RALEGH'S FIRST COLONY, 1585-86
The next spring, Ralegh sent a group of 108 persons to Roanoke Island. Commanded by Ralegh's cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, the expedition hoped to establish a base for England's privateering fleet in order to prey on Spanish shipping. The fleet sailed from Plymouth, England, on April 9, 1585, in seven ships, the largest being 140 tons. Included in the group of ship captains and colonists were Amadas and Fernandes of the expedition of the previous year; Thomas Cavendish, then on his first great voyage but destined to be the third circumnavigator of the globe; Grenville's half-brother, John Arundell, and bother-in-law, John Stukeley; and other Ralegh cousins and connections, among them a Courtenay, a Prideaux, Richard Gilbert, Ralph Lane, and Anthony Rowse, a friend of Drake's. Also on board were John White, an artist; Thomas Harriot, a navigator and mathematician and naturalist; Joachim Ganz, a metallurgist from Bohemia; and, among the humbler folk, an Irishman, Darby Glande (or Glaven). The American Indians, Wanchese and Manteo, returned to America on this voyage.
The route chosen lay via the Canaries and the Spanish West Indies. They anchored at the "Baye of Muskito" (Guayanilla Bay) at the Island of "St. Johns" (Puerto Rico), May 12, where they constructed a fort, set up a forge to make nails, and built a small, fast pinnace to replace one lost in a storm. They left Puerto Rico toward the end of May after burning the fort and surrounding woods and seizing two Spanish frigates. Just before departing, Ralph Lane raided "Roxo bay" (Cabo Rojo) in one of the captured frigates, "intrenched him selfe vpon the sandes," and seized a supply of salt from the Spanish.
These bellicose activities of the English in Puerto Rico illustrate the fact that England and Spain were virtually at war at the time. Indeed, the war became an actuality within three years. In the meantime, the English were engaged in what today would be called a "cold war" — attacking the Spaniards in the West Indies and preparing to settle on the American mainland at a spot sufficiently close to Spanish Florida to constitute both an economic and a military threat to Spain.
Growth of the English colony would circumscribe Spain's own colonial effort; at the same time, the location chosen for the English colony was close enough to serve as a base of operations against Spanish New World shipping. That both possibilities were uppermost in the minds of Ralegh and Grenville and their supporters at court is obvious. One of the weaknesses of their colonial program was their persistent thought that privateering operations against Spanish shipping should, or could, be made to pay the cost of English colonial efforts.
The first part of June found the English banqueting the uneasy Spanish governor at Isabella on the Island of Hispaniola. To impress him, Grenville treated him to a sumptuous meal served "all in plate" to the "sound of trumpets and consort of musicke." The governor entertained in turn, and the English subsequently traded with the Spaniards for commodities that would be needed in their colonial settlement: "horses, mares, kine, buls, goates, swine, sheepe, bullhides, sugar ginger." From Spanish accounts of Grenville's actions in Puerto Rico and Haiti are gained some interesting personal glimpses: The members of the expedition include men skilled in all trades, and among them were about twenty who appeared to be persons of some importance, whose food was served on plate of silver and gold. They were accompanied by two tall Indians [Manteo and Wanchese], whom they treated well, and who spoke English...They took away with them many banana plants and other fruit trees which they found along the shore, and made drawings of fruits and trees. The English "said that their intention was to establish a colony, but did not say where."
The English left Puerto Rico and reached an island south of Cape Hatteras now known as Ocracoke on June 26. They spent the rest of the month and most of July exploring the coastal island and adjacent mainland. During one of these expeditions, in retaliation for the alleged theft of a silver cup by an American Indian, Grenville sought to strike terror into the hearts of the Indians by burning the Indian village of Aquascogoc. Not until July 27 did Grenville anchor in the Pamlico Sound of Hatarask barrier island, a short distance southeast of Roanoke Island. Almost due east of the southern tip of Roanoke Island, Fernandes had discovered a break in the barrier reef which gave the ships entry from the open sea into the relative shelter of Roanoke Sound. They named it Port Ferdinando in his honor.
A colony was established on the north end of Roanoke Island, and Ralph Lane was made governor. From Port Ferdinando, and later from Roanoke Island, Lane wrote letters to Secretary Walsingham informing him of the successful founding of the colony. He also wrote a letter to Sir Philip Sidney, a son-in-law of Walsingham who was interested in western discovery. In a letter from the Roanoke settlement, Ralph Lane told Richard Hakluyt the Elder that he was impressed by the "huge and unknowen greatnesse" of the American continent and that if Virginia had horses and cows in some reasonable proportion and were inhabited by Englishmen, no realm in Christendom would be comparable to it. The American Indians, he said naively, were "courteous, and very desirous to have clothes," but valued red copper above everything else. Wingina, had received the white men hospitably and had cooperated with them in the initial phases of the founding of the settlement, according to an account by Grenville.
Grenville lingered a short while after the founding of the settlement, then returned to England for supplies. On the way home he captured a richly laden Spanish ship, which must have repaid him handsomely for his western trip. On his arrival in England, he reported to Walsingham, thus acknowledging the interest of the Queen and emphasizing the national — not just personal — character of the Virginia enterprise.
Lane built a small earthen fort which he called "The Newe Forte in Virginia." The light sandy soil allowed the men to complete the fort in a short time. It was reportedly near the shore on the east side of Roanoke Island between the "North Point" of the north end of the island and a "creek." The mouth of the creek was big enough to serve as the anchorage for small boats.
Lane's Fort on Roanoke Island may have resembled the one he had built on St. Johns Island, Puerto Rico, in May 1585, which was sketched by John White. Both forts may have been roughly shaped like a star built on a square with the bastions constructed on the sides of the square instead of at the corners. This construction pattern was common among European armies.
The houses of the early colonists may have been near the fort, which was too small to enclose them. They were described by the colonists as "decent dwelling houses" or "cottages" and must have been at least a story and a half or two stories high, because of a reference to the "neather [lower] roomes of them." The roofs were thatched, as we learn from Ralph Lane's statement that the American Indians by night "would have beset my house, and put fire in the reedes that the same was covered with." The chimneys and the foundations may have been of brick, because Darby Glande later testified to the Spanish that "as soon as they had disembarked they began to make brick and fabrick for a fort and houses."
However, because no evidence of extensive use of brick has been found, it probably is safe to assume that the chief building materials were straw, mud, and wooden poles. The colonists reportedly had a forge which they could have set up to make nails. Richard Hakluyt had recommended in his Discourse of Western Planting — written in 1584 at Ralegh's request, that any colonial expedition should include: "men expert in the art of fortification, makers of spades and shovels, shipwrights, mill-wrights of various trades, sawyers, carpenters, brickmakers and bricklayers, tilemakers and tilelayers, lyme-makers, masons, lathmakers, and thatchers." It is presumed, therefore, that English thatched cottages typical of rural Elizabethan England were built at Roanoke. The cottages probably were well built, as skilled laborers in the expedition had been able to construct a seaworthy pinnace at Puerto Rico in less than 1 month.
The leaders explored the coast as far south a Secotan (about 80 miles) and as far north a Chesepiock (Chesapeake) Bay (about 130 miles). Thomas Harriot collected data on plants, animals, and minerals for his A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Harriot's descriptions were clear and concise and included most of the flora and fauna found on Roanoke Island: Cedar, a very sweet wood & fine timber; whereof if nests of chests be there made, or timber thereof fitted for sweet & fine bedsteads, tables, deskes...& many things else...to make vp fraite with other principal commodities will yeeld profite.
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Wine: There are two kinds of grapes that the soile doth yeeld naturally: the one is small and sowre of the ordinarie bignesse as ours in England; the other farre greater & of himselfe lushious sweet. When they are planted and husbanded as they ought, a principall commoditie of wines by them may be raised.
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Medlars[persimmons] a kinde of verie good fruit, so called by vs chieflie for these respectes: first in that they are not good vntill they be rotten...they are as red as cheries and very sweet: but whereas the cherie is sharpe sweet, they are lushious sweet.
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Squirels, which are a grey colour, we haue taken and eaten.
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Beares which are all of blacke colour. The beares of this countrey are good meat; the inhabitants in time of winter do use to take & eate manie, so also sometimes did wee.
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There are also Troutes: Porpoises: Rayes: Oldwiues: Mullets: Plaice [flounder]: and very many other sortes of excellent good fish, which we haue taken and eaten...
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Of the American Indians, whose culture he respected, Harriot wrote: They are a people clothed with loose mantles made of Deere skins, & aprons of the same rounde about their middles...
Their townes are small, & neere the sea coast but fewe, some containing but 10. or 12. houses: some 20. the greatest that we haue seene haue bene but of 30. houses: if they be walled it is only done with barks of trees made fast to stakes, or els with poles onely fixed vpright and close one by another.
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Notwithstanding their proper manner considering the want of such meanes as we haue, they seeme very ingenious; For although they haue no such tooles, nor any such craftes, sciences and artes as wee; yet in those things they doe, they shewe excellencie of wit. And by howe much they vpon due consideration shall finde our manner of knowledges and craftes to exceede theirs in perfection, and speed for doing or execution, by so much the more is it probable that they shoulde desire our friendships & loue, and haue the greater respect for pleasing and obeying vs. Whereby may bee hoped if meanes of good gouernment bee vsed, that they may in short time be brought to ciuilitie, and the imbracing of true religion.
John White made watercolor paintings of the American Indians, the animal and plant life of Roanoke Island, and maps of the coast. The colonists learned to smoke tobacco, using Indian pipes or ones they modeled on the Indian pipes.
How closely the personnel of the first colony conformed to the standards suggested by Hakluyt in 1584 is not known but contemporary accounts indicate that Ralegh followed his advice for the colony to include men expert in fortification, brickmakers, carpenters, and thatchers. The names of the colonists are known, if not their trades. Some are gentlemen, cousins of Ralegh and Grenville. Harriot wrote that some were city dwellers "of a nice bringing up" who soon became miserable without their soft beds and good food. Others were excellent soldiers, as Lane testifies of Capt. Edward Stafford; and there were the humbler folk, of whom Glande was perhaps representative, though he was Irish and apparently was forced to accompany the expedition.
On the whole, they gave the appearance more of a military expedition than a colony. They had arrived late in the growing season; they had not learned how to grow and gather their own food; and most of their original supplies had been lost when their flagship Tiger ran aground at Croatoan. These circumstances meant they continued to be dependent upon the American Indians for food and upon England for both food and supplies. Many of their basic commodities, such as salt, horses, and cattle, had been obtained in the first instance by trade, or by force, from the Spaniards in the West Indies. There were no women among them to give permanence to the settlement.
At first relations with the American Indians were friendly, though the Englishmen had their detractor in the council of the Indian chief. The American Indians planted crops and made fishtraps for the Englishmen. With rare foresight, the colonists also induced the chief — who had changed his name from Wingina to Pemisapan — to put into simultaneous cultivation his lands both on Roanoke Island and on the mainland at Dasemunkepeuc so the American Indians would have no excuse for not being able to supply the colony if need arose.
In the lean periods between the planting of the crops in the spring and the expected summer harvest, English relations with the American Indians grew strained and finally reached the point at which no further supplies of food could be scrounged from them. Infected by the vengeful and high-handed spirit of their times, the settlers would not really try to live on friendly terms with the natives. This led to Grenville's foolish action in burning the village of Aquascogoc on July 16, 1585. According to the log of the Tiger: One of our boates with the Admirall was sent to Aquascococke to demaund a siluer cup which one of the Sauages had stolen from vs, and not receiuing it according to his promise, we burnt, and spoyled their corne, and Towne, all the people beeing fledde.
In response, the American Indians began to rob or destroy the fishtraps of the English. Food became more and more scarce. Lane was forced to send groups of settlers to the barrier islands along the coast to feed upon oysters and other shellfish, and to keep watch for any ship that might come their way. Master Richard Prideaux and 10 men were sent to Hatarask Island and Captain Stafford and 20 men to Croatoan Island (Ocracoke) south of Cape Hatteras. At intervals, 16 or 20 others were sent to the mainland, also to feed upon oysters and wild plant foods.
Somehow they got through their first winter, without serious danger from the American Indians. But by the summer of 1586, Governor Lane feared some of the tribes were preparing to destroy the fledgling colony. A skirmish that occurred at the end of May caused Lane to prepare a surprise raid for the night of May 31. For this purpose he sent the Master of the light horsemen with a few with him, to gather vp all the Canoas...he met with a Conoa, going from the shoare, and ouerthrew the Conoa, and cut off 2. sauages heads....
This raid was not carried out in the secrecy planned for it, and a short battle ensued between the English and the American Indians. The next morning, June 1, Lane took his troops to Dasemunkepeuc to face Chief Pemisapan. Finding 7 or 8 chiefs gathered together, Lane gave the watchword "Christ Our Victory" and the attack was on. Pemisapan was "shot thorow by the Colonell with a pistoll [and was] lying on the ground for dead...." Suddenly the chief got up and raced into the woods, followed by an Irish soldier. Lane feared that both the Indian and his man had been lost but "we met him returning out of the woods with Pemisapans head in his hand."
Meanwhile, Grenville had been delayed in leaving England because of accidents to his ships upon leaving the port of Bideford and because he had seized several foreign ships and was distributing their cargoes and sending them as prizes to England. Ralegh's relief ship also was delayed by damage. It did not sail for his colony until April 3 and did not reach Port Ferdinando until the latter part of June.
Therefore the colonists were in a desperate state of affairs when Captain Stafford brought them news on June 9, 1586, that Sir Francis Drake was off the coast. His mighty fleet of 23 ships, richly laden with booty from his attacks on the Spanish West Indies and Florida, anchored the next day. Only part of the fleet sailed into the port near Roanoke Island, due to the shallow waters of the sound and the deep draft of the ships. The rest remained in the "wilde roade" of the open sea, 2 miles from the barrier island. Lane and some of his company went aboard the flagship, and after describing their plight to Drake, received from him a most generous offer.
He would give them the bark Francis, of 70 tons, and certain boats with enough shipmasters, sailors, and supplies to afford another month's stay at Roanoke and a return voyage to England; or he would take all of them, 103 persons, on board for immediate passage to England with his fleet. Lane was loath to give up the Roanoke Island colony and therefore accepted the first offer. The Francis was turned over to him, anchored in the open sea, but before supplies could be made ready, a great storm blew up and the ship lost all her anchors. She was forced to sail out to sea to avoid the coast, and continued on to England.
Through his fleet suffered other losses in this storm, Drake remained openhanded. He again offered Lane supplies and another ship, but because his vessel was much too large to be harbored at Port Ferdinando, its acceptance and dependence upon it would involve a great risk. It would have to be anchored outside the barrier island, in the "wilde roade," and could also be driven away or lost in a storm. This left the colonist in the grave situation described in 1615 by William Camden, an English historian: Hereupon Lane and those who were planted there, being in great Penury and want, and out of all Hope of Provisions out of England, their Number also much diminished, with one voice besought Drake that he would carry them back again into their own Countrey, which he readily and willingly did.
When Drake sailed, on June 19, 1586, he carried the entire colony home to England with him. More patience and more faith in Ralegh might have saved the colony, for within a week the Tiger arrived at Roanoke bearing the supplies sent out from England by Sir Walter. After searching the island and Hatarask in vain for the colonists, the Tiger set sail for England. On the way from England the Tiger had not encountered Drake's large fleet because the supply ships followed the westerly trade winds to the south and, upon reaching the continent, sailed north up the coast from Florida. Meanwhile Drake was sailing directly east to England.
The disappointment and irony was heightened by the arrival of Grenville's ships about a fortnight after Ralegh's ship left. Grenville also found the settlement places desolate, but being "unwilling to loose the possession of the country which Englishmen had so long held," he left 15 men on Roanoke Island, fully provisioned for 2 years, to hold the country for the Queen until more colonists could be sent to support them. Grenville then returned to England.
JOHN WHITE'S WATERCOLORS
Portrait of a New World
No picture of his exists and little is known of his personal life; yet, he remains vividly alive because of his activities during five voyages to America — 1584, 1585-86, 1587, and 1590. Painter, surveyor, mapmaker, colonial governor, shrewd observer of the natural scene, John White brought the New World to life through his journals and, most importantly, his remarkable set of watercolors.
White was probably born in London sometime between 1540 and 1550 and died about 1606. He wrote in the style of an educated man, but no evidence exists as to his schooling or training. He may have learned his craft of draftsman and artist as a member of the Painters and Stainers Company of London. A John White appears as a member of that guild in 1580. Of his family, almost nothing is known. He married between 1565 and 1570 and was the father of at least one daughter, Eleanor, the mother of Virginia Dare. Both his daughter and granddaughter disappeared with the "Lost Colony."
Despite this very dim picture of John White, his personality emerges through his written and pictorial memories of "Virginia." It is apparent from his writings that White was a sensitive and accurate reporter. A deep personal involvement with the American colonial ventures shows through clearly in all his manuscripts — first as a colonist and then as governor. His paintings, however, are White's most perceptive mode of expression. With a vitality and freshness unique in the 16th century, White presented a new land and its people to a waiting Europe.
It was unusual for an artist to go on a voyage of discovery, but not uncommon for a member of the expedition to make notes and crude drawings. The importance of carrying a trained observer on an exploratory voyage became increasingly evident to all nations. Not only were scientist eager for new data, but future colonists wanted to know what they might be facing in a strange land. Sir Walter Raleigh did not give him specific instructions on what to record, but there is little doubt that White followed the advice given to all English explorers in 1582: Also drawe to liefe all strange birdes beastes fishes plantes hearbes Trees and fruictes and bring home of each sorte as nere as you may. Also drawe the figures and shapes of men and woemen in their apparell as also of their manner of wepons in every place as you shall finde them differing. The skill with which White followed these instructions made him much more than an "artist assistant" — it made him a prime authority in his own right.
White and Thomas Harriot found a new continent "sitting for its portrait" and proceeded to record all that they saw. Of course the American Indians did more than sit, they sang, danced, fished, hunted, and fought with their enemies. White's manner of drawing the native people was as spontaneous as their actions — applying his colors directly to the paper without any surface preparation after outlining the subject in black lead. He probably sat off to the side quietly observing the American Indians with his sensitive and understanding eye, then swiftly conveying his impressions to paper. Most 16th century artists tended to Europeanize their subjects and pose them in unnatural situations. One of John White's greatest contributions to our knowledge of the American Indians was his delicate naturalism in portraying his subjects. The bulk of White's drawings — plants, animals, and people — were made during the 1585-86 voyages. These were an eloquent record of America, painted with imaginative insight and freshness.
The John White watercolors, engraved by Theodore de Bry, first appeared in 1590 as part of a volume entitled America. The publication went through 17 printings and was translated into four languages between 1590 and 1630. For three centuries it stood as the main source of pictorial presentation of the American Indian and life in the New World. The drawings were then lost until 1866 when the British Museum secured at least a partial collection of the originals from the Earl of Charlemont. It was almost another century before the paintings were reproduced again. The publication of the John White Prints in the volume America 1585 offers modern eyes what De Bry's engravings presented to the Tudor world.
Perhaps it does not matter that we know so little of John White the man --- his art is his memorial.
-- Michael Strock
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