Lost Colony” Chapter Two of American
Slavery, American Freedom (1975)
by Edmund S. Morgan
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)
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
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
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
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 England. Raleigh, 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
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.
fleete," he pointed out, "no man (that knoweth the course thereof
comyinge oute betwene Cuba,
and the Cape
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
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:
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
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.
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
on a branch of the Pamlico River,
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
(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
A.Wrigley, Population and History (London,
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.,
(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
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.
(30) Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 1, 38.
(31) Ibid., 1, 178-242.
(32) Wright, Further
(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
(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
(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.