The first attempt to found an English colony in America had been an utter failure. But the idea of founding a New England across the seas had now taken hold of Sir Humphrey's young step-brother, Walter Raleigh. And a few months after the return of the Golden Hind he received from the Queen a charter very much the same as his brother's. But although he got the Charter Raleigh himself could not sail to America, for Queen Elizabeth would not let him go. So again he had to content himself with sending other people.
It was on April 27th, 1584, that his expedition set out in two small ships. Raleigh knew some of the great Frenchmen of the day, and had heard of their attempt to found a colony in Florida. And in spite of the terrible fate of the Frenchmen he thought Florida would be an excellent place to found an English colony.
So Raleigh's ships made their way to Florida, and landed on Roanoke Island off the coast of what is now North Carolina. In those days of course there was no Carolina, and the Spaniards called the whole coast Florida right up to the shores of Newfoundland.
The Englishmen were delighted with Roanoke. It seemed to them a fertile, pleasant land, "the most plentiful, sweete, fruitfull and wholesome of all the worlde." So they at once took possession of it "in the right of the Queen's most excellent Majesty as rightful Queen and Princess of the same."
The natives, too, seemed friendly "and in their behaviour as mannerly and civil as any man of Europe." But the Pale-faces and the Redskins found it difficult to understand each other.
"What do you call this country?" asked an Englishman.
"Win gan da coa," answered the Indian.
So the Englishmen went home to tell of the wonderful country of Wingandacoe. But what the Indian had really said was "What fine clothes you have!"
However, the mistake did not matter much. For the Englishmen now changed the name of the land from whatever it had been to Virginia in honour of their Queen.
This first expedition to Roanoke was only for exploring, and after a little the adventurers sailed home again to tell of all that they had seen. But Raleigh was so pleased with the report of Roanoke Island which they brought home, to him that he at once began to make plans for founding a colony there. And the following April his ships, were ready and the expedition set out under his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville.
But now almost as soon as they landed troubles began with the Indians. One of them stole a silver cup, and as it was not returned the Englishmen in anger set fire to the corn-fields and destroyed them. This was a bad beginning. But the Englishmen had no knowledge yet of how cruel and revengeful the Redman could be. So it was with no misgivings that Sir Richard left a colony of over a hundred men in the country. And promising to return with fresh supplies in the following spring he sailed homeward.
The Governor of this colony was named Ralph Lane. He was wise and able, but he was soon beset with difficulties. He found that the place chosen for a colony was not a good one, For the harbour was bad, the coast dangerous, and many of the Indians were now unfriendly. So he set about exploring the country, and decided as soon as fresh supplies came from England to move to a better spot.
Spring came and passed, and no ships from England appeared. The men began to starve. And seeing this the Indians who had feared them before, now began to be scornful and taunt them.
"Your God is not a true god," they said, "or he would not leave you to starve."
They refused to sell the colonists food no matter what price was offered. Their hatred of the English was so great indeed that they resolved to sow no corn in order that there should be no harvest; being ready to suffer hunger themselves if they might destroy the colony utterly.
As the days passed the Englishmen daily felt the pinch of hunger more and more. Then Lane divided his company into three, and sent each in a different direction so that they might gather roots and herbs and catch fish for themselves, and also keep a lookout for ships.
But things went from bad to worse; the savages grew daily bolder and more insolent, and the colonists lived constantly in dread of an attack from them.
At length, although he had tried hard to avoid it, Lane was forced to fight them. They were easily overcome, and fled to the woods. But Lane knew well that his advantage was only for the moment. Should help not come the colony would be wiped out. Then one day, about a week after the fight with the Indians, news was brought to Lane that a great fleet of twenty-three ships had appeared in the distance.
Were they friends, or were they foes? That was the great question. The English knew the terrible story of Fort Caroline. Were these Spanish ships? Fearing that they might be Ralph Lane looked to his defences, and made ready to withstand the enemy, if enemy they proved to be, as bravely as might be.
But soon it was seen that their fears were needless, the ships were English, and two days later Sir Francis Drake anchored in the wretched little harbour.
Drake had not come on purpose to relieve the colony. He had been out on one of his marauding expeditions against the Spaniards. He had taken and sacked St. Domingo, Cartagena, and Fort St. Augustine. And now, sailing home in triumph, chance had brought him to Raleigh's colony at Roanoke. And when he saw the miserable condition of the colonists, and heard the tale of their hardships, he offered to take them all home to England. Or, he said, if they chose to remain he would leave them a ship and food and everything that was necessary to keep them from want until help should come.
Both Lane and his chief officers who were men of spirit wanted to stay. So they accepted Drake's offer of the loan of a ship, agreeing that after they had found a good place for a colony and a better harbour, they would go home to England and return again the next year.
Thus the matter was settled. Drake began to put provisions on board one of his ships for the use of the colony. The colonists on their side began writing letters to send home with Drake's ships. All was business and excitement. But in the midst of it a great storm arose. It lasted for four days and was so violent that most of Drake's ships were forced to put out to sea lest they should be dashed to pieces upon the shore.
Among the ships thus driven out to sea was that which Drake had promised to give Ralph Lane. And when the storm was over it was nowhere to be seen.
So Drake offered another ship to Lane. It was a large one, too large to get into the little harbour, but the only one he could spare. Lane was now doubtful what was best to do. Did it not seem as if by driving away their ship God had stretched out His hand to take them from thence? Was the storm not meant as a sign to them?
So not being able to decide by himself what was best to do, Lane called his officers and gentlemen together, and asked advice of them.
They all begged him to go home. No help had come from Sir Richard Grenville, nor was it likely to come, for Drake had brought the news that war between Spain and England had been declared. They knew that at such a time every Englishman would bend all his energies to the defeat of Spain, and that Raleigh would have neither thoughts nor money to spare for that far-off colony.
At length it was settled that they should all go home. In haste then the Englishmen got on board, for Drake was anxious to be gone from the dangerous anchorage "which caused him more peril of wreck," says Ralph Lane, "than all his former most honourable actions against the Spaniards."
So on the 19th of June 1586, the colonists set sail and arrived in England some six weeks later. They brought with them two things which afterward proved to be of great importance. The first was tobacco. The use of it had been known ever since the days of Columbus, but it was now for the first time brought to England. The second was the potato. This Raleigh planted on his estates in Ireland, and to this day Ireland is one of the great potato growing countries of the world.
But meanwhile Raleigh had not forgotten his colonists, and scarce a week after they had sailed away, a ship arrived laden "with all manner of things in most plentiful manner for the supply and relief of his colony."
For some time the ship beat up and down the coast searching vainly for the colony. And at length finding no sign of it, it returned to England. About a fortnight later Sir Richard Grenville also arrived with three ships. To his astonishment when he reached Roanoke he saw no sign of the ship which he knew had sailed shortly before him. And to his still greater astonishment he found the colony deserted. Yet he could not believe that it had been abandoned. So he searched the country up and down in the hope of finding some of the colonists. But finding no trace of them he at length gave up the search and returned to the forsaken huts. And being unwilling to lose possession of the country, he determined to leave some of his men there. So fifteen men were left behind, well provided with everything necessary to keep them for two years. Then Sir Richard sailed homeward.
In spite of all these mischances Raleigh would not give up his great idea. And the following year he fitted out another expedition. This time there were a few women among the colonists, and John White, who had already been out with Lane, was chosen as Governor.
It was now decided to give up Roanoke which had proved such an unfortunate spot, and the new company of colonists was bound for Chesapeake Bay. But before they settled there they were told to go to Roanoke to pick up the fifteen men left by Sir Richard Grenville and take them to Chesapeake also.
When, however, they reached Roanoke the Master of the vessels, who was by birth a Spaniard, and who was perhaps in league with the Spanish, said that it was too late in the year to go seeking another spot. So whether they would or not he landed the colonists, and sailed away, leaving only one small boat with them.
Thus perforce they had to take up their abode in the old spot. They found it deserted. The fort was razed to the ground, and although the huts were still standing they were choked with weeds and overgrown with wild vines, while deer wandered in and out of the open doors. It was plain that for many months no man had lived there. And although careful search was made, saving the bones of one, no sign was found of the fifteen men left there by Sir Richard. At length the new colonists learned from a few friendly Indians that they had been traitorously set upon by hostile Indians. Most of them were slain; the others escaped in their boat and went no man knew whither.
The Englishmen were very angry when they heard that, and wanted to punish the Indians. So they set out against them. But the Indians fled at their coming, and the Englishmen by mistake killed some of the friendly Indians instead of their enemies. Thus things were made worse instead of better.
And now amid all these troubles on the 18th of August, 1587, a little girl was born. Her father was Ananias Dare, and her mother was the daughter of John White, the Governor. The little baby was thus the grand-daughter of the Governor, and because she was the first English child to be born in Virginia she was called Virginia.
But matters were not going well in the colony. Day by day the men were finding out things which were lacking and which they felt they must have if they were not all to perish. So a few days after Virginia was christened all the chief men came to the Governor and begged him to go back to England to get fresh supplies, and other things necessary to the life of the colony. John White, however, refused to go. The next day not only the men but the women also came to him and again begged him to go back to England. They begged so hard that at last the Governor consented to go.
All were agreed that the place they were now in was by no means the best which might be chosen for a colony, and it had been determined that they should move some fifty miles further inland. Now it was arranged that if they moved while the Governor was away they should carve on the trees and posts of the door the name of the place to which they had gone, so that on his return he might be able easily to find them. And also it was arranged that if they were in any trouble or distress they should carve a cross over the name.
All these matters being settled John White set forth. And it was with great content that the colonists saw their Governor go. For they knew that they could send home no better man to look after their welfare, and they were sure he would bring back the food and other things which were needed.
But when White arrived in England he found that no man, not even Raleigh, had a thought to spare for Virginia. For Spain was making ready all her mighty sea power to crush England. And the English were straining every nerve to meet and break that power. So John White had to wait with what patience he could. Often his heart was sick when he thought of his daughter and his little granddaughter, Virginia Dare, far away in that great unknown land across the sea. Often he longed to be back beside them. But his longings were of no avail. He could but wait. For every ship was seized by Government and pressed into the service of the country. And while the Spaniards were at the gate it was accounted treason for any Englishman to sail to western lands.
So the summer of 1588 passed, the autumn came, and at length the great Armada sailed from Spain. It sailed across the narrow seas in pride and splendour, haughtily certain of crushing the insolent sea dogs of England. But "God blew with His breath and they were scattered." Before many days were over these proud ships were fleeing before the storm, their sails torn, their masts splintered. They were shattered upon the rocky shores of Scotland and Ireland. They were swallowed by the deep.
The sea power of Spain was broken, and the history of America truly began. For as has been said "the defeat of the Invincible Armada was the opening event in the history of the United States."
Free now from the dread of Spain, ships could come and go without hindrance. But another year and more passed before John White succeeded in getting ships and provisions and setting out once more for Virginia.
It was for him an anxious voyage, but as he neared the place where the colony had been, his heart rejoiced, for he saw smoke rising from the land. It was dark, however, before they reached the spot, and seeing no lights save that of a huge fire far in the woods the Governor sounded a trumpet call. The notes of the trumpet rang through the woods and died away to silence. Answer there was none. So the men called and called again, but still no answer came. Then with sinking heart John White bade them sing some well-known English songs. For that, he thought, would surely bring an answer from the shore.
So through the still night air the musical sound of men's voices rang out. But still no answer came from the silent fort. With a heart heavy as lead the Governor waited for the dawn. As soon as it was light he went ashore. The fort was deserted. Grass and weeds grew in the ruined houses. But upon a post "in fair capital letters" was carved the word "Croatoan." This was the name of a neighbouring island inhabited by friendly Indians. There was no cross or sign of distress carved over the letters. And when the Governor saw that he was greatly comforted.
He spent some time searching about for other signs of the colonists. In one place he found some iron and lead thrown aside as if too heavy to carry away, and now overgrown with weeds. In another he found five chests which had evidently been buried by the colonists, and dug up again by the Indians.
They had been burst open and the contents lay scattered about the grass. Three of these chests John White saw were his own, and it grieved him greatly to see his things spoiled and broken. His books were torn from their covers, his pictures and maps were rotten with the rain, and his armour almost eaten through with rust.
At length, having searched in vain for any other signs of the colonists, the English returned to the ships and set sail for Croatoan.
But now they encountered terrible storms. Their ships were battered this way and that, their sails were torn, their anchors lost. And at length in spite of all entreaties, the captain resolved to make sail for England. So John White never saw Croatoan, never knew what had become of his dear ones. And what happened to little Virginia Dare, the first English girl to be born on the soil of the United States, will never be known. But years afterwards settlers were told by the Indians that the white people left at Roanoke had gone to live among the Indians. For some years it was said they lived in a friendly manner together. In time, however, the medicine men began to hate the Pale-faces, and caused them all to be slain, except four men, one young woman, and three boys. Was the young woman perhaps Virginia Dare? No one can tell.
All Raleigh's attempts at founding a colony had thus come to nothing. Still he did not despair. Once again he sent out an expedition. But that too failed and the leader returned having done nothing. Even this did not break Raleigh's faith in the future of Virginia. "I shall yet live to see it an English nation," he said.
But although Raleigh's faith was as firm as before, his money was gone. He had spent enormous sums on his fruitless efforts to found a colony. Now he had no more to spend.
And now great changes came. Good Queen Bess died and James of Scotland reigned in her stead. Raleigh fell into disgrace, was imprisoned in the Tower, and after a short release was beheaded there. Thus an end came to all his splendid schemes. Never before perhaps had such noble devotion to King and country been so basely requited. At the time it was said that "never before was English justice so injured or so disgraced" as by the sentence of death passed upon Raleigh. No man is perfect, nor was Raleigh perfect. But he was a great man, and although all his plans failed we remember him as the first great coloniser, the first Englishman to gain possession of any part of North America.