Builders of our Country Vol. I - G. Southworth

Sir Walter Raleigh

I. Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humphrey Gilbert

Sir Walter Raleigh was a brave and gallant English knight who lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The story is told that one day, as the Queen approached the place where he was waiting with a crowd to see her pass, she paused before a muddy spot in the way. Raleigh, without a moment's hesitation, slipped his velvet cape from his shoulders and spread it out for her to walk on. This little act of courtesy greatly pleased Queer. Elizabeth, and ever after she remembered her gallant knight.

Raleigh was born in a seaport town of Devonshire in 1552. Here large sailing vessels used to anchor to load and unload their cargoes.

When a boy, Raleigh was like all other boys. There was nothing he enjoyed quite so much as going down to the wharves and hearing the sailors tell thrilling stories of the sea and the strange countries they had visited. Then Raleigh would say to himself, "When I am a man, I, too, will discover some new land." And though he never discovered a new land, he did much in attempting to found an English colony in America.

Since the. Cabots crossed the Atlantic, England had not sent out many exploring expeditions. But, as you know, Spain had done so; and her colonies were growing stronger than those of any other European nation, and her trade was greater.

Never the best of friends with Spain, England naturally did not like to see Spain gaining more power than she herself across the sea. So, not to be outdone, the English made plans for planting colonies in America and for carrying on a larger trade with that country.

Moreover, England had other reasons for wanting to colonize America besides the desire to increase her trade and to hold her own with Spain. There was always the old hope of finding gold; and there was vet a fourth reason, one that had grown out of the condition of the English people themselves.

Sir Walter Raleigh


In the time of Queen Elizabeth, the population of England was about five millions, and there was not work enough in the kingdom to keep so many people employed. Hundreds could find nothing to do. So, whirs the rich in England were growing richer each day, the poor were growing poorer.

Why not send these poor idle people to America? There they would certainly have plenty of work and a fair chance to make a new start in life.

Of course this would mean a great risk and vast sums of money, and there were few persons who cared to hazard all they owned in an undertaking that might be unsuccessful. Again, how many people do you suppose would willingly be separated forever from their friends in England?

Yet, in spite of the risk, there were some wealthy men in England who put great sums of money into ships to carry colonists across the ocean. One of these was Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a stepbrother of Walter Raleigh. In 1578 he set sail with seven ships to plant a colony in North America. His first attempt was unsuccessful.

Colonists of Virginia


On his second voyage Sir Humphrey landed in Newfoundland and claimed it in the name of the Queen. From there he sailed south to the Kennebec River. As his three vessels skirted the coast, a great storm arose. Suddenly with a crash the largest ship crushed its bows against a hidden rock and sank.

The storm continued to rage wildly. Sir Humphrey decided to head for England. Soon his little ship began to founder in the terrible sea. Sitting near the stern the brave man called out to his companions on the other vessel, "The way to heaven is as near by sea as by land." That night his ship went down, and neither he nor his sailors were ever seen again.

II. Sir Walter Raleigh and His Colony

On the death of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Walter Raleigh decided to carry out his stepbrother's scheme. He was a rich man and a great favorite with the Queen. He asked her to renew in his name the charter granted to Sir Humphrey, and the Queen gladly did so.

These charters gave in writing the privileges the Queen was willing to grant her colonists. It was so far from England to America, and the journey back and forth took so long, that it would have been impossible to refer questions to the Queen as they came up. The only way was to decide ahead what the colonists should be allowed to do. Then if the people who were to sail to the new land felt that they could be content under those conditions, all well and good. Otherwise they had better stay in England.

Walter Raleigh's charter granted him the, right to explore and settle the eastern coast of America and to make himself governor of any colony he might found. The colonists who went with him were to have all the political and religious rights and privileges that they had to England.

This was a very fair charter. Everything seemed to promise success to the future colonists. But to make assurance doubly sure, Raleigh thought best to send an exploring party ahead, so that when the colonists reached America they would know what to expect. With this in view, two vessels sailed away from England in 1584.

Queen Elizabeth


Their anchors were cast just off the island of Roanoke; and going ashore the English found the climate delightful, the vegetation rich, acid the Indians most eager to welcome them. For several weeks the explorers stayed on the island; and such a good time did they have that, when they got back to England, they gave only glowing reports of all they bad seen.

Queen Elizabeth was so delighted when she heard of the glorious regions across the sea, that she named them Virginia, in her own honor. Elizabeth was not married and was proud of her title, "The Virgin Queen." As a reward for his efforts in the new land, Raleigh was knighted and became Sir Walter Raleigh.

Now there was nothing to delay the sending out of the colony, and soon the well-laden ships were on their way. In time Roanoke was reached, and the men and their goods were put safely ashore.

So far so good. But from this time matters did not progress. The colonists were lazy. Instead of exerting themselves in tilling the ground and building homes, they wasted their time and lived on what they could get from the Indians. Of course the Indians did not like this arrangement. The English were only a burden to them, and constant quarrels arose.

The next year Sir Francis Drake sailed up to Virginia to see how the colonists were getting along. He found them almost destitute and terribly homesick; and, yielding to their pleadings, he carried them back to England.

Pipes of Indians


As far as founding a colony was concerned, the expedition had proved a failure. However, it brought about two results which became of great value to England. On their return Sir Walter's colonists presented him with two kinds of plants which they had found growing on Roanoke Island. One was the potato, which, up to this time, the English had never known. They tried it and liked it so well that it has ever since been raised in their land.

The other plant was tobacco, which the colonists had tried and had deemed worthy of being carried all the way to England.

Sir Walter tried the tobacco; and he, too, liked it. An amusing tale is told of what happened to Sir Walter one day as he was smoking. His servant, who had never before seen smoke come out of anyone's mouth, came into the room. He glanced at his master, thought he must be on fire, and rushed out for a jug of water, which he promptly poured all over Sir Walter to put out the fire.

In 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh made another effort to colonize America. This time the colonists included women and children as well as men.

Soon after they landed on Roanoke a little girl was born. She was the first child of English parents to be born in America. Her name was Virginia Dare, and she was the granddaughter of John White, the deputy governor of the colony.

Before long Deputy Governor White sailed back to England for new supplies. When he started, the colonists told him that, if for any reason they left Roanoke Island, they would carve on a tree the name of the place where he could find them; and that, if they were in any trouble when they moved, he would see a cross cut above the name.

Three years passed before Governor White came back to the island, and by that time there was no one to receive him. He could not find a single one of the colonists. Their homes were deserted, and the harbor was empty. Not a trace was left excepting the word "Croatoan" cut into the trunk of a tree, but there was no cross fiver the name. Croatoan was the name of an island not far away. But though search after search was made, not one of the missing colonists was ever found on that island or anywhere else.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - I  by G. Southworth


The inscription reads:

On this site, in July-August, 1585 (O. S.), colonists sent out from England by Sir Walter Raleigh built a fort called by them "The New Fort in Virginia." These colonists were the first settlers of the English race in America. They returned to England in July,1586, with Sir Francis Drake. Near this place was born, on the 18th of August, 1587, Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents born in America—daughter of Ananias Dare and Eleanor White, his wife, members of another band of colonists sent out by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587. On Sunday, August 20, 1587, Virginia Dare was baptized. Manteo, the friendly chief of the Hatteras Indians, had been baptized on the Sunday preceding. These baptisms are the first-known celebrations of a Christian sacrament in the territory of the thirteen original United States.

Saddened and disappointed by the fate of his colonists, Sir Walter Raleigh gave up his idea of personally founding an English settlement in America. His experiment had cost him over forty thousand pounds. However, he still held firmly to his belief that this country would one day be an English nation.

Stimulated by his example, others followed his lead with happier results. After a few years, more and more English people crossed to America, and many English colonies were established along the eastern coast.

The colonists soon realized that they had to work in order to live. They built comfortable homes, raised crops, and traded among themselves. They laid the foundations of such towns as Jamestown and Plymouth, which in the course of time became centers of trade with the mother country. In fact the English colonists who followed Sir Walter Raleigh's example succeeded by their hard and earnest work in turning a wilderness into the prosperous land of an English-speaking nation.