Thomas Hariot

Portrait of Thomas Hariot, 1602.
Portrait of Thomas Hariot, 1602.


Quick Facts

Thomas Hariot was a leading scientist and scholar of sixteenth-century England. Having graduated from St. Mary’s Hall, Oxford in 1580 with a concentration in astronomy and mathematics, he was soon employed by Sir Walter Raleigh to assist in the colonization of the New World. When chosen as a scientist, observer, and chronicler for the 1585 voyage, he had been living in Raleigh’s home teaching mathematics and navigation to Raleigh’s expeditionary force. While Raleigh may have initially selected Hariot solely for his mathematics and navigation expertise, it soon became clear that Hariot was a valuable asset in terms of his ability to observe and document the natural and cultural world of the new colony.

Not only did Hariot assess the area’s natural resources for food commodities and building materials for the colonists, he also documented highly detailed descriptions of the Carolina Algonquians’ social structure, customs, clothing, crafts, agricultural practices, and religious beliefs. Perhaps Hariot’s most lasting legacy was the publication of “A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia.” First published in 1588, it provided the most detailed account of the new Virginia colony, as the English referred to Roanoke Island. While it in some respects painted too positive a picture of England’s attempt to colonize the New World, it nonetheless proved a valuable resource for researching and studying the native peoples and the surrounding land.

Thomas Hariot died of cancer in London in 1621.

Last updated: September 14, 2017