Sir Walter Raleigh - Frederick Ober

The Pioneer in Virginia


"So sweet the air, so moderate the clime,

None sickly lives, or dies before his time.

Heav'n sure has kept this spot of earth uncurst,

To show how all things were created first."

So glowing were the accounts brought home by Amadas and Barlow, and so great was the favor shown them by the Queen, who allowed the new country to be named, in honor of her, "virgin state," that Raleigh had no difficulty in securing colonists for Virginia. A fleet of seven sail was ready early in the spring of 1585, and, "with one hundred householders, and many things necessary to begin a new State, departed from Plymouth in April." England, hitherto so dilatory in colonization, was now aroused, and people flocked to Plymouth desirous of sharing in the rewards of an enterprise which promised so much, and attracted by Raleigh's offer of "five hundred acres to a man, only for the adventure of his person."

Among those who embarked were Thomas Cavendish, who followed after Sir Francis Drake, at a later date, through the Straits of Magellan to the Pacific, "and became the second Englishman to circumnavigate the globe." The most notable person, perhaps, who sailed on this expedition was Thomas Heriot, the celebrated mathematician and philosopher, who wrote that "able captains were not wanting."

The expedition was commanded by Sir Richard Grenville, Raleigh's kinsman, who afterward met a glorious death at sea, fighting to his last breath for his country's honor. The voyage outward was prosperous, and the fleet, having taken the circuitous route by way of the West Indies, cruised the chain from Dominica to Porto Rico, where some Spanish captures were made, and safely arrived at the island of Wokoken, off what is now the coast of North Carolina, in the month of June. Manteo and Wanchese, the two Indians who had been taken to England by Amadas and Barlow, were sent to Roanoke with messages for the chiefs, and returned with the friendly Granganimeo, who was received in state on board the commander's ship, the Tiger. The Indians were found to be still faithful to their former friends, and there seems to have been no manifestation of hostility whatever. Everything was propitious for the founding of a colony, and after several short explorations had been made, in order to determine the best place for a settlement, one hundred and eight men were set ashore for the purpose. They were under the orders of Captain Ralph Lane, who had been designated as governor of the projected colony, with Captain Philip Amadas as lieutenant-governor.

Thomas Cavendish


Sir Richard Grenville remained, with his ships, until the last of August, when he departed for England; but, short as had been his stay, it was sufficient for sowing seeds of hate and distrust in the bosoms of the natives. He made a single short excursion into the country, and having missed a silver cup at one of his encampments, which had probably been taken by an Indian, in revenge he burned a native village. This was the first untoward act on either side, but the evil results were quickly felt. Those "most loving, gentle, and faithful people, void of all guile and treason," as the former visitors found them, were changed into sullen, suspicious, and finally openly hostile savages, who threw every obstacle they could in the way of the colonists. The material for a successful colony was lacking in the first place, and with the open hostility of the Indians it was impossible to plant it on a firm foundation. Though buildings were erected, fields and gardens sown, and an earnest attempt made to provide against the coming winter, all was to no purpose.

An account has been left us by Governor Lane himself of the transactions at Roanoke after the departure of Grenville, which is apathetic narrative of sufferings sturdily endured and obstacles continually removed, only to be repeatedly encountered.

The hope of finding pearls and gold, and making the discovery of that persistently evasive northwest passage (which had beckoned on the Cabots, Humphrey Gilbert, Frobisher, and Davis), became so strong that Lane finally decided to attempt a journey into the country of that king "whose province lay upon the sea." With a small force of men poorly equipped and victualed, he went by boat up the river Chawanook, an estimated distance of one hundred and sixty miles; but the total failure of their provisions and the increasing hostility of the savages compelled them to return.

Their supply of Indian corn was exhausted, and they were reduced to feeding upon the flesh of two English mastiffs, of which they made a pottage with sassafras leaves, by the time Roanoke was reached. Starving as they were, the gallant explorers were compelled to face the open hostility of the chieftain Wingina, and in their weakness pit their forces against his. He had assembled a force of eighteen hundred men, under pretence of honoring the obsequies of his father, the old chief Ensenore, but with the real object, the English feared, of destroying them entirely. The conflict was of short duration, for the Indians could not withstand the onslaughts of men armed as the English were, and abandoned not only the field but the island. Chief Wingina was killed with others, and thus the colonists were rid of neighbors who had become a menace to their existence; but at the same time they lost the support of agriculturists, whose crops of Indian corn would be their only reliance in event of famine.

Grenville, on his departure, had promised to return by Easter with relief ships filled with supplies; but the time arrived without him, and the starving colonists were already in despair when they were surprised by the spectacle of a fleet of stately ships sailing into the harbor. They comprised the squadron of Sir Francis Drake, who was returning to England from the Spanish Main, the West Indies, and Florida, where he had sacked such noble cities as Cartagena, Santo Domingo, and St. Augustine. He was well supplied with provisions and ammunition, which he furnished the colonists most liberally, as well as with a bark and pinnace for their use along shore.

Having supplied their needs, the gallant Sir Francis was about resuming his interrupted voyage, when a storm broke upon the coast and destroyed the vessels he had left behind, thus reducing the colonists again to dependence upon their small boats. They then demanded of Governor Lane that he implore the Admiral to take them back with him to England, and were so persistent and despairing that Drake finally granted the request. He gave them all passage in his fleet, and after the storm was over they sailed away, leaving Roanoke once more without a white inhabitant. As the Indians, too, had departed, it was then quite desolate, and this was the final outcome of Raleigh's first attempt to plant a colony on the coast of America.

Lane and his companions "sailed on June 19, 1586, and arrived in England on July 27th. They were impoverished, they were despondent, and they had terrible tales to tell all would-be colonists in the American wilds. But, though circumstances had over-borne them, proof was soon forthcoming that they had succumbed too soon. Raleigh had not forgotten them, neither had Grenville proved recreant to his trust, for scarcely had they cleared the coast when a relief ship of a hundred tons' capacity sailed into Roanoke harbor, heavily freighted with supplies. It had been despatched ahead of Grenville's fleet, in anticipation of the wants of the colonists, who, if they had remained, would have revelled in abundance. Neither colonist nor native greeted the gallant Admiral, however, and after a prolonged search Grenville sailed away to the Azores, though he left behind on Roanoke fifteen sturdy volunteers, as a nucleus for a future settlement. He was not aware, perhaps, of the encounter between the colonists and the Indians, nor that the latter were hostile rather than friendly; so these hapless fifteen were left there, with ample supplies for two years, to maintain themselves as best they might. The Indians were not long in finding them out, and when, the next year, another expedition landed at Roanoke, no trace of them could be discovered, for all had perished.

Though four expeditions in which Raleigh was interested including the two voyages of Sir Humphrey Gilbert had come to naught, he was not discouraged. The learned Heriot's account of the country and its resources confirmed him in the belief that it was well worth colonizing, that its future was to be great, and, moreover, that it was incumbent upon Englishmen to plant and develop that vast region lying between Newfoundland and the Floridas. The Spaniards, proceeding as it were along isothermal lines, had found their American habitat in the warm regions such as the West Indies and the tropical portions of Mexico, Central, and South America. They had seemingly abandoned the colder countries to the more hardy Britons; yet how tardily had the latter invaded the region left so invitingly open for exploration and settlement!

Whatever was done, however, Sir Walter Raleigh was the life and soul of it. Under the same charter he had obtained of the Queen for exploration and colonizing, he associated with himself the celebrated navigator Captain John Davis, and others, under the name of "The College of the Fellowship for the Discovery of the Northwest Passage." Davis sailed in 1585, the same year that Grenville and Lane went to Roanoke, and followed up this expedition with two other voyages, in the last of which he discovered the strait which bears his name and penetrated as far as the seventy-third degree of north latitude. On the first voyage, in latitude 60 40" north, he had discovered a great promontory, "the cliffs of which were as orient as gold," which in honor of his patron he had named "Mount Raleigh."

Though not an expeditioner himself, Raleigh at that time was the active promoter of every expedition that sailed, whether to the arctic, temperate, or the torrid zone. Besides promoting and contributing liberally to these enterprises, he also maintained cruisers constantly at sea for privateering against the Spaniards. Notwithstanding all his occupations, however, he never lost sight of any one of them, but kept, as it were, one eye upon the seas of the icy north and the other upon the tropic waters of the south. His active mind could grasp a multitude of objects at once, and while amid the perplexing cares of court, where he was also busily engaged in managing the affairs of an imperious mistress, he yet maintained a firm grasp on his vast enterprises beyond the seas.

Raleigh's agents, Lane and Heriot, were both capable men and enterprising, but the former lacked energy and a capacity for great affairs. Heriot wrote a valuable topographical description of the region visited and its natural history, which is preserved in the Hakluyt Collection, and drawings of all interesting objects were made by an artist sent out specially for the purpose, which were printed at Frankfort, by De Bry, in 1590.

Supported by the authentic information furnished by author and artist, Sir Walter projected another expedition, which was finally assembled and sailed in the spring of 1587. It was commanded by Captain John white, associated with whom as governor of the colony were twelve business men as counsellors, who were authorized to build, on the river Chesapeake, a city to be called Raleigh. Sailing over the customary route via the West Indian islands, they arrived at Hatteras on July 22, 1587, after narrowly escaping shipwreck on Cape Fear. As soon as harbor was made, twenty men, under guidance of a friendly Indian, were sent to Roanoke in search of the fifteen colonists left there by Grenville the year before. They found the huts they had built still standing, but overgrown with weeds and bushes, and no trace of human beings. The bones of one who had died were found in a shallow grave, and from some natives who were discovered prowling about it was learned that all had been massacred by the Indians in revenge for the killing of Wingina.

Considering it his duty, in turn, to obtain satisfaction for this outrage, Governor White sent a party of twenty-five men to the mainland, who, coming suddenly upon a band of natives encamped among the reeds by a riverside, opened fire upon them, killing and wounding several. The survivors ran for the shelter of a nearby wood, crying out that they were not enemies but friends, when it was discovered that they had come from Croatan to gather their harvests of corn. Thus the vengeful deed miscarried, and yet was the means of adding to the rancor felt in Indian breasts toward the English intruders.

This tragedy was but the prelude to another and greater, which involved the fate of the entire colony, causing its destruction. The gallant Governor, who, with his three ships and one hundred and fifty colonists, had sailed so joyously through the fragrant archipelago of the Antilles, stopping at every attractive isle, tasting of every tropic fruit, and cooking the native vegetables in the hot waters of volcanic springs, had but led his followers through a flowery paradise into the valley of death.

Shortly after the arrival at Roanoke, in the month of August, was born Virginia Dare, the first child of English birth and parentage in the New World, it is believed. The same week witnessed the baptism of Maneto, the faithful Indian, who was thus the first of his race to be received into the English Church in that new colony. These two events give to the lost colony of Roanoke a most pathetic interest, and the infant Virginia Dare, named after England's "virgin queen," born in the wilderness, reared

amid savages, perchance, but whose fate was never known, has often been the theme of song, of art, and of romance.

The settlers comprising this third expedition sent out by Raleigh sent their Governor back to England for supplies, and he sailed away never to see them more. Sir Walter equipped and despatched five other expeditions between the years 1587 and 1602, but there was a fatal hiatus during the protracted struggle with Spain for supremacy on the seas, which proved destructive to that hapless colony left on Roanoke. Not even the Queen's favorite could gain the royal sanction for ships to sail to its relief while the dreaded Armada was threatening English coasts, and after it was dispersed, destroyed, a long time elapsed before shipping could be obtained for the transport of supplies to Virginia. When, finally, succor arrived, it was too late, for every soul of that second colony had vanished as though the earth had opened and swallowed them up, or, rather, evil genii had borne them off to the wilderness!

After many discouragements White succeeded in getting possession of three ships, with which he sailed for Virginia, arriving there August 15, 1590. He landed first at Hatteras, whence he observed smoke arising from Roanoke, it is said, and hastened thither with joyful anticipations. He fully expected to find the colonists there, though nearly three years had passed since he left them, but, on landing, no human being was seen, nor after a long and persistent search. Fallen trees and grass were burning, indicating recent human presence, but neither white person nor Indian was discovered.

On a door-post of one of the dwellings the word "Croatan" was inscribed, from which it was inferred that the colonists had gone to that island, and sail was made for it at once. But a violent storm arose, with head winds, and the search was cravenly abandoned, the would-be rescuers returning to England without tidings of the unfortunate colonists. A second time was Roanoke rendered desolate, and mystery again involved the fate of human beings who had been left there to make the wilderness fruitful and blossoming, but who found their graves therein.