Who is Walter Raleigh?

WHILST Drake was plundering Spanish settlements in South America and circumnavigating the globe to avoid his enemies, the minds of the British queen and many of her leading subjects were powerfully directed to the more beneficent object of founding colonies in the region of North America discovered by Cabot three-fourths of a century before. With these better desires were mingled a thirst for gold which they believed existed in abundance somewhere in those regions. There were yearnings, also, for planting settlements and searching for treasures on the borders of the beautiful lands whose marvellous imagery had been portrayed by the shipwrecked Huguenots and the letters of Raleigh from France. These desires had assumed a more tangible shape than the day-dreams which had floated in the minds of England's monarch and people. They had been stimulated into action by Raleigh, on his return from the continent; and his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert--a kindred spirit--through the intervention of the young pupil of Coligni, obtained a patent from Elizabeth, which authorized him to explore and appropriate remote and barbarous lands unoccupied by Christian powers, and to hold them as fiefs or estates of the crown of England. That was in the year 1578. Gilbert did not believe there could be profit in searching for gold in the higher latitudes. A more comprehensive view of the fisheries off New-foundland, to which four hundred vessels from Europe repaired annually, turned his thoughts now to a project of planting a colony on that island; and in this scheme Raleigh acquiesced.

Walter Raleigh was one of the most illustrious of the English adventurers of his time. When, through his influence at court, Gilbert obtained his patent, he was only twenty-six years of age. Endowed with brilliant genius, unbounded ambition and extraordinary activity, his mind grasped the boldest projects, and his versatility, enthusiasm and credulity, led him to the immediate execution of any scheme which he might conceive. "Framed in the prodigality of nature," says an English author, "he was at once the most industrious scholar and the most accomplished courtier of his age; as a projector, profound, ingenious, and indefatigable; as a soldier, prompt, daring, and heroic; 'so contemplative (says an old writer), that he might have been judged unfit for action; so active, that he seemed to have no leisure for contemplation.' The chief defect of his mental temperament was the absence of moderation and regulation of thought and aim. Smitten with a love of glorious achievement, he had unfortunately embraced the maxim that 'whatever is not extraordinary is nothing;' and his mind (till the last scene of his life) was not sufficiently pervaded by religion to recognize that nobility of purpose which ennobles the commonest actions, and elevates circumstances instead of borrowing dignity from them. Uncontrolled by steady principle and sober calculation, the fancy and the passions of Raleigh transported him, in some instances, beyond the bounds rectitude, honor and propriety; and, seconded by the malevolence of his fortune, entailed reproaches on his character and discomfiture on his undertakings. But though adversity might cloud his path, it would never depress his spirit, or quench a single ray of his genius. He subscribed to his fortune with a noble grace, and by the universal consent of mankind his errors and infirmities have been deemed within the protection of his glory."

Raleigh became a favorite of his queen by a single act of gallantry. He had lately returned from Ireland, where he had distinguished himself in putting down the rebellion of the Desmonds. Meeting the queen one day whilst she was walking with two of her maids of honor, he took from his shoulders his rich velvet mantle, and bowing gracefully, spread it over a wet spot in her path for her to walk upon. Because of this delicate gallantry, Raleigh was immediately admitted to court, where he and the accomplished Essex became powerful rivals for the queen's special favor. Their intrigues were ceaseless and often romantic, and filled a large space in the gossip of court circles. Raleigh soon tired of such a fruitless life, and leaving the business of a courtier, engaged again in the graver thoughts and duties pertaining to American colonization.

Misfortune seemed to stimulate Raleigh to more energetic action. He was then paying court to the queen, with whom he was a great favorite. He asked her for a charter in all respects the same as that she had given to Gilbert, but covering lands further south. It was given in April, 1584. It constituted Raleigh Lord Proprietor of all countries between Delaware Bay and the mouth of the Santee River in South Carolina. Quick in the execution of his projects, two ships were made ready for sea before June, well equipped with men and provisions. Arthur Barlow, a skillful mariner, was placed in chief command, assisted by Philip Amidas, of French descent but a native of England. They were directed to explore the coasts within the parallels named, and choose a place for settlement. Instead of following the northerly path across the Atlantic, in which so many disasters had occurred, they went by the way of the Canary Isles, were wafted by the trade-winds to the West Indies, and approached the American coast in the latitude of Florida. Turning northward, they ran up the coast along the line of the Gulf Stream, and entering Ocracock Inlet, anchored off Wocoken Island, in July. There they landed, and were kindly received by the gentle natives who were as kindly treated in return. There Barlow set up a small column with the British arms rudely carved upon it, and waving over it the banner of England, in the presence of the wondering natives, took possession of the whole region--island and main, inlets and sounds--in the name of the queen. They spent several weeks in explorations of Roanoke Island and Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, and in trafficking with the natives. "The people," wrote the mariners," were most gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the golden age."

Satisfied that his charter was a key that would unlock the coveted treasures of wealth, honor and power, Raleigh now took measures for sending out a colony to people his American domain. Friends in abundance stood ready to assist him, and on the 9th of April, 1585, he saw a fleet of seven ships sail out of Plymouth harbor, with one hundred and eighty colonists and a full complement of seamen, for the coast of Virginia. Sir Richard Grenville, one of the most gallant men of his times, was in command of the squadron, and Ralph Lane, a soldier and civilian of distinction, who had been an equerry in the royal court, was sent as the governor of the colony, with Amidas as his assistant. They were accompanied by Thomas Cavendish, who, the next year, followed the path of Drake around the world; by a competent painter to delineate men and things in America, and by Thomas Harriot, an eminent mathematician and astronomer, who went as historian and naturalist of the expedition.

Among the statesmen and adventurers of England who directed the earliest efforts of subjects of that realm for the colonization of America, the name of Raleigh will ever stand brightest. In courage, perseverance, comprehensive views, lavish expenditure and ever-buoyant hopefulness, he had no peer. He was not only a soldier and statesman, but he was a historian, poet and philosopher--a scholar in most departments of learning. When, at the age of about thirty-seven years, he abandoned the scheme for colonizing Virginia, he proceeded to perform other services which, alone, would have made his name immortal. He did much toward the destruction of the Spanish Armada; accompanied Drake in his expedition to seat Don Antonio on the throne of Portugal; brought Edmund Spenser from Ireland and introduced him to the queen; discovered the "large, rich and beautiful empire of Guiana," in South America; assisted in the capture of Cadiz; was ambassador to the Netherlands, and governor of the island of Jersey. Immoralities stained his fair fame, and when Elizabeth died in 1603, the sun of his glory went down among clouds, yet none the brighter in itself because obscured to the visions of men. When King James of Scotland came to the throne of England, he stripped Raleigh of all his preferments. The great man was then a paralytic, but his lofty spirit bore him above repining.

Raleigh was soon afterward arrested on a false charge of conspiring to place Arabella Stuart on the English throne, and on conviction without proof he was condemned to death. Reprieved, he was sent to the Tower, where he was confined many years, accompanied much of the time by his faithful wife, who had been one of Elizabeth's maids of honor. There he was in 1615, when the base and avaricious king, wanting his services to search for gold in Guiana, released him from prison, on condition that he would go there, but did not pardon him. Raleigh was then sixty-three years of age and an invalid; but he went to South America with fourteen ships, in the fitting out of which he embarked the whole of his wife's fortune and his own. The expedition was a failure, and he returned to Plymouth in the summer of 1618 a wreck in fortune, health, reputation and spirits. The king, disappointed in his expectations of wealth as the fruits of the expedition, and jealous of Raleigh even in his almost helplessness, recommitted the old man to the Tower, and soon afterward caused him to be beheaded, in execution of the unjust sentence pronounced fifteen years before. "This is a sharp medicine, but it is a cure for all diseases," said the white-haired patriot, on the scaffold, as he felt the keen edge of the axe and handed it to the executioner.

That murderous act of King James was one of the foulest of all the foul performances of the detested monarch. Upon the altar of his lust he sacrificed one of the noblest patriots, far-seeing statesmen and brilliant scholars of the British realm. Raleigh's very existence, even in the obscurity of the Tower, wherein he wrote his " History of the World," was a perpetual honor to the reign of the bad king.

Raleigh had lived to see his scheme for colonizing Virginia carried out by other Englishmen. Ten years before his death, when he was in the Tower, Jamestown was founded; and when the axe finished his earthly course, a congregation of English Puritans were contemplating that emigration to America which occurred two years later, and which resulted in the founding of the commonwealths of New England. The French navigator, Champlain, had laid the foundations of a permanent settlement on the St. Lawrence River; and whilst Raleigh was in Guiana, the Dutch were laying plans for a colony in New Netherland, which Hudson had discovered a few years before. George Calvert had just received the honors of knighthood, taken a seat in the Privy Council, and gained that special friendship of King James which finally led to his elevation to the peerage as Lord Baltimore, his attempts to colonize Newfoundland, and the possession of the fine domain of Maryland by his family. And after a lapse of almost two centuries, the inhabitants of North Carolina, on the shores of whose State the great adventurer had made his attempts at settlement, showed their sense of justice by giving to their capital the name of Raleigh.

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