Sir Walter Raleigh - Frederick Ober

Raleigh's Expedition to Roanoke


The confidence felt by Humphrey Gilbert in the eventual outcome of his voyages, if persisted in that it would be to the betterment of England and the extension of her power was fully shared by Walter Raleigh. Intimately associated as he had been with his half-brother in these voyages, now that the gallant Admiral had perished he felt it incumbent upon himself to persist in the furtherance of others to the same effect discovery and colonization.

The hapless Sir Humphrey had, in fact, bequeathed to his kinsman the task of carrying on his great work, and Raleigh had no disposition to shirk that task. He was, indeed, overzealous, the Queen thought, and the Spaniards, she had feared—what actually took place on the first voyage—an encounter with England's rivals on the ocean, and had forbidden him to leave her side—or, in other words, to run the risk of any "dangerous sea-fights," such as he was sure to seek if in command of ship or expedition. So he had languished at court, chagrined beyond measure, but eager and expectant for the issue of the venture in which he had taken part to the extent of fitting out a vessel. The defection of the Ark Ralegh  had added to his chagrin and disappointment; but the return of the only ship that survived, with its tidings of disaster, including the death of the Admiral and the total defeat of all his plans, somewhat reconciled him to his enforced detention.

He did not take warning, however, from the ill success of that expedition and desist from further adventures, but, within six months after the return of the Golden Hinde, had obtained of the Queen a charter, with larger powers than those which had been granted Sir Humphrey, for the "Discovery and Planting of New Lands in America." Gilbert's charter of 1578 expired in 1584, and March 25th of that year Raleigh obtained his own, which, judging from its length, scope, and verbiage, was comprehensive enough to include the exploration and colonization of the entire globe. It read:

"To all people to whom these presents shal come, greeting. Know ye that of our especial grace, certain science, and meere motion, we have given and graunted, and by these presents for us, our heires and successors, doe give and graunt, to our trusty and welbeloved servant Walter Ralegh Esquire, and to his heires and assignes for ever, free liberty and license from time to time, and at all times for ever hereafter, to discover, search, finde out, and view such remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countries and territories, not actually possessed by any Christian prince, nor inhabited by Christian people, as to him, his heires and assignes, and to every or any of them shal seeme good; and the same to have, holde, occupy & enjoy, to him, his heires and assignes for ever; with all prerogatives, commodities, jurisdictios, royalties, privileges, franchises and preeminences, thereto or thereabouts both by sea and land, whatsoever we by our letters patents may graunt, and as we or our noble progenitors have heretofore graunted, to any person or persons, bodies politic or corporate; and the saide Walter Ralegh, his heires and assignes, and all such as from time to time, by licence of us, our heires and successors, shal goe or travaile thither to inhabite or remaine, there to builde and fortifie, at the discretion of the saide Walter Ralegh, his heires & assignes, the statutes or act of Parliament made against fugitives, or against such as shal depart, remaine or continue out of our Realme of England without licence, or any statute, act, law, or any ordinance whatsoever to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding."

The ink on this comprehensive charter (one-tenth of which only has been quoted) was scarcely dry before Raleigh assembled his fleet, consisting of two vessels, commanded by Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlow. It sailed the last week in April, and sighted land on the American coast the first week in July. According to the prevailing custom of navigators at that time sailing for the southern part of North America, the two mariners zigzagged across the Atlantic, first to the Canaries, then to the West Indies, finally feeling their way northward again to the region they had chosen for their destination.

As a complete account exists of this interesting voyage, from the pen of Captain Barlow, we shall avail ourselves of it. It is contained in The First Voyage made to the Coasts of America, with two Barks, wherein were Captains M. Philip Amadas and M. Arthur Barlow, who discovered part of the countrey now called Virginia, Anno 1584. Written by One of the said Captaines and sent to Sir Walter Ralegh, Knight, at whose charge and Direction the said Voyage was set forth.

This letter is addressed to Sir Walter Raleigh; for one of the first rewards of this expedition, furnished and promoted at his own cost, was the honor of knighthood, bestowed by the doting Queen, in recognition of his labors and discovery, in 1584. In the estimation of Elizabeth, she could bestow no greater distinction than this; but, in exchange for this paltry title, did not Raleigh bestow upon her an honor far greater when he named the newly discovered country Virginia?  This is the mariner's narrative:

"The 27th day of Aprill, in the yeere of our redemption, 1584, we departed the West of England, with two barkes well furnished with men and victuals, having received our last and perfect directions by your letters, confirming the former instructions and commandments delivered by yourselfe at our leaving the river of Thames. And I think it a matter both unnecessary, for the manifest discovery of the Countrey, as also for tediousnesse sake, to remember unto you the diurnall [log, or journal] of our course, sayling and returning; onely I have presumed to present unto you this brief a discourse, by which you may judge how profitable this land is likely to succeede, as well to your selfe, by whose direction and charge, and by whose servantes, this our discoverie hath Beene performed, as also to Her Highnesse [Elizabeth], and the Commonwealth, in which we hope your wisdome wilbe satisfied, considering that as much by us hath bene brought to light, as by those smal meanes, and number of men we had, could any way have bene expected or hoped for.

"The tenth of May we arrived at the Canaries, and the tenth of June in this present yere we were fallen in with the islands of the West Indies, keeping a more southeasterly course than was needful, because we doubted that the currents of the Bay of Mexico, disbogging betweene the Cape of Florida and Havana, had bene of greater force than afterwards we found it to bee. [That is, the current of the Gulf Stream was not so strong as the had expected it to be, probably as reported by the Spanish pilots.]

"At which Islands we found the ayre very unwholesome, and our men grew for the most part ill disposed; so that having refreshed our selves with sweet water and fresh victuall, we departed the twelfth day of our arrivall there. These islands, with the rest adjoining, are so well known to your self e and to many others, as I will not trouble you with the remembrance of them.

"The second of Iuly we found shole water, where we smelt so sweet and so strong a smell, as if we had bene in the midst of some delicate garden, abounding with all kindes of odoriferous flowers, by which we were assured that land could not be farre distant; so keeping a good watch, and bearing but slacke sayle, the fourth of the same moneth we arrived upon the coast, which we supposed to be a continent and firme lande, and we sayled along the same a hundred and twentie English miles, before we could finde any entrance or river issuing into the sea.

"The first that appeared unto us we entered, though not without some difficultie, & cast anker about three harqubus [musket] shot within the haven's mouth; and after thanks given to God for our safe arrival thither, we manned the boats and went to view the lande adjoyning, and to take possession of the same, in the right of the Queene's most excellent maj estie, and after delivered the same over to your use, according to her Majestie's grant and letters patent, under her Highnesse's great seal. Which being performed, according to the ceremonies used in such enterprises, we viewed the land about us, being, where we first landed, very sandie and low towards the water's side, but so full of grapes, as the very beating and surge of the sea over-flowed them. Of these we found such plentie, as well there as in all places else, both on the sand and on the greene soile on the hills, in the plaines, on every littel shrubbe, as also climbing towardes the tops of high cedars, that I thinke in all the world the like abundance is not to be found: and myself, having seen those parts of Europe that most abound, find such differences as were incredible to be written."

How many of the first visitors to the new continent were impressed with the beauties of the shores, the exuberant fertility of the soil, and the fragrance of the wild flowers wafted to them by the soft breezes from the main! From the arrival of Columbus in the West Indies to the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, the journals of the voyagers are overflowing with expressions of pleasure and admiration.

A few more than forty years after Amadas and Barlow made their landfall on the southern coast of North America a band of Puritans skirting the north shore of Massachusetts in the month of June, were equally extravagant in their praises of the "odoriferous land."

"The nearer we came to the shore," wrote Elder Higginson, "the more flowers in abundance, sometymes scattered abroad, sometymes joyned in sheets nine or ten yeards long, which we supposed to be brought from the low meadows by the tyde. . . . As we sayled along the coast we saw every hill and dale, and every island, full of gay woods and tall trees. Now, what with fine woods and green trees by land, and these yellow flowers paynting the sea, it made us all desirous of seeing our new Paradise of New England, whence we perceived such forerunning signals of fertilitie afarre off."

The island was about twenty miles in length and six in breadth, covered, with "goodly woodes full of deer, conies, hares, and fowle in incredible abundance. Having discharged an arquebuse, such a flocke of cranes (the most part white) arose around us, with such a cry, redoubled by many echoes, as if an army of men had showted all together."

This passage recalls a similar one in the book of that arrant plagiarist, Daniel Defoe, when his hero, one Robinson Crusoe, discharges his gun in a thick wood and arouses a like commotion among the wild inhabitants, who (he reflects), never having heard a sound of that sort before, were confused and astounded. Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe more than a hundred years after the first description of Roanoke was published (one hundred and thirty-five, to be exact), and may have availed himself of this account, as well as of other narratives then existent, for the purpose of embellishing with authentic incident and bestowing verisimilitude upon his fiction.

"The island had many woodes—not such as you find in Bohemia and Muscovy barren and fruitless, but containing the highest and reddest cedars in the world, farre bettering those of the Acores, Indies; also pines, cypress, sassaphras, the tree that beareth the rind of black sinamon of the kind which Master Winter brought from the streights of Magellan, and many others of excellent smell and qualitie."

The woods were wonderful, but no minerals of importance were discovered, either by these first voyagers or by those who came after them. Gold was the lure, without doubt, that led to the fitting out of these expeditions and enticed the prospective colonists to embark on such risky voyages; but never once did the English discover such mines of the precious metals as the Spaniards opened to view in Mexico, Santo Domingo, and Peru. Gold, or the persistent search for it, and the cruelties committed to gain it, eventually wrought the ruin of Spain and its American colonies, while the English, sturdier and hardier than the Latins, from a less fruitful soil extracted wealth of a different sort, and bequeathed to their descendants a permanent inheritance.

The Spaniards ran a more rapid course than their rivals, the English, but it was the sooner ended. Between the" date of the Cabotian discovery of Newfoundland, and that of Roanoke by the ships sent out by Raleigh, Spain's ruthless conquerors had nearly exterminated the aboriginal inhabitants of the West Indies; had subjugated Mexico and Peru, thereby acquiring mines that yielded them millions and millions in treasure, and founded many cities, like Santo Domingo, Santiago de Cuba, Havana, St. Augustine, San Juan de Puerto Rico, Lima, and Panama. Truly, the Britons had lagged in the race, for they had not then a single settlement in the New World; they could not boast a fishing village even; and this notwithstanding Bartholomew Columbus had offered his brother's services to Henry VII. of England years before they were accepted by Ferdinand of Spain!

Had there been a Walter Raleigh living in the reign of "Henry the Penurious," instead of in the reign of Elizabeth the frivolous, England might have gained a century, which she lost through the ineptitude of her ignorant sovereigns and their subjects. She did not follow up the advantage gained for her by the Cabotian discovery, and so it remained for Raleigh to bring to light these things which had been hidden during countless centuries.

Not the least interesting of these were the red men of Roanoke, the manner of whose discovery was as follows:

"We remained by the side of this island two whole dayes before we saw any people of this countrey. The third daye we espied one small boate rowing towardes us, having in it three persons. This boate came to the island side, four harquebuze-shot from our shippes, and there two of the people remaining, the third came along the shore towards us, and, we being then all within boord [on board ship] he walked up and down upon the point of land next unto us. Then the master and the pilot of the Admirall [the flag-ship] Simon Ferdinando, and the Captaine Amadas, and myselfe [Captain Barlow] and others, rowed to the land, whose comming this fellow attended, never making any shewe of feare or doubt. And after he had spoken of many things (not understood by us) we brought him with his own good liking aboord the shippes and gave him a shirt, a hat, & some other things, and made him taste our wine and our meat, which he liked very wel. And after having viewed both our barks, he departed, and went to his own boat again, which he had left in a little cove or creek adjoyning. As soone as hee was two bow-shot into the water he fell to fishing, and in lesse than half e an hour hee had laden his boate as deepe as it could swimme, with which hee came again to the point of the lande, and there he divided the fish into two parts, pointing one part to the ship, and the other to the pinnesse, which, after he had, as much as he might, requited our benefits received, departed out of sight.

"The next day there came to us divers boates, and in one of them the King's brother, accompanied with fortie or fiftie men, very handsome and goodly people, and in their behaviour as mannerly and civill as any of Europe. His name was Granganimeo, and the King is called Wingina, the countrey Wingandacoa, and now, by her Majestie, Virginia. The manner of his coming was in this sort: hee left his boates altogether, as the first man did, a little from the shippes by the shore, and came along to the place over against them, followed with fortie men. When he came to the place, his servants spread a long matte upon the ground, on which he sate down, and at the other end of the matte foure others of his company did the like, while the rest of his men stood round about him, somewhat afarre off. When wee came to the shore to him with our weapons, hee never mooved from his place, nor any of the other foure, nor never mistrusted any harme to be offered from us; but sitting still, he beckoned us to come and sit by him, which we performed; and being set, hee made all signes of joy and welcome, striking on his head and on his breast, and afterwardes on ours, to shew wee were al one, smiling and making shewe the best he could al love and f amiliaritie. After hee had made a long speech unto us, we presented him with divers things, which he received very joyfully and thankefully. None of the company durst speak one word al the time; only the foure, which were at the other ende spake one in the others' eare very softly."

Wingina, the king, was confined to his wigwam, six days' journey distant, by wounds he had received in battle; but his brother was deputed by him to traffic with the strangers, and did so with avidity.

"When we showed him all our packet of merchandise," wrote Barlow, "of all things that he saw, a bright tinne dish most pleased him, which hee presently tooke up and clapt it before his breast, and after making a hole in the brimrne thereof, hung it about his neck, making signes that it would defende him against his enemies' arrowes; for these people maintain a deadly warre with the people and king adjoyning. We exchanged our tinne dish for twentie skinnes, woorth twentie crowns and twentie nobles, and a copper kettle for fiftie skinnes woorth fiftie crowns. They offered us good exchange for our hatchets and axes, and for knives and swordes would have given anything, but we would not part with any.

"After two or three dayes the king's brother came aboord our shippes and dranke wine and eat of our meat and of our bread, and liked exceedingly thereof. And after a few more dayes he brought his wife with him to the shippes, also his daughter and two or three of his children. His wife was very well favored, of meane [medium] stature, and very bashfull. She had on her backe a long cloake of leather, with the furre side next to her body, and before her a piece of the same. About her forehead she had a bande of white corall, and so had her husband, many times. In her eares she had bracelets of pearles hangeing down to her middle, whereof wee delivered to your Worshippe [Raleigh] a little bracelet, and those were of the bignes of good pease.

"The rest of her women of the better sort had pendants of copper hanging in their eares, and some of the king's brother's children and other noble men have five or six in either eares. He himselfe had upon his head a broad plate of golde or copper (for being unpolished wee knew not what sort of mettal it should be), neither would he suffer us to take it off his head; but feeling it, wee could bend it very easily. His apparell was as his wives, onely the women weare their haire long on both sides, and the men but on one. They are of a colour yellowish, and their haire black, for the most parte; and yet wee saw children that had very fine auburne and chesnut-coloured haire . . . .The king's brother had a great liking of our armour, a sworde and divers other things which we had, and offered to lay a great box of pearles in gage for them; but wee refused it for this time, or until we had understoode in what places of the countrey the pearls grew; which now your Worshippe doth very well understand."

While exploring the interior of the island the Englishmen were entertained by the Indians ". . .with all love and kindnesse, and with much bountie, after their manner, as they could possibly devise." Ninety-two years previously Christopher Columbus had landed on the shores of Guanahani, in the Bahamas, and there met the exact prototypes of these amiable people, and his description of those, the first Indians ever encountered by white men, is almost exactly duplicated by that of Captain Barlow. Columbus wrote in his journal, which he kept for the inspection of Ferdinand and Isabella: "I swear to your majesties, there are no better people on earth; for they are gentle, without knowing what evil is, neither killing nor stealing." And Captain Barlow says: "We found the people most gentle, loving, and faithfull, voide of all guile and treason, and such as live after the manner of the golden age."

The fate of the Indians of the West Indies discovered by Columbus was swift extermination, initiated by himself; but the English mainly, in their dealings with these aboriginal peoples, were merciful and humane. Raleigh especially as we shall later see, when following him to South America was just and generous toward them, treating the men with consideration and the women with excessive gallantry. And yet, to the cruel caprices of a single individual of a subsequent company sent out by Raleigh was chiefly due the hostile attitude of the Indians that led to the complete frustration of his colonization schemes.

While the researches of Captains Amadas and Barlow were more thorough than those conducted by Gilbert and the Cabots on the coast of Newfoundland, yet their explorations were not extensive.

"After the Indians had been divers times aboord our shippes," says Captain Barlow, "my selfe, with seven more, went twentie mile into the river that runneth toward the citie of Skicoak, which river they call Occam, and the evening following wee came to an island which they [the Indians] call Roanoak. At the north end thereof was a village of nine houses, built of cedar and fortified round about with palisados, to keep out their enemies, and the entrance into it made like a turnpike very artificially. When wee came toward it the wife of Granganimeo came running out to meete us, very cheerfully and friendly, her husband not then being in the village. Some of her people she commanded to drawe our boate on shore, others she appointed to carry us on their backs to the dry ground, and others to bring our oares into the house, for feare of stealing. When wee were come into the house she caused us to sit downe by a great fire, and after tooke our cloathes, washed them, and dryed them againe, while some of her women washed our stockinges and our feete in warm water. And she her self e tooke great paines to see all these things ordered in the best manner shee could, making great haste to dresse some meat for us to eate."

The continued hospitality of the savages, and their unremitting attentions, bred in the Englishmen, they said, a desire to linger on the coast; but as they had come to spy out the land rather than to colonize, the captains resolved to leave the country before the end of summer. They set sail, accordingly, and taking with them two "lustie savages "named Manteo and Wanchese, made the return voyage more expeditiously than the outward one, arriving in England about the middle of September.