Roanoke Island

Home ] Parent Page ]


The story of Roanoke Island is one that I remember from School - they don't teach History like they used to!  I remember getting ribbed about Simon Ferdinando but not taking too much notice at the time.  However, I am much indebted to Steven, Nicola and Mavis Ferdinando for providing me with the impetus to provide this information on the web site as it is part of "family folklore" and so reproduced hereunder are parts of that history.

I am not absolutely sure whether this does actually make for part of our history, an interesting aside, wild speculation or "just a good story" so I will leave it here for you to "make up your own mind".

Back To Top

Exploration of Roanoke Island, 1584

On April 27, 1584, Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe left the west of England in two barks "well furnished with men and victuals," to explore the North American coast for Sir Walter Raleigh. Among the company of explorers was the enigmatical Simon Ferdinando, formerly the master of the ship Falcon under the captaincy of Raleigh, but also known as the "man" of the Queen's Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. Ferdinando had sailed to the coast of America and back in 3 months' time in 1579. His knowledge of navigation was to make him a key figure in many of the Roanoke Island enterprises.

The party of explorers landed on July 13,1584, on the North Carolina coast, about 7 leagues above Roanoke Island, and took possession of the country for Queen Elizabeth "as rightfull Queene" with the further proviso that the land was to be for the use of Sir Walter Raleigh, according to the Queen's charter. Despite the passing of more than 350 years, Barlowe's description of the country is still basically true, if pardonably exuberant. They found it "very sandie and low toward the waters side, but so full of grapes {scuppernongs } as the very beating and surge of the Sea overflowed them, of which we found such plentie, as well there as in all places else, both on the sand and on the greene soil on the hils, as in the plaines, as well on every little shrubbe, as also climing towards the tops of high Cedars, that I thinke in all the world the like abundance is not to be found."

From their landing place they proceeded along the seashore toward the "toppes of those hilles next adjoining" (perhaps the big Nags Head Dunes or hills in the Nags Head woods), from the summit of which they beheld the sea on both sides and came to realize that they were on a barrier island. After admiring the scene, they discharged an arquebus shot, whereupon "a flocke of Cranes (the most part white) arose . . . with such a cry redoubled by many ecchoes, as if an armie of men had showted all together." On the fourth day they were visited by Granganimeo, brother of Wingina, chief of the Roanoke Island Indians. After a short period of trading, Barlowe and seven others went by boat to Roanoke Island at the north end of which they found a palisaded Indian village. Here they were entertained with primitive but hospitable Indian ceremony. The Indians appeared "gentle, loving, and faithfull." The explorers described Roanoke Island as "a most pleasant and fertile ground, replenished with goodly Cedars, and divers other sweete woods, full of Corrants {grapes}, flaxe, and many other notable commodities." Game and fish were to be had in abundance.

The picture that Amadas and Barlowe took back to Sir Walter Raleigh was a rosy one, for they had seen Roanoke Island in midsummer. The Indians were generous, because at this season of the year they had plenty of everything in contrast to the scarcity of their winter fare; and the white man was new to them, though they had heard of others wrecked on the coast years before. Two Indians, Wanchese and Manteo, were brought back to England by Amadas and Barlowe that Raleigh might learn, first hand, the character of the coastal Indians. Queen Elizabeth appears to have been pleased by the western exploit, for she called the new possession Virginia, perhaps at the suggestion of Raleigh, chief lord of the new territory, whose poetic gift and courtly tact would prompt him thus to memorialize the virgin queen.

Back To Top

Raleigh's First Colony, 1585-86

The next spring, Raleigh sent a colony of 108 persons to Roanoke Island. The expedition, commanded by Raleigh's cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, sailed from Plymouth, England, on April 9, 1585, in seven ships, the largest of which was of 140 tons' burthen. Included in the group of ship captains and colonists were Philip Amadas and Simon Ferdinando of the expedition of the previous year; Thomas Cavendish, then on his first great voyage but destined to be the third circumnavigator of the globe; Grenville's half-brother, John Arundell, and brother-in-law, John Stukeley; and other Raleigh cousins and connections, among them Richard Gilbert, a Courtenay, a Prideaux, Ralph Lane, and Anthony Rowse, a friend of Drake's. There were an artist, or illustrator, John White; a scientist, named Thomas Hariot; and, among the humbler folk, an Irishman, Darby Glande or Glaven. The two Indians, Wanchese and Manteo, returned to America on this voyage.

Back To Top

The Voyage 

The route chosen lay via the Canaries and the Spanish West Indies. They anchored at "Moskito Bay" in the Island of "St. Johns" (Puerto Rico), May 12, where they constructed a fort, set up a forge to make nails, and built a pinnace to replace one lost in a storm. They left Puerto Rico toward the end of May after burning the fort and surrounding woods and after seizing two Spanish frigates. Just before departing, Ralph Lane raided "Roxo bay" in one of the captured frigates, built a fort, and seized a supply of salt.

These bellicose activities of the English in Puerto Rico illustrate the fact that England and Spain were virtually at war at that time. Indeed, the war was to become an actuality within 3 years. In the meantime, the English were engaged in what would be called today a "cold war"-- pin-pricking the Spaniard in the West Indies and about to settle on the American mainland at a spot sufficiently close to Spanish Florida to constitute both an economic and a military threat to Spain. Growth of the English colony would circumscribe Spain's own colonial effort; at the same time, the location chosen for the English colony was close enough to serve as a base of operations against Spanish new world ship- ping. That both possibilities were uppermost in the minds of Raleigh and Grenville and their supporters at court is obvious. One of the weaknesses of their colonial program was their persistent thought that privateering operations against Spanish shipping should, or could, be made to pay the cost of English colonial effort.

The first part of June found the English banqueting the uneasy Spanish Governor at Isabella on the Island of Hispaniola (Haiti). To impress the Governor, Grenville treated him to a sumptuous meal served "all in plate" to the "sound of trumpets and consort of musicke." The Governor entertained in turn and, subsequently, the English traded with the Spaniards for commodities that would be needed in their colonial settlement: "horses, mares, kine, buls, goates, swine, sheepe, bull-hides, sugar, ginger," etc. From the Spanish accounts of Grenville's actions in Puerto Rico and Haiti are gained some interesting personal glimpses. The officers and persons of distinction in the expedition were served upon silver plate which was chased and gilt. Wanchese and Manteo had learned to speak English, and the illustrator, John White, was already engaged in drawing pictures of strange plants and objects.

Back To Top

The Establishment of the Colony 

An island south of Cape Hatteras, now known as Ocracoke, was reached on June 26. The remainder of the month and most of July were spent in exploring the coastal islands and the adjacent mainland. During one of these expeditions, Grenville sought to strike terror into the hearts of the Indians by burning the Indian village of Aquascogok in retaliation for the theft of a silver cup stolen by one of the Indians. Not until July 27 did Grenville anchor at Hatoraske, off the barrier island, a short distance southeast of Roanoke Island. Here at a break in the barrier reef, almost due east of the southern tip of Roanoke Island, Simon Ferdinando discovered a port, named Port Ferdinando in his honour and considered the best port along that stretch of coast.

A colony was established on the "North end" of Roanoke Island, and Ralph Lane was made Governor. From Port Ferdinando, and later from Roanoke Island, letters were written by Lane to Secretary Walsingham informing him of the successful founding of the colony. Still another letter was written to Sir Philip Sidney, son-in-law of Walsingham, who was interested in western discovery. A letter to Richard Hakluyt, geographer and historian, written by Lane from the settlement on Roanoke Island indicated that the Governor of Virginia was impressed by the "huge and unknowen greatnesse" of the American continent. He added that if Virginia only had horses and cows in some reasonable proportion and were inhabited by Englishmen, no realm in Christendom would be comparable to it. The Indians, he said naively, were "courteous, and very desirous to have clothes," but valued red copper above everything else. Wingina, chief of the Roanoke Island Indians, had received the white men hospitably and had cooperated with them in the initial phases of the founding of the settlement. This is clear from Grenville's account as well as Lane's.

Grenville lingered a short while after the founding of the settlement, then returned to England for supplies. On the way home he captured a richly laden Spanish ship, which must have repaid him handsomely for his western trip. On his arrival in England, he too reported to Walsingham, thus acknowledging the interest of the Queen and emphasizing the semi national character of the Virginian enterprise.

Lane built a fort called "The new Fort in Virginia," where the present Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is situated and where the remains of a fort were still visible as late as 1896. The fort was located near the shore on the east side of Roanoke Island between the "North Point" of the north end of the Island and a "creek." The mouth of the so-called creek was big enough to serve as the anchorage for small boats (Shallow Bag Bay, known as late as 1716 as "Town Creek").

Lane's fort on Roanoke Island resembled in some noteworthy respects the fort which he had built on St. Johns Island, Puerto Rico, in May 1585, when he seized the salt supply. Both forts seem to have been roughly shaped like a star built on a square with the bastions constructed on the sides of the square instead of at the corners, as was common in later fortifications. Copies of the plans of these forts may be seen in the Fort Raleigh museum.

The dwelling houses of the early colonists were near the fort, which was too small to enclose them. They were described by the colonists themselves as "decent dwelling houses" or "cottages" and must have been at least a story and a half or two stories high, because we have a reference to the "neather roomes of them." The roofs were thatched, as we learn from Ralph Lane's statement that the Indians by night "would have beset my house, and put fire in the reedes that the same was covered with." The chimneys and the foundations may have been of brick, because Darby Glande later testified that "as soon as they had disembarked {at Roanoke} they began to make brick and fabric for a fort and houses." Pieces of brick were reported found at the fort site as late as 1860, and recent archaeological work at the fort turned up a few brickbats, possibly of the Elizabethan period.

Thomas Hariot remarked that though stone was not found on the island, there was good clay for making bricks, and lime could be made from nearby deposits of oyster shells in the same manner that lime was made "in the Isles of Tenet and Shepy, and also in divers other places of England." However, as no evidence of the extensive use of brick has yet been found, it is perhaps safe to assume that the chief building material was rough boards. It has already been noted that they had a forge which they could set up to make nails. Richard Hakluyt, in his Discourse of Western Planting, written at the request of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, about 1 year before the colony sailed, had recommended as "things to be prepared for the voyadge" that any colonial expedition should include "men experte in the arte of fortification," "makers of spades and shovells," "shipwrights," "millwrights, to make milles for spedy and cheape sawing of timber and boardes for trade, and first traficque of suertie," "millwrights, for corne milles," "Sawyers for common use," "Carpinters, for buildinges," "Brick makers," "Tile makers," "Lyme makers," "Bricklayers," "Tilers," "Thatchers with reedes, rushes, broome, or strawe," "Rough Masons," "Carpinters," and "Lathmakers." The presumption therefore is that typical English thatched cottages and houses, such as were found in rural Elizabethan England, were built at Roanoke. (The log cabin appears to have been introduced into America about 50 years later by the Swedes and Finns on the Delaware.) The Roanoke cottages were presumably well built. The skilled labour of the expedition had been able to construct a seaworthy pinnace at Puerto Rico in less than a month's time.

Back To Top

Life in the Colony 

At first, relations with the Indians continued friendly, though the Englishmen had their detractors in the Council of the Indian Chief. The aborigines planted crops and made fish traps for the Englishmen. With rare foresight, the colonists also induced Chief Wingina (who had changed his name to Pemisapan) to put into simultaneous cultivation his lands both on Roanoke Island and on the mainland at Dasamonquepeuc in order that the Indians might have no excuse for not being able to supply the colony if need arose. The coast was explored by the English as far south as Secotan (about 80 miles) and as far north as the Chesapeake (about 130 miles). Thomas Hariot collected data on plants, animals, and minerals for his New Found Land of Virginia. John White made the inimitable water-colour drawings of the Indians, the animal and plant life of Roanoke Island, and the coast, which have been engraved many times. The much rarer facsimile reproductions of these drawings in colour may be seen in the Fort Raleigh museum. These paintings are the first artistic productions of Englishmen in America. The colonists also learned to smoke tobacco, using for this purpose Indian pipes or other pipes of their own modelled on the Indian pipes.

How closely the personnel of the first colony conformed to the standard suggested by Hakluyt in 1584 is not known; but historical documents indicate that there were men expert in fortification and that there were brick makers, carpenters, and thatchers. Also the names of all of the colonists are known, if not their trades. Some were gentlemen, cousins of Raleigh and Grenville, as the names indicate. Hariot says that some were city dwellers "of a nice bringing up" who soon became miserable without their soft beds and dainty food. Others were excellent soldiers, as Lane testified of Captain Stafford; and there were the humbler folk, of whom Darby Glande was perhaps representative, though he was Irish and appears to have been forced to accompany the expedition. On the whole, they gave the appearance more of a military expedition than a colony. They were dependent upon the Indians and upon England for both food and supplies. Many of their basic commodities, such as salt, horses, and cattle, had been obtained in the first instance by trade, or by force, from the Spaniards in the West Indies. There appear to have been no women among them to give permanence to the settlement.

Grenville's deplorable action in burning the village of Aquascogok was indicative of the fact that the high-spirited Englishmen of that day could not live on even terms with the natives. In the lean period between the planting of crops in the spring and the expected summer harvest, English relations with the Indians grew strained and finally reached the point at which no further supplies could be had from them. Once the colonists and Indians were at odds, the fish traps began to be robbed or destroyed. Food became scarce, and Lane was forced to send groups of settlers to the barrier islands along the coast to live on oysters and other shell fish and to look for passing ships. Master Prideaux and 10 men were sent to Hatoraske Island for this purpose, while Captain Stafford and 20 men went to Croatoan Island, south of Cape Hatteras. (Croatoan Island is a sixteenth-century name, not to be confused with modern Croatan Sound area.) Sixteen or twenty others were sent at intervals to the mainland to live on oysters and native foods.

By June 1, 1586, the colonists were at open war with the Indians, and many of the latter were slain in the struggles that ensued both on Roanoke Island and on the mainland at Dasamonquepeuc. Pemisapan was among those who were killed in the fighting.

Back To Top

Abandonment of the Colony 

Meanwhile, Grenville was delayed in leaving England for the supply of the Roanoke colony. This placed the colonists in a desperate predicament. Such was the state of affairs at Roanoke Island when, on June 9, 1586, Captain Stafford brought news of the fact that Sir Francis Drake was off the coast with a mighty fleet of 23 ships. Richly laden with booty from his attack on the Spanish West Indies and Florida, Drake's fleet anchored next day partly in the port near Roanoke Island (probably Port Ferdinando) and partly in a "wilde roade" at sea 2 miles from the shore. Second in command to Drake on this expedition was Capt. Christopher Carleill, Secretary Walsingham's stepson and son-in-law, who had been interested in American exploration since 1574. Lane and some of his company went on board Drake's flagship, and Drake made them a generous offer. He would give them a ship, one or two pinnaces, a number of smaller boats, and sufficient ship masters, sailors, and supplies to afford another month's stay at Roanoke and a return voyage to England, or he would give them all immediate return passage to England with his fleet. To Lane's credit it must be said that he was loath to give up the Roanoke Island project. He accepted the first offer, and the ship was turned over to him; but before the supplies could be made ready, a storm arose and the ship was blown out to sea and did not return. The fleet suffered other losses in this storm, but Drake remained open handed. He offered Lane supplies as before and another ship, but since this vessel was much too large to be kept in Lane's only harbour, its acceptance, and dependence on it, involved a great risk.

This fact, the troubled state of Europe and America, making war with Spain now practically inevitable, and the unaccountable delay in the arrival of Grenville's supply fleet caused Lane to ask for passage to England. When Drake sailed, on June 18, he carried the colonists home with him.

Back To Top

Grenville's 15 Men 

Shortly after Drake and the colonists had sailed, a supply ship sent out by Sir Walter Raleigh arrived at Hatoraske and after searching in vain for the colonists returned to England. About a fortnight after Raleigh's ship had left, Grenville arrived with three ships and likewise searched in vain for the colonists. Grenville found the places of colonial settlement desolate, but being "unwilling to loose the possession of the country which Englishmen had so long held," he left 15 men on Roanoke Island, fully provisioned for 2 years, to hold the country for the Queen while he returned to England.

Back To Top

The Lost Colony of 1587

In the year 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh organized another colonial expedition consisting of 150 persons. Its truer colonizing character was evidenced by the significant facts that, unlike the expedition of 1585, this one included women and children, and the men were called "planters." Its government was also less military, since the direction of the enterprise in Virginia was to be in the hands of a syndicate of sub patentees--a governor and 12 assistants whom Raleigh incorporated as the "Governor and Assistants of the Citie of Ralegh in Virginia."

The new arrangement indicated that colonization was becoming less of a one-man venture and more of a corporate or business enterprise, anticipating in a certain degree the later English companies that were to found successful colonies in Virginia and New England. Exactly what inducements Raleigh offered to the planters are not known. His terms were probably liberal, however, because Hariot, writing in February 1587, paid tribute to Raleigh's generosity, saying that the least that he had granted had been 500 acres of land to each man willing to go to America. Those contributing money or supplies, as well as their person, probably stood to receive more. From the list of names that has come down to us, it would appear that at least 10 of the planters took their wives with them. Ambrose Viccars and Arnold Archard brought not only their wives but one child each, Ambrose Viccars and Thomas Archard. Altogether there were at least 17 women and 9 children in the group that arrived safely in Virginia.

In still another respect, this second colonial expedition seemed to anticipate the later Jamestown settlement. Raleigh had directed, in writing, that the fort and colony be established in the Chesapeake Bay area where a better port could be had and where conditions for settlement were considered to be more favourable.

The fleet, consisting of three ships, sailed from Plymouth for Virginia on May 8. Continuity with the previous expeditions was afforded in the persons of the Governor, John White, who was to make in all five trips to Virginia, Simon Ferdinando, Captain Stafford, Darby Glande, the Irishman, and perhaps others. The route, as in 1585, lay via "Moskito Bay" in Puerto Rico. Here Darby Glande was left behind, or escaped, and lived to testify regarding the first Roanoke Island colony before the Spanish authorities at St. Augustine some years later. The expedition sailed along the coast of Haiti, even passing by "Isabella" where Grenville had traded with the Spaniards for cattle and other necessities in 1585, but this time there was no trading, possibly because of the precarious relations between England and Spain, now on the eve of open war. Whatever the reason for this failure to take in supplies in Haiti, it constituted a certain handicap for the colony of 1587.

Back To Top

The Second Colony Established at Roanoke

The two leading ships of the expedition reached Hatoraske on July 22, 1587, and the third ship on July 25. Meanwhile, on the 22d, Governor White and a small group of planters had gone to Roanoke Island with the intention of conferring with the 15 men left there by Grenville the preceding year. On reaching the place where the men had been left, they found only the bones of one of them who had been killed by the Indians. There was no sign of the others.

The next day Governor White and his party "walked to the North end of the island, where Master Ralfe Lane had his forte, with sundry necessary and decent dwelling houses made by his men about it the yeere before." Here it was hoped some sign of Grenville's men would be discovered. They found the fort razed "but all the houses standing unhurt, saving that the neather rooms of them, and also of the forte, were overgrown with Melons of divers sortes, and Deere within them, feeding on those Melons." All hope of finding Grenville's men then vanished.

For reasons which are obscure, but perhaps because the season was late, it was decided to settle again at Roanoke Island rather than go on to the Chesapeake Bay country. Those houses found standing were repaired and "newe cottages" were built. The Indians proved to be more hostile than formerly, and George Howe, one of the assistants, was killed by the Indians soon after the landing. Through the intercession of the Indian Manteo, who had relatives on the barrier island of Croatoan, friendly relations with the Croatoan Indians were re-established, but the others remained aloof. The remnants of the Roanoke Island Indians dwelling at Dasamonquepeuc were accused by the Croatoan Indians of killing Grenville's men as well as George Howe. Hence, on August 8, Governor White, with Captain Stafford and 24 men, suddenly attacked the town of Dasamonquepeuc with fire and sword. It was a blunder. The Roanoke Indians had already fled. In their place were the friendly Croatoan Indians who had heard of the flight of the other Indians and had come over to take whatever corn and fruit might have been left behind. Thanks to Manteo, the Croatoan Indians forgave the Englishmen, or pretended to do so.

On August 13, complying with Raleigh's instructions, Manteo was christened and declared Lord of Roanoke and Dasamonquepeuc as a reward for his many services. Five days later, Governor White's daughter, Eleanor, wife of Ananias Dare, gave birth to a daughter, who was named Virginia because she was the first child of English parentage to be born in the New World. Another child was born to Dyonis and Margery Harvie shortly afterwards. On the 27th, Governor White, at the earnest entreaty of the "planters in Virginia," sailed homeward with the fleet to obtain supplies for the colony.

Back To Top

Governor White's Return to England 

With Governor White's departure on the 27th, the history of events in the colony becomes a tragic mystery which one can only seek to explain. There had been talk of moving the colony 50 miles inland, and White had arranged for appropriate indications of their whereabouts if they removed from Roanoke Island before his return. However, White could not return as soon as expected because of the outbreak of war with Spain. The year 1588 was the Armada year. Sir Richard Grenville, who was preparing a new fleet to go to Virginia, was ordered to make his ships available to the English Navy for service against the Armada. Both Raleigh and Grenville were assigned tasks connected with the national defence and could give little thought to Virginian enterprises. At length, the Queen's Privy Council gave Grenville permission to use on the intended Virginian voyage two small ships not required for service against Spain. White sailed with these on April 28, but they were small, poorly equipped, and poorly provisioned. Partly because of these circumstances and perhaps partly because of their own folly in running after Spanish treasure ships, they were unable to reach Virginia in the war-torn sea. Thus, while Grenville's large warships contributed to the defeat of the Armada, the Roanoke Island colony was doomed for the lack of them.

Although the Armada was defeated in the summer of 1588, the Anglo-Spanish battle of the Atlantic continued for several years. It was the intention of Spain to carry on the war not only against England by means of the Armada but also to seek out the English colony in the New World and destroy it at about the same time. In the latter part of June 1588, the Spanish Governor at St. Augustine sent a packet boat northward to locate the English colony preparatory to an early attack on it. After reconnoitring Chesapeake Bay, the packet boat, with the pilot Vincente Gonzalez in command and with Juan Menendez Marques nephew of the Governor on board, came somewhat by chance to Port Ferdinando. Here they found evidence of a harbour and of English occupation. They departed hurriedly to St. Augustine to report their discovery. They clearly thought the harbour still in use at the time of their visit; but the projected attack, at first postponed and later thought to be unnecessary because of the weakness of the fort and settlement, seems never to have been made. At least that is the conclusion to be drawn from available Spanish documents.

On March 7, 1589, Raleigh deeded his interest in the Virginian enterprise, except a fifth part of all gold and silver ore, to a group of London merchants and adventurers and to Governor White and nine other gentlemen, "Late of London." At least seven of them were planters whom White had left in Virginia, such as Ananias Dare, his son-in-law and father of Virginia Dare. Others included in the group were Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Smythe, later known as Sir Thomas Smythe.

The months slipped by, but Governor White and the London merchants seemed to have been unable to get a fleet organized for the relief and strengthening of the colony. In March 1590, Raleigh endeavoured to assist White, through influence at court, when the latter learned that Master John Wattes, of London, was being hampered by a governmental staying order in his effort to clear a fleet of privateers for the West Indies. The scheme appears to have been that Raleigh, acting as middleman, would gain clearance for the ships and, in return, colonists and their furniture would be transported to Virginia. The plan went awry. Governor White sailed on March 20, 1590, for America, but without the accompanying planters and supplies. Indeed, his status was not much better than that of a passenger on one of Wattes' ships, who had limited court influence at home.

After operating for months in the West Indies, the Wattes expedition anchored on the night of August 12 at the northeast end of the island of Croatoan. If White had only known then the clue to the colonists' whereabouts that he was to learn 6 days later, he would have asked for a search of that island! But he had no way of knowing the promise that "Croatoan" held. After taking soundings, the fleet weighed anchor on August 13 and arrived at Hatoraske toward the evening of the 15th.

Back To Top

Attempts to find the Lost Colony 

As the ships anchored at Hatoraske, smoke was seen rising on Roanoke Island, giving hope that the colonists were still alive. On the morning of the 16th, Governor White, Captain Cooke, Captain Spicer, and a small company set forth in two boats for Roanoke Island. En route they saw another column of smoke rising southwest of "Kindrikers mountes." There are no mountains on this coast, except the great sand dunes. Perhaps the smoke was coming from the general area occupied today by the Nags Head dunes. They decided to investigate this latter smoke column first. It was a wearisome task that consumed the whole day and led to nothing, since no human beings were at the scene of the woods fire.

The next day, August 17, they prepared to go to Roanoke Island. Captain Spicer and six other men were drowned in the treacherous inlet when their boat capsized. Despite this unfortunate occurrence, White was able to proceed with the search. They put off again in two boats, but before they could reach the place of settlement it was so dark that they overshot their mark by a quarter of a mile. On the north end of the island they saw a light and rowed toward it. Anchoring opposite it in the darkness, they blew a trumpet and sang familiar English tunes and songs, but received no answer. In the morning they landed on the north end of the island and found only the grass and sundry rotten trees burning. From this point they went through the woods to that part of the island directly opposite Dasamonquepeuc on the mainland, west of the north end of Roanoke Island, and from there they returned by the water's edge round about the north point of the island until they came to the place where the colony had been left by Governor White. From the description just given of White's itinerary, this place must have been near the shore on the north end of the island on the east side, i. e., at or near the present Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. In the course of the long walk along the shore, nothing of interest was seen except footprints which two or three natives had made in the sand during the night.

As they climbed the sandy bank toward the settlement area, they found CRO carved in Roman letters on a tree at the brow of the hill. Going from there to the site of the dwelling houses, they found all of the houses taken down and the area strongly enclosed with a palisade of tree trunks, with curtains and flankers "very Fort-like." One of the chief trees, or posts, had the bark peeled off, and carved on it in capital letters was the word CROATOAN, but without the Maltese cross or sign of distress that White had asked the settlers to use in such messages in the event of enforced departure from Roanoke Island. On entering the palisade, they found iron and other heavy objects thrown about and almost overgrown with grass, signifying that the place had been abandoned for some time.

From the fort and settlement area, White proceeded again along the shore southward to the "point of the creek" (i. e., the point of Shallow Bag Bay or, as it was called in 1716, "Town Creek"), which had been fortified with "Falkons and small Ordinance" and where the small boats of the colony were habitually kept, but could find no sign of any of these things. Then, on returning to the fort and settlement area, White searched for certain chests and personal effects which he had secretly buried in 1587. The Indians had discovered the hiding place, had rifled the chests, torn the covers off the books, and left the pictures and maps to be spoiled by rain. Considering that Gov. John White was probably John White the artist and illustrator of the expedition of 1585-86, one can imagine his feelings on seeing his maps and pictures irretrievably ruined. However, according to his own words he was cheered at the thought that, as indicated by the word CROATOAN on the palisade post, "a certaine token," his daughter, granddaughter Virginia Dare, and the colonists would be found at Croatoan Island, where Manteo was born and where the Indians had been friendly to the English.

As stormy weather was brewing, White and his little group returned in haste to the harbour where their ships were at anchor. Next day they agreed to go to Croatoan Island to look for the colonists but the weather would not permit. They planned to go to the West Indies instead, where they would have taken on fresh water and ultimately have returned to Croatoan. However, the elements willed otherwise and they were blown toward the Azores. From Flores in this group, they made their way to England.

Governor White could not finance another expedition to America himself, and Raleigh, although enjoying a large income at times, spent lavishly. Some of the money and energy that might have gone into the Virginian enterprise, Raleigh expended, during 1587-1602, in colonizing estates which he had received in Ireland. The Virginian enterprise would have required a prince's purse, but Raleigh was not a prince. Walsingham died in 1590, a blow to Raleigh. In July 1592, Raleigh was disgraced and imprisoned for marrying Elizabeth Throckmorton without the Queen's knowledge or consent. White, therefore, accepted the facts with resignation. His last recorded words, dated February 4, 1593, are: "And wanting my wishes, I leave off from prosecuting that whereunto I would to God my wealth were answerable to my will."

As late as 1602, Raleigh was still seeking in vain for his lost colony. In that year he sent out an expedition under Samuel Mace, who reached land some "40 leagues to the so-westward of Hatarask," presumably at or near Croatoan Island. Here they engaged in trading with the Indians along the coast. They probably did not look as diligently as they should have for the lost colonists, because they alleged that the weather made their intended search unsafe. On August 21, 1602, in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil, Raleigh expressed his undying faith in the overseas English Empire which he had attempted to establish, saying, ". . . I shall yet live to see it an English Nation." The memory of the Lost Roanoke Colony by that time had become an imperishable English tradition. After the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia in 1607, the Virginia colonists evidenced an almost constant interest in trying to learn from the Indians the whereabouts of the Roanoke settlers. However, the hearsay data they collected were never sufficiently concrete to be of any real assistance in locating Raleigh's men, and the answer remains a mystery to this day.

Back To Top

Connecting Links with Jamestown and New England

Following his marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton, which displeased the Queen, Raleigh remained out of favour until after the capture of Cadiz, in 1596, in which he had participated. Upon the accession of King James I, in 1603, he again lost favour at Court and on July 16, 1603, was imprisoned in the Tower of London on the charge of having conspired to place Arabella Stuart on the throne instead of James. At the trial in November, Raleigh, along with Lords Cobham and Grey, was convicted and condemned to death. The lives of all three were dramatically spared at the last minute, but the conviction and sentence of death against Raleigh were allowed to stand and he remained in prison in the Tower until 1616.

One consequence of the conviction of Raleigh was the loss of any rights that he might still have had under the patent of 1584 giving him the sole right to colonize the vast territory called Virginia. The patent had obligated him to settle Virginia within 6 years but so long as the mystery of the Lost Colonists remained unsolved, Raleigh could allege that his colonists might be living somewhere in Virginia and that in consequence his rights under the Charter of Queen Elizabeth were still in force. These claims he asserted as late as 1603. In fact, the abolition of Raleigh's claims appears to have been one of the outstanding consequences of the Cobham plot trails. Because his patent was now clearly lost and because of his imprisonment, Raleigh was unable to participate in the movement that culminated in the settlement of Virginia in 1607. Yet this movement, and the movement to settle New England, had close ties with him. Among the leading spirits behind the later successful Virginian enterprise were Richard Hakluyt and Sir Thomas Smythe, two of those to whom Raleigh had deeded his interest in the Lost Colony undertaking on March 7,1589. Likewise, among the early leaders of the North Virginia, or Plymouth, group were Raleigh Gilbert and Sir John Gilbert, sons of Raleigh's half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Raleigh Gilbert participated in the effort to plant a settlement on the Kennebec River in Maine in 1607 and was a member of the Plymouth Company as late as 1620.

Back To Top

Home ] Parent Page ] How to Use This Site ] News ] Family Tree ] Search This Site ] Gallery ] Family History ] Members Area ] Family History Resources ] Articles ] Sitemap ] Acknowledgements ] FAQ ] The Webmaster ] Contact Us ] Ferdinand(o) Forums ]