The First Voyage (1584)
Half-brothers Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Walter Raleigh shared a passion for exploration and colonization. In 1578, Queen Elizabeth presented Gilbert withto explore and settle, on her behalf, unclaimed portions of North America. Fearing war with Catholic Spain and coveting Spanish wealth from Central and South America, Elizabeth saw the American coast as a potential haven for privateers such as Sir Francis Drake. The effective propagandists (and namesake cousins) and argued further for the region’s commercial possibilities and endorsed the mission of converting Indians to the Protestant faith.
An eleven-ship fleet, captained by Gilbert and including Raleigh, set sail in September 1578 but made it only as far as the coast of Africa before turning back. In March 1580, Gilbert dispatched the Azorean-born pirate Simon Fernandes on a reconnaissance voyage to New England and the mid-Atlantic coast before himself leading a larger mission, in June 1583, first to Newfoundland and then to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Unquenchably adventurous and sometimes reckless, Gilbert ran into a nasty storm and died at sea. But by then Gilbert’s brother Raleigh was close to the queen, who appreciated his lavish dress and what one observer described as his “strong natural wit” and “bold and plausible tongue.” Held fast to London by Elizabeth’s affection, Raleigh nevertheless ordered a new mission. Two small ships (their names unknown) sailed from Plymouth on April 27, 1584, one commanded by the short, temperamental Philip Amadas, the other by Arthur Barlowe, a well-read comrade of Raleigh’s from the fighting in Ireland. With about seventy-five soldiers and sailors aboard, Fernandes served as chief pilot, while the painter John White and the mathematician Thomas Hariot may have tagged along as something like resident artist-intellectuals.
A Spanish captive later claimed that when the party arrived at the Outer Banks, the Indians attacked them and “ate thirty-eight Englishmen.” Barlowe describes no such thing; the Indians’ welcome, which came three days after the colonists arrived early in July, appears to have been friendly and ritualistic. Three Indians appeared, Barlowe writes, “never making any show of fear or doubt,” and one of them spoke at length, after which he was bestowed with gifts and treated to wine and meat.
The Indians were emissaries of Wingina, the weroance, or chief, of the Roanokes. Although the English originally understood these Indians to call their territory Wingandacon, it was more properly known as Ossomocomuck. Wingina ruled several of its, including Secotan and Dasemunkepeuc on the mainland and another village on the north end of Roanoke Island. His enemy, Piemacum, ruled from Pomeiooc and had severely wounded Wingina in a battle shortly before the Englishmen’s arrival. The Croatoan Indians lived on a barrier island, while to the mainland’s north and west resided the Weapemeocs, whose weroance Okisco was subject to the more powerful Menatonon, chief of the Chowanocs. All of these Indians were Algonquian-speaking and their closely related to the Algonquian of in present-day Tidewater Virginia. Other groups in the area included the Algonquian-speaking Pamlicos; the Neuse and Coree, who may have been Iroquoian-speakers; and the Tuscaroras, who definitely were Iroquoian-speakers and who also may have been known as the Mangoaks.
Barlowe was extravagantly impressed by Ossomocomuck, praising its “goodly woods, full of Deer, Conies [rabbits], Hares, and Fowl, even in the midst of Summer, in incredible abundance,” not to mention “the highest, reddest Cedars of the world.” The Indians, who had been suffering through aand who lacked extra stores of , were unsure of how to react to the English encroachment. Some may have been as friendly as Barlowe claimed; others were less so. Hariot later wrote of the Roanoke Indians raising up a “horrible crye, as people which never befoer had seene men appareled like us, and camme a way makinge out crys like wild beasts or men out of their wyts.” Amadas and Fernandes, meanwhile, took a ship to, probably, the north side of Albemarle Sound, and there encountered hostile Indians.
Politics in Ossomocomuck was organized on the district level, with paramount chiefs ruling two or more towns, each with its own chief: Wingina on Roanoke and his close relative Granganimeo at Dasemunkepeuc attempted to win the English as allies, while other chiefs saw their presence as a threat. When the English left in mid-August, Wingina sent with them two high-ranking Indians: Wanchese, a Roanoke who probably served as an adviser to Wingina, and Manteo, the son of the Croatoans’ weroansqua, or female chief. His, which he possibly changed on the occasion of the trip, echoes the Algonquian word montoac, meaning the otherworldly with which the Indians sought communion. His and Wanchese’s job was to investigate what the Indians saw as the Englishmen’s undeniable connection to montoac and to discover how the Roanokes might also harness it.
The Second Voyage (1585)
In London, Manteo and Wanchese took up residence at Durham House, a mansion on the Thames River granted Raleigh by the queen. There, they taught Hariot Algonquian and he taught them English. Raleigh, who was doing everything he could to raise money and support for a large-scale colonizing effort at Roanoke, likely even presented the pair at court. Barlowe prepared a report that emphasized the most positive aspects of the summer’s mission and Hakluyt (the younger) presented to the queen and her advisors a sustained and forceful argument for colonization, Discourse on Western Planting. By December, Raleigh had the support of both the Crown and the House of Commons, and on January 6, 1585, he was knighted during a celebration of the Twelfth Night of Christmas; shortly afterward, he assumed a title, Lord and Governor of Virginia, that revealed a new name for the queen’s colony.
The Virginia settlement appeared to be part of a larger strategy developed by Elizabeth in her war against Spain. She would send an army to the Netherlands to fight on behalf of the Protestants there, Sir Francis Drake to the West Indies to disrupt Spanish shipping, and Raleigh’s colonists to Roanoke Island to establish a harbor for English privateers who would prey upon the Spanish. She also hoped they might find gold and silver, as well as convert the natives. On April 9, 1585, the 600 or so colonists, again minus Raleigh, sailed from Plymouth in five ships and two smaller pinnaces. Sir Richard Grenville, Raleigh’s often arrogant and bull-headed cousin, commanded the flagship Tiger, piloted by the ever-present Simon Fernandes. Colonel Ralph Lane, recently the sheriff of County Kerry, Ireland, was second in command, with Amadas, Barlowe, White, Hariot, Manteo, and Wanchese also present. About half the colonists were soldiers, but there also were carpenters, smiths, cooks, shoemakers, and at least one minister. All were men.
On May 11, Grenville and the Tiger stopped for a few weeks at mosquito-ridden Mosquetal in present-day Puerto Rico, waiting for other ships that had become separated during a storm off Portugal. (White spent his time there painting Grenville’s fortifications, as well as the island’s flora and fauna.) On June 26, the Tiger dropped anchor at the Outer Banks barrier island of Wococon, about eighty miles to the southwest of Roanoke. Perhaps Fernandes did not fully appreciate just how treacherous navigation in the area could be, because three days later he ran the ship aground attempting to steer through an inlet. Much of the cargo was ruined. Having arrived with a year’s worth of provisions for hundreds of colonists, now Grenville had enough food for just twenty days. This unanticipated dilemma proved crucial to how he and his men interacted with the Indians of Ossomocomuck.
The Indians, meanwhile, were no less divided now about the English than they had been the year before. During the English absence, Wingina’s people had observed a total eclipse of the sun, and immediately upon the colonists’ reappearance, a comet had slowly blazed across the sky. The Algonquians thought these to be potentially significant signs, and when villages began to suffer from a quick-moving,, they saw all of these events as related. On July 3, Grenville sent a pinnace and small crew, including Wanchese, north to Roanoke to announce their arrival to Wingina. Wanchese fled the English to Dasemunkepeuc, where he warned that the colonists could not be trusted. In contrast, Manteo continued to wear Western clothes, perfect his English, and support Grenville.
On July 11, Grenville led a group of sixty men, including Manteo, on a weeklong trip to the mainland. They visited the villages of Pomeiooc, home of Wingina’s rival Piemacum; Aquascogoc; and finally Secotan. White composed detailed paintings of Pomeiooc and Secotan, but a missing cup at Aquascogoc led to a return trip by Philip Amadas, who burned the village for the supposed thievery after its residents had evacuated. On July 21, Grenville and Manteo met with Granganimeo, weroance of Dasemunkepeuc, and he granted them permission to occupy the north end of Roanoke, about half a mile from Wingina’s town. The English were dependent on the Indians for food and guidance, but the Indians increasingly worried about the colonists’ violence. Still, as the historian Michael Leroy Oberg puts it, the “English colonists came to Roanoke Island not as discoverers but as invited guests.”
Later that summer, Grenville returned to England, leaving behind 108 men under the charge of Ralph Lane and expecting a relief mission to arrive in the autumn. (It didn’t; Elizabeth had diverted it to the Netherlands.) That winter hungry colonists, likely led by Amadas, sailed to the Chesapeake Bay, where they visited Skicoak, capital of the Chesapeake Indians, and may, in turn, have been visited there by groups from the Eastern Shore. (Historians disagree over whether both White and Hariot joined the expedition, or just one of them did; regardless, they later collaborated on elaborate maps of the region.) Meanwhile, disease and famine took their toll on the Indians back at Roanoke—Granganimeo died early in 1586—so that when Amadas returned in the spring, Wingina was considering whether to attempt wiping out the intruders.
A later account by Ralph Lane accuses Wingina of concocting an elaborate plan by which the weroance would eliminate the English by sending them into the clutches of the powerful Chowanocs and their chief, Menatonon. While possible, it seems more likely that Wingina—who at this time changed his name to Pemisapan, possibly meaning “one who vigilantly watches”—took a middle course, removing his people to Dasemunkepeuc and cutting Lane off from any food supplies. In the meantime, Lane not only met with Menatonon and survived, but the Chowanoc weroance‘s son Skiko told the colonists of a land called Chaunis Temoatan, beyond Tuscarora territory, where valuable copper was mined.
When Lane returned, Skiko, then his hostage, told Lane of an impending attack by Pemisapan. Skiko possibly was lying, thereby playing the situation to the Chowanocs’ advantage. Either way, on June 1 Lane preemptively stormed Dasemunkepeuc, and when Pemisapan, after being shot by Amadas, fled into the woods, an Irish colonist named Edward Nugent gave chase and emerged finally with the chief’s head. Ironically, Pemisapan probably had located the Englishmen on Roanoke in order to control access to them, but their proximity had only caused disease and, finally, the weroance‘s death. Still divided, the Indians declined to immediately retaliate, and on June 8, when a fleet of twenty-three ships led by Sir Francis Drake and including the future Virginia governorarrived unexpectedly, Lane thought his hungry men might be saved. But a three-day hurricane struck, ruining the ship Drake had promised to leave the colonists. Abruptly, Lane decided to abandon Roanoke, loading his men onto the ships and returning to England.
A relief mission arrived a few weeks later only to find the settlers gone. The same happened to Grenville, who, along with six ships and 200 colonists, landed at Roanoke in July. (One historian speculates that an Indian found hanging from a tree could have been Skiko.) After staying for a few weeks, Grenville set sail again, leaving behind a garrison of fifteen soldiers with enough provisions to last a year.
The Lost Colony (1587)
Raleigh was furious at Lane for leaving Roanoke, while at the same time intrigued by stories of Chaunis Temoatan and a possible passage to the Pacific Ocean. Even as his interest in Virginia waned in favor of Ireland, he approved one last mission, this time to be led by the artist John White. The plan called for the establishment of the “Cittie of Raleigh,” not at Roanoke but on the Chesapeake Bay, where the Indians appeared to be friendlier and the waters more suitable for deep-water navigation. Casting off on May 8, 1587, White carried with him more than a hundred settlers, including families this time—even his own pregnant daughter, Elinor Dare, and her husband, Ananias Dare—and possibly Puritan religious dissenters. First, though, Simon Fernandes piloted the flagship Lion to Roanoke so that they might check on Grenville’s men and drop off Manteo and his companion Towaye, who had spent the last ten months in England. They arrived on July 22, but the soldiers weren’t there. “We found none of them,” White later wrote, “nor any sign that they had been there, saving only we found the bones of one of those fifteen, which the Savages had slain long before.”
To make matters worse, one of Fernandes’s sailors indicated that White’s men were not welcome to reboard the Lion, that they should stay at Roanoke because “the Summer was farre spent.” (Fernandes still hoped to make it back to the West Indies in time to loot Spanish ships.) This is one of the great controversies surrounding the Lost Colony. White wrote, referring to himself in the third person, that “it booted [suited] not the Governor to contend” with Fernandes, but the governor’s refusal to argue the point—and to carry out Raleigh’s explicit instructions for the colony—has long puzzled historians. James Horn has argued that the incident only makes sense if White and Fernandes actually agreed on making the change. White’s later account, blaming Fernandes, was therefore intended to deflect his patron’s anger over the change in plans.
Whatever the case, Roanoke was where the colonists would settle, at least for the moment. If they were nervous contemplating the apparent deaths of Grenville’s men, they must have been more so after the death of White’s adviser George Howe on July 28. Howe was found in the woods two miles from camp, dead from sixteen arrows and a gruesome beating. Three days later, White sailed south to meet with the Croatoans, who reported that both Grenville’s men and Howe had been killed by Wanchese’s Roanokes at Dasemunkepeuc. Manteo’s people, meanwhile, promised to support the English on one condition: “that there might be some token or badge given them of us, whereby we might know them to be our friends, when we met them any where out of the Town or Island.” It was a reasonable request, but one that would turn out to be tragically ironic.
White asked the Croatoans to spread the word in Ossomocomuck that the English were interested in talking peace if they heard from the Indians within seven days. They did not, so sometime after midnight on August 9, Manteo led White and some of his men across the water to Dasemunkepeuc. There they attacked the town only to discover, too late, that it was occupied by friendly Croatoans, and not enemy Roanokes. (Whatever tokens or badges the Croatoans might have worn were not visible in the dark of night.) Wanchese’s people had apparently abandoned the town after killing Howe, and now White’s party had accidentally killed the weroance Menatonon and a number of others. Although this turn of events “somewhat grieved Manteo,” according to White, the Indian remained with the English; on August 13 he was baptized into theand christened lord of Roanoke and Dasemunkepeuc.
On August 18, White’s daughter gave birth to Virginia Dare, and on August 21, Fernandes and his sailors were finally finished unloading the three ships and prepared to set sail. All that remained was for the settlers to decide who among them would accompany Fernandes back to England to update Raleigh on all that had occurred. Remarkably, no one volunteered; instead, the settlers demanded that White—their leader and the most experienced among them when it came to navigating the perils and politics of Ossomocomuck—represent them. He later claimed that he at first refused; then he demanded that the settlers put their request in writing, with an emphasis on their “one minde” and White’s reluctance—which they did on August 25. Two days later White was gone, never to see any of them again.
Queen Elizabeth had been fighting the Spanish on the seas and in the Netherlands, and now King Philip II was ready to launch an invasion of England. Despite a prohibition on all English ships leaving port, Raleigh managed to arrange for a two-ship relief mission that sailed on April 22, 1588, three months ahead of the fearsome Spanish Armada. But a fight at sea with the French left the ships limping back to England, and White was unable to arrange another mission until 1590, when four ships finally sailed for Roanoke. These were privateers; they carried with them no additional settlers or supplies and agreed only to drop off White at the colony. When a storm sank one of the ships upon arrival, they were even more anxious to move on, but on August 18, 1590, White and a company of sailors landed on Roanoke. It was his granddaughter’s third birthday.
The camp was abandoned, with the word “CROATOAN” carved on a post. Three years earlier, White and the settlers had agreed that if they needed to move, they would indicate their destination in just such a way; if they were under duress, they would carve a cross above the letters. To White’s relief, no such cross could be found. But it was hurricane season, and another fierce storm ruined his plans to sail to Manteo’s island. Instead, the privateers, and White along with them, sailed on, first to the West Indies and then to England. The Lost Colonists, as they came to be known, were never found.
Historians have debated the colonists’ fate for centuries. Some have assumed that, like Grenville’s soldiers, they were quickly killed. Others have found evidence of another scenario: that they survived for twenty years among the Chowanocs and Weapemeocs or perhaps even the Chesapeakes, assimilating into their culture. The settlers athad heard rumors to this effect, and during the (1609–1614), the Virginia colony’s secretary, , suggested that the paramount chief had ordered them killed. Presumably the chief worried that these former Roanoke English men and women in his midst might join with the new settlers, posing too great a threat. and others looked but never found them.
The Lost Colony, meanwhile, has developed into one of the great legends of American history. Its story has traditionally focused on English discovery, apparent domination, and sudden disappearance. Virginia Dare has played an important role, too, as the first child born to English parents in North America. Her name is a reminder that thehas its roots earlier than Jamestown and to the south. But Dare also serves to deflect attention from the Indians of Ossomocomuck, without whom Raleigh’s colonists might never have survived at Roanoke. And although the legend revolves around the loss of white colonists, it’s important to the note that the Indians of Ossomocomuck also largely disappeared, the victims of encroaching English and then American culture.