Morgan: The Lost Colony

“The Lost Colony” Chapter Two of American Slavery, American Freedom (1975)  by Edmund S. Morgan


             Walter Raleigh was Humphrey Gilbert's half brother. Though Raleigh was the younger by about fifteen years, the two men had been close. Like Gilbert, Raleigh had served an apprenticeship with the queen's forces in Ireland and had then become interested in America. He had invested in Gilbert's proposed colony and might have gone along on the exploratory expedition had he not been tied to England by a queen who liked to have her favorites close at hand. Raleigh, for the moment at least, was one of her favorites. She had endowed him with sinecures, monopolies, and pensions that transformed him rapidly from a poor young gentleman into a rich young courtier. Tall and handsome, looking like a costume actor ready for the stage, he had at the same time the vision, the brilliance of mind, and the daring that England nourished in such abundance during those years. Gilbert's Death When Gilbert vanished at sea Raleigh had no difficulty in getting the queen to issue him a patent like Gilbert's, conveying dominion over any part of the American coast where he could establish a colony (and every-thing six hundred miles north and south of it) within the ensuing six years. (1)


            Raleigh may have toyed with the idea of fixing his settlement in the northern area that Gilbert had investigated, but by the time he received his patent, on March 25, 1584, he had his eye on territory farther south, closer to the Spanish. He had already begun to fit out two small ships to reconnoiter the region; and on April 27 they were off, commanded by two young men from the large household he had gathered around him, Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe. With them as pilot went Simon Fernandez, a naturalized Portuguese who had sailed with Gilbert. Raleigh himself was not aboard. The queen would let him found a colony, but she was not likely to let him go to it himself.


            Amadas and Barlowe took the southern route to America, the one initiated by Columbus. Leaving Plymouth on April 27, they picked up the trade winds at the Canaries, and raised the Windward Islands by June l0. By July 13 they had passed up the east coast of Florida and made their way along the Carolina Outer Banks to an inlet just above Hatarask Island. (Map)


            After passing into Pamlico Sound, they went ashore first at Hatarask and later at nearby Roanoke Island, the home of the Roanoke Indians. How long they stayed is not clear, but they were back in England by mid-September with two Indians, a bag of pearls, and stories to assure their sponsors that this part of America was the way America was supposed to be, worthy indeed to be distinguished by the name that Raleigh now gave it, Virginia, after England's virgin queen.


            Arthur Barlowe wrote up the episode, emphasizing what was evidently expected of him. (2)  The Roanoke Indians were Peter Martyr's Indians:

most gentle, loving, and faithfull, void of all guile, and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the golden age. ... a more kinde and loving people, there can not be found in the world, as farre as we have hitherto had triall. (3)

Seemingly belying this judgment was his report that in trading deerskins to the English they were most eager for hatchets, axes, and knives, “and would have given any thing for swords.” (4) Moreover, the wars they waged with one another were


very cruell, and bloodie, by reason whereof, and of their civill dissentions, which have happened of late yeeres amongest them, the people are marvelously wasted, and in some places, the Countrey left desolate. (5)


But this contradiction was inherent in the expectation. Good Indians were supposed to live in terror of bad Indians, against whom they would welcome the assistance of the English. The good Indians of Roanoke were governed by a king who would, no doubt, become the willing ally, not to say the vassal, of so great a friend as Raleigh would be to them. Amadas and Barlowe had not met the king, Wingina, because he was recovering from wounds suffered in war. But they had met his brother, Granginemeo, whose friendliness and hospitality were a sufficient sign that Wingina would behave in the proper manner.


            The land, too, came up to expectations: "The earth bringeth foorth all things in aboundance, as in the first creation, without toile or labour." (6) With labor added, of course, it would bring much more. The soil was "the most plentifull, sweete, fruitfull, and wholsome of all the world." (7) The expedition had sown English peas that were fourteen inches high in ten days' time. Wildfowl, deer, and other game were everywhere. Cedars grew higher than in the Azores, and grapevines flourished so profusely that "in all the world the like abundance is not to be founde." (8) The new Eden would not lack for wine.


            Even the location that the explorers had happened on seemed to be ideal. Roanoke Island was inside the barrier beaches of the Carolina Outer Banks and thus appeared to offer a snug harbor, safe from Atlantic gales. And nearby was seemingly the great river Hakluyt had prescribed for access to interior kingdoms in case the coastal kings should prove recalcitrant: "Beyond this Islande there is the maine lande, and over against this Islande falleth into this spatious water, the great river called Occam." (9)


            The only apparent drawback to the site was at the same time one of its advantages: its close proximity to Spanish outposts Florida that San Agustin (St. Augustine) and Santa Elena (St. Helena, South Carolina). Although the Spanish had little interest in the Atlantic coast of North America, they did not care to have any other European country plant a colony on it. They feared, rightly, that the purpose of such a colony would be to facilitate raids on the Spanish treasure fleets, which followed the same route out of the Caribbean that Amadas and Barlowe had taken, up the east coast of Florida. Because of prevailing winds and currents, this was the only effective route, and the Spanish had always kept a jealous eye on Florida in order to protect it. When the French tried a colony there, they wiped it out and planted one of their own. The French in turn wiped out the Spanish colony, but the Spanish returned. If only to keep others out, they needed a foothold in Florida. An English colony at Roanoke, so close by, would be in grave danger of Spanish attack.


            That Raleigh intended his colony as a base for action against Spain is scarcely to be doubted. The queen had surely known of the intention when she granted him the patent. The only question was how far she would let him go, for in 1584 she was still wary of any move that would provoke a full-scale Spanish attack on EnglandRaleigh, on the other hand, like Drake and Hawkins, preferred to take the initiative; and he hoped to persuade the queen to follow up the patent with direct assistance in planting the colony and in mounting an assault from it on Spain's American empire. To this end, while Amadas and Barlowe were reconnoitering, he had summoned the younger Richard Hakluyt, who was then serving as a minor functionary in the English embassy in Paris. Hakluyt hurried home and prepared a paper, for the queen's eyes, that detailed the advantages of colonizing the southern part of North America, advantages so compelling that the queen should not merely allow the enterprise but should also contribute to the large initial outlay it would entail. (10)


             Hakluyt’s argument centered on the need and opportunity to deal a crippling blow to Spain. The need was urgent, for Spain threatened not only England but all Europe, "afflictinge and oppressinge of moste of the greatest estates of Christendome." (11) How had Spain become so powerful and so dangerous? Hakluyt was certain that the danger lay in its immense wealth. "Riches," he told the queen, "are the fittest instrumentes of conqueste." (12) With its riches Spain would subvert the whole of Europe. And the riches of Spain, he was equally sure, came from its New World empire. The colony that Raleigh proposed would, at the very least, enable English seamen to cut off the flow of gold and silver by intercepting the annual treasure fleets.


 "Touching the fleete," he pointed out, "no man (that knoweth the course thereof comyinge oute betwene Cuba, and the Cape of Florida along the gulfe or straite of Bahama) can denye that it is caried by the currant northe and northeaste towardes the coaste which wee purpose God willing to inhabite." (13)


            But Hakluyt (and presumably Raleigh) had more in mind than raids on Spanish shipping. Hakluyt had not forgotten Francis Drake and the Cimarrons, and he had since learned of other rebels against Spanish tyranny. Miles Phillips, an Englishman who had been stranded in Mexico with David Ingram after the battle at San Juan de Ulua, had stayed there fourteen years and only recently returned. Phillips was full of tales of the Chichimici, a nation of Indians in the north of Mexico. They had disrupted Spanish rule there, led by a Negro who had "fledd from his cruel spanishe Master."  Hakluyt had assurance that the Spanish were much more thinly planted in America than anyone realized, and everywhere the natives and the imported slaves were ready to revolt against them. Now was the time for England to strike. If the Chichimici, with the aid of one Negro, could force the Spaniards to abandon their mines in northern Mexico, as Phillips said, think what damage they might do with the help of "divers hundreds of englishe men ... being growen once into familiaritie with the valiaunte nation." (15)


            The Cimarrons and the Chichimicis would be only a beginning. Hakluyt wanted nothing less for the king of Spain than to see "the people revolte in every forrein territorie of his, and cutt the throates of the proude hatefull Spaniardes their governours." (16) That the subjects of Spain had every reason to revolt Hakluyt demonstrated by reciting the atrocities recounted by Las Casas. That Spain had no right to rule the New World he demonstrated by refuting the right of the Pope (who had divided the New World between Spain and Portugal in 1493) to assign dominion over any land." (He even tried to cast doubt on the validity of the Spanish claim that derived from the discoveries of Columbus: Columbus had sought the support of Henry VII of England before turning to Ferdinand and Isabella, and had dealt falsely with Henry by not waiting long enough for Henry's answer.)


            What Hakluyt and Raleigh were affirming was not quite a right of self-determination for the nations held in Spanish bondage. They were clearly bent on substituting English rule for Spanish. It had seemed obvious to the Spanish in Panama that Drake and Oxenham were trying to take over part of Spain's empire by promoting the revolt of her subjects. It seemed equally obvious to Hakluyt and Raleigh that this was precisely what England ought to do. Raleigh's colony could furnish not only a base from which to prey on Spanish shipping, but a rallying point for the oppressed natives of New Spain. Hakluyt assured Elizabeth that


"whensoever the Queene of England, a prince of such clemencie, shall seate upon that firme mainland, continent of America, and shal be reported throughoute all that tracte to use the naturall people there with all humanitie, curtesie, and freedome, they will yelde themselves to her governement and revoke cleane from the Spaniarde." (18)


            While the colony would thus enable the queen to win the oppressed peoples of the New World, it would also enable her to rescue those Englishmen at home who suffered want and oppression. Like Thomas More, Hakluyt was troubled by the growing number of men and women for whom England could afford neither food nor shelter nor even the opportunity to work for their bread. They drifted from place to place by the hundred, begging and thieving until the gallows claimed them. The prisons of the land were “daily pestered and stuffed full of them.” (19)


            Hakluyt was not exaggerating. England's population, for reasons that still mystify demographers, had begun to rise rapidly in the early sixteenth century and continued to do so until the middle of the seventeenth century, so that the island's numbers rose from under three million in 1500 to more than five million by the middle of the next century. (20) England's economy did not expand correspondingly, to furnish work for the new millions. Prices rose steadily, followed at some distance by a rise in rents and a much smaller rise in wages. The price of provisions used by a laborer's family rose twice as fast as wages. From a quarter to a half of the population lived below the level recognized at the time to constitute poverty. Few of them could count on regular meals at home, and more and more were forced to the road, where, as Hakluyt said, they fell “to pilferinge and thevinge and other lewdnes.” (21)


            To plant a colony in America; Hakluyt argued, would furnish a twofold remedy to the problem of the unemployed poor. Not only the colonists but their Indian friends would need English goods, especially English cloth. In order to supply them, shuttles would fly in England's looms and the poor would be able to earn a decent living. Those not employed in supplying the colonies would themselves become colonists and enjoy the manifold opportunities of the New World.


            Hakluyt was a compassionate man. He wanted to save those who “for trifles may otherwise be devoured by the gallowes.” (22) The idleness, poverty, and corruption of the English poor did not seem to him to be the result of any unworthiness of character. Desperation, not depravity, drove them to crime. The problem was that England had more people than jobs. The cure was to find more jobs, whether in England or in America. Hakluyt's feeling for the English poor was of a piece with his feeling for the oppressed Indians and blacks in America. Both were good people, suffering through no fault of their own. As England was “swarminge at this day with valiant youths rusting and hurtfull by lacke of employement,” (23) so New Spain was filled with “valiant” people like the Cimarrons and the Chichimici, suffering by Spanish oppression. The two must be brought together, under England's benevolent rule, in a new English empire on American soil.


            The argument was persuasive, and the queen was persuaded, but only to the extent of lending a ship of the royal navy, the Tyger, as the flagship of the expedition that Raleigh gathered during the next year to start his colony. She was also persuaded, either by Hakluyt's argument or by others, once more to unleash Sir Francis Drake. As Raleigh was gathering the ships and men for his colony, Drake was gathering ships and men for a raid on the Caribbean, a raid that was designed to be more than a raid. For obvious reasons, neither Drake nor Raleigh sought publicity for what he was doing. Hakluyt's discourse was not published, and the coordination of plans for the raid and for the colonizing expedition can only be surmised from events and, once again, from the testimony offered by Drake's Spanish victims. (24) But given Raleigh’s objectives, as expounded in Hakluyt's discourse, the two enterprises had to be connected. While Raleigh was establishing a permanent base just north of Florida, Drake would be harassing the Spanish in the Caribbean, and perhaps, with the aid of the Cimarrons, liberating a portion of the Spanish empire. Drake knew from past experience in the Caribbean that the Spanish defended their coastal cities only with galleys, vessels rowed by "galley slaves," another emblem of Spanish tyranny. Galleys had once been effective in Mediterranean warfare, but they were no match in the ocean for the swift sailing ships that Drake and Hawkins had developed for the English. (25)  By September, 1585, when he set off, Drake had a fleet of twenty-five of them, including two lent by-the queen. Martin Frobisher was his vice admiral, and Christopher Carleill, who had backed Gilbert, was his general, in command of 2,300 soldiers.(26)


            Drake's expedition was naval and military, and unfortunately Raleigh allowed his also to take on a strong military character. Part of the reason was that the queen had not been sufficiently generous and probably could not have been. Neither Raleigh nor his backers had the money to risk for a long-term investment in getting the colony going. They all, including the queen, wanted every voyage to pay, and the only way to make it pay was to pick up Spanish prizes en route. But by giving the expedition a military organization, as Raleigh did, he was placing the government of his colony, which was supposed to win the natives by its gentleness and courtesy, in the hands of men whose business was war. The hot-tempered Sir Richard Grenville was the general in charge; below him Thomas Cavendish (who later sailed round the world) was marshal; and Ralph Lane, on whom the command at Roanoke finally devolved, was lieutenant. Little is known about Lane other than the fact that he had been serving in Ireland, where he had distinguished himself for rapacity, and that he was released especially for the voyage. (27)  These men were in charge of about six hundred others, of whom probably half were sailors to man the five ships. Most of the rest must have been soldiers. Only 108 were designated as colonists, and even they may have been expected to serve as soldiers if necessary. (28)


            Probably a large percentage of the soldiers and settlers as well as the seamen had been impressed for the voyage. Impressment was England's way of recruiting for military expeditions across the Channel or overseas. The casualty rate on such expeditions was notorious, and the communities that furnished men for them deliberately selected their most undesirable inhabitants. (29) Those who returned were likely to be found among the beggars who wandered England's roads. Hakluyt had, in fact, included these veterans among the persons whom England might send to the colony. If any of the Roanoke colonists were obtained in this way, they fulfilled Hakluyt's plan for snatching men from the gallows, but they were scarcely the most promising material for starting a new bi-racial community in combination with the "kind and loving people" of Roanoke. The thought apparently occurred to someone else who was in on planning the colony. An anonymous document spells out the need for strict discipline and includes a brief set of proposed regulations with specific injunctions against any soldier striking an Indian or entering an Indian's house without leave. The same document also contains the provision, in keeping with the colony's purpose, "That no Indian be forced to labor unwillyngly." (30)


            The author of this document, like the Hakluyts, advised Raleigh to bring his own labor, at least skilled labor, to assure that the community would be economically viable and productive from the start. But it is not clear that Raleigh succeeded in securing skilled artisans. He would almost certainly not have been able to impress than, and the men he did send certainly showed no great capacity for work. Raleigh did, however, persuade John White, a painter, to go along and make a visual record of the new land; and Thomas Harriot, a mathematician of no small competence, accompanied the expedition to make scientific observations that might reveal the country's natural resources. Harriot had spent the winter with Manteo and Wanchese, the two Indians brought back by Barlowe. He had taught them English and they had taught him their language and filled him with anticipation of the good things he would find. They returned with the expedition, so that there were at least three members who could serve as interpreters.


            Grenville got the expedition off in April 1585, proceeding by way of the West Indies. At Puerto Rico he landed, built a fort, and cut trees for the construction of a pinnace (to replace one lost in a storm). There and at Hispaniola he also gathered livestock and tropical plants, including bananas and sugar cane, so that the colonists could try growing these profitable Spanish commodities in Virginia. In the last two weeks of June the vessels straggled into various inlets of the Carolina Banks. Simon Fernandez, piloting the Tyger, ran her aground crossing the bar. For two hours she lay there, and by the time they got her off, many of the provisions intended to sustain the colony during its first year were awash in the hold and ruined. Grenville established headquarters on Roanoke Island, from which he explored the mainland below the island, while another party examined the country bordering Albemarle Sound. But Grenville apparently did not intend to stay permanently with the colony. He, and presumably Cavendish too, departed at the end of August, leaving Lane in command. (31)


            As Grenville sailed toward England, picking up a valuable prize off Bermuda, Drake was on his way to the West Indies with his armada. Failing to intercept the treasure fleets, which got out just before he arrived, he pounced on Santo Domingo, the oldest bastion of Spain's New World empire. Almost before the Spaniards knew what was happening, their city was in flames, the slaves rowing the galleys that were supposed to defend it were freed, and the churches were desecrated in the manner the Spanish had learned to expect from this "Lutheran." After a month of occupation Drake returned the shell of the city to its Spanish inhabitants for 25,000 ducats, raised from the personal belongings of those who had managed to hide in the bushes. Taking along four or five Spanish ships from the harbor and hundreds of liberated slaves, he sailed away on February 9th. Two weeks later the audiencia of the city reported to the king, “we have understood both from these evil people and also from others that this and other fleets which cleared from England will meet at Cape Canavaral, where they have made a settlement." (32)


            But Drake was not ready to move north yet. On Ash Wednesday, February 19, he appeared off Cartagena and by Friday had captured it, burned its defending galleys, and again liberated the slaves. Negro slaves from surrounding plantations also joined him, and in negotiating with the city fathers to ransom the city, he made it clear that he would return no slaves, "except when the slaves themselves desired to go." (33) It was said at Cartagena that Drake's next stop would be Panama, that he carried clothing and other gifts for the Cimarrons there and "pinnaces made in sections so that the soldiers can carry them on their backs and so enter the Pacific." (34) If Drake did intend to stop at Panama, he changed his mind. On April 10, when he left Cartagena (much of it in ashes) with a ransom of 107,000 ducats, he headed for the Florida channel, taking with him three hundred Indians ("mostly women") and two hundred Negroes, Turks, and Moors. (35)


            When he showed up off San Agustin, Florida, he demonstrated once again the vulnerability of Spanish dominion. As soon as the English attacked the fort, the local Indians began to burn the town. The Spanish women and children, who had been evacuated to the interior to escape the English, were now more in danger of an Indian attack. So the Spanish commander abandoned his fort and hastened inland to protect them. "If our people escape from the English," the commander reported to his superiors in Spain, "the Indians will fall upon them or both will attack together. “For the future," he advised, it would be necessary to have sufficient strength to resist both the Indians and outside enemies, "for when the crisis arrives both are foes to the death.” (36)


            Drake apparently raided San Agustin not for the sake of plunder, for Florida was no source of treasure, but as part of the larger strategy of the expedition. In  one stroke he reduced the threat that the garrison at the same time promoted Anglo-Indian solidarity against the Spaniard. The authorities at San Agustin wrote home that “although he had burned this city and fort he did no damage at all to an Indian village which is a cannon's shot from here.” They also reported that Drake sent a party ashore at Santa Elena and “greatly flattered the Indians of that district, assuring them that in the spring the English would return and that they had a settlement on the coast near.” (37)


            The existence of the Roanoke settlement seems to have been widely known among Spanish officials in the Caribbean, probably as a result of Grenville's call at Puerto Rico. One report even had it that Grenville was operating under Drake's orders. (38) And it seems to have been common knowledge, after Drake left Cartagena, that he was headed for the English colony. Otherwise, it was pointed our, “there would be no sense in his taking the pains he took to carry off launches and frigates, implements, locks and all sorts of hardware and negro labourers who in his country are free.” (39) Three Negroes left behind at San Agustin confirmed this reasoning, saying, "He meant to leave all the negroes he had in a fort and settlement established at Jacan by the English who went there a year ago." (40)


            The various reports of Drake's activities in the Caribbean suggest that liberating victims of Spanish oppression was part of the plan. With Drake's help, it seems, the vision of Hakluyt and Raleigh was beginning to materialize: England was bringing freedom to the New World. To be sure, it was coming as a means to an end; Drake and Raleigh were both interested in power, profit, and plunder. But freedom has frequently had to make its way in the world by serving as a means to an end, and it has often proved a powerful means. At Roanoke we look for it now to show its power. But by the time Drake arrived there in triumph, in June, 1586, something had gone awry.


            The colony had begun auspiciously, with the leaders as confident as Barlowe had been. On August 12 Lane had written to Sir Francis Walsingham that even the barrenest regions yielded “sum-what that ether for knowen Venue ys of pryce in Chrystendom, or sumwhat at leeste to the smelle pleasing.” They had not, he said, found "one stynckinge weede growynge in thys lande.” (42) Three weeks later he wrote to the elder Hakluyt in even more extravagant terms: Virginia not only smelled good, it was “the goodliest and most pleasing territorie of the world,” and once inhabited by Englishmen it would yield every commodity of Spain, France, Italy, and the East. It was already “very wel peopled and towned, though savagelie,” but these savages were “naturally most curreous, and very desirous to have clothes.”


            Lane was perhaps telling Hakluyt what he knew Hakluyt wanted to hear and what he himself wanted to believe. But Thomas Hariot, who spent the ensuing months in a careful investigation of Virginia's native commodities, was also optimistic about the future productivity of the country. By 1587, when Hariot wrote his sober and detailed appraisal of Virginia, (43) he knew that the Indians were not as numerous or as courteous or as fond of clothes as Lane supposed in 1585. But he still thought that “in respect of troubling our inhabiting and planting, [they] are not to be feared, but that they shall have cause both to feare and love us, that shall inhabite with them.” (44) A few years later, he wrote of them, “to confesse a truthe I cannot remember, that ever I saw better or quietter people than they.” (45)


             Hariot wrote sympathetically of the Indians. He probably knew them better than the other settlers did, because of his months of teaching and being taught by Manteo and Wanchese. John White, the artist of the expedition, also knew them and recorded his respect for them in the way he painted them. White enjoys a distinction among artists of his time because of the spontaneous naturalism of his drawings, a quality not to be found in other English painters for another half century. John White's Indians are his own not Peter Martyr's paragons, and yet there is a dignity in them that conforms to what civil men have liked to call the myth of the noble savage. (46) That myth has been expressed as often by men who knew the Indian at first hand as by those who idealized him from the distance. It has survived massacre, murder, and war, perhaps because the Indian himself believed it.


           Although he probably did not share the European's dream of a primitive but perfect golden age, the Indian's view of himself evidently included an element of pride that gave him, especially in relations with other men, an extraordinary dignity. It is impossible to read the first-hand accounts of Indians, from widely separated regions and of widely divergent cultures, without being impressed by this quality, as Arthur Barlowe and John White and Thomas Hariot were impressed by it at Roanoke. Unfortunately, there as in Hispaniola, it led the white man to expect more of the Indian than the Indian expected of himself.


            At the same time, both Indians and Englishmen expected more of Englishmen than Englishmen were able to fulfill. The myth of the noble savage was matched by the equally tenacious myth of the godlike white man. Harriot, after describing the Indians' admiration for English weapons, books, clocks, and deadly diseases (which seemed like magic weapons the English could direct at will), explained that "some people could not tel whether to thinke us gods or men, and the rather because that all the space of their sicknesse, there was no man of ours knowne to die." (47) The fact that there were no women in the expedition and that the men showed no interest in Indian women (if we may believe Hariot) led some Indians to the opinion "that wee were not borne of women, and therefore not mortall, but that wee were men of an old generation many yeeres past then risen againe to immoralitie." (48)


            The English could not quite accept this view of themselves and explained to the Indians about the Almighty God whom they worshiped. But the Indians whom they persuaded of this being's existence were not slow to recognize his special favors to the English. If the invaders did not have superhuman power at their command, they had something close to it, Harriot admitted, in “the speciall woorke of God for our sakes, as wee our selves have cause in some sorte to thinke no lesse, whatsoever some doe or may imagine to the contrarie…” (49) The humility enjoined on men by the Christian God has seldom prevented the assimilation of a share of divinity by the successful, and especially by those in a position to command others. English technical superiority - together with the vulnerability of Indians to English diseases- encouraged the settlers at Roanoke to assume something of the stature that the Indians were all too ready at first to assign them. They had come with the expectation sooner or later of ruling the land, and it was easy to attach the sanction of divine right to their expectations. The attitude toward the English that Hariot evidently sought from the Indians was “that they shall have cause both to feare and love us,” the proper attitude of man toward God and of subjects toward godlike rulers.


            What went wrong at Roanoke was that the Indians did not show the nobility or the English the divinity that was expected of them. The trouble began even before Grenville departed. In July, during his exploration of the mainland, at the Indian village of Aquascogoc on a branch of the Pamlico River, an Indian allegedly stole a silver cup. Three days later, as the party was returning down the Pamlico, Grenville sent Philip Amadas to recover it. When he failed to get it, the record says, "we burnt, and spoyled their Towne, all the people beeing fledde." (50) If the theft was ignoble, the English reaction was scarcely godlike.


            At Roanoke itself things went smoothly for a time. Wingina, recovered from his wounds, welcomed the visitors, and the Indians gave freely of their supplies to the English, who had lose most of their own when the Tyger grounded. By the time the colonists were settled, it was too late to plant corn, and they seem to have been helpless when it came to living off the land. They did not know the herbs and roots and berries of the country. They could not or would not catch fish in any quantity, because they did not know how to make weirs. And when the Indians showed them, they were slow learners: they were unable even to repair those that the Indians made for them. Nor did they show any disposition for agriculture. Harriot admired the yields that the Indians got in growing maize; but the English, for lack of seed, lack of skill, or lack of will, grew nothing for themselves, even when the new planting season came round again. Superior English technology appeared, for the moment at least, to be no technology at all, as far as food production was concerned. 


            The English refusal or inability to help themselves live from the land is a little surprising in the light of the sponsors' interest in making their colony yield marketable commodities. In England there had been talk of getting ten times as much from the land as the Indians did. Grenville had taken pains to collect plants from the West Indies to try out at Roanoke; and Harriot occupied himself almost entirely in ascertaining what grew and what might be made to grow. The difficulty may have lain in the military character of the settlers. Soldiers expected to go hungry often, but they did not expect to grow their own food. It was up to their commanders to see that they were fed; and on overseas expeditions commanders usually bought or seized supplies from the people of the country. Lane may, in fact, have considered it more practicable to get food from the Indians than to turn his troops into farmers. He evidently had his hands full maintaining discipline without putting the men to unexpected tasks. He had, he complained to his friend Sir Philip Sidney,

 “emungst savages, the chardege of wylde menu of myne owene nacione, Whose unrulynes ys suche as not to gyve leasure to the goovernour to bee all most at any tyme from them." (51)


             Unfortunately, the Indians, though hospitable, were not prepared for company that came to stay. They had no great stores to draw upon when faced with the English demands for corn. Whatever the English may have offered in exchange, the extra labor of feeding so many extra mouths must have imposed a severe strain on them, for sustained work was not a normal part of Indian life. The Roanokes, like most other North American Indians, grew corn (maize) in quantities barely adequate to their survival from harvest to harvest, relying on roots and berries and on hunting and fishing to get them through when the corn ran out. They had no extra fields or seed prepared for guests. If the English continued to demand food from them, the Indians, in order to supply it, would have to clear more land, plant more corn, and beg, borrow, or steal seed from other Indians.


            The situation was hardly conducive to good relations between the newcomers and the natives. No records tell us how the two groups got along during the winter, but it seems unlikely that the wild men of England displayed the attributes that the lndians expected of gods. And it seems certain that everybody was on short rations. By the time spring came, Wingina had had enough of his grasshopper guests.


            If we may believe Ralph Lane, Wingina arranged a conspiracy of the nearby mainland tribes to wipe out the English. Feigning friendship, Wingina warned Lane of the hostile intentions of the mainland Indians, apparently suggesting the need to chastise them; and as bait he hinted of mines and of a westward passage up the Chowan or Roanoke rivers. Sometime in March Lane took the bait; but coming by surprise on the Indians whom Wingina had alerted to trap him, he succeeded in overawing them, put the principal chief, Menatonon, in chains, and took his son Skiko as a hostage. From Menatonon he learned of Wingina's alleged treachery. After exploring the mainland without finding mines or a westward passage, Lane returned to Roanoke, where he found the Indians on the point of deserting the island for the purpose of starving the English. (52)


            The fact that the Indians, by Lane's own account, could have done the English in simply by deserting them, tenders the story of the conspiracy not altogether credible. According to Lane, Wingina was so taken aback by his safe return that he agreed to sow enough corn to feed the English the following year and to construct weirs for them and also to give them some land for themselves. (The English still, apparently, recognized Roanoke as belonging to Wingina and his people.) But as the spring progressed and the winter stores dwindled (the corn, sown in April, would not ripen for several months), Wingina's people refused to trade any more supplies. And Wingina himself retired to the mainland, partly, Lane believed, to evade Lane's daily demand for provisions and partly to prepare another conspiracy to wipe out the English. Lane learned of the plot through the hostage, Skiko, and proceeded to nip it in the bud. Surprising Wingina at his headquarters on the mainland, he killed him and his principal advisers. (53) This was the first of June, and on the eighth Francis Drake arrived with his load of Indians and Negroes freed from their Spanish oppressors.


            It was the age of Shakespeare and Marlowe, the age of Elizabeth, the age of Drake and Raleigh, when Englishmen were filled with heady visions of their country's glory. Roanoke might have become the scene of another English triumph. But by the time Drake came onstage, the supporting cast had long since forgotten their lines and spoiled the play. Lane, with only six weeks or so to go before corn harvest, had murdered his host and alienated the people on whom he depended for survival, and his opinion of the territory that he had described as the “goodliest and most pleasing” in the world had, not surprisingly, been revised. He now thought that unless they could find good mineral deposits or passage to the Pacific, nothing could “bring this country in request to be inhabited by our nation.” (54) It would also be necessary to find a decent harbor, for it had become clear that all the sheltered areas around Roanoke were too shallow. Nevertheless, when Drake offered him a bark of shallow draft, two pinnaces, four boats, and four months' supply for a hundred men, Lane agreed to stick it out. With the new vessels he would explore the Chesapeake region for a suitable harbor and then report back to England. But the next day, June 13, 1586, a storm broke out and scattered Drake's fleet, which was riding outside the Banks. Lane's bark of 70 tons with provisions aboard headed for the high seas and did not return. Drake offered him another ship and more provisions, but the only ship available now was a bark of 170 tons, too large to cross the shoals, and Lane suddenly gave. Instead of waiting for the supply ships from England that had been promised him and that were actually on their way, he put his whole expedition aboard Drake's fleet, and headed home. (55)


            What, then, of the liberated slaves and Indians? The saddest part of the story and perhaps the most revealing is that no one bothered to say. None of the accounts either of Drake's voyage or of the Roanoke colony mentions what became of them. Thus casually and ignominiously ended the first attempt to join the planting of English gentle government in North America with the liberation of the Caribbean and South America from Spanish tyranny.


            Raleigh himself did not give up and later tried again in Guiana. But at Roanoke what followed was anticlimax. Grenville returned there with seven or eight ships and three or four hundred men a few weeks after Lane's departure. Finding the place deserted, he left only fifteen or eighteen men to hold the fort and hurried on to the South Atlantic in quest of Spanish prizes. The following July, when John White arrived with 110 settlers, Grenville's small force was not to be found. White's party included his daughter and her husband and again Manteo. They had intended to settle on the Chesapeake but never got that far, apparently because their pilot (Simon Fernandez again) was too eager to get at the business of privateering and refused to take them. Instead, they settled again at Roanoke, where they baptized Manteo and declared him, as vassal of Raleigh, the lord of the island, a ceremony designed to carry out the original strategy of allying with the local Indians. Having killed the king of the Roanokes, the English were installing a puppet of their own. Manteo, however, was probably the only Indian prepared to recognize the authority with which the English invested him. He could not, at any rate, command from his countrymen the supplies of corn that the colony still needed for survival. In order to speed the flow of provisions from England, White decided to go back with the returning ships. He sailed in late August, 1587, leaving behind his daughter and her newborn child. (56)  Because of the Spanish Armada and other difficulties, he did not get back to Roanoke until 1590, and he found the Island again deserted. (57)


            John White's colony was lost and what became of the settlers will probably never be known. (58) But something more had been lost before White's settlers even landed. At Roanoke in the winter of 1585-86, English plans and hopes for America had come up against their first serious encounter with the continent and its people. In that encounter neither Englishmen nor native Americans lived up to expectations. Doubtless the expectations had been too high, but it is always a little sad to watch men lower their sights. And Roanoke was only the beginning.



                (1)  David B. Quinn, The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590, Works issued by the Hakluyt Society, 2nd sec., CIV, CV (London, 1955), I, 82-89. This chapter is based primarily on the documents contained in this superb collection.

                (2) Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 1, 91-115.

                (3)  Ibid., I, 108, 110.         

                (4) Ibid., 1, 101.

                (5) Ibid., I, 113.

                (6) Ibid., I, 108.   

                (7) Ibid., I, 106.   

                (8) Ibid., 1, 95.

                (9) Ibid., I, tie. Actually this was not a river but part of Croatan Sound.

                (10) Taylor, Writings of the Hakluyts,

                (11) 211-328 1-3:6.            

                (12) Ibid., II, 245.

                (13) Ibid., II, 240.

                (14) Ibid., II, 244

                (15) Ibid., II, 241.               

                (16) Ibid., II, 246.               

                (17) Ibid., II, 296-313.

                (18) Ibid., II, 318.               

                (19) Ibid., II, 234

                (20)  F. A.Wrigley, Population and History (London, 1969), 78-So.

                (21)  Taylor, Writings of the Hakluyts, II, 234; E. H. Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins, "Seven Centuries of Building Wages," Economica,  and ser., XXII (1955), 95-2o6; "Seven Centuries of the Prices of Consumables, Compared with Builders' Wage-Rates," ibid., XXIII (1956), 296-314; "Wage Rates and Prices: Evidence for Population Pressure in the Sixteenth Century," ibid., XXIV (1957), 289-306; II. P. It Finberg, ed., The Agrarian History of England and Wales, IV, 1500-1640, Joan Thirsk, ed. (Cambridge. 1967). 435-57, 531,583-695.

                (22) Taylor, Writings of the Hakluyts, II, 319.             

                (23) Ibid., I1, 315.

                (24) The only evidence of coordination in the English archives consists of the fact that the two ventures were linked in some of the few surviving documents that mention them, as when Hakluyt wrote to Sir Francis Walsingham, one of Elizabeth's principal advisers, that the Spanish were worried by rumors of the two, or when Lord Burghley, in drafting an authorization for Raleigh to impress men and shipping, added "the like to Sir Francis Drake." Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, I, 155, 157.

                (25) Julian S. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy (New York, 1899); Williamson, Hawkins of Plymouth, passim. "The voyage can best be followed in Irene A. Wright, Further English Voyages to Spanish America, 1583-1594, Works issued by the Hakluyt Society, 2nd ser., XCIX (London, 1951 ).

                (27) Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, I, 149-50.      

                (28) Ibid., I, 123.

                (29) The casualties came from disease rather than battle. The expedition of the Earl of Essex in 1591 to assist Henry IV of France met with only a few skirmishes, but only 800 men out of 3,400 returned. Gladys S. Thompson, Lords Lieutenants in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1923), Even naval forces mustered to meet the Spanish Armada in 588 suffered appalling losses from disease. In ten of the largest ships, in spite of heavy replacements, only 2,195 out of the original complement of 3,3,5 men were on the payroll by September. The total loss was probably equal to the entire original number. Lawrence Stone, "The Armada Campaign of 1588”, History, XXIX (1944), 120-43, esp. 137-41.

                (30) Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 1, 38.

                (31) Ibid., 1, 178-242.        

                (32) Wright, Further Voyages, 34-37.

                (33) Ibid., 54, 159.              

                (34) Ibid., 55, 195.

                (35) Ibid., 173;.

                (36) Ibid., 180-86.              

                (37) Ibid., 205.

                (38) Ibid., 172

                (39) Ibid., 188-89.

                (40) Ibid., 204.

                (41) Quinn, Roanoake Voyages, I, 200.

                (42) Ibid., I, 208-09.

                (43) Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (London, 588), in Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, I, 317-87.

                (44) Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, I, 368.

                (45) Ibid., I, 443.

                (46) The best reproductions are in Paul Hulton and David B. Quinn, The American Drawings of John White (London and Chapel Hill, N.C., 1964).

                (47) Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, I, 379.            

                (48) Ibid., I, 380  

                (49) Ibid.

                (50) Ibid., I, 191. 

                (51) Ibid., I, 204.

                (52) Ibid., I, 246-48, 275-81.

                (53) Ibid., 1, 248–49, 282-.88.

                (54) Ibid., 1, 273.

                (55) Ibid., 1,253–54, 288-94.

                (56) Ibid., II, 515-38          

                (57) Ibid., II, 598-622

                (58) The most informed discussion of the question is David B. Quinn, England and the Discovery of America, 1481- 1620 (New York, 1974), 452-81.