Author: Michael G. Moran

a professor of English at the University of Georgia

John White (d. 1593)

John White was an English artist who in 1585 accompanied a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina and who, in 1587, served as governor of a second failed expedition, which came to be known as the Lost Colony. As an artist attached to the first group of colonists, White produced watercolor portraits of Virginia Indians and scenes of their lives and activities. He rendered the local flora and fauna and, using the English polymath Thomas Hariot as a surveyor, created detailed maps of the North American coastline. He also joined Hariot and others on an exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and made contact there with the Chesapeake Indians. Many of White’s paintings were published, sometimes in altered form, by Theodor de Bry as etchings in Hariot’s illustrated edition of A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1590). They are the most accurate visual record of the New World by an artist of his generation. After the first colony failed, White led a second, which was intended for the Chesapeake but which settled again at Roanoke. The colonists included White’s daughter, Elinor White Dare, who gave birth to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America. A poor and unpopular leader, White agreed to be a messenger back to England to inform the colony’s backers of the location change and a need for new supplies. Waylaid by the Spanish Armada, he did not return until 1590; the colonists had disappeared. White died three years later.


Thomas Hariot (ca. 1560–1621)

Thomas Hariot (often spelled Harriot) was an English mathematician, astronomer, linguist, and experimental scientist. During the 1580s, he served as Sir Walter Raleigh‘s primary assistant in planning and attempting to establish the English colonies on Roanoke Island off the coast of present-day North Carolina. He taught Raleigh’s sea captains to sail the Atlantic Ocean using sophisticated navigational methods not well understood in England at the time. He also learned the Algonquian language from two Virginia Indians, Wanchese and Manteo. In 1585, Hariot joined the expedition to Roanoke, which failed and returned to England the next year. During his stay in America, Hariot helped to explore the present-day Outer Banks region and, farther north, the Chesapeake Bay. He also collaborated with the artist John White in producing several maps notable at the time for their accuracy. Although Hariot left extensive papers, the only work published during his lifetime was A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, which evaluated the economic potential of Virginia. The report appeared most impressively in Theodor de Bry‘s 1590 edition that included etchings based on the White-Hariot maps and White’s watercolors of Indian life. After a brief imprisonment in connection to the Gunpowder Plot (1605), Hariot calculated the orbit of Halley’s Comet, sketched and mapped the moon, and observed sunspots. He died in 1621.


Arthur Barlowe (ca. 1550–ca. 1620)

Arthur Barlowe was an English explorer and sea captain who helped to lead a reconnaissance expedition to Roanoke Island off the coast of present-day North Carolina, preparing for a larger English settlement the following year. Little is known about Barlowe’s life other than that by early in the 1580s he was a gentleman-soldier attached to Walter Raleigh‘s household in London. In 1584, Barlowe and Philip Amadas captained two ships that landed at Roanoke Island in what would become the Virginia Colony. The explorers remained in the region for two months, and upon his return Barlowe produced a report, “The first voyage made to the coastes of America,” that appeared in Richard Hakluyt the Younger‘s Principall Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation, published in 1589. An entertaining narrative, Barlowe’s report appears to have been based on a ship’s log of the voyage, and the final text may have been reworked by others, including Thomas Hariot, Raleigh’s primary assistant, and Raleigh himself. Raleigh used the completed report as a propaganda tool to further his aims of settling a permanent colony in Virginia.