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Roanoke Island
The shore line of Roanoke Island as it looks today.

Exploration of Roanoke Island, 1584

On April 27, 1584, Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe left the west of England in two barks "well furnished with men and victuals," to explore the North American coast for Sir Walter Raleigh. Among the company of explorers was the enigmatical Simon Ferdinando, formerly the master of the ship Falcon under the captaincy of Raleigh, but also known as the "man" of the Queen's Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. Ferdinando had sailed to the coast of America and back in 3 months' time in 1579. His knowledge of navigation was to make him a key figure in many of the Roanoke Island enterprises.

The party of explorers landed on July 13, 1584, on the North Carolina coast, about 7 leagues above Roanoke Island, and took possession of the country for Queen Elizabeth "as rightfull Queene" with the further proviso that the land was to be for the use of Sir Walter Raleigh, according to the Queen's charter. Despite the passing of more than 350 years, Barlowe's description of the country is still basically true, if pardonably exuberant. They found it "very sandie and low toward the waters side, but so full of grapes [scuppernongs] as the very beating and surge of the Sea overflowed them, of which we found such plentie, as well there as in all places else, both on the sand and on the greene soil on the hils, as in the plaines, as well on every little shrubbe, as also climing towards the tops of high Cedars, that I thinke in all the world the like abundance is not to be found."

From their landing place they proceeded along the seashore toward the "toppes of those hilles next adjoining" (perhaps the big Nags Head Dunes or hills in the Nags Head woods), from the summit of which they beheld the sea on both sides and came to realize that they were on a barrier island. After admiring the scene, they discharged an arquebus shot, whereupon "a flocke of Cranes (the most part white) arose . . . with such a cry redoubled by many ecchoes, as if an armie of men had showted all together." On the fourth day they were visited by Granganimeo, brother of Wingina, chief of the Roanoke Island Indians. After a short period of trading, Barlowe and seven others went by boat to Roanoke Island at the north end of which they found a palisaded Indian village. Here they were entertained with primitive but hospitable Indian ceremony. The Indians appeared "gentle, loving, and faithfull." The explorers described Roanoke Island as "a most pleasant and fertile ground, replenished with goodly Cedars, and divers other sweete woods, full of Corrants [grapes], flaxe, and many other notable commodities." Game and fish were to be had in abundance.

The picture that Amadas and Barlowe took back to Sir Walter Raleigh was a rosy one, for they had seen Roanoke Island in midsummer. The Indians were generous, because at, this season of the year they had plenty of everything in contrast to the scarcity of their winter fare; and the white man was new to them, though they had heard of others wrecked on the coast years before. Two Indians, Wanchese and Manteo, were brought back to England by Amadas and Barlowe that Raleigh might learn, first hand, the character of the coastal Indians. Queen Elizabeth appears to have been pleased by the western exploit, for she called the new possession Virginia, perhaps at the suggestion of Raleigh, chief lord of the new territory, whose poetic gift and courtly tact would prompt him thus to memorialize the virgin queen.


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Last Modified: Mon, Dec 2 2002 10:00:00 am PDT

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