One of the great streams of events in modern history has been the expansion of western Europe, which carried European influence all over the world and brought the influence of distant places back to Europe in the backwash. Sir Walter Ralegh played a pivotal role in the expansion of England into the New World.
We know little about his birth or childhood, other than that he was born about 1554 at Hayes Barton in Devonshire. In 1569 he was in France fighting for the Huguenots. In 1572 he was at Oriel College, Oxford; and 1575 he was at the Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court.
His career was exciting-fighting for his fellow Protestants in France; exploring the New World with his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert; subduing and colonizing Ireland; catching the fancy of Queen Elizabeth and becoming important at court. Did he really put his cape in the mud for the Queen to walk upon as legend goes? Probably not, but it makes an interesting story. On 25 March 1584 he received a patent to lands discovered in the name of the Crown of England. On 27 April 1584 an expedition commanded by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe sailed from Plymouth with Simon Fernandez as pilot. They arrived off the coast of what is now North Carolina on 13 July 1584, took possession of the area in the name of the Queen, explored the region, and returned to England, with two young Indian men, Manteo and Wanchese. As a result of this expedition, Ralegh was knighted on 6 January 1585. Later in 1585 Ralegh sent to America a colony under Sir Richard Grenville with Ralph Lane as its governor. The men in this colony, who included John White and Thomas Harriot, gathered a great deal of information and explored as far north as the Chesapeake Bay. But in 1586 they returned to England with Sir Francis Drake. Although disappointed by their unexpedited return, Ralegh did not give up. In 1587 he sent a second colony, one including women and children, with John White as its governor. The disappearance of this colony sometime between John White's departure from Roanoke Island in August 1587 and his return in 1590 is one of the enduring mysteries of American history.