Samuel Purchas was born in Thaxted, England probably in 1577. His father George was a prosperous cloth merchant, but little is known of his mother, Anne. There is little known of his childhood, and in 1594, he entered the University of Cambridge. He graduated in 1597 and was later ordained a deacon in the Church of England. In 1604, he became the vicar of the village of Eastwood.
While extremely busy in his work taking care of the spiritual needs of the people of Eastwood, Purchas managed to indulge in his love of reading. His favorite topic was exploration. The thought of brave Englishmen battling the stormy seas (and jealous Spaniards) in wave-tossed ships thrilled the patriotic Reverend Purchas, and he turned to writing to help spread the word and encourage other stalwart English adventurers to try their hand at exploring. In 1613, he penned Purcas, his Pilgrimage or Relacons of the World and Religions both Heathenish and Christian Observed in all Ages and Places Devyded into Ffowre Bookes or Volumes Collected by Samuell Purcas, Mynister of Eastwood in Essex. The book recounted the sailings of various English expeditions and commented upon the religions observed by the natives in these far-off locales. Purchas (who, for the book, reverted to an old spelling of his family name: Purcas) had evidently interviewed many English adventurers on his many trips (for church business) to London.
The book enjoyed some popularity among England's literate population, although some accused Purchas of merely reworking the words of books already published on the subject of exploration. This did not stop him from updating Purchas, his Pilgrimage in 1614, the same year he received a new job at the rectory of St. Martin's in London. This was a boon to Purchas, who enjoyed talking to English merchant adventurers and mariners in the pubs of the city. London also put him near a fellow writer, churchman and fan of exploration, Richard Hakluyt. The two exchanged information freely, although while Hakluyt published letters and explorers' writings without any tinkering, Purchas added his own thoughts and theories to the material.
In 1616, Hakluyt died and Purchas eventually came into possession of his research material sometime in the 1620s. Adding this information to that he had already collected (and was planning to publish), Purchas produced Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes; Contayning a History of the World, in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells, by Englishmen and Others, often referred to simply as Purchas, his Pilgrimes. The work was made up of four large volumes, which exhaustively recounted the travels and adventures of noted English explorers and merchants. Much like Hakluyt's works, Purchas, his Pilgrimes proved to be excellent propaganda for investors trying to raise money from the sometimes-skeptical English merchant classes for planting colonies in the New World.
Purchas, his Pilgrimes turned out to be a very popular series, which greatly interested the English nation. In fact, as his fame grew, travelers began sending material to Purchas, asking him to publish their journals and notes in upcoming volumes of his work. Purchas was more than happy to do this, as he gained some wealth and glory in publishing; moreover, later historians gained insight into small-scale merchant ventures, English embassies to far-off lands and other events that might not ever have been recorded or set down in print otherwise.
A year after the publication of Purchas, his Pilgrimes, Samuel Purchas, who had never enjoyed good health, died. He was buried at the parish church of St. Martin's, where he had preached. His works were republished several times after his death, proving that these collections of exciting, pro-English history had lasting appeal.