A sea captain, in 1609, Argall was the first to determine a shorter northern route from England across the Atlantic Ocean to the Virginia Colony based at Jamestown, and made numerous voyages to the New World. As a sea warrior, he is best-known for actions against the Powhatan Confederacy, successfully kidnapping the Chief's daughter, Pocahontas, and in actions against the French efforts at colonization in New England and North Africa.
Knighted by King James I, Argall was less successful in his term as Deputy Governor of Virginia, where he was considered autocratic and unpopular. Like many mariners before and later, he was unsuccessful in his mission of locating a Northwest Passage to India. The Northwest Passage was eventually found by Roald Amundsen around 1904.
Upon his arrival at Jamestown, Captain Argall found the colonist in dire straits. He resupplied the colonists with all the food he could spare, and returned to England at the end of the summer. The help came to the colony at one of the most critical moments in its history, as it began the Starving Time, during which less than 20% survived. However, without the provisions Argall had left, the colony may have been totally wiped out.
Serving under Dale, in March 1613, Captain Argall, who was looking for food for the settlement, sailed up the Potomac River. There, he traded with the Patawomecks, a Native American tribe. They lived at the village of Passapatanzy in present-day Stafford County on the Potomac River near Fredericksburg.
When two English colonists began trading with the Patawomecks, they discovered the presence of Pocahontas, the daughter of Wahunsunacock, Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy. According to a book by Captain John Smith, she had been living there for several years. As soon as he heard this, Argall resolved to get kidnap Pocahontas. Sending for the local chief, Japazaws, Argall told him he must bring her on board his ship.
With the help of Japazaws, they tricked Pocahontas into captivity. Their purpose, as they explained in a letter, was to ransom her for some English prisoners held by Chief Powhatan, along with various weapons and tools that the Powhatans had stolen. Powhatan returned the prisoners, but failed to satisfy the colonists with the amount of weapons and tools he returned, and a long standoff ensued. During the year-long wait, Pocahontas was kept at Henricus, in modern-day Chesterfield County. While in captivity, the young Indian princess converted to Christianity, eventually marrying John Rolfe in 1614. While holding Pocahontas as a hostage had not worked to bring peace with the Powhatans, her marriage did, and era of peace lasted about 3 years.
After the capture of Pocahontas, later in 1613, under orders from London, Argall eradicated a French Jesuit colony on Mount Desert Island in Maine. After the first of two trips to accomplish this, he carried 14 prisoners back to Jamestown.
In the Virginia Colony, as one of the leaders, Argall was viewed as an autocrat who was especially insensitive to the poorer of the colonists. After he served what was considered an unsatisfactory term as deputy governor of Virginia beginning in 1617, Lord Delaware was en route from England to investigate complaints about Argall when he died at sea in 1618. Argall was replaced as Deputy Governor by Sir George Yeardley in 1619.
On 26 June 1622, he was knighted by King James I. In 1625, he was the admiral of a fleet of 28 vessels which took many prizes off the coast of France and in October commanded the flagship in an unsuccessful attack on Cadiz.
Argall was never married. He died at sea on or about 24 January 1626. He left a will dated 23 May 1625, which was proved 21 Mar 1626. In it he mentions the following relations: sister Filmer, niece Sarah Filmer, nephew Samuel Filmer; sister Bathurst, nephew Samuel Bathurst; sister Fleetwood; brother John Argall esq and John's son Samuel Argall