On this day in 1586, Sir Francis Drake dropped anchor near Roanoke Island. For more than six months, the famed sea captain had been attacking the Spanish wherever he found them, and with the fort at St. Augustine now a smoking cinder, he was finally ready to go home. Did the English colonists need anything before he left?
Why yes, in fact. Having just beheaded a close Indian ally (as you might recall) and without the means to feed themselves, they would love a ride home.
Thomas Gates was a young lieutenant serving with Drake at the time, and twenty-four years later, to the day, he was back in America, back aboard ship, and evacuating yet another English colony. This time Governor Gates was sailing the remnant from Jamestown down the James River and, eventually, back to England. Having barely survived disease, drought, and the Starving Time, not to mention war with the Indians, and without the means to feed themselves, these colonists, like their predecessors, were content with calling it quits.
Except that on the James they encountered a ship belonging to the new governor, Baron De La Warr, and he, being all piss and vinegar about everything, failure is not an option, etc., made them turn around.
This, then, is the day that the first permanent English settlement in North America actually became permanent. And, ironically, the colonists couldn’t have been more devastated about it.
IMAGE: A hand-colored engraving, by Francisco Boazio, of Sir Francis Drake’s attack on Cartagena on February 9, 1586.