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Indian village
The Indian village of Secotan, engraved by De Bry from John White's drawing.

GOVERNOR WHITE'S RETURN TO ENGLAND. With Governor White's departure on the 27th, the history of events in the colony becomes a tragic mystery which one can only seek to explain. There had been talk of moving the colony 50 miles inland, and White had arranged for appropriate indications of their whereabouts if they removed from Roanoke Island before his return. However, White could not return as soon as expected because of the outbreak of war with Spain. The year 1588 was the Armada year. Sir Richard Grenville, who was preparing a new fleet to go to Virginia, was ordered to make his ships available to the English Navy for service against the Armada. Both Raleigh and Grenville were assigned tasks connected with the national defense and could give little thought to Virginian enterprises. At length, the Queen's Privy Council gave Grenville permission to use on the intended Virginian voyage two small ships not required for service against Spain. White sailed with these on April 28, but they were small, poorly equipped, and poorly provisioned. Partly because of these circumstances and perhaps partly because of their own folly in running after Spanish treasure ships, they were unable to reach Virginia in the war-torn sea. Thus, while Grenville's large warships contributed to the defeat of the Armada, the Roanoke Island colony was doomed for the lack of them.

Although the Armada was defeated in the summer of 1588, the Anglo Spanish battle of the Atlantic continued for several years. It was the intention of Spain to carry on the war not only against England by means of the Armada but also to seek out the English colony in the New World and destroy it at about the same time. In the latter part of June 1588, the Spanish Governor at St. Augustine sent a packet boat northward to locate the English colony preparatory to an early attack on it. After reconnoitering Chesapeake Bay, the packet boat, with the pilot Vincente Gonzalez in command and with Juan Menendez Marques nephew of the Governor on board, came somewhat by chance to Port Ferdinando. Here they found evidence of a harbor and of English occupation. They departed hurriedly to St. Augustine to report their discovery. They clearly thought the harbor still in use at the time of their visit; but the projected attack, at first postponed and later thought to be unnecessary because of the weakness of the fort and settlement, seems never to have been made. At least that is the conclusion to be drawn from available Spanish documents.

On March 7, 1589, Raleigh deeded his interest in the Virginian enterprise, except a fifth part of all gold and silver ore, to a group of London merchants and adventurers and to Governor White and nine other gentlemen, "Late of London." At least seven of them were planters whom White had left in Virginia, such as Ananias Dare, his son-in-law and father of Virginia Dare. Others included in the group were Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Smythe, later known as Sir Thomas Smythe.

The months slipped by, but Governor White and the London merchants seemed to have been unable to get a fleet organized for the relief and strengthening of the colony. In March 1590, Raleigh endeavored to assist White, through influence at court, when the latter learned that Master John Wattes, of London, was being hampered by a governmental staying order in his effort to clear a fleet of privateers for the West Indies. The scheme appears to have been that Raleigh, acting as middle-man, would gain clearance for the ships and, in return, colonists and their furniture would be transported to Virginia. The plan went awry.

Governor White sailed on March 20, 1590, for America, but without the accompanying planters and supplies. Indeed, his status was not much better than that of a passenger on one of Wattes' ships, who had limited court influence at home.

After operating for months in the West Indies, the Wattes expedition anchored on the night of August 12 at the northeast end of the island of Croatoan. If White had only known then the clue to the colonists' whereabouts that he was to learn 6 days later, he would have asked for a search of that island! But he had no way of knowing the promise that "Croatoan" held. After taking soundings, the fleet weighed anchor on August 13 and arrived at Hatoraske toward the evening of the 15th.


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