Ralph Lane has been governor of the Roanoke Colony since August 1585. Left by Sir Richard Grenville with 107 men, he first set out to maintain neighborly relationship with the Secotans, haggling with them over food supply in exchange for various presents and a possible military support in the warfare jolting regularly the tribes of the area. It is with these Algonquian-speaking Natives that the colonists had most contacts. Their territory was located between Albemarle Sound and the mouth of the Pamlico River, extending westward to current Beaufort County. People living on the nearby islands and the outer banks also seemed related to Secotans.
The tribe was not however the most powerful of the region. Those living north of Abemarle Sound, such as Weapemeocs, Chowanokes or Moratucs, were more populous. The Chowanokes, in particular were about 2500, what had strongly impressed Ralph Lane during a reconnaissance mission. Nearly 7000 Algonquian Indians were estimated to live at the time in this area. The Secotans were, in turn, divided in eight villages. Their territory was certainly extensive, but mostly covered with unhealthy swamps. They welcomed the foreigners, attracted by the display of junk jewellery they hung out with them and got willingly rid in exchange for some corncobs and dried fish.
Meanwhile, the Secotans began to suffer the initial effects of smallpox, brought incidentally by Europeans and already had their first dead.
Ralph Lane (ca. 1528 - October 1603) – this professional soldier born in Northampton attended Oxford University before entering Queen Elizabeth's service as an equerry. Elected member of Parliament first in 1558, he had especially to be recognized for his military skills after quashing in 1569 a rebellion in Scotland. He participated during the 1570's in several naval operations against the Spaniards and was from 1583 assigned to the building of forts in Ireland. It is certainly thanks to his experience that he was chosen at the age of 57 to become the first governor of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony.
March, 1586 - Granganimeo dies from disease, probably smallpox. King Wingina, his brother, takes now the name of Pemisapan.
After the death of his brother, Wingina asserted by changing name his willingness to reconsider his relationship with the settlers and Ralph Lane in particular, whose arrogance and pressure they exerted on his tribe in their constant quest of supplies had raised such a hostility that he planned to chase them away. Crops had been specially poor the previous year due to an unusual drought and the demands of the English colonists exceeded what could offer the neighboring tribes, already under the threat of scarcity.
March, 1586 - Having been informed by Wingina (now Pemisapan) that Chowanoke leader Menatonon has gathered a great council to discuss with his allies of a surprise attack against the colonists and that he urged to commit 7000 bowmen, Ralph Lane goes hastily to him, decided to capture him unawares.
He traveled 130 miles up Abermale Sound to reach Menatonon's town and took him prisoner. There he realized that he had been fooled by Pemisapan for the so-called meeting seemed never to have taken place. Lane was nevertheless undoubtedly impressed by the personality of the old Indian leader who appeared to him a wise man worthy of respect. He spent then two days to question him.
Menatonon informed the English governor that after a thirty to forty days’ journey northwards was a kingdom where pearls were found in abundance. The land called Chaunis Temoatan was held by the Mangoaks and known to be also rich in copper ore. Menatonon was not unaware of the English interest for precious materials and directing them towards fairly distant territories (probably Chesapeake Bay) was mainly a way for him to take them away from the area and spare to provide them food at a time when supplies were at their lowest. Excited by what the Indian leader said, Ralph Lane wished to leave immediately to visit this territory, considering despite the fears of the most advised that he had enough men. He followed the guidelines of Menatonon and ventured more forward in search of the Mangoaks. He took care however to keep in hostage the weroance Skiko, a Menatonon's son, having him brought to Roanoke.
April 2, 1586 - Watching over the unlikely behavior of local Indians, Manteo discourages Ralph Lane to go further, realizing that they are about to attack their group.
April 4, 1586 - Ralph Lane and his men set up their camp on an island. Out of supplies, they have to satisfy with a soup of sassafras leaves.
April 5, 1586 - Ralph Lane loses some of his boats, sunk due to the wind at the deepening swell.
April 7, 1586 - Ralph Lane is back safe to Roanoke. None is missing.
Lane’s lingering absence had begun to weigh on those who remained in Roanoke and it was feared that his expedition has turned to disaster or that they died of starvation. The rumors of their death came to an end when they were back but what reported Lane and the fact that he hadn’t lost any of his men did not fail to amaze Pemisapan.
His exploration however resulted in a failure. The American Natives had known how to take advantage of this eagerness and it has become obvious that they attempted to unite against the newcomers whose greed made now the common enemy. By getting on with the settlers, Wingina (now Pemisapan) had hoped to benefit from their superior weaponry to overcome the Nieusoks, a neighboring tribe against which the Secotans were at war for several years. Unwilling to get involved in these quarrels, Ralph Lane had opposed a refusal which subsequently stirred up the hostility of the Indians towards the English.
April 20, 1586 - King Wingina's father Ensenore dies from disease.
Ensenore had always supported the settlers, being convinced that they were none other than the servants of a god come back to earth with the power to kill remotely without be injured by the Indians. Wingina did not believe in these powers but he was the first one surprised to see Ralph Lane returning safe from a high-risk expedition which should have fatally led him to disaster.
With the death of Ensenore, the English lost their ultimate support in the Secotan's council. Wingina (Pemisapan) had now free rein to plan an attack against the English village. He would take advantage of ceremonies bound to mourning his father to come closer to the settlers' houses and set them on fire. He hoped for this operation to gather at least 1500 warriors armed with bows and arrows.
Late April, 1586 - Having vainly tried to get back his son Skiko held hostage by Ralph Lane, Menatonon sends Weapemoc leader Okisko declare to the governor that his people swear allegiance to the Queen of England and recognize her as their sole sovereign. Pemisapan is informed about this submission.
Inducted by Menatonon, Okisko's approach could be perceived as a victory for Gov. Ralph Lane but it was in fact in the interest of the Chowanoke leader to deal with the settlers as far as he could expect their support to maintain his authority on the tribes of the area without suffering the same pressure as the Secotans who lived constantly in their contact.
May, 1586 - Swayed by Wanchese who has vowed since his return from England a deep resentment to the colonists, Wingina (now Pemisapan) decides to deny them all food supplies. The fishtraps are accordingly destroyed and the promised corn is not sewn.
As governor, Ralph Lane did not certainly have enough diplomacy to get along with his neighbors, preferring threat and confrontation. This tactical choice proved unrewarding for, lack of supplies, foodstuff became to run out and Lane was forced to send men to the nearby islands, to collect oysters and différent shells. Master Prideaux and 10 settlers went to Hatoraske while Captain Stafford and twenty others went to Croatoan Island, south of Cape Hatteras. Some were sent from time to time on the main land in search of native food.
This new strategy had the effect to weaken the vigilance of the English by spreading them through the area. Pemisapan took advantage of it to develop his plan of attack by summoning a great council attended to include the Weapemocs although they had a little earlier sworn allegiance to the Queen of England. It was agreed to send by night about twenty warriors to the settlers' village and to set fire to their thatched houses starting with Ralph Lane's one. The colonists would then be killed when trying to escape. Despite the promise to recover a good amount of copper, the plan did not suit the Weapemocs nor the Chowanokes who preferred to remain neutral. The Mandoags, however, chose to ally Pemisapan.
May 31, 1586 - Having been informed that Gov. Ralph Lane soon has to go to Croatoan, Pemisapan gathers hastily his forces at Dasamonquepeuc with the aim of launching his attack on Roanoke Island.
Pemisapan believed that he could befriend young Skiko, held hostage by the English, and told him the details of the attack he had planned on June 10. It was without counting on Ralph Lane's craftiness. Skiko had become in a way his hired man and reported to him what were the Secotan leader plans before launching false news such as his moving to Croatoan which was in fact only a lure.
May 31, 1586 - Gov. Ralph Lane sends at night a group of soldiers to Dasamonquepeuc on a mission to seize Indians' canoes. Two Secotan guards are killed and their heads cut off while the alert is given. Pemisapan's bowmen put themselves in order but four are quickly shot dead by English weapons. The Indians prefer to scatter in the woods.
Ralph Lane had just successfully led a preventive expedition. The plans patiently built by Pemisapan came from shattering and his warriors had fled in nature.
June 1, 1586 - Ralph Lane lands at Dasamonquepeuc with 25 men. He sends looking for Pemisapan with the aim of having a meeting. This one comes with 8 of his weroances without realizing that he is falling into a trap.
Ralph Lane launched the strike signal, shouting: “Christ our victory " while Captain Edward Satfford fired to the Indian leader a pistol shot. Wounded, Pemisapan fled to the woods. The company left at once after him. He was shot at first in the buttocks by young Lane's servant Edward Kelly, before being fatally injured by Edward Nugent who reappeared a moment later holding the Secotan leader's head in his hands.
Ralph Lane was aware to have won a weak victory, for the killing of Pemisapan brought in a definitive way an end to the attempt of living peacefully with the Natives. The survival of the colony seemed at the moment compromised and future could only be planned in confrontation.
June 8, 1586 - Ralph Lane is warned by Captain Edward Stafford that an important fleet is at anchor off the banks, about 2 miles from the shore. He tallied up 23 ships without having time to check if they were friends or foes.
June 9, 1586 - The fleet caught sight the day before is none other than Sir Francis Drake's, loaded with a tremendous booty seized to the Spaniards. He personally confides to captain Stafford a letter for Governor Ralph Lane in which he offers to supply the settlers with all what they need regarding ammunitions, clothes, food and even boats.
After his victorious raid on St Augustine, June 1, Sir Francis Drake had decided to take a detour to the coastal North Carolina at the request of his second, captain Christopher Carleill, a son-in-law of Sir Francis Walsingham who had been personally involved in the exploration of the New World since 1574 and a failed attempt to found a settlement in Cape Breton.
June 10, 1586 - Sir Francis Drake casts anchor in the little harbor of Roanoke Island.
June 11, 1586 - Ralph Lane meets Sir Francis Drake in Roanoke and thanks him warmly for his offer but asks on the other hand if he could take with him the sick and weakened men in exchange of some fit soldiers. Lane takes also opportunity to ask Drake to put at least one ship at his disposal so that his men and him could plan their return to England.
Drake offered Lane to choose between two solutions. He agreed to give the settlers a ship with one or two canoes and enough crew but they would have to wait until August before leaving Roanoke, or they could, if they preferred, go back with him without delay. Mindful not to give up the project of colonization, Lane accepted the first proposal and the boat was granted.
It lasted three days causing many damages with the loss of several boats among which the one that had just been given to Ralph Lane.
Drake did not renounce his offer and gave Lane the Bark Bonner, a 150-ton vessel owned by William Hawkins. Too large to enter the single harbor of the island, the ship had however to be left at sea. This new offer was risky and fearing that Grenville does not reappear, Lane thought more reasonable to return without further delay to England, especiallly as the war simmering with Spain could jeopardize the connections between Europe and America.
June 18, 1586 - Sir France Drake sets sail to England after boarding all the survivors of the colony including also Manteo and another Indian named Towaye.
June 19, 1586 - Ironically, a supply ship sent by Sir Walter Raleigh arrives at Hatoraske (Hatteras) but returns soon to England after the crew looked in vain for the settlers.
July 3, 1586 - Sir Richard Grenville arrives in his turn with a 3-ship fleet and casts anchor near Roanoke. He also searches in vain settlers but as there is no question for him to let unclaimed a territory falling under the Queen of England, he leaves 15 men on the island with supplies for two years. Then he goes back to England.
Grenville left for his family lands in Bideford, Devonshire, where he has just set up a harbor intended for trade with America.
July 27, 1586 - Sir Francis Drake arrives at Portsmouth with Ralph Lane and the first colonists.
Lane had to explain the reasons for this hasty return. He tried to justify to Sir Walter Raleigh by making him deliver his book entitled "The Discourage of the First Colony" but had to give up the idea of being assigned another colonial command.