Undiscouraged by the failure of this first colony, Sir Walter Ralegh was able to organize another expedition, this one consisting of 150 persons. This group had more of a colonizing character than the previous one, for it included women and children; and this time, the men were called "planters." Its government was also less military, since the direction of the enterprise in Virginia was to be in the hands of a syndicate of subpatentees. Ralegh incorporated these as the "Gouernour and Assistants  of the Cittie of Ralegh in Virginea."
Colonization was becoming less of a one-man venture and more of a corporate or business enterprise, anticipating in a certain degree the later English companies that were to found successful colonies in Virginia and New England. Exactly what inducements Ralegh offered to the planters are not known. His terms were probably liberal, because Harriot wrote in October 1587 that the least Ralegh had granted was 500 acres of land to each man willing to go to America. Those who also contributed money or supplies probably stood to receive more. From the list of names that has come down to us, it appears that at least 10 of the planters took their wives with them. Ambrose Viccars and Arnold Archard brought not only their wives but one child each. At least 17 women and nine children were in the group that arrived safely in Virginia.
In still another respect, this second colonial expedition seemed to anticipate the later Jamestown settlement. Ralegh had directed, in writing, that the "Cittie of Ralegh" be established in the Chesapeake Bay area where a better port could be had and where conditions for settlement were considered more favorable than Pamlico Sound, south of Roanoke.
A small fleet of three ships sailed from Plymouth for Virginia on May 8, 1587. The expedition had some direct continuity with the previous ones, for Ralegh had appointed John White as governor of the colony. White had been on the previous voyages; he was to make five trips to Virginia. Also on the new voyage were the navigator Simon Fernandes, Captain Stafford, and Darby Glande.
Their route, as in 1585, lay via the "Baye of Muskito" in Puerto Rico. Here Glande was left behind (in White's version), and lived to testify before Spanish authorities at St. Augustine some years later regarding the first Roanoke Island colony.
The expedition sailed along the coast of Haiti, passing by the town of Isabella where Grenville had traded with the Spaniards for cattle and other necessities in 1585. But this time there was no trading, possibly because England and Spain were on the eve of open war. Also, the expedition was in a hurry to reach the settlement country so that plantings for crops could be made before the growing season was too far gone. Whatever the reason, this failure to take on supplies at Haiti proved to be a serious handicap for the colony of 1587.
The two leading ships of the expedition reached Hatarask on July 22, 1587, and the third ship on July 25. Meanwhile, on the 22nd, Governor White and a small group of planters went to Roanoke with the intention of conferring with the 15 men let there by Grenville the preceding year. At the place where the men had been left White reported: We found none of them, nor any signe, that they had bene there, sauing onely we found the bones of one of those fifteene, which the Sauages had slaine long before.
The 23. of July, the Gouernour , with diuers of his companie, walked to the North ende of the Island, where Master Ralfe Lane has his forte, with sundry necessarie and decent dwelling houses, made by his men about it the yeere before, where wee hoped to find some signes, or certaine knowledge of our fifteene men. When we came thither, wee found the forte rased downe, but all the houses standing vnhurt, sauing the neather roomes of them, and also of the forte, were ouergrowen with Melons of diuers sortes, and Deere within them, feeding on those Mellons; so we returned to our companie, without hope of euer seeing any of the fifteene men liuing.
For reasons which are obscure, John White and his colonists disembarked at Roanoke, rather than to go on to the Chesapeake Bay country that season. The houses found standing were repaired and new cottages were built. The American Indians were even more hostile than formerly. Soon after landing, some American Indians who were hunting deer in the "high reedes" saw George Howe, one of the assistants, "wading in the water alone, almost naked, without any weapon, saue onely a smal forked sticke, catching Crabs therewithall, and also being strayed two miles from his companie, shotte at him in the water, where they gaue him sixeteene wounds with their arrowes: and after they had slaine him with their woodden swordes, beat his head in peeces, and fled ouer the water to the maine."
Through the intercession of the Indian Manteo, who had relatives on the barrier island of Croatoan, friendly relations with the Croatoan Indians were reestablished, but the other tribes kept aloof.
The remaining Roanoke Island Indians at Dasemunkepeuc were accused by the Croatoan Indians of killing not only Howe but also Grenville's 15 men. Governor White, Captain Stafford, and 24 men determined to revenge these deaths without delay. White describe their attack. The next day, being the ninth of August, in the morning so earely, that it was yet darke, wee landed neere the dwelling place of our enemies, and very secretly conueyed our selues through the woods...and hauing espied their fire, and some sitting about it, we presently sette on them: the miserable soules herewith amased, fledde into a place of thicke reedes, growing fast by, where our men preceauing them, shotte one of them through the bodie with a bullet, and therewith wee entred the reedes, among which wee hoped to acquite their euill doing towards vs...
The attack was a blunder. The Roanoke Indians had already fled. In their place were the friendly Croatoans who had gone to the village to take whatever corn and fruit might have been left behind. Thanks to Manteo, the Croatoan Indians forgave the Englishmen, or pretended to do so.
On August 13, complying with Ralegh's instructions, Manteo was christened and declared Lord of Roanoke and Dasemunkepeuc as a reward for his many services. Five days later, White's daughter, wife of Ananias Dare, gave birth to a girl, who was named Virginia, in honor of their new land. A child was born to Dyonise and Margery Harvey at roughly the same time. Virginia Dare has been called the first child born to English parents in the New World.
It was late August, the planting season was over, and the colonists were short of food and lacked livestock and even salt. Someone would have to return to England for help if the colonist were to survive. They felt they could make a permanent settlement, if food and other supplies could arrive in a matter of months. They selected John White as their representative. We can presume they reasoned that White, as Governor, friend of Ralegh, and a financial backer of the settlement, would exert greater influence than anyone else on those in London who would have to provide funds for the supplies.
However, White did not wish to return alone, and he was only persuaded to do so after the whole companie, both of the Assistants, and planters, came to the Gouernour, and with one voice requested him to returne himselfe into England.... A formal document was drawn up guaranteeing protection of White's goods. On August 27, he sailed homeward with two vessels to obtain the needed supplies, leaving a pinnace behind for the colonists' use.
After White's departure, the history of events in the colony is a tragic mystery which one can only attempt to explain. There had been talk of moving the colony 50 miles inland, and White had arranged for appropriate indications of the colonists' where-abouts if they moved from Roanoke Island before he returned. However, White could not return as soon as expected because of the outbreak of war with Spain. This was 1588, the Armada year. Sir Richard Grenville, who was preparing a new fleet to go to Virginia, was ordered to make his ships available to the English Navy for service against the Spanish. Both Ralegh and Grenville were assigned tasks connected with the national defense and could give little thought to Virginia enterprises. At length, the Queen's Privy Council gave Grenville permission to use, on the intended Virginia voyage for the relief of the settlers, only two small ships not required for service against Spain.
These were the Brave and the Roe. They were not only small but poorly equipped and provisioned. White sailed on the Brave, under Capt. Arthur Facy, with the Spaniard, Pedro Diaz as pilot. Facy was wholly set on prize taking and started to privateer while still in European waters. Both vessels suffered revenge. Two large French ships out of La Rochelle caught up with the Brave, and after a broadside, one boarded them. Savage fighting followed. Many of the crew were lost and the French captain set his men to looting the vessel. Her pilot, Pedro Diaz, escaped onto the attacking ship. In her half-crippled state, the Brave could do nothing but head back to England. There she arrived a few weeks before the Roe, from which she had been separated.
Thus, while Grenville's large warships contributed to the defeat of the Armada, the Roanoke Island colony was doomed for the lack of them.
Although the Armada was defeated in the summer of 1588, the Anglo-Spanish battle of the Atlantic continued for several years. Spain had planned to carry on the war not only against England by means of the Armada but also to seek out the English colony in the New World and destroy it. In the summer of 1588, the Spanish governor at St. Augustine sent a fast ship northward to locate the English colony preparatory to an attack on it. After reconnoitering Chesapeake Bay, the Spanish ship -- with the pilot Vincente Gonzalez in command and with Juan Menendez Marques, nephew of the governor, on board -- came somewhat by chance to Port Ferdinando. They took note of the harbor and the evidence of the English colony, and departed, hurriedly to St. Augustine to report their findings. They clearly thought the harbor still in use, but the projected attack was first postponed and later thought to be unnecessary because of the weakness of the fort and settlement -- at least that is the conclusion to be drawn from available Spanish documents.
On March 7, 1589, Ralegh deeded his interest in the Virginia enterprise, except a fifth part of all gold and silver ore, to a group of London merchants and adventurers and to White and nine other gentlemen. At least seven of them were planters whom White had left in Virginia, such as Ananias Dare, his son-in-law and father of Virginia Dare. Other included in the group were Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Smythe.
The months slipped by, but White and the London merchants were unable to get a fleet organized for the relief and strengthening of the colony. Master John Watts,one of the greatest of the London merchant-privateers but not of the group, had three ships in the Thames loaded to sail for the West Indies, but a Privy Council order held all ships in port because of a threat of another Spanish attack. Then, in January 1590, White sought to use Watts' fleet to supply the colony with food, equipment, and colonists. He appealed to Ralegh to use his influence with the Queen on Watts' behalf.
Watts received clearance to sail but seems to have reneged on his part of the agreement. Though White was aboard, Watts' ships did not carry new colonists or supplies for the Virginia settlement. Privateering was such a profitable venture at the time that a voyage solely for the relief of a half-forgotten outpost was almost unthinkable. Writing to Richard Hakluyt in 1593, White said that on the Watts' expedition "I was by the owner and Commanders of the ships denied to haue any passengers, or any thing els transported in any of the said ships, sauing only my selfe & my chest; no not so much as a boy to attend vpon me, although I made great sute, & earnest entreatie aswell to the chiefe Commanders, as to the owner of the said ships."
White no doubt felt that he should return, even alone. If he at least went, the ships would stop at Roanoke Island. His deciding to go at all was a desperate measure to see for himself what may have happened to the colonists. His own family was on the island. Perhaps he also meant to try to help the colonists to return to England if he found them in desperate straits. The ships sailed on March 20, 1590 -- about 2 1/2 years after he had left Virginia.
After privateering for months in the West Indies, the Watts expedition anchored on the night of August 12 at the northeast end of the island of Croatoan. If White had known then the clue to the colonists' whereabouts that he was to learn 6 days later, he would have asked for a search of that island! After taking soundings, the fleet weighed anchor on August 13 and arrived at Hatarask toward the evening of the 15th.
As the ships anchored at Hatarask, smoke was seen rising on Roanoke Island, giving hope that the colonists were still alive. On the morning of the 15th, White, Capt. Abraham Cooke, Capt. Edward Spicer, and a small company set forth in two boats for Roanoke Island. En route they saw another column of smoke rising southwest of "Kindrikers mountes." They decided to investigate this latter smoke column first. Trudging along the sandy shore was a wearisome task that consumed the whole day and led only to a woods fire. No humans were found.
The next day, August 17, they prepared to go to Roanoke Island. Captain Spicer and six men were drowned in the treacherous inlet when their boat capsized. Despite this misfortune White and the others proceeded with the search. They put off again in two boats, but before they could reach the place of settlement it became so dark they overshot their mark by one-quarter mile. On the north end of the island they saw a light and rowed toward it. Anchoring opposite it in the darkness, they blew a trumpet and sang familiar English tunes and songs, but received no answer.
In the morning they landed on the north end of the island and found only grass and rotten trees burning. They went west through the woods to that part of the island directly opposite Dasemunkepeuc on the mainland and returned by the water's edge around the north point of the island until they came to the place where the colony had been left by Governor White in 1587. In the course of the long walk along the shore, nothing of interest was seen except footprints which two or three American Indians had made in the sand during the night.
As they climbed the sandy bank toward the settlement area, they found "CRO" carved on a tree at the brow of the hill. At the dwelling site, they found that all of the houses had been taken down and the area strongly enclosed with a palisade of tree trunks, with curtains and flankers "very Fort-like." The bark had been peeled off one of the trees, or posts, and carved on it in capital letters was the word CROATOAN, but without the maltese cross or sign of distress that White had asked the settlers to use in such messages if they were forced to leave Roanoke. Inside the palisade, they found iron and other heavy objects thrown about and almost overgrown with grass, signifying that the place had been abandoned for some time.
From the fort and settlement area, they proceeded again along the shore southward to Town Creek, which had been fortified with "Falkons and small Ordinance" and where the small boats of the colony were kept, but they could find no sign of these things. After returning to the fort and settlement area, White searched for chests and personal effects he had secretly buried in 1587. American Indians had discovered the hiding place, rifled the chests, torn the covers off the books, and left the pictures and maps to be spoiled by rain. Considering that Governor White was the artist and illustrator of the expedition of 1585-86, one can imagine his feelings on seeing his maps and pictures irretrievably ruined.
However, according to his own words he was cheered at the thought that the carved word CROATOAN meant his daughter, his granddaughter Virginia Dare, and the rest of the colonists would be found at Croatoan Island, where Chief Manteo was born and where the American Indians had been friendly to the English.
As stormy weather was brewing, White and his little group returned in haste to the harbor where their ships were at anchor. For the weather beganne to ouercast, and very likely that a foule and stormie night would ensue. Therefore the same Euening with much danger and labour, we got our selues aboard, by which time the winde and seas were so greatly risen, that wee doubted our Cables and Anchors would scarcely holde vntill Morning.
Though they wanted to go to Croatoan Island the next day, the weather continued to worsen:
They planned to go to the West Indies to take on fresh water and then return to Croatoan. However, they were blown toward the Azores, and from Flores in that group of islands, they sailed to England.
White could not finance another expedition to America, and Ralegh, although enjoying a large income at times, spent lavishly. Some of the money and energy that might have gone into the Virginia enterprise, Ralegh expended during 1587-1603 in colonizing estates in Ireland.
The Virginia enterprise would have required a prince's purse, but Ralegh was not a prince. The death of Walsingham, the Queen's secretary, in 1590 was a blow to Ralegh. In July 1592, Ralegh married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Court ladies, without the Queen's knowledge or consent. Ralegh lost the Queen's favor, and he and his wife were briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London. In September 1592 Ralegh was allowed to go to Plymouth to untangle the shares in the richest prize ever taken at sea -- the Portuguese galleon Madre de Deas. Ralegh bought his freedom and his wife's by making over the bulk of his profits to the Queen. Though out of prison, he remained out of favor until after the capture of Cadiz, in 1596, in which he participated.
White, therefore, accepted the facts with resignation. In his letter of February 4, 1593, to Richard Hakluyt, he said: "And wanting my wishes, I leaue off from prosecuting that whereunto I would to God my wealth were answerable to my will."
But as late as 1602, Ralegh was still seeking in vain for his lost colony. In that year he sent out an expedition under Samuel Mace, who reached land some "40 leagues to the so-westward of Hatarask," presumably at or near Croatoan Island. They engaged in trading with the American Indians along the coast but did not look very diligently for the lost colonists. They maintained that the weather made their intended thorough search unsafe. On August 21, 1602, in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil, Ralegh expressed his undying faith in the overseas English Empire which he had attempted to establish, saying, "I shall yet live to see it an English Nation." The story of the Lost Roanoke Colony by that time had become well known.
LINKS WITH JAMESTOWN AND NEW ENGLAND
Upon the accession of King James I in 1603, Ralegh again lost favor at Court. In July of that year he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on the charge of having conspired to place Arabella Stuart on the throne instead of James. At the trial in November, Ralegh, along with the Lords Cobham and Grey, was convicted and condemned to death. The lives of all three were dramatically spared at the last minute, but the conviction and sentence of death against Ralegh stood. He remained in prison in the Tower until 1616. Two years later, in 1618, Ralegh was executed.
One consequence of the conviction of Ralegh was the loss of the sole right under the patent of 1584 to colonize the vast territory called Virginia. The patent had obligated Raleigh to settle Virginia within six years. As long as the mystery of the Lost Colony remained unsolved, Ralegh could claim that his colonists might be living somewhere in Virginia and that his rights under the charter of Queen Elizabeth were still in force. He made such assertions as late as 1603.
The abolition of his claims and his imprisonment prevented Ralegh from participating in the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. Yet, the Virginia Company and the Plymouth group which later settled New England had close ties to him. Among the leading spirits behind the successful Jamestown enterprise were Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Smythe, two of those to whom Ralegh had deeded his interest in the Roanoke Colony undertaking on March 7, 1589. Among the early leaders of the Plymouth group were Ralegh Gilbert and Sir John Gilbert, sons of Ralegh's half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Ralegh Gilbert further participated in the unsuccessful effort to plant a settlement on the Kennebec River in Maine in 1607 and was a member of the Plymouth Company as late as 1620.
With the establishment of the Virginia Company in 1607, locating the Lost Colonists became an important priority. Any Englishman who had lived in the New World for twenty years was an invaluable source of information on native topography, foods and peoples. Even though few specific instructions concerning the Lost Colonists were given to the Jamestown settlers, they carried on active searches to find what might have remained of Ralegh's colony. Three expeditions, two in 1608 and one in 1619 made their way southward to the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers in modern-day North Carolina. None of these journeys yielded any physical evidence of Ralegh's colonists. Yet, historians believe today that the possible fate of the Lost Colony might be found in the information these expeditions obtained from American Indian accounts.
Many historians hold to the theory that the colonists left Roanoke Island in the fall of 1587, soon after John White's departure. They postulate the colonists split into two groups. A small group of ten to fifteen is thought to have gone to the island of Croatoan to watch for English vessels, while the larger group of perhaps ninety moved northward to Chesapeake Bay. This larger group is thought to have settled with the friendly Chesapeake tribe in an area south of modern-day Norfolk. Historians believe that the Roanoke colonists lived with the Chesapeake tribe for twenty years until they were massacred by an American Indian confederacy under the leadership of Chief Powhatan.
The accounts of Jamestown's Governor John Smith and secretary William Strachey support the historians' assertions that the colonists were massacred. In his book, Pilgrimes, Samuel Purchas related a conversation that Governor Smith had with Powhatan in 1608: "Powhatan confessed that he had been at the murder of that colony and showed to Captain Smith a musket barrel and a bronze mortar and certain pieces of iron which had been theirs."
William Strachey further noted that King James I had knowledge of the massacre in reporting "...how that his Majesty hath been acquainted that the men, women and children of the first plantation at Roanoak were by practice and commandment of Powhatan (he himself persuaded thereunto by his priests) miserably slaughtered without any offence given him."
Whether this or another fate befell the Roanoke colonists will continue to be a source of debate among historians. Meanwhile, the search goes on for physical evidence of the colonists' stay on Roanoke Island.
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Last updated: April 14, 2015