Edo and future shogun.
While imprisoned, he met Tokugawa few times and faced interrogation about his skills and a variety of other topics. Tokugawa was impressed with his knowledge of ships, shipbuilding and mathematics.
In 1604, Tokugawa ordered him to help in construction of Japan's first Western-style ship. Adams supervised the production and the sailing ship was built at the harbour of Ito on the east coast of the Izu Peninsula. Following the construction, he became one of Tokugawa’s chief trade advisors and a diplomat of Japan.
He was crowned as a Western Samurai by the name of ‘Miura Anjin’. While serving as an advisor, he wrote letters on behalf of the shogun encouraging Dutch and English traders to come to Japan, and then officiated for the establishment of the Dutch East India Company in Japan.
In lieu of working as an advisor to the shogun, he received all the comforts in Japan. He was given generous revenues, a high priced estate, and an army of slaves to work under his command in his estate for the rest of his life.
In 1613, he also helped in the establishment of a factory for the British East India Company in Japan. Although the trade did not prove to be much profitable in the Japanese market, he became an employee of the East India Company at a yearly salary of 100 English Pounds.
From 1614 to 1619, he also undertook several expeditions traveling as far as Southeast Asia. He went to Siam in 1614 and 1615, and Cochinchina in 1617 and 1618, sometimes for developing the trade while at other times, for personal reasons.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was married to an English woman and had children before leaving for the expedition to the Far East. But he was unable to reach his family as the Japanese ruler forbade him to leave the country. Somehow he managed to send regular support payments to her after 1613 via the English and Dutch companies.
Later, he married a Japanese woman named Oyuki, the daughter of Magome Kageyu, a highway official. The couple was blessed with a son, Joseph, and a daughter, Susanna.
He died on May 16, 1620, at Hirado, north of Nagasaki, and was buried there.