American History Stories—Volume I - Mara L. Pratt

Sir Walter Raleigh

There was another gallant Englishman who made a great name for himself upon the sea.

Did you ever hear of the young Englishman who, when one day Queen Elizabeth, taking her daily walk, came to a muddy place in the road, threw down his rich plush coat, and with a profound bow begged her Queenship to do him the honor to cross upon it?

Well, that young Englishman was the Sir Walter Raleigh of whom we hear in the stories of the earliest discoveries.

Sir Walter had made a voyage with his older brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who had tried again and again to find the Northwest Passage of which the Cabots so long before had talked and written.

And now a time had come when England was very anxious to get a colony founded in North America before the Spanish should take possession of the whole country.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


Several attempts were made, but none of them were successful. One colony, called in history "The Lost Colony," was made up of a hundred families. They settled upon the beautiful island of Roanoke in Albemarle Sound, Virginia.

When their rough houses were built and the people had planted their fields and seemed comfortable and prosperous, their governor, John Whyte, returned to England to report their success and to bring back provisions for the colony.

The governor did not like to leave the colony, for there were hostile Indians round about. His people depended on him for guidance, and then, too, there was a little baby girl, his grand-daughter—little Virginia Dare, the first English baby born on American soil—who had a wonderful hold on the heart-strings of the rough old governor, and made him wish that he might stay there on the beautiful island to protect her from all danger.

But the colonists needed provisions, so the brave governor sailed away.

On reaching England he found the country in such commotion and the queen so busy with the war going on between Spain and England, that it was three long years before he could get together the provisions and the help he needed to carry back to the little colony.

When at last he did set sail, it seemed to him that the ocean must have grown thousands and thousands of miles wider, the voyage was so long and he was so anxious about the little colony and so eager to see the little baby colonist.

At last the vessel neared the island. Eagerly Governor Whyte looked up and down the shores for some sign of welcome. But only the stillness and the gloom of the forest greeted him. Not a sign of life. The huts were deserted, not a sound was to be heard save the cry of the birds and the moaning of the trees.

On a tree were cut the letters, CROATAN. What did that mean? Was it the name of some place to which the colonists had moved? No one knew. No one ever knew; and not one trace of this lost colony, not one trace of the little English baby, Virginia Dare, has been found to this day.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


It was at this time that many reports came of the enormous amounts of gold to be found in Guiana. "Why," said one adventurer, "it lies in lumps about the streets; and in the forests it lies like fallen trees across one's path."

"England must have some of that gold. She needs it to carry on the war," said Raleigh. "It will never do to let Spain capture it all." And so he set forth for the wonderful gold country. Of course, he found no such quantities of gold, but he explored the rivers and brought home most valuable reports of the new world.

Later, in a great battle with the Spanish vessels, Raleigh so contrived to set his own vessel across a narrow channel that the whole Spanish fleet was crippled, and had no choice but to blow up their own vessels or see them captured by Raleigh. This victory was a terrible blow to the Spanish power on the sea. Never again did she dare defy the powers of other countries as she had done, or proudly proclaim herself "mistress" of the seas." From that day the power of Spain was broken.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


Queen Elizabeth was proud indeed of her brave knight, and all England rang with praises of their bold deliverer.

But, by and by, the Queen died. King James of Scotland became King of England. Now the skies grew black indeed for Sir Walter. King James hated him, was jealous of him, and felt he was a man to be feared. Accordingly he had him shut up in prison, and later condemned him to death. It is a sad, cruel story and we will not repeat it here. Only you may be sure, good, brave man that Sir Walter was, that he died nobly; and that, as the years rolled on, the world grew more and more to appreciate and honor him.

The French, too, and the Hollanders were at this same time sending explorers across the sea to find a short route to India. That was how it happened that Jacques Cartier discovered the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and Henrick Hudson the mouth of the Hudson. Cartier's heart beat fast when he found this great river, and saw it led directly west. Hudson, too, though his river ran so far to the north, still hoped it might somewhere turn towards the west. For, you see, the people of those days did not yet realize that they had discovered a new continent thousands of miles wide, and that no river or system of rivers could extend from shore to shore.

This idea of a vast country came to the people slowly; for first, when Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola, the people thought of this new western land as merely a series of islands. Then, when Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama, he reported the new land as only a narrow strip. But, gradually, when Magellan sailed so far south and Cartier so far north, the people began to realize that the new land was not an island nor even a narrow strip of land. And so the truth of the discovery grew, until, by and by, it was known that great continents had been discovered—continents as large as all Europe and Asia put together. And they named these two great continents North America and South America.