Image of the interior of the earthen fort, showing English and Algonquian persons.
A depiction of the interior of the earthen fortification from 1585.

National Park Service

Quick Facts

Significance:
Leader of 1585 Expedition to Roanoke Island
Date of Birth:
C. 1530
Date of Death:
1603
Place of Burial:
Dublin, Ireland
Cemetery Name:
St. Patrick's Cathedral

Ralph Lane, Sheriff of County Kerry, Ireland, joined the 1585 voyage of approximately 600 men under the command of Sir Richard Grenville. Renowned for his experience in military affairs and his expertise on construction of fortifications, Lane was tasked to build the earthen fort at the Roanoke colony upon arrival in 1585, an arrival that also saw him appointed governor of the new settlement.

While Roanoke Island was initially chosen to be a privateering base, it soon became clear that a more suitable harbor was needed from which to raid Spanish shipping. Lane was left in command of the temporary fortifications on Roanoke with 100 men while Grenville returned to England for more men and supplies.

While Lane and his detachment believed Roanoke Island could offer much in the way of agricultural production, it was obvious that the colonists would need to rely on Indian aid in perpetuity. As such, Lane exercised an almost authoritarian control over his fellow colonists, going so far as to erect a jail on site to ensure strict control in a perilous environment.

As was often the case with European-Indian relations, relative peace gave way to conflict. Lane began quarreling with Secotan Chief Wingina, finally having him killed on June 11, 1586, before the Indians could mount an offensive against Lane’s detachment. The following day Sir Francis Drake arrived with the promise of more men and supplies. However, a hurricane prevented Lane and his men from receiving aid. Frustrated by the lack of resources on Roanoke Island coupled with the ongoing conflict with the Indians, conflict that Lane’s bravado likely fueled, he returned to England with Drake, never to command another expedition to the New World.

Lane died in 1603 of injuries suffered during the Irish Rebellion of 1594.

Last updated: September 14, 2017