Sir Walter Raleigh and the New World. Founding of Roanoke.

Sir, Walter, Raleigh, Elizabethan era, Tudor,
Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1554 – 1618) was an English sailor, explorer, soldier, spy, politician, poet and writer and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I.

Sir Walter Raleigh tries to settle a colony in America.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 or 1554 in Hayes Barton, Devonshire; † October 29, 1618 in London, executed) was an English sailor, explorer, soldier, spy, politician, poet and writer and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. His surname is also found in the spellings Rawley, Ralegh and Rawleigh.

With the support of wealthy investors he financed several trips to Virginia in order to realize its colonial goals there. As a result of financed from Raleigh expeditions was in 1585 the founding of Roanoke in North Carolina.

birthplace, Sir Walter Raleigh,
The birthplace of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Raleigh’s colony chartered.

If it had not been for the interest which Sir Walter Raleigh took in plans for settling America, we might never have had a nation of English-speaking people in this country. Sir Walter Raleigh was one of the most brilliant and one of the most ambitious men at the court of Queen Elizabeth, as he certainly was one of the most gifted men of that brilliant time. While yet young, he fought for years on the side of the Huguenots in the French civil wars, and afterward took part in the war in Ireland.

On his return from Ireland, he is said to have won the queen’s favor by throwing his new plush cloak into a muddy place in the road for her to walk on. It is certain that by some means he rose rapidly at court. Having received from Queen Elizabeth a charter which gave him a large territory in America, he sent out an exploring expedition in 1584, ninety-two years after the discovery by Columbus. Eighty-seven years had passed since John Cabot, in an English ship, first discovered the coast of North America, which had lain all this time unexplored, a mystery and a puzzle to the Old World.

General, view, London, Thornton, 18th, century,
General view of London. From Thornton’s “London” 1784.

Raleigh sends out an expedition.

Raleigh’s expedition was commanded by two captains named Amidas and Barlowe. They landed on that part of the coast which we now call North Carolina. The country pleased them very much. They were especially wonder-struck at the surpassing abundance of wild grapes for which the North Carolina coast has always been famous, and they tell of great vines “climbing toward the tops of high cedars.” To the first Indian they encountered, they presented a shirt and a hat, in which garments he probably felt very fine, for he rowed a little way off from the ship and fell to fishing ‘with his rude tackle, and ‘when he had almost swamped his canoe with fish, he divided them between the white men in the two ships. An Indian chief who visited the ships fancied a bright tin dish more than anything else the white men had. Having procured it by exchange, he made a hole in it, and hung it on his breast as an ornament.

Elizabeth I, Queen, England, Ireland.
Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) Queen of England and Ireland.

The expedition returns.

Raleigh’s expedition stayed about six weeks in the New World, and, everything here being strange to the eyes of the explorers, they fell into many mistakes in trying to describe what they saw and heard. When they got back to England, they declared that the part of America they had seen was the paradise of the world.

Virginia named.

Raleigh was much encouraged by the accounts which his two captains gave of the new country they had found. It was named Virginia at this time, in honor of Queen Elizabeth, who was often called the “Virgin Queen.” But the name Virginia, which we apply to two of our States, was then used for all the territories claimed by the English in America— that is to say, for the whole coast of the United States between Maine and Georgia, so far as it was known.

Raleigh’s first colony.

In 1585, the year after the return of the first expedition, Raleigh sent out a colony to remain in America. Sir Richard Grenville (Raleigh’s distant cousin), a famous seaman, had command of this expedition; but he soon returned to England, leaving the colony in charge of Ralph Lane (Sir Ralph Lane c. 1532 – October 1603). There were no women in Ralph Lane’s company. They made their settlement on Roanoke Island, which lies near to the coast of North Carolina, and they explored the mainland in many directions.

Roanoke, Island, Virginia, Sir, Walter, Raleigh
The colony of Roanoke Island was located on the island of Roanoke Island, off the east coast of the American state of North Carolina. It was founded on 17 August 1585 with 108 men, making it the first English colony in North America.

They spent much time in trying to find gold, and they seem to have thought that the shell-beads worn by the Indians were pearls. Like all the others who came to America in that time, they were very desirous of finding a way to get across America, which they believed to be very narrow. They hoped to reach the Pacific Ocean, and so open a new way of sailing to China and the East Indies.

Lane tries to find the Pacific Ocean.

The Indians by this time were tired of the white men, and anxious to be rid of them. They told Lane that the Roanoke River came out of a rock so near to a sea at the west that the water sometimes dashed from the sea into the river making the water of the river salt. Lane believed this story, and set out with most of his men to find a sea at the head of the river. Long before they got to the head of the Roanoke their provisions gave out. But Lane made a brave speech to his men, and they resolved to go on. Having nothing else to eat, they killed their two dogs, and cooked the meat with sassafras-leaves to give it a relish. When this meat was exhausted, they got into their boats and ran swiftly down the river, having no food to eat on the way home. Lane got back to Roanoke Island just in time to keep the Indians from killing the men he had left there.

Sir, Fancis Drake, Elizabethan era, captain, privateer
Sir Fancis Drake ( c. 1540 – 27 January 1596). English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, explorer, later vice-admiral and the first English world sailor during the Elizabethan era.

Unluckily, the colony at this time had an unexpected visitor. Sir Francis Drake, one of the greatest of the naval commanders, who, in a previous voyage, had discovered the coast of California, and sailed round the globe in the track of Magellan, had been about this time attacking the Spanish in the West Indies. On his return he put in at Roanoke Island to inquire after the colony. He furnished the company on the island with a ship and with whatever else they needed. But, while he remained at Roanoke, a storm arose which drove to sea the ship he had given to Lane. This so discouraged the colonists that they returned to England in Drake’s ships.

Tobacco brought to England.

Ralph Lane and his companions were the first to carry tobacco into England. They learned from the Indians to smoke it in Indian fashion, by drawing the smoke into their mouths and puffing it out through their nostrils. Raleigh adopted the practice, and many distinguished men and women followed his example. The use of tobacco was greatly promoted by an erroneous opinion of the time that it had great medicinal virtue. Some of the first tobacco-pipes in England were made by using a walnut-shell for the bowl of the pipe and a straw for the stem. It is related that, when Raleigh’s servant first saw his master with the smoke coming from his nose, he thought him to be on fire, and poured a pitcher of ale, which he was fetching, over Sir Walter Raleigh’s head, to put the fire out.

Sir, Walter, Raleigh, English, sailor, explorer.
Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1554 – 1618).

Raleigh’s second colony.

Raleigh set to work, with the help of others to send out another colony. This time he sent women and children, as well as men, intending to make a permanent settlement. The governor of this company was John White, an artist, who had been with Lane’s colony.

White made many interesting drawings of the people, plants, and animals of the country,and some of his drawings are still preserved in London. In the chapters of this book devoted to the Indians are some pictures made from White’s drawings. Soon after White’s company had settled themselves on Roanoke Island, an English child was born. This little girl, being the first English child born in Virginia, was named Virginia Dare (August 18, 1587). Virginia Dare’s parents were Eleanor and Ananias Dare. Eleanor Dare was the daughter of John White.

Raleigh’s second colony disappears.

John White (c. 1540 – c. 1593), the governor of the colony, who was Virginia Dare’s grandfather, went back to England for supplies. He was detained by the war with Spain, and, when he got back to Roanoke Island, the colony had disappeared. Raleigh had spent so much money already that he was forced to give up the attempt to plant a colony in America. But he sent several times to seek for the lost people of his second colony, without finding them. Twenty years after John White left them, it was said that seven of them were still alive among the Indians of North Carolina.

Sir Walter Raleigh, engraving, Vaughan,
Sir Walter Raleigh from an engraving by Vaughan.

Death of Raleigh.

After the failure of White’s colony, Raleigh engaged in the defense of England against the Spanish Armada. On the accession of James I, he was thrown into the Tower of London, where he was kept for more than twelve years, and then released. In 1618 King James had this great man put to death to please the King of Spain.

Traitors, Gate, Tower,London,
Traitors Gate. St Thomas’s Tower. Tower of London.

When Raleigh was about to be beheaded, he felt of the edge of the axe, and said, “It is a sharp medicine to cure me of all my diseases.” He was a great soldier, a great statesman, a great seaman, an excellent historian, and a charming poet. He is said to have first planted the potato in Ireland. But our interest in him here arises from the fact that his was the first colony of English people that was ever actually landed in this country, and his experiments first showed the true way of planting colonies in North America.

Rule Britannia,
Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves; Britons never, never, never Shall be slaves.


  • The Household History of the United States and its people by Edward Eggleston. Published in London 1889.
  • Great Ralegh by Hugh De Sélincourt (1878-1951). London: Methuen & Co. 1908.


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