Percival Willoughby (fl.1606-1643), settlement promoter, council member of the Newfoundland Company, member of parliament, was born into the Kentish branch of the house of Willoughby d'Eresby in the latter sixteenth century. He married his kinswoman, Bridget (also spelled Bridgett) heiress of Francis Willoughby of Wollaton, Nottingham, and acquired substantial property in both Kent and Nottingham. They had at least three sons, one of whom, Thomas, was also involved in the Newfoundland ventures. Willoughby died in England in 1643.
The Nottingham estate was riddled with debt, and by 1606, Willoughby was threatened by the prospect of debtors' prison. Lured by the promise of iron, copper, and silver profits in North America, he became a subscriber and council member of the Newfoundland Company, probably influenced by a major creditor, John Slany, the company's treasurer. But like other members, he was also genuinely interested in establishing a self-sufficient colony on the island and developing its fishing, agricultural, potash, and mineral potential. Two years later, he also became subscriber to the Virginia Company, but the focus of his interest remained the Newfoundland venture.
Willoughby's anticipated allotment lay between Conception and Trinity Bays, north of a line drawn between Carbonear and Heart's Content. In 1612, he sent his wayward third son, Thomas, with his agent Henry Crout and six apprentices, to the company's colony at Cuper's Cove (Cupids). He also sent a surveyor named Oliney to survey his lot and Bartholomew Pearson from the Wollaton estate to assess its agricultural capacity. Few of the party were impressed. Only Crout expressed any hope of the land's potential in mineral wealth. Faced with disappointing prospects, the hostility of migratory fishermen, and the coastal raiding of pirate Peter Easton, Thomas returned home in 1613, only to incur his father's wrath for lack of commitment. Sir Percival relented in 1615, intending to transfer the title of his Newfoundland lot to Thomas and another son, Edward. In 1616, he sent Thomas back to Newfoundland. But Thomas' name was written out of the family pedigree by 1631, suggesting that his father finally disowned him.
Before this estrangement, Thomas advised his father: "If efver you looke for your monney agayne in this country you must send fisher men." (1616). Unfortunately, Sir Percival did not heed his son's counsel. Although his lot included the rich fishing grounds off Baccalieu Island, Willoughby continued to pursue his hopes of mineral wealth. He was not successful in persuading the company to grant him the rich iron ores of Bell Island. During 1616-17, Willoughby also purchased a half share in the company for his son Edward from John Browne, and then tried to inveigle the company into granting the valuable St. John's lot to Browne without mentioning that his son was Browne's partner. This effort was also unsuccessful. When Willoughby officially accepted his allotment in 1617, it was for the original, more northerly portion.
In 1618, Willoughby entered into a partnership with William Hannam and Thomas Rowley, transferring to them his share of land in Trinity Bay for a nominal rent and their commitment to explore the potential of farming, mineral deposits, and trade with the Aboriginals. Constant squabbling and Willoughby's distrustful nature drove the partners apart within a few years. By 1626, Willoughby was in danger of losing the Trinity Bay portion of his lot because he had not managed to find colonists, thus defaulting on one of the conditions set by the company. His creditor John Slany managed to maintain the company on Willoughby's behalf, but with very little thanks from Willoughby, who claimed that his investment, so far from turning a profit, had actually cost him about oe500.
By 1631, Willoughby was negotiating with Nicholas Guy to settle on his land. Guy had been on the island since 1612 and had already moved from Cuper's Cove to Carbonear, where he was fishing and farming profitably in 1631. No further evidence of Willoughby's involvement in Newfoundland exists beyond Guy's letter to him of 1 September 1631. Despite various setbacks, Willoughby's interest in Newfoundland had lasted for at least twenty-one years, making him one of the island's most tenacious, if not most successful, promoters of settlement.