Roanoke Island Colony





On Roanoke Island the Englishmen were entertained, with a refined hospitality, by the mother of King Wingina (who was absent); and wherever they went, friendship was the rule. To the feelings of the strangers, every- thing on the islands and on the main was charming. Nature was then garnished in all her summer wealth, and to the eyes of the Englishmen her beauties there were marvellous. Magnificent trees were draped with luxuriant vines clustered with growing grapes, and the forest swarmed with birds of sweetest songs and beautiful plumage. After gathering what information they could about the neighboring country, Barlow and Amidas departed for England, with their company, attended by Manteo and Wanchese, two dusky lords of the woods and waters.

The glowing accounts of this newly-discovered region given by the mariners, and the pictures of the simple lives and gentle manners of the inhabitants which they drew, delighted Sir Walter Raleigh and his sovereign; and Elizabeth, as a memorial that the splendid domain had been added to the British realm during the reign of a virgin queen, named the country VIRGINIA. So say some. Others say that the name was given because the land retained the virgin beauty, purity and fertility of its first creation. The queen declared that such acquisition was one of the most glorious events of her reign; and she bestowed the honors of knighthood upon Raleigh. The parliament or congress confirmed his charter, and the queen, in order to enrich him, gave him the monopoly of the sale of sweet wines. His popularity was unbounded, and by an almost unanimous vote he was elected to represent the country of Devon in parliament.

Sir Richard Grenville was one of the most gallant men of his times and was chosen by Sir Walter Raleigh establish colonies in America. This choice of Grenville as commander of the squadron was unfortunate. He was more intent upon plunder than colonization. Sailing over the southern route, he cruised among the West India Islands, capturing Spanish vessels, and so infusing the colonists with a spirit quite the reverse of that of peaceful settlers. They did not reach the American coast until late in June, when the vessels came near being wrecked upon a point of land which, from that circumstance, they named Cape Fear. Sailing up the coast they entered Ocracock Inlet and finally landed on Roanoke Island, with Manteo, who returned with them.

We learn all that we know about this colony in Virginia, from Harriot's narrative. He remained there a year, making observations and obtaining drawings of everything of interest. He had been Raleigh's tutor in mathematics, and took great interest in the expedition; and he labored hard to restrain the cupidity of the colonists, who were more intent upon winning gold and plunder, than in tilling the soil.

The example of Grenville led to infinite mischief. He sent Manteo to the mainland to announce their arrival, and soon followed him with Lane, Cavendish, Harriot and others. For eight days they explored the country, and were hospitably entertained everywhere. How was that hospitality required? At an Indian village a silver cup was stolen from the English and was not immediately restored on demand. Grenville ordered the whole town to be burned, and the standing corn around it destroyed. A flame of indignation, furious and destructive, was enkindled in the Indian mind, which could not be quenched. Unsuspicious of the consequences of his act, the commander left the colonists and returned to England with his ships. These all became pirates on the sea; and Grenville was warmly welcomed when he entered the harbor of Plymouth with his vessels laden with plunder from Spanish galleons and other vessels.

Lane was delighted with the country, and in a letter which he sent home by Grenville, he wrote: "It is the goodliest soil under the cope of Heaven; the most pleasing territory of the world; the continent is of a huge and unknown greatness, and very well peopled and towned, though Indianly. The climate is so wholesome, that we have not one sick since we have touched the land. If Virginia had but horses and kine, and were inhabited by English, no realm in Christendom were comparable to it."

Harriot was a man of keen observation, and looked upon everything with the eye of a Christian philosopher. He perceived that the way to have the country permanently "inhabited by English," and supplied with "horses and kine," was to treat the natives kindly as friends and neighbors. He deprecated the conduct of Grenville, and tried to quench the fires of revenge which the leader's cruelty had enkindled. The Indians were curious and credulous. Many of them regarded the persons of the English with reverence and awe. Their fire-arms, burning-glasses, mathematical instruments, clocks, watches, and books seemed to the Indian mind like the work of the gods. The colonists were never sick and had no women with them, and so the natives imagined that they were not born of woman and were there-fore immortal--men of ancient days who had risen to immortality. Taking advantage of this feeling, Harriot displayed the Bible every-where, told them of its grand and precious truths, and inspired them with such a love for it, that they often pressed it affectionately to their bosoms. King Wingina became very ill. He sent for Harriot, who found him in his bough-covered cabin on a couch of soft moss, with a priest making mysterious movements over the invalid, a "medicine man" offering him a decoction from a calabash, and a dancing juggler contorting his body and grimacing fearfully to drive away the Evil Spirit. Wingina dismissed all of these attendants, placed himself under the care of Harriot, and asked the prayers of the English. He recovered, and his example was followed by many of his subjects.

Had the other colonists been as wise and good as Harriot, all might have been well. But they were greedy for gold. Governor Lane had the fever, and all trusted more to their fire-arms than to friendship for the good-will of the Indians. The natives were treated with scorn and sometimes with cruelty, which kept alive the flame of vengeance. Seeing the Englishmen's greed for gold, they told them marvellous stories of a land at the headwaters of the Roanoke which was filled with the precious metals, and where the houses were lined with pearls. They told them that the source of the Roanoke was in a rock so near the Pacific Ocean, that sometimes the salt waves dashed over into the fountain. All this was told that the English might go in search of that land, and so divided and weakened, the Indians might fall upon and destroy them. The red men guessed shrewdly, for Lane believed their stories, and with a large number of followers went up the swift stream of the Roanoke, until he was satisfied that he had been deceived by pure fictions. He turned back, and his sudden reappearance discomfited the Indians, who had planned an attack upon the divided settlers. Their wrath was only checked, but not subdued. They regarded the fire-arms of the English as demons, and that the great sickness which then prevailed as the effects of wounds given by invisible bullets that came from unseen agents in the air. Believing that more Englishmen were coming to take their lands, they so yearned to exterminate the intruders that they could not conceal their enmity.

Lane, impressed with the belief that there was a wide-spread conspiracy to destroy his colony, prepared to strike the first blow. He invited Wingina and his principal chiefs to a friendly conference. They showed their confidence in the strangers by appearing without weapons. At a preconcerted signal, Lane and his followers fell upon the Indians and murdered the king and all of his companions. Thenceforth each party stood on the defensive, and very soon the condition of the English became desperate. Their provisions were exhausted; no ships came from England with supplies, and no food could be obtained from the Indians. Only the woods and waters offered them a precarious subsistence, and they were on the verge of despair, when they saw, one day, the joyful apparition of white sails coming in from the sea. It was the fleet of Sir Francis Drake, who was returning from his raid upon Spanish towns and settlements, and looked in upon the colonists that he might report their condition to his friend Raleigh. He offered them aid and encouragement, but they were so thoroughly despondent that they begged and received permission to return to England in the baronet's ships.

Whilst they were in Virginia, Lane and his associates had acquired a taste for smoking tobacco, a habit which prevailed among the natives; and they were the first persons who carried the plant into England. The Spaniards and Portuguese had introduced it on the continent. Raleigh adopted and encouraged its use in England, and very soon the habit became so widespread that the demand exceeded the supply. It became the staple product of Virginia and a bond of union between England and some of her American colonies, as well as a source of much revenue. It is said that Queen Elizabeth became Raleigh's apt pupil in the art of smoking tobacco. One day whilst she and the courtier and two or three others were indulging in the habit, Raleigh offered a wager that he would ascertain the weight of smoke that should issue from her lips in a given time. Elizabeth accepted the challenge. Raleigh weighed the tobacco that was put in her pipe, and then weighed the ashes that remained in it; the difference in the weight he assigned as the weight of the smoke. The queen, laughing, acknowledged that he had won the wager, and said he was the first alchemist she had ever heard of who had succeeded in turning smoke into gold.

Drake's ships had scarcely left the coast when a vessel appeared with supplies for the fugitive colonists. Finding the post abandoned, the ship returned to England; and a fortnight after it left Roanoke, Sir Richard Grenville arrived with three well-furnished ships, and searched in vain for the settlers. Unwilling to give up the possession of the country, he left fifteen men there to protect the rights of England, and then he, too, returned home.

Raleigh was not dismayed by these mishaps. Lane, whose failure as a leader a leader was conspicuous, gave a gloomy account of the country, but the report of the learned Harriot was so encouraging, that Raleigh found very little difficulty in gathering another colony, and of better materials. They were not gold-seekers, but agriculturists and artisans, with their wives and children, who consented to become permanent settlers in America. John White was appointed governor of the colony, with eleven assistants, and late in April, 1587, a squadron of three ships, fitted out at Raleigh's expense, sailed for the Chesapeake Bay, where the proprietor intended to plant his farming settlement. White went first to Roanoke, and proceeded no further. He arrived there in July, when he found the little fort built by Lane broken down; the huts of the former colonists overgrown by rank weeds and inhabited by wild deer, and a heap of human bones that told the sad fate of Grenville's "protectors of the rights of England."

The new colonists wisely resolved to cultivate the friendship of the Indians, but some of the latter appeared hostile and killed one of the assistants. Manteo, who lived on Croatan Island, came with his mother and relatives, and invited them to make their abode on his domain, when White took the opportunity to have the chief receive the rite of Christian baptism, and to bestow upon him the order of a feudal baron as "Lord of Roanoke," by the command of Raleigh. This was the first and last peerage ever created on the soil of our Republic.

For a time matters went on smoothly, when an unlucky mistake of the English in attacking friendly Indians produced bad blood. At about the same time it became necessary for the ships to return to England for supplies. White was persuaded to go with them that he might hasten their return. He left behind him eighty-nine men, seventeen women and two children. Among these was his daughter, Eleanor Dare, wife of one of his assistants, who had given birth to a daughter since her arrival, to whom they gave the name of Virginia--Virginia Dare. On his way, White touched Ireland, where he left some potato plants, the first ever seen in Europe.

When White returned home, he found his countrymen in commotion on account of a threatened invasion from Spain, and all the great naval captains, as well as Raleigh, were engaged in plans for averting the evil. But the latter, by great exertions, sent White back with supplies in two ships in April, 1588. The greed of the governor made him neglect his first duty. Instead of going directly to Virginia, he chased Spanish ships in search of plunder. Both of his vessels were so much injured that he was compelled to take them back to England, and it was not until 1590, a year after the defeat of the "Invincible Armada" of Spain in the British Channel, that White was permitted to go in search of the colony and his daughter. He sailed with two ships, and found Roanoke desolate. Had the colonists perished, or were they somewhere in the wilderness?

This question has never been answered. An inscription on the bark of a tree seemed to indicate that they had gone to Croatan. It was late in the season, and fearing the fearful storms which he knew prevailed on the coast at that period, White searched no further but hastened back to England with the sad tidings of the uncertain fate of the colonists. It was conjectured that the faithful Lord of Roanoke had saved their lives, and when they seemed to be abandoned by their countrymen, they had been incorporated with a native tribe and amalgamated with them. This conjecture finds plausibility in a tradition of the Hatteras Indians at a later period, which averred that such was the fate of the colony; and some find confirmation of the tradition in the fact that when European settlements were finally made in that region, individuals of the Hatteras family bore the mingled physical characteristics of the Indian and the Englishman. Perhaps when Jamestown was founded on the river of Powhatan, when Virginia Dare was twenty years of age, she was a beautiful young Indian queen on the banks of the Roanoke. Who knows?





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