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Richard ap Meryk, Anglicised to Richard Amerike (or Ameryk) (c. 1440–1503) was a wealthy English merchant, royal customs officer and sheriff of Bristol. In the late twentieth century a popular history asserted that he was the principal owner of the Matthew, the ship sailed by John Cabot during his voyage of exploration to North America in 1497. This notion has been widely repeated. A Bristolian scholar and amateur historian, Alfred Hudd, suggested in 1908 that the continental name America was derived from Amerike's surname due to his sponsorship of Cabot's expedition to Newfoundland and was used on early British maps that have since been lost. However, the consensus view is that America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer.
One modern author suggests that Richard Amerike was born in 1445 at Meryk Court, Weston under Penyard, near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. The family name was an anglicised spelling of the Welsh ap Meuric, ap Meurig or ap Meryk, which means "son of Meurig". But since one of Amerike's daughters, Joan, was married to a future lawyer, John Broke, by April 1479, it seems likely that Amerike himself was born by c. 1440. Amerike's genealogy and connection to Merrick Court have not been verified.
Little is known of the first thirty years of Amerike's life. His wife, married at an unknown date, was named Lucy. It has been suggested that he settled for a time at West Camel, near Ilchester in Somerset. The greater part of his adult life was spent in, or near, Bristol. This was one of the great cities and ports of medieval England, possibly second only to London. Amerike became a wealthy and important merchant and dignitary. He is first found in Bristol customs accounts in 1472, trading in Irish fish. The published customs accounts of 1479-1480 show him continuing to trade to Ireland, but also participating in Bristol's valuable trade with Portugal and Bordeaux. In other years he also traded to Spain. Amerike was a burgess of Bristol by at least the mid-1470s. By this time he was sufficiently wealthy to lend £50 towards the ransom from Breton pirates of a great-nephew of William Canynges. A Bristol tax return of 1484 records that his household servants included an Icelander. By the early 1490s Amerike's main landed estate, acquired by purchase, seems to have been in Long Ashton on the Somerset side of the River Avon.
When Amerike traded as a merchant, he would have used a distinctive merchant's mark to identify his goods. Unfortunately when Amerike shipped on the Trinity of Bristol for a voyage to Andalucia in 1480 the purser, whose private accounts survive, failed to record the mark of Amerike, or indeed of any other merchant shipping. The mark associated with Amerike in modern times belongs to a different man, living a century later.
In 1485 Richard Amerike was appointed to the customs service in Bristol's neighbouring port of Bridgwater, with the post of controller of customs. This should have meant that he dwelled within the confines of the port (which included Minehead and Combwich), but whether he did so is unknown. In September 1486 Amerike became one of the customs officials in Bristol, holding the post of King's Customs Officer, known as a 'Customer' from 1486 until December 1502. As a customs officer he could not hold high civic office. But at the first election after he had ceased to be Customer, he was appointed as one of the city's two sheriffs. He died in post, probably around December 1503, and was replaced as sheriff by Robert Thorne. His precise date of death and place of burial are unknown. His heirs were his daughters, only one of whom is known. Joan (or Jane) Broke (née Amerike) (d. 1538) lies beside her husband, John Broke, in the church of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. Their tomb brass names Richard Amerike as her father, and once included the arms of both Broke and Amerike. This is now missing. The arms of Amerike are described as 'paly of six, or and azure, on a fess gules, three mullets argent'.
Popular interest in Amerike centres on his association with the Venetian explorer Zuan (Giovanni) Caboto, better known as John Cabot. Under the authority of King Henry VII of England John Cabot led three voyage of discovery from Bristol in search of new lands and a route to the supposed riches of the East. The first expedition, of 1496, was abortive. The second, in 1497, was the famous expedition in the Matthew of Bristol, which found 'new land' that Cabot thought was part of Asia. The outcome of the third voyage of 1498 is unclear, and the subject of much speculation. It has always been thought that funding for the voyages came from Bristol merchants. This made sense, since under the terms of Cabot's letters patent from Henry VII, which gave him his authority, all trade from any new lands discovered was to pass through Bristol. However, no list of sponsors has ever been found, and the only proven funding, in amounts insufficient for a voyage, came from the London branch of the Florentine banking house of the Bardi and, in 1498, from Henry VII. Other names have been suggested. The idea that Richard Amerike was a 'principal supporter' has gained popular currency in the 21st century. There is no known evidence to support this. Similarly, and contrary to a recent tradition that names Amerike as principal owner and main funder of the Matthew, Cabot's ship of 1497, academic enquiry does not connect Amerike with the ship. Her ownership at that date remains uncertain. It is not even clear whether the ship was a new-build or purchased second-hand.
Richard Amerike did have one important responsibility towards John Cabot. As noticed below, Amerike, and his fellow customs officer, Arthur Kemys, were the paymasters for the pension of £20 a year granted by Henry VII to John Cabot on 13 December 1497. Cabot's grant specified that he was to be paid out of revenues arising from the customs dues payable to the Crown on goods exported and imported in the port of Bristol by way of merchandise. Amerike and Kemys were responsible for collecting those revenues and accounting for them to the Exchequer at Westminster. Local payment in Bristol made a lot of sense for the explorer and, provided all the documentation was in order, Amerike and Kemys would then be able to claim the payment to Cabot as a legitimate expense when they accounted for their revenues in the Exchequer at the end of the accounting year. In 1896/7 Edward Scott, a 'Keeper' or senior archivist at the British Museum, and from 1891 Keeper of the Muniments in Westminster Abbey, discovered a stray Exchequer document that showed this process and two years-worth of pension payments to Cabot by Amerike and his colleague in 1497-1499. In 1897 the document was published in transcript and facsimile by Scott and the Bristol antiquarian Alfred Hudd. Kemys and 'Richard ap Meryke' or 'a Meryk' are named at the head of every page of the account. The 'Cabot Roll' remains an important discovery for the history of John Cabot. But in course of time Hudd went on beyond its text to develop theories about the naming of America based on the resemblance between the name of the continent and Amerike's surname.
Moreover, because Amerike's coat of arms was similar to the flag later adopted by the independent United States, a legend grew that the North American continent had been named for him rather than for Amerigo Vespucci. It is not widely accepted.
In 1908, the local Bristol antiquarian Alfred Hudd first proposed the theory that the word America had evolved from Amerike or ap Meryk. Hudd proposed his theory in a paper which was read at 21 May 1908 meeting of the Clifton Antiquarian Club, and which appeared in Volume 7 of the club's Proceedings. In "Richard Ameryk and the name America," Hudd discussed the 1497 discovery of North America by John Cabot, an Italian who had sailed on behalf of England. Upon his return to England after his first (1497) and second (1498–1499) voyages, Cabot received two pension payments from King Henry VII. Of the two customs officials at the Port of Bristol who were responsible for handing over the money to Cabot, the more senior was Richard Ameryk (High Sheriff of Bristol in 1503). Hudd postulated that Cabot named the land that he had discovered after Ameryk, from whom he received the pension conferred by the king. He stated that Cabot had a reputation for being free with gifts to his friends, such that his expression of gratitude to the official would not be unexpected. Further, Hudd used a quote from a mid 16th-century manuscript (a calendar of Bristol events), the original of which had been lost in an 1860 Bristol fire, and argued that it showed that the name America was already known in Bristol in 1497.
This year (1497), on St. John the Baptist's day (June 24th), the land of America was found by the merchants of Bristow, in a ship of Bristowe called the 'Mathew,' the which said ship departed from the port of Bristowe the 2nd of May and came home again the 6th August following.
Hudd reasoned that the scholars of the 1507 Cosmographiae Introductio, unfamiliar with Richard Ameryk, assumed that the name America, which he claimed had been in use for ten years, was based on Amerigo Vespucci and, therefore, mistakenly transferred the honour from Ameryk to Vespucci. While Hudd's speculation has found support from more than one 21st century author, there is no hard proof to substantiate his theory that Cabot named America after Richard Ameryk.