Most biographies of James Cook portray Sanderson as a Staithes shopkeeper. Ralph Jackson's diary contains many and varied references to Sanderson and shows that he was far from being just a shopkeeper in a small fishing village on the Yorkshire coast. Entries in Ralph's journals suggest that Sanderson was a merchant who travelled widely on business. During his apprenticeship in Newcastle, Ralph met with Sanderson:-
|5 May 1753
||...I got a letter from my Sister Dolly at Staithes per Mr Sanderson. I retired into the office and answered it by him, I carried it to one Place`s Groat Market where I found him, he asked me to sitt awhile but I stayed very little...
Sanderson was a respected member of the Staithes community and would have played a role as one of the pall bearers at the funeral of Eleanor Jefferson, from one of Staithes leading families. However, Ralph's diary records that Sanderson was abroad at the time of the funeral and someone had to substitute for him.
Sanderson's assets were not just tied up in his business, he was also a landowner in his own right. Although his holdings were reduced following the sale of some land as recorded in Ralph's diary:-
|21 January 1759
||Thos. White gave Mr. Preston the writings that concerns the Estate at Hinderwell which he now lives in as Tenant but will enter upon it as his own at May Day having bought it of Mr Wm. Sanderson of Staithes for £2,500 or £2,700.
Sanderson's reputation as a merchant was such that he was prepared to go to court to protect his reputation, as Ralph records:-
|25 February 1762
||Jno. Watson of Stockton, H.Presswick, Wm. Richardson of Ayton, Geo Ward a countryman and myself appointed 10 days ago to arbitrate between Mr Wm. Sanderson and Rich. Weatherell, the latter having uttered reports to the discredit of the former, e.g. that he was arrested by the late Rev.W.Marsden`s Executorsfor £2,000 and by Fran.Easterby for £500 or £600 - as Mr Sanderson is a Merchant at Staithes these reports likely to be detrimental and had prepared to have the Affair tried at this Lent Assizes at York but was prevailed on to accept our decision which was that R. Weatherell should pay Wm Sanderson 50 guineas and acknowledge in writing his reports without foundation. Wm Sanderson to pay legal charges of £30.
As a respectable merchant and a pillar of the Staithes community Wm. Sanderson found himself undertaking various duties:-
|22 August 1770
||...went to Easington Church, met Messrs. Wardell and Sanderson (Trustees for rebuilding that Church).
It is not mentioned in Ralph's diary that Wm. Sanderson was also appointed as one of the Trustees in Thomas Skottowe's will with responsibility for administering funds to secure the education of his granddaughter Elizabeth Skottowe.
Several years later Ralph records another act of kindness from Mr Sanderson:-
|22 August 1774
||Brother George Jackson came from London by Sea in the Scorpion, sloop of war, Captn. Elphinston, landed at Staithes this morning and Mr Sanderson furnished him with horses and came with him to my house.
Whilst all of the above help to provide a more in depth appreciation of the position that Sander-son had in the community, they do not contribute to his connection with James Cook. However, there is one entry which fills that role:-
|2 November 1765
||...returned to dinner where I found my Brother and Sister Wilson who returned soon after, also Mr. Geo. Deighton of London who staid all night, as did his Nephew Thos. Pearson late apprentice to Mr. Sanderson of Staithes but is now going up to London with his Uncle to look out for business.
To date this is the only source material which states that Sanderson took on an apprentice. Admittedly it is some 20 years after Cook is supposed to have acted in that same capacity.