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Roanoke Lost

May 2024
21min read

Four hundred years ago the first English settlers reached America. What followed was a string of disasters ending with the complete disappearance of a colony.

Roanoke is a twice-lost colony. First its settlers disappeared—some 110 men, women, and children who vanished almost without a trace. Ever since, it has been neglected by history, and few Americans of today are aware that the English tried and failed to colonize this continent long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Four hundred years ago, between 1584 and 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh and his associates made two attempts to establish a settlement on Roanoke Island, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. One colony returned to England; the other disappeared in America. The effort at plantation was a dismal failure; later colonies survived, however, partly because of Roanoke’s costly lessons.

Sir Walter Raleigh was a rising young man of thirty in 1584, when he decided to found the first English colony in North America. He was a younger son of a distinguished but impoverished family, and his parents had managed to give him the education of an aristocrat. He had spent his youth serving in the French civil wars, had seen action in England’s brutal effort to solidify its control over Ireland, and had been commander of a ship in the fleet of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, his much older half brother.


By 1581, when he was twenty-seven, Raleigh was a veteran of the kind of experiences that had prepared countless other sons of the gentry for lives as country gentlemen. But at this point he was noticed by Queen Elizabeth, and he became a member—for a while the most important member—of a charmed circle of young men who played her lovestruck suitors. Raleigh was a master at the punning word games she loved. His poetry was prized, and his exotic good looks, enhanced by flamboyant clothes, made him stand out. The queen loved him; most people found him too arrogant, “damnable proud,” as John Aubrey wrote.

Becoming the queen’s favorite meant wealth beyond imagining. Over the next several years Elizabeth bestowed on Raleigh land and houses all over England and Ireland. Moreover, she gave him monopoly control of the wine and woolen-cloth industries, and his agents raked off a percentage of the profits to subsidize his extravagant life.

In 1583 Sir Humphrey Gilbert died at sea, attempting to start a colony in Newfoundland, and Raleigh asked the queen to transfer to him his half brother’s exclusive right to colonize in North America. In 1584, with his patent in hand, Raleigh sent two ships to reconnoiter the southern coast of North America.

That year was a turning point in Queen Elizabeth’s foreign policy; it was no accident that Raleigh’s colonizing activities began then, for that was when the growing animosity between Spain and England erupted into open war. The immense wealth flowing from its American possessions had helped make Spain the superpower of the sixteenth century; England was seen even by its own citizens as a scrappy underdog. Moreover, the English saw Spain, “the swoorde of that Antychryste of Rome,” as the leader of an international conspiracy to crush Britain and restore it to papal control. Spanish agents were in fact active in the country, focusing their plans on the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots; they assumed that an English majority loyal to the old religion would greet Spanish “liberators” with joy.

In 1584 these tensions came to a head. The Spanish ambassador, whose plotting had become intolerable, was expelled from England. The next year all English ships in Spanish harbors were seized. The breach was irreparable, and a sea war was on.

Elizabeth conducted it as she did her other enterprises: by issuing licenses and patents to private citizens. In theory, commissions to go after Spanish ships were strictly controlled; in practice, corruption allowed wide access to privateering licenses, and legalized piracy became big business for the next decade and a half, sometimes bringing in 10 percent of the nation’s imports. Gentlemen like Raleigh, joining forces with merchants to field large fleets, saw themselves as patriots, and history has celebrated their exploits.

Though all Spanish ships were vulnerable, attention focused on the treasure fleet, heavily laden cargo ships that annually carried the wealth of the Indies to Spain. By the mid-1580s Spain was so overextended that this treasure was no longer a luxury. By seizing Spanish ships, English privateers could set themselves up for life and cripple the enemy at the same time.

Roanoke initially was planned purely to make preying on the treasure fleet easier. A base near the West Indies, yet hidden away, could make privateering a year-round occupation, even during fall and winter storms. Colonization, like privateering, was licensed by the government, but since each expedition had to pay its own way, a colony at Roanoke would never have been attempted without the tie to privateering. Spanish treasure partially repaid Roanoke’s investors, yet privateering also killed the plantation and led to the tragedy of the Lost Colony.

Raleigh’s reconnaissance fleet, commanded by Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas, was sent in April 1584. They followed the route normal at the time: south along the coast of Europe to pick up the trade winds off the Canaries and then west to the Caribbean and the coastal current that helped propel them northward. After several weeks of exploration around the Outer Banks, Amadas and Barlowe were sure they had found a perfect location for the new settlement: sheltered yet providing easy access to the treasure fleet’s homeward path.

Barlowe, who wrote the official account of the voyage, described the land in the most glowing terms: “The soile is the most plentifull, sweete, fruitfull and wholesome of all the worlde.” Though the expedition had done little real exploring or testing, Barlowe recklessly compared Roanoke to Eden: “The earth bringeth foorth all things in aboundance, as in the first creation, without toile or labour.” In reality the Outer Banks are relatively infertile, and the location was a poor one for a settlement.

Even before the reconnaissance fleet returned, backers were being signed up for a full colony. Elizabeth gave the project many marks of favor. Though she declined to put government money behind it, she invested her own money and a ship and even allowed the territory to be called Virginia in her honor. She refused to let Raleigh go on such a dangerous voyage, so he chose his hotheaded cousin Sir Richard Grenville to command the expedition.

The composition of the fleet bearing the colony of 108 men, which sailed in April 1585, clearly indicated the investors’ expectations: five large and two small ships carried almost three hundred sailors and as many soldiers. Such huge crews were a sure sign of an intention to go privateering: prize ships were to be boarded and conquered in hand-to-hand fighting and then sent home to England manned by the privateers.

Roanoke initially was planned purely to make preying on Spanish treasure ships easier.

The 1585 venture followed the same course as Amadas and Barlowe’s but remained several weeks in the West Indies while the prospective colonists grew anxious about reaching Roanoke in time to build a settlement before winter. Ralph Lane, who was to be governor of the colony, quarreled so bitterly with Grenville that the admiral threatened to execute him for mutiny. At the end of June the fleet finally moved on.

As soon as the ships arrived off the Outer Banks, it became clear that the location was a mistake. The flagship was driven repeatedly against the shore and was almost lost, and most of the colonists’ food supplies were destroyed. The inlet that gave access to Roanoke Island was so shallow and treacherous that only the tiny pinnaces could be taken through, and then only with extreme care. Medium-size ships could shelter along the Banks, but the largest vessels were forced to anchor several miles out to sea, exposed to dangerous storms.

It must have been a grim council that sat down to decide what to do. There is some evidence that Grenville and his entire fleet were supposed to stay and inaugurate the colony’s use as a privateering base, but that was now clearly impossible. Grenville promised that he would bring supplies in the spring, just as soon as the Atlantic was safe, so Lane and his colonists agreed to stay, spending the winter looking for a better location and learning about the territory. The colonists set to work building a fort, and Grenville and his men went exploring on the Carolina mainland.

We know a great deal about the Carolina Algonquians, on whom the colonists were intruding, because Raleigh was a true Renaissance man whose scholarly interests were as important to him as fighting Spain and making money. He had sent along Thomas Hariot, a young scientist and mathematician recently graduated from Oxford, to study the land and its resources and make a full report on Indian culture. Amadas and Barlowe had returned from their reconnaissance with two Indians, named Manteo and Wanchese, and Hariot had spent a year learning their language and teaching them English. An artist named John White accompanied Hariot to Virginia to illustrate his findings.

Together, White and Hariot created a remarkable record; their maps are said to be the most accurate done in America in the sixteenth century, and White’s paintings of Indian life were not equaled before the advent of photography. They show strong, dignified Indians and a highly successful culture. Hariot’s descriptions allow us to see that culture from the inside.

The coastal Carolina Algonquians were organized in tribal groupings consisting of several towns of approximately one to two hundred people each. The Roanoke Indians had their capital on the mainland opposite the island, under a werowance named Wingina. Werowance means “he who is rich,” but the Indians’ meaning of riches was different from the colonists’. The tribe’s goods, including the novel European trade items, all flowed into the hands of the chief, but his role was redistributing, so that all shared the bounty. If he had tried to control the wealth, he would have lost his people’s respect. Though he moved among his subjects in great state, the werowance lacked coercive power and led by moral authority alone.

Justice and war were also governed by a principle of balance. When an individual or a tribe sustained injury, redress was sought through compensation or the infliction of a similar injury. Warfare was therefore limited and controlled, and generosity was rewarded. Barlowe and Amadas had seen a vivid illustration of this principle in their first contact with the Roanokes. A single man approached their ships and greeted them. He was taken aboard and given a hat and shirt and a taste of wine and meat. When he left, they saw him fishing a short way off: soon he returned, divided his catch into piles, and told the colonists in sign language that one pile was to go to each ship. He would not leave until he had reciprocated their hospitality.

Hariot was particularly interested in Indian religion, and his description allows us to understand some of their theology. The priest, a man chosen for his wisdom, was responsible for overseeing his people’s relationship to the deity and maintaining the round of ceremonies that helped the crops grow. Another figure, whom White called the Flyer, was a much younger man, chosen for his magical powers, which derived from a personal relationship with a supernatural being. This conjurer wore a small black bird on the side of his head and a skin with an animal’s face on his front. Because disease was thought to be caused by the vengeful spirits of improperly killed animals and because the conjurer had magical relationships with animals, he was considered able to effect cures. The Flyer probably represented an older, individualistic hunting cult that was being edged out by the newer, more abstract religion of the priest.

The English admired Indian society, but they did not entertain a vision of coexistence.

The English were pleased to find that the Indians lived in towns organized around village greens and surrounded by cornfields just like familiar towns at home. Yield was, to Hariot’s mind, almost miraculous: “at the least two hundred London bushelles … [whereas] in England fourtie bushelles of our wheate yeelded out of such an acre is thought to be much.” Corn was planted in hills, with beans growing up the stalks; the beans, with their nitrogen-fixing properties, fertilized the corn as it grew, and the two crops eaten together formed superior protein. There is incontrovertible evidence of the efficiency of Indian agriculture: the Carolina Algonquians had on hand enough surplus food to keep more than one hundred colonists alive during the winter of 1585–86.

Praise for Indian society did not imply a vision of coexistence; even Europeans like Hariot who were truly interested in the natives saw themselves as bringing the priceless gifts of Christianity and civilization. Indian sophistication simply meant that the job of conversion would be easier; the natives would see the superiority of English culture and spontaneously choose it for themselves.

The Indians showed interest in Hariot’s magnet, compass, and books and in the colonists’ guns and “spring clocks that seeme to goe of themselves,” and according to Hariot, they assumed such technology was a divine gift. When many Indians died of European diseases to which they had no immunity while the English did not suffer, the natives saw the hand of a powerful god at work.

The Indians were not, however, ready to give up their own culture wholesale. Like Indians all over America, the Carolina Algonquians picked and chose from the Europeans those items of technology, particularly metal tools, that made tasks within their own economy easier; they wanted to enhance their way of life, not relinquish it. Moreover, it is easy for us to exaggerate the apparent superiority of European technology; what the Indians saw at Roanoke was a large party of men who were so helpless that Gov. Ralph Lane at one point accused the Indians of making war simply by cutting off all contact with the English.

While the Roanoke colonists were learning about the Indians, they were revealing a great deal about themselves. The Indians must have been deeply disturbed by what they saw. Almost as soon as the first colony arrived, in 1585, Grenville took his small boats and went exploring on the mainland. The explorers at one point discovered a silver cup missing from their baggage and returned to a village they had visited two days previously to demand its return. When they found that all the inhabitants had fled, they “burnt, and spoyled their corne, and Towne. …”

It is hard for us to understand why Grenville would have ordered an act so damaging to friendly relations—especially since the colonists, whose supplies had been destroyed in the accident to the flagship, would be totally dependent on the Indians until spring. His thinking rested on a view of human nature prevalent in that age: All relationships, even among Europeans, were seen as involving domination and submission. The colonists revealed again and again their assumption that anyone who showed vulnerability would be a victim of treachery and would deserve it. Grenville thought that by exacting severe vengeance on those he suspected of stealing, he was protecting the colonists, not damaging their chances. And though the backers in England had counseled the colonists to win the Indians through loving kindness, they had ensured the policy of intimidation by sending over veterans of the Irish and continental wars as colonists. We will never know if a peaceful relationship might have been possible; it was not given a chance.

The English were also obsessed with control within their own settlement. The relation between leaders and the “meaner sort” was expected to be one of iron discipline; the rank-and-file colonists, whom Gov. Ralph Lane referred to as “wild men of mine own nation,” would be mutinous if given a chance. Lane believed that the low rate of disease in his colony’s year in America was a direct product of his “severely executed” discipline. We have veiled hints of trouble in the colony; apparently the taverns of England rang with complaints once the soldiers returned home, and Hariot pointed out that those who complained were men who had been disciplined in America.

Lane had three missions to accomplish during the winter: to find a good base with a deepwater port; to find a passage to the Pacific, which was called the South Sea and was assumed to be just a few days’ march to the west; and to find gold. He sent a party of men north to make a preliminary search for the privateering base they needed. These men spent the winter at Chesapeake Bay, meeting with many Indian leaders, and returned convinced that it would make a better location. The account of their activities is very brief; presumably Raleigh wanted to keep their findings away from competitors, though the excellence of Chesapeake Bay was already as well known to the Spanish as to the English.

The colonists became desperate. When Drake was forced to leave, they all went with him.

Lane himself took on the other two jobs. He learned from Wingina, the Roanoke chief, of a large and powerful tribe to the west, the Choanokes, under Menatonon. Lane arrived at Menatonon’s headquarters during a great council of tribes, which Wingina had said was being held to conspire against the English. Menatonon and his son were captured; the chief was held for two days, during which he and Lane held long conversations about the region. The governor was greatly impressed with Menatonon, who confirmed that Chesapeake Bay was the best site for an English base but warned that the Indians there would resist an incursion. Menatonon also described a rich mine on a huge body of water somewhere to the west.

Lane determined to travel west and find that fortune. He kept Menatonon’s son prisoner to forestall treachery and took a select party upriver. The inability of the English to deal with the wilderness quickly became apparent; the Indians along the route withdrew into the interior, and food ran out, forcing Lane to turn back. The English policy of overawing Indians and forcing their aid must have looked rather hollow by then.

Meanwhile, as spring came on, the Roanokes’ food supply was stretched beyond endurance. Both Indians and English split up into small groups to live off the land, vastly increasing English vulnerability. At the same time, the goods traded to the Roanokes in return for their corn gave them unprecedented power to attract alliances with other tribes.

Spring brought the death of Wingina’s brother Granganimeo, the man most friendly to the English in Roanoke councils; Wingina changed his name to Pemisapan, which implied a watchful, wary attitude. It may have been a war name. The colonists became convinced he was planning a conspiracy with other tribes to get rid of the settlement. Lane struck first, and Pemisapan died in an attack that began with the battle cry “Christ our victory!”

Though the immediate threat was ended, the colonists were desperate: there would be no harvest for weeks, and they could expect no Indian aid. A week after the death of Pemisapan, long after Lane had expected relief from home, his lookout sighted an English fleet; the colonists knew they were saved.

The fleet was that of Sir Francis Drake, who had been privateering in Spanish America almost as long as the settlers had been at Roanoke. He came expecting to make use of their base, but what he found was quite different: a colony in disarray and an anchorage that kept his ships two miles out to sea. He and Lane discussed the possibility of his leaving ships, men, and supplies so that Lane could continue his explorations over the summer, but a great storm so damaged Drake’s fleet that he was forced to leave. The colonists all went with him. The sailor hosts were so anxious to get under way that most of the settlers’ baggage, including Hariot’s notes and specimens and many of White’s drawings, was thrown overboard.

More than possessions were lost; three colonists on a mission into the interior were abandoned. Moreover, Drake had liberated a large force of African slaves and Indians from Spanish control, and they were apparently left behind to make room on the ships for the colonists. Raleigh’s relief fleet finally arrived three weeks later, after a long diversion for privateering, and left a holding party of fifteen men in the deserted settlement. None of them was ever heard of again.

Once the colonists were safely back home, all agreed that a new site on Chesapeake Bay should be tried. Though farsighted men such as Thomas Hariot and the great promoter Richard Hakluyt argued for the development of identified American resources, the governor and many of his colonists were contemptuous of the possibilities of the new land unless gold was found. Lane now saw the land as a barrier and wrote that the* best hope was for discovery of a passage through to the East. Potential backers saw clearly that all income so far had flowed from privateering.

Nonetheless, there were those who felt strongly that with a new site and the proper backing a colony could become self-sustaining and ultimately provide a rich trade for England. John White was pre-eminent among them. He and Thomas Hariot hoped their findings would help attract new backing. Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, a careful survey of resources, was published on its own in 1588 and with woodcuts of White’s paintings in 1590.

The legacy of the first colony would haunt, and ultimately destroy, the second.

Hariot’s work must have circulated in manuscript before publication; by 1587 a new colonial venture had been set up, and White, the man who had worked hardest for it, was the new governor. Its promoters set out to correct all the obvious errors made in 1585, but the legacy of the first colony, particularly its connection with privateering, was to haunt the new effort and ultimately to destroy it.

Raleigh, with his estates and concerns all over England, was losing interest in running a colonial venture the future of which seemed dim. He encouraged White to organize a corporation in which the colonists themselves would take a leading role. The City of Raleigh, as the corporation was called, was to be governed by White and a board of directors known as the assistants, most of whom intended to emigrate. The leadership would be much less authoritarian than that of the earlier colony, and the settlement would be on Chesapeake Bay, on fertile land approachable by oceangoing ships—probably very near where Jamestown was to be founded in 1607.

The colonists—men, women, and children—were people with something to invest, at least to the extent of outfitting themselves for the journey. Each family was to receive five hundred acres in the new land, and they came to America planning to stay, to re-create English culture. There were seventeen women and nine children. Two of the women were so heavily pregnant that they gave birth within weeks of their arrival at Roanoke. Several of the families consisted of men and their sons; presumably mothers and other children were to join them later. In its population as well as in its corporate organization, the City of Raleigh pointed to the future: all successful colonies were built on this family-centered model.

The colony set out on three small ships in the spring of 1587. Simon Fernandes, a Portuguese navigator who was one of the corporation’s assistants, was in charge of the voyage and saw no reason not to place top priority on privateering. Almost three months elapsed before the ship finally landed in America.

Shipboard life was miserable. Only the highest officers had bunks; ordinary seamen and passengers rolled up in blankets between decks. Rations were salt meat and fish and hardtack, with some oatmeal, butter, and cheese. The water and beer began to go bad after the first four weeks. During storms the passengers stayed belowdecks, where rats and cockroaches, stirred up by the ship’s motion, scuttled over them. Vomit, feces, and urine mixed with the seawater leaking into the ship. The stench quickly became overpowering.

Also, the passengers’ lives were in danger as long as their little fleet attacked other ships. White raged impotently at Fernandes, who gambled with the entire venture. Fernandes refused to take the colonists north to Chesapeake Bay and dumped them instead at Roanoke. According to White, the explanation from “our Simon” was that “the summer was farre spent” and he wanted to get back to privateering. But the ships stayed with the colonists for a month, until they were settled for the winter, and, in fact, Fernandes may have felt it was too late in the year to begin a wholly new settlement—the houses on Roanoke were still standing—and White may have been secretly pleased to be back on familiar ground.

Once the houses were cleaned up, the settlers began to assess their situation. From the beginning there was evidence of Indian hostility: not only were Grenville’s men missing, but George Howe, one of the assistants, was killed when he went off alone to catch crabs. White decided to approach the Croatoans, Manteo’s people, who had always been friendly. Manteo had made a second trip to England with Lane’s men and had just now returned to his land with White’s colonists.

The Croatoans, though fearful at first, welcomed the colonists and gave the delegation a feast. There were signs of tension, though: the Croatoans asked the colonists “not to gather or spill any of their corne, for that they had but little.” They also hesitantly mentioned the fact that some of their people had been wounded when Lane’s men mistook them for enemies, and they asked for some badge to indicate their friendly status.

The Croatoans confirmed what the colonists already knew—that the nearby mainland Indians were now implacably hostile and had been responsible for the fate of Grenville’s holding party. Moreover, their description of the battle made clear the clumsiness of English military technology against Indian bowmen, who had moved nimbly among the trees while the English, with their cumbersome, slow-loading muskets, became standing targets.


The delegation asked Manteo’s people to organize a meeting between the settlers and their enemies in one week. When no word came, the English, true to their view of human nature, saw it as a challenge they could not ignore. They decided to surprise the Roanokes at their mainland capital, Dasemunkepeuc, and avenge the deaths of George Howe and Grenville’s men. The attack was a fiasco. The village was inhabited only by Croatoans, including women and children, who had moved in after the Roanokes had fled. The colonists thus offended their only friends while failing to prove that Indians could not kill Englishmen with impunity.

The colonists must have been heavyhearted as they observed the mariners cleaning and recaulking their ships for the return voyage. White said they kept busy writing letters and preparing “tokens” for family and friends back home. He proudly recorded the birth of his own granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first baby born in America of English parentage, and noted that Margery Harvie was also delivered successfully. As the fleet’s departure approached, the colonists grew fearful; they wanted to make sure that they were not forgotten and begged White to go along as their representative. He held out for days, fearing he would be accused of desertion, but finally agreed after getting the request in writing.

As soon as he was back in England, White rushed to Raleigh, and plans were laid for a great supply fleet of seven or eight ships to sail in the spring under Sir Richard Grenville. Raleigh arranged for the publication of Hariot’s report to encourage investment. White devoted the winter to gathering the necessary supplies and more colonists. Everything was ready for an early departure.

Suddenly the connection with privateering intervened in the most fateful possible way: Spain decided to cut off harassment at the source, assembling the great Spanish Armada of one hundred and thirty ships manned by eight thousand sailors and nineteen thousand soldiers. Elizabeth and her advisers were afraid; the Privy Council announced that no ships capable of service in war were to leave England. Grenville’s great fleet was diverted to defense, and throughout the summer of 1588 England focused on its own danger.

White alone continued to think exclusively of his colonists. He persuaded the authorities to free two tiny ships to take him and a few new settlers and supplies to Roanoke. But these little ships careered around the ocean, attacking other vessels. After two French ships had routed them, White’s company felt lucky to limp back to England alive.

Early in 1589 the corporation backing Roanoke was reorganized again, and this time Raleigh signed over most of his rights. Additional investors were recruited, and they took a somewhat leisurely attitude toward the colony. Nothing was done all year. In 1590 the Privy Council, fearing a renewed attack by Spain on the homeland, issued another general stay of shipping. White, desperately impatient, managed to get some privateers an exemption if they would promise to take him to Roanoke.

Long weeks were spent preying on ships in the West Indies. Finally, in August 1591, two of the ships moved northward to the Outer Banks. When they finally anchored off Roanoke, White was excited to see smoke rising from the settlement. After several false starts they reached the island in their rowboats just as night fell. To reassure the colonists that they were a friendly party, they sounded a trumpet call and sang folk songs.

White and his companions were astounded to find the colony deserted. The fire had apparently been kindled by lightning. They concluded, though, that the settlers had clearly not gone away in distress. Everything left behind, including all of White’s books and pictures and his armor, had been neatly buried. The colonists had left a message: CROATOAN was carved on a post, and CRO was found on a nearby tree. The governor recalled that before he had left, nearly three years earlier, the settlers had decided to try to go overland to a better location, so he was not downcast. The message had been planned, moreover, and there would have been a Maltese cross added if the colonists had left in distress. White was reassured that they were safe at Croatoan, “the place where Manteo was borne, and the Savages of the Island our friends.”

White’s next step, obviously, was to go to Croatoan for a joyful reunion. At this point nature once more intervened and crushed the last hope of seeing the colonists alive. The two ships were battered by a gale; then, as the anchor was being raised on White’s vessel, the chain broke. A second anchor was lost in an attempt to prevent the ship from being driven aground. Only one anchor remained. Plans to replenish supplies in the West Indies and return in the spring were shelved when another storm blew the vessels to the east, and the party decided to head home. John White had made his last attempt to find his colonists. Years later he wrote of his hope that God would comfort them; he could do no more.

The Jamestown settlers heard rumors of people who might be the lost colonists of Roanoke.

Raleigh’s days of great power were almost over. His secret marriage in 1592 so enraged Elizabeth that she first imprisoned him and then exiled him from London. He began to concentrate his American schemes on Guiana, rumored to be the site of gold mines, hoping that a rich strike would restore him to royal favor. He made his first transatlantic voyage there in 1595 but found nothing. The next year his participation in the English attack on Cadiz earned him admittance to the queen’s circle once again.

In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died, and the anti-Spanish policy died with her. Her successor, James I, the Stuart king of Scotland, wanted to avoid war at all costs and quickly signed a treaty with Spain. Privateering was now the work of outlaws. Raleigh had lost most of his fortune in his various ventures; he now lost everything. James, convinced that Raleigh was plotting against him, threw him into the Tower of London.

Raleigh was allowed contact with the outside world during his imprisonment and became famous as a scientist and writer. He was allowed to maintain a small herb garden and a laboratory, and many fashionable people, including Queen Anne, came to him for his “Great Cordial.”

Finally he persuaded the king, who was deeply in debt, to allow him another chance to find his Guiana gold. The expedition, plagued by tropical sickness, failed, and contrary to royal instructions, some Spanish subjects were killed. Raleigh, on his return to England, was executed on the original treason warrant. He came to be seen as a martyr by those who opposed James I and his son Charles; when Charles was beheaded in 1649 by a victorious Parliament, Raleigh’s vision of England’s future greatness once more ruled.

Meanwhile, once privateering was closed off as an outlet, patriotic gentry and merchants poured money into colonization in America. In 1607 Jamestown was founded near Chesapeake Bay. Whereas Roanoke had had a few investors, Jamestown had hundreds. Many mistakes were made, there was great suffering in the new Virginia colony, and investors saw little or no return; but since this was all that prevented Spain from dominating the whole of America, investment and reinvestment poured in. Both Hariot and Raleigh lived to see Jamestown established; they must have reflected on how Roanoke might have done with such support. By the time Hariot died in 1621, tobacco was firmly established as Virginia’s cash crop, and he surely drew satisfaction from seeing an American product emerge triumphant. Local commodities were indeed America’s gold.

The Jamestown settlers heard rumors of people who looked and dressed like them and hoped they could locate the lost colonists of Roanoke, whose twenty years’ experience in the country could have been very useful. The story, as finally pieced together, was that most of White’s settlers had made their way overland to Chesapeake Bay and had been taken in by the Chesapeake tribe. Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas, dominated many of the tribes in Jamestown’s neighborhood but was resisted by the Chesapeakes. At about the time Jamestown was founded, he attacked and wiped out the Chesapeakes, including their English members. This reconstruction was accepted by the Virginia Company, and historians believe it is probably near the truth.

Some part of the colony must have remained with the Croatoans so it could guide White and the supply fleets; the CROATOAN legend was meant to direct White to them. This party, like the main group, was never seen again. There were persistent rumors that some English people had escaped the attack on the Chesapeakes and were with other tribes. John Smith claimed that Powhatan showed him “divers utensils of theirs,” and another Virginian, George Percy, reported seeing an Indian boy whose hair was “a perfect yellow.” But that was all.


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