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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Colonies of Sir Walter Raleigh
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[The sixteenth century may justly be called the century of discovery. The bold push of Columbus across the ocean to America and of Vasco da Gama around Africa to the East Indies broke the chains of timidity with which the world had hitherto been bound. They were followed by a succession of daring and reckless navigators, who quickly made the world their home, and sought new lands with an avidity and enthusiasm with which the thirst for fame and the spirit of adventure had as much to do as the love of gold. The English were somewhat late in following the lead of the Spanish, Portuguese, and French discoverers, but prosecuted their researches with vigor after they had once commenced. One of their adventurers, Sir John Hawkins, engaged in the slave-trade, which had been early instituted by the Spaniards, and carried cargoes of negroes to the West Indies in 1562 and 1564. In 1567 he was in the Gulf of Mexico, in conflict with the Spaniards at San Juan de Ulloa, in which expedition he was accompanied by the celebrated Sir Francis Drake. In 1570, Drake started on a privateering excursion against the Spaniards, and for years he did them immense damage. In 1573 he crossed the Isthmus and attacked the Spanish settlements on the Pacific shores. In 1577 he sailed southward along the Brazilian coast, entered the Rio de la Plata (which had been discovered in 1526 by Sebastian Cabot), and passed through the Straits of Magellan. Thence he followed the coasts of Chili and Peru, attacking the Spanish ships and settlements as he advanced, and explored the shores of western America as far north as 48 deg N. lat., in the hope of discovering a passage to the Atlantic. He returned home by way of the Cape of Good Hope, accomplishing the first circumnavigation of the globe by an Englishman. Attempts were made in the same period to discover a northwestern passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific by Willoughby and Chancellor, Frobisher, Henry Hudson, and others. But the only efforts during this century to found an English colony on the shores of the New World were those made by Sir Walter Raleigh. These we may describe in detail in a selection chosen from Mary Howitt's charmingly-written "History of the United States."]

Joint-stock companies for the discovery of unknown lands were first formed in 1555. The marriage of Mary with Philip of Spain brought the magnificent discoveries and productions of that country into a closer proximity with England, and a desire to emulate the successes of Spain in the New World was excited.

The spirit of Elizabeth seconded that of her people. The nation had now assumed a more determined and a prouder front in their resentment of the attempt of Spain to render them an appendage to the Spanish crown, and by the successful struggle of Protestantism against Catholicism. England strengthened her navy; frequented the bays and banks of Newfoundland; sent out adventurers to Russia and Africa; endeavored to reach Persia by land, and enlarged her commerce with the East, whilst her privateers lay in wait at sea for the rich galleons of Spain. The study of geography was universally cultivated, and books of travels and adventures by land and sea were eagerly read. Frobisher, the boldest mariner who ever crossed the ocean, set forth to discover the long-sought-for northwest passage, and Queen Elizabeth waved her hand to him in token of favor, as he sailed down the Thames. Frobisher, like all the rest of the world, hoped to find gold. If the Spaniards had found gold in the south, England was confident of finding gold in the north. Elizabeth entered enthusiastically into the scheme of planting a colony among the wealthy mines of the polar regions, where gold, it was said, lay on the surface of the ground. Frobisher was followed by a second fleet, but they found only frost and icebergs.

Whilst Frobisher and his ships were thus vainly endeavoring to find an E1 Dorado in the north, Sir Francis Drake was acquiring immense wealth as a freebooter on the Spanish main, and winning great glory by circumnavigating the globe, after having explored the northwestern coast of America as far north as the forty- third degree. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, also, a man of sound judgment and deeply religious mind, obtained a charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1578 for the more rational purposes of colonization. He set sail with three vessels, accompanied by his step-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh; but a series of disasters befell them; the largest vessel was wrecked, and a hundred perished, among whom was Parmenius, a Hungarian scholar, who had gone out as historian of the expedition. On the homeward voyage they were overtaken by a great storm. "We are as near to heaven on sea as on land," said Sir Humphrey Gilbert, sitting abaft with a book in his hand. And the same night his little vessel went down, and all on board perished.

The brave spirit of Sir Walter Raleigh was not discouraged, though he deeply deplored the loss of his noble step-brother. He resolved now to secure to England those glorious countries where the poor French Protestants had suffered so deeply, and a patent was readily granted, constituting him lord proprietary, with almost unlimited powers, according to the Christian Protestant faith, of all land which he might discover between the thirty-third and fortieth degrees of north latitude. Under this patent Raleigh despatched, as avant-courier ships, two vessels, under the command of Philip Amidas and Arthur Barlow. In the month of July they reached the coast of North America, having perceived, while far out at sea, the fragrance as of a delicious garden, from the odoriferous flowers of the shore. Finding, after some search, a convenient harbor, they landed, and, offering thanks to God for their safe arrival, took formal possession in the name of the Queen of England.

The spot on which they landed was the island of Wocoken. The shores of this part of America are peculiar, inasmuch as during one portion of the year they are exposed to furious tempests, against which the low flat shore affords no defence of harborage; in the summer season, on the contrary, the sea and air are alike tranquil, the whole presenting the most paradisiacal aspect, whilst the vegetation is calculated to strike the beholder with wonder and delight. The English strangers beheld the country under its most favorable circumstances; the grapes being so plentiful that the surge of the ocean, as it lazily rolled in upon the shore, dashed its spray upon the clusters. "The forests formed themselves into wonderfully beautiful bowers, frequented by multitudes of birds. It was like a garden of Eden, and the gentle, friendly inhabitants appeared in unison with the scene. On the island of Roanoke they were received by the wife of the king, and entertained with Arcadian hospitality."

[The report taken to England aroused high enthusiasm. An expedition was sent, sailing on the 9th of April, 1585, under Sir Richard Grenville, and consisting of seven vessels and one hundred and fifty colonists. They reached Roanoke Island, where they quickly roused the natives to hostility by burning a village and destroying the standing corn on suspicion of the theft of a silver cup.]

The colonists, however, landed, and soon afterwards the ships returned to England, Grenville taking a rich Spanish prize by the way. Lane [the governor] and his colonists explored the country, and Lane wrote home, "It is the goodliest soil under the cope of heaven; the most pleasing territory in the world; the continent is of a huge and unknown greatness, and very well peopled and towned, though savagely. The climate is so wholesome that we have none sick. If Virginia had but horses and kine and were inhabited by English, no realm in Christendom were comparable with it." Hariot's observations were directed to "the natural inhabitants," and to the productions of the colony with reference to commerce; he observed the culture of tobacco, used it himself, and had great faith in its salutary qualities; he paid great attention to the maize and the potato," which he found when boiled to be good eating.".

In the mean time, the mass of the colonists, who were rabid for gold, listened to wonderful tales invented by artful Indians, who wished to be rid of these awe-inspiring strangers. The river Roanoke, they said, gushed forth from a rock near the Pacific Ocean; that a nation dwelt upon its remote banks, skilful in refining gold, and that they occupied a city the walls of which glittered with pearls. Even Sir Richard Lane was credulous enough to believe these tales, and ascended the river with a party in order to reach this golden region. They advanced onward, finding nothing, till they were reduced to the utmost extremity of famine. The Indians, disappointed by their return, resolved to cultivate no more corn, so that they might be driven from the country by want, and the English, divining their views, having invited the chief to a conference, fell upon him and slew him, with many of his followers. Lane was unfit for his office. This act of treachery exasperated the Indians to such a degree that they would no longer give him supplies. The colony was about to perish by famine, as the Indians desired, when Sir Francis Drake appeared outside the harbor with a fleet of twenty-three ships. He was on his way from the West Indies, and was now come to visit his friends. No visit could have been more opportune or more welcome.

[At the request of the colonists, Drake carried them to England. Yet he had hardly gone before a vessel despatched by Raleigh arrived, laden with supplies. Finding that the colony had vanished, the vessel returned, and it had but fairly disappeared when Sir Richard Grenville arrived with three ships. After searching in vain for the missing colony, he also returned, leaving fifteen men on Roanoke Island to hold possession for the English. Raleigh, not discouraged by this failure, sent out another colony, this time choosing agriculturists, and sending their wives and children with the emigrants. Implements of husbandry were also sent. On reaching Roanoke they found only the bones of the fifteen men whom Grenville had left, while their fort was in ruins. The new governor, Captain John White, proved an unfortunate choice, since he at once made an unprovoked assault upon the Indians. White quickly returned with the ships to England for supplies and reinforcements.]

When White reached England he found the whole nation absorbed by the threats of a Spanish invasion: Raleigh, Grenville, and Lane, Frobisher, Drake, and Hawkins, all were employed in devising measures of resistance. It was twelve months before Raleigh, who had to depend almost entirely upon his own means, was able to despatch White with supplies: this he did in two vessels. White, who wished to profit by his voyage, instead of at once returning without loss of time to his colony, went in chase of Spanish prizes, until at length one of his ships was overpowered, boarded, and rifled, and both compelled to return to England. This delay was fatal. The great events of the Spanish Armada took place, after which Sir Walter Raleigh found himself embarrassed with such a fearful amount of debt that it was no longer in his power to attempt the colonization of Virginia; nor was it till the following year that White was able to return, and then also through the noble efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh, to the unhappy colony Roanoke. Again the island was a desert. An inscription on the bark of a tree indicated Croatan; but the season of the year, and the danger of storms, furnished an excuse to White for not going thither. What was the fate of the colony never was known. It has been conjectured that through the friendship of Manteo (an Indian chief) they had probably escaped to Croatan; perhaps had been, when thus cruelly neglected by their countrymen, received into a friendly tribe of Indians, and became a portion of the children of the forest. The Indians had, at a later day, a tradition of this kind, and it has been thought that the physical character of the Hatteras Indians bore out the tradition. The kind-hearted and noble Raleigh did not soon give up all hopes of his little colony. Five different times he sent out at his own expense to seek for them, but in vain. The mystery which veils the fate of the colonists of Roanoke will never be solved in this world..

The fisheries of the north and the efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh at colonization had trained a race of men for discovery. One of these, Bartholomew Gosnold, determined upon sailing direct from England to America, without touching at the Canaries and the West Indies, as had hitherto been the custom; and, with the aid of Raleigh, he "wellnigh secured to New England the honor of the first permanent English colony." He sailed in a small vessel directly across the ocean (in 1602), and in seven weeks reached the shores of Massachusetts, but, not finding a good harbor, sailed southward, and discovered and landed on a promontory which he called Cape Cod, which name it retains to this day. Sailing thence, and still pursuing the coast, he discovered various islands, one of which he called Elizabeth, after the queen, and another Martha's Vineyard. The vegetation was rich; the land covered with magnificent forests; and wild fruits and flowers burst from the earth in unimagined luxuriance,--the eglantine, the thorn, and the honeysuckle; the wild pea, tansy and young sassafras; strawberries, raspberries, and vines. In the island was a little lake, and in the lake a rocky islet, and here the colonists resolved to build their storehouse and fort, the nucleus of the first New England colony. The natural features of the place, the historian tells us, remain unchanged: the island, the little lake, and the islet are all there; the forests are gone, while the flowers and fruit are as abundant as ever. But no trace remains of the fort.

Friendly traffic with the natives of the mainland soon completed a freight, which consisted of furs and sassafras, and Gosnold was about to sail, when the hearts of the intending colonists failed them; they dreaded the attack of Indians and the want of necessary supplies from home. All, therefore, re- embarked, and in five weeks reached England.

Gosnold and his companions brought home such favorable reports of the country and the shortness of the voyage that the following year a company of Bristol merchants despatched two small vessels, under the command of Martin Pring, for the purpose of exploring the country and commencing a trade with the natives. They carried out with them trinkets and merchandise suited for such traffic, and their voyage was eminently successful. They discovered some of the principal rivers of Maine, and examined the coast of Massachusetts as far south as Martha's Vineyard. The whole voyage occupied but six months. Pring repeated his voyage in 1606, making still more accurate surveys of the country.

[The coast of New England was further surveyed by an expedition despatched by the Earl of Southampton and Lord Arundel and commanded by George Weymouth. He explored the coast of Labrador, and discovered the Penobscot River. Captain John Smith also made an exploration of the coast in 1614, advanced into Massachusetts Bay "till he came up into the river between Mishawam, afterwards called Charlestown, and Shawmutt, afterwards called Boston, and, having made discovery of the land, rivers, coves, and creeks in the said bay, and also taken some observation of the manners, dispositions, and sundry customs of the numerous Indians, or nations inhabiting the same, he returned to England." He gave to the country the name of New England, which it still retains.

In 1598 the Marquis de la Roche endeavored to found a French colony in America, and peopled Sable Island, on the coast of Nova Scotia, with the refuse of the jails. After languishing here for twelve years, they were allowed to return, and the colony was abandoned. In 1605, De Monts, a French gentleman, formed a colony at a place named by him Port Royal, in the Bay of Fundy, which proved to be the first permanent French settlement in America. The whole country, including the present New Bruns-wick, Nova Scotia, and the adjacent islands, was called Acadia. In the succeeding year (1606) the London Company sent three vessels to Roanoke, which were driven by a storm into Chesapeake Bay. Here they discovered the James River, up which stream they sailed fifty miles, and selected a place for a settlement, which they named Jamestown. Here was formed the first permanent English colony in America, one hundred and fourteen years after the discovery of the New World by Columbus.]

Mary Howitt

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