Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Roanoke Island - Rough Draft Only



Chapter 9: A Lost Colony

            Walter Raleigh, a landed gentleman, was as interested in treasure as much as anyone. Stories found in some history books for young people say that he was far-sighted and more interested in establishing a permanent colony than in gold. This is untrue. Raleigh knew the outcome of previous attempts to colonize the northern coasts, some of them made by a cousin. And he wanted a station in America from which he could launch privateering raids against the Spanish. The region was known for its mild climate. Raleigh saw it as a good place to plant a colony.

Illustration
Walter Raleigh by Nicholas Hilliard

            Queen Elizabeth gave him rights to a vast tract of land, never mind that it was fully inhabited by native tribes. Those who sailed for him had high expectations. The climate was gentler than the far north. The land was known to be fertile, but its richness was beyond what they dreamed. The first of Raleigh’s explorers arrived in 1585. They found the land covered with grapes that grew right down to the beaches. One historian describes it all this way:

The vegetation of that southern latitude struck the beholders with admiration; the trees had not their paragons in the world; the luxuriant vines, as they clambered up the loftiest cedars, formed graceful festoons; grapes were so plenty upon every little shrub, that the surge of the ocean, as it lazily rolled in upon the shore with the quiet winds of summer, dashed its spray upon the clusters; and natural arbors formed an impervious shade, that not a ray of the suns of July could penetrate. The forests were filled with birds; and, at the discharge of an arquebuss, whole flocks would arise, uttering a cry, which the many echoes redoubled, till it seemed as if an army of men had shouted together.[1]

            They found many small tribes of “natural inhabitants,”  most no bigger than a large village. They said the natives were welcoming and peaceful, and that they were warlike, often fighting each other. They did not seem to notice the contradiction. Difficulties with the native tribes arose. The English took food and they made the natives feel threatened. Knowing that the English wanted gold, the natives invented tales about a wealthy city up the Roanoke River. There was, in fact, plentiful copper there, easily confused with gold if neither matters to you. Ralph Lane, leader of the expedition, believed the tales and led men up the river. They didn’t return until their supplies were gone and they had eaten their dogs. After nearly a year, they gave up, returning with Francis Drake who had arrived with his ships, leaving a small number of men behind. They took back with them tobacco, which some of them saw as a potential medicine.

Illustration
An Arquebuss.

            Raleigh was not discouraged, but he did change his methods. Instead of sending a party of men, he sent a second colony made up of families. The new colony would be an agricultural settlement, drawing on the fertile land. John White was to be governor. White was probably familiar with the area. There is strong evidence that he was a member of the first expedition, and there is some evidence that he sailed with Martin Frobisher in 1577.  White was a talented artist and recorded many of the things he saw. He wasn’t chosen governor because of his social status. Artists were considered tradesmen. That he was not rich or noble is shown by his daughter marriage to Ananias Dare, a bricklayer. Elynore White and Ananias Dare would have been socially equal.
            The new colony started badly. They found the fort built by Lane on the north end of Roanoke Island, but it was disserted. The houses were filled with weeds; human bones were scattered among the grass, and deer grazed in the empty houses. The first settlers were killed by the natives. The captain of the small ship that brought refused to help. He wanted to engage in trade instead. So they were stuck on Roanoke Island instead of settling further north on the Chesapeake Bay as Raleigh wanted.
            As one historian says, “disasters thickened.”


[1]              This paragraph will challenge your vocabulary. Make a list of the words you do not understand and look them  up in a dictionary.

3 comments:

  1. "The captain of the small ship that brought [them] refused to help."

    I'm looking forward to the conclusion. To this day there is no hard evidence of what happened to the colony. I was in my early teens in 1962-63 when a archeological dig was in progress near our home in Southampton County, Virginia. Mom was the secretary of the local chapter of the Virginia Archeological Society and spent all her spare time on the dig. My sister and I helped out as totally untrained labor.

    The site dated back to the late woodland period 1400 to 1700 and was a fairly large village. One particular feature was the burial area of the site. It contained a large numbers of graves, many overlapping and on top of others. I forget the exact numbers, but there must have been between 50 to 100 skeletons. One created quite a stir of interest.

    The skeleton was that of a young woman. With her were jewelry made of beads of clay and stone, but the key find was a pair of English made scissors dating from the mid to late 1500s. Was this evidence of the Lost Colony. Was this an English woman? The skull was sent to the Smithsonian for examination. There was no satisfying decision. One examiner said it could be an English woman, The other said it was not. I wonder if we would learn conclusively today if state-of-the-art DNA analysis was done. So the Lost Colony is still a mystery.

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  2. Harry! Who has the skull and scissors now? Poke them in the eye and remind them that DNA analysis is possible now. Where can I find a photo of the scissors?

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  3. That was over 50 years ago. Last I heard the skull was still in the bowels of the Smithsonian. I don't know where the Hand Site's artifact collection ended up.

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