The Rising Shore - Roanoke: a novel by Deborah Homsher
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Elizabethan Explorers

Sir Humphrey Gilbert
Sir Walter Ralegh
Captain Philip Amadas and Captain Arthur Barlowe
Sir Richard Grenville and Ralph Lane
Sir Francis Drake

Sir Humphrey Gilbert

Sir Humphrey Gilbert was granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth in 1578 to search out and colonize new lands for England. He landed in Newfoundland and claimed it for the Queen, but the voyage from that point was not lucky and encountered dangerous weather. A daring man, Sir Gilbert decided to ride in one of his smaller ships and was drowned on the return to England. He is said to have cried out in the storm, "We are as near to heaven by sea as by land." Sir Gilbert was Sir Walter Ralegh's half brother.

Sir Walter Ralegh

For much of his life, Sir Walter Ralegh was prevented from joining any risky sea venture by Queen Elizabeth, who feared for his safety, though he did take part in the 1578 expedition led by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, his half-brother, who drowned during that expedition. When Gilbert's charter to the New World expired after his death at sea, Queen Elizabeth gave the license over to Ralegh. Ralegh sponsored and funded three notable expeditions to Virginia, in 1584, 1585, and 1587. The last venture, led by John White, left over a hundred English colonists settled on Roanoke Island. Three years later, when John White returned to search for his company, he could find no trace of those settlers.

In 1616, after Ralegh was released from the Tower of London, where he had been imprisoned for years by King James I, he did outfit a fleet to search for El Dorado. The mission was a failure, however, and Ralegh's own son, Walter, was killed by gunfire from a Spanish fort located on the Orinoco River. Two years later, Ralegh was executed by King James. Examining the axe that would cut off his head, he stated, "This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician for all diseases.

Sir Walter Ralegh was surely one of the most accomplished and extraordinary members of Queen Elizabeth's court.

More info for Sir Walter Ralegh.

Captain Philip Amadas and Captain Arthur Barlowe

Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe were the leaders of the first exploring party dispatched to Virginia by Sir Walter Ralegh in 1584. Their descriptions of the Outer Banks region were enthusiastic, even inventive. They made contact with the native Algonkians and with Wingina, chief of the Roanoke Island Indians (who would be murdered by the next band of English explorers to set up camp in the region). Amadas and Barlowe reported that the natives were "gentle, loving, and faithful." On their return to England, they brought along Manteo and Wanchese, two Algonkians who would figure dramatically in the story of the Lost Colony. Their lush account of the New World.

Sir Richard Grenville and Ralph Lane

Sir Richard Grenville became involved in many of the efforts to colonize Virginia. The cousin of Sir Walter Ralegh, Grenville was in charge of the second expedition, which reached the barrier islands of Virginia (now North Carolina) in June 1585. This company of scientists and soldiers remained in the region until June of the next year. They had frequent contact with the Algonkians, but relationships with the Native Americans deteriorated as winter set in and the English, who had no fields, continued to demand corn from the native leaders.

John White, Thomas Hariot, and Simon Fernandes were all part of this expedition. It was during this year that John White painted his watercolors of Virginia and Thomas Hariot gathered the extensive information on Virginia's minerals, plants, animals, and indigenous people that would make up his "Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia."

Sir Richard Grenville described a few of his encounters with the Algonkians; he reported that his men burned down an Indian village, Aquascogok, in retaliation for the suspected theft of a silver cup. Grenville soon departed from Virginia, however, returning to England to gather more supplies. He appointed Ralph Lane to be governor of the company in his absence. Ralph Lane and his men planted their fort on the north of Roanoke Island, where the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is now located.

Lane's relationships with the Algonkians begin cordially, but soon deteriorated. Under Lane's leadership, the English captured and held hostage the son of a powerful local chief, Menatonan, and later killed another Algonquin chief, Wingina, who had been providing them with corn from his own fields. Ralph Lane described these events in his report to Ralegh.

Sir Richard Grenville was delayed (as so many were) in his efforts to resupply the colony. As a result, conditions on Roanoke grew desperate for Lane's company. In June 1586, Lane and his men chose to abandon the fort and sail home with Sir Francis Drake's fleet.

Just a few weeks later, Grenville arrived with three supply ships. Finding the fort at Roanoke abandoned, he left fifteen men on the island to hold it. A year later, John White would learn from the Croatoans that these men had been attacked and a number of them killed by a band of hostile Algonkians. A few of the Englishmen reportedly escaped in a small boat. They were never seen again.

The 1585 voyage of Sir Richard Grenville, up through the Caribbean to Virginia, is fascinating in part because it contrasted so dramatically with John White's passage through that same region. Outfitted with a large, well-armed fleet of ships, Grenville was unafraid of the Spanish and managed to build a beach fort, steal salt, and trade for livestock while sailing among the smaller Caribbean islands and then continuing up to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola (Haiti). John White failed in all these things.

Sir Francis Drake

Like Sir Walter Ralegh, Sir Francis Drake was a towering figure in Elizabethan England. In 1577, he embarked on a voyage around the world, which he completed in 1580. He took part in the fierce English movement to establish plantations in Ireland and was present at a massacre of 600 Irish women and children in Ulster. As Vice Admiral, he helped command the English fleet that vanquished the Spanish Armada.

In the summer of 1586, the English company that had established its fort on Roanoke Island was running short of supplies and growing increasingly fearful of the Algonkians who surrounded them. They were greatly relieved by the sudden arrival of a great fleet of ships (many of them captured), led by Sir Francis Drake. Ralph Lane and his men chose to abandon their fort and sail home with Drake's fleet.

More information on Sir Francis Drake.


THE RISING SHORE - ROANOKE is a novel by Deborah Homsher.