Portion of John White's 1585 map of the Outer Banks, showing Roanoke Island.
Portion of John White's 1585 map of the Outer Banks, showing Roanoke Island and Croatoan.

British Museum

Quick Facts

Significance:
Artist and Governor of 1587 Expedition
Date of Birth:
C. 1540
Date of Death:
C. 1606

John White, a skilled illustrator and artist, was selected along with Thomas Hariot to provide Sir Walter Raleigh with images of the New World. While little is known about White’s early life, by 1577 he was documenting, through illustrations, Inuit culture on Canada’s Baffin Island. 

The importance of White’s illustrations of the Algonquians as well as flora and fauna of the New World in 1585 cannot be overstated. His pictures of Carolina Algonquian life on the Outer Banks portrayed neither the ruthless savage or the noble innocent- rather as members of a culture successfully adapting to an ever-changing environment. In addition, White’s portraits of native wildlife provided Europeans with a glimpse of flora and fauna never before seen. Lastly, White’s remarkably accurate maps of the Outer Banks formed the basis of European maps of the region for almost a century.

John White’s illustrations proved so influential to English exploration and colonization that his depictions were often used as all-encompassing examples of Native Americans; White’s depiction of the Algonquian village of Pomeioc was used in an 18th-century text to describe Apache Indians of the American Southwest. In addition, contemporary maps of the 1607 Jamestown colony simply reworked White’s imagery of the Outer Banks.

After the failure of the Roanoke Colony (of which he became governor), little is known about John White. He died, possibly in Ireland, around 1606.