1584 - Captains Amadas and Barlowe

The first trip to Roanoke

Sir Walter Raleigh
April 27, 1584 - Captains Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe leave Plymouth on two boats well provided in men and supplies with mission to explore the North American coast, looking for a suitable place to found a sustainable settlement. Sir Walter Raleigh has chosen to give up the north route, fatal a few months earlier to his brother-in-law Sir Humphrey Gilbert, to follow the usual ship track through Canary Islands and the Caribbean.

The expedition had been planned by Sir Walter Raleigh, just granted by Queen Elizabeth a six-year charter (similar to letters patent originally granted to his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert, died at sea a few months earlier), allowing him to occupy, plant and benefit from the lands that he would discover in a large area between Newfoundland and Florida, until then barbarous territories never inhabited by Christians.
The group of explorers included in particular pilot Simon Fernandes, native of the Azores, formerly the first mate on the Falcon captained by Raleigh, and most likely an agent in the service of Secretary of State Sir Francis Walsingham. In 1579, Fernandes had already achieved a trip towards the Maine coast during a three months whirlwind tour. His sailing knowledge would enable him to have an important part in most other expeditions to Roanoke Island. 

The Dorothy
Phillip Amadas (c.1565 -?) commanded the flagship who was certainly the Bark Raleigh, a 200-ton vessel. Born in Plymouth, he belonged to Sir Walter Raleigh's household and probably learned instrumental navigation from geographist Thomas Hariot. It is doubtless that he enjoyed Raleigh's full trust to be appointed at 19 at the head of a so risky exploration.

Arthur Barlowe (c.1550 – c. 1620) commanded the second ship, maybe the Dorothy, a 50-ton vessel who was the next year to take part in the first expedition to Roanoke. Barlowe had known Sir Walter Raleigh in 1580 at the time of the war in Ireland and was since in his service. 

May 10, 1584 – The expedition arrives at the Canaries.

June 10, 1584 – The expedition stops in the West Indies.

July 2, 1584 - The expedition approaches the coast of North Carolina next to Wococon (Ocracoke Island), an outer bank about 60 miles South of Roanoke Island. Both captains take possession of the territory on Queen Elizabeth's behalf and for the benefit of Sir Walter Raleigh, as stated in his charter.

Barlowe and Amadas found the place very sandy and flat on the shore side but rich of a quantity of vines growing both on the sand, in the plains and surrounding hills, climbing to the top of tall cedars, to the point that it seemed to them that such luxuriance could not be met anywhere else.

Scuppernong grapes (muscadine) growing on Roanoke
Starting  from their mooring, they scoured the neigh-

boring hills, from where they could realize that they were on a strip of land that stretched northward, interspersed with several inlets. After enjoying the sight, they fired a musket-shot on a flock of cranes the shouts of which were amplified by a series of echoes, as if a whole army had fired to them.
The Outer Banks and Roanoke Island
July 7, 1584 - The explorers see approaching a boat with three men on board. One of them, obviously a scout dispatched by the local Indian tribe, lands on the shore and goes to meet them. Not understanding his language, the English invite him aboard their ship to share their meal. The vibe is friendly and after receiving various gifts, the man leaves visibly pleased.

July 8, 1584 - the English are visited by Granganimeo, the brother of Wingina, king of the native Secotan tribe.

Granganimeo was escorted with 40 to 50 men whom Arthur Barlowe described as handsome and fine looking. The king's brother introduced himself in great ceremony in a way that easily bore comparison with an European monarch.

....."When hee came to the place, his seruants spread a long matte vppon the grounde, on which he sate downe, and at the other ende of the matte, foure others of his companie did the like: the rest of his men stood round about him, somewhat a farre off: when we came to the shoare to him with our weapons, he neuer mooued from his place, nor any of the other foure, nor neuer mistrusted any harme to be offred from vs, but sitting still he beckoned vs to come, and sitte by him, which we performed: and beeing sette, hee makes all signes of ioy, and welcome, striking on his head and his breast and afterwardes on ours, to shewe wee were all one, smiling, and making shewe the best he could of all loue, and familiaritie. ".....
Trading with the Native Americans
July 9, 1584 – The explorers begin to trade with the Indians, offering them hatchets, axes, knives and various gifts in exchange of pelts.

July 12, 1584Granganimeo comes again aboard the English ship and particularly seems to like their food and their wine.

A few days later, he brought with him his wife and children.

Secotan woman
(John White)
 .... "After two or three daies, the King's brother came aboard our shippes, and dranke wine, and eat of our meat and of our bread, and liked exceedingly thereof: and after a daies ouerpassed, he brought his wife with him to the ships, his daughter, and two or three litlle children: his wife was very favoured, of meane stature, and very bashfull: shee had on her backe a long cloake of leather, with the furre side next to her bodie, and before her a peece of the same: about her forehead she had a broad bande of white corall, and so had her husband many times: in her eares she had bracelets of pearles, hanging downe to her middle, (whereof wee delivered your Worship a little bracelet) and those were of the bignes of good pease. 
The rest of her women of the better sorte, had pendants of copper, hanging in euery ear, and some of the children of the King's brother, and other noble men, have fiue or sixe in euery eare: he himselfe had vpon his head, a broad plate of golde, or copper, for being vnpolished, we knew not what metall it should be, nor would he by any meanes suffer vs to take it off his head, but feeling it, it would bowe very easily. His apparell was as his wiues, onely the women weare theire haire long on both sides, and the men but on one. They are of colour yellowish, and their haire black for the most, and yet we sawe children that has very fine aburne, and chestnut colour haire."....

Roanoke Island
July 13, 1584 - The explorers reach an inlet leading to an island named Roanoke by the Native Indians. They call it Port Ferdinando in honor of the pilot of the Admirall vessel Simon Fernandes who was the first one to discover it.
Arthur Barlowe and seven of his companions sailed towards the northern end of the island where they found the Natives village surrounded with a palisade. They were urged to attend a ceremony that seemed them rather primitive although very hospitable and they described the inhabitants as gentle, friendly and cordial.

Dancing Secotan Indians
(John White)
...."and the evening following wee came to an Island which they call Roanoak, distant from the harbour by which we entred, seven leagues: and at the North end thereof was a village of nine houses, built of Cedar, and fortified round  about with sharpe trees, to keepe out their enemies, and the entrance into it made like a turnepike very artificially;  when wee came towardes it, standing neere unto the waters side, the wife of Granganimo the Kings brother came running out to meete us very cheerfully and friendly, her usband was not then in the village; some of her people shee  commanded to drawe our boate on shore forthe beating of the billoe: others she appointed to carry us on their backes  to the dry ground, and others to bring our oares into the house for feare of stealing. When we were come into the utter  roome, having five roomes in her house, she caused us to sit downe by a great fire, and after tooke off our clothes and washed them, and dryed them againe: some of the women plucked off our stockings and washed them, some washed our feete in warme water, and she herselfe tooke great paines to see all things ordered in the best maner shee could, making great haste to dresse some meate for us to eate".....

Secotan woman and her child
(John White)
Mid-August 1584 - Amadas and Barlowe return to England, bringing with them two local Indians, the Croatan Manteo and the Roanoke Winchese.

Barlowe described Roanoke Island as particularly fecund, filled with cedars and all kinds of trees, rich in fruit, linen and many other interesting products. Game and fish were also abundant. The Croatoans occupied the Outer Banks in the area of Cape Hatteras where they lived mainly on hunting and fishing. Their village named Wococon was located next to present-day Ocracoke while their chief town bearing the tribe's name was not far from Cape Creek.
The Roanoke Indians, most often called Secotan, after one of their main towns, lived on the island to which they gave their name and a portion of the mainland where prevailed forests and swamps. The tribe was divided into a dozen villages.

The report of this voyage presented to Sir Walter Raleigh was enthusiastic, what had nothing amazing insofar nature offered, in summer, all its opulence and Native Americans showed, at this time of the year, to be very generous.
Two of them, Wanchese and Manteo, were moreover brought back by Amadas and Barlowe in order to demonstrate the peacefulness of these coastal people. Queen Elizabeth no longer concealed her interest for the project to colonize this land to which she gave the name of Virginia. It is commonly admitted that Raleigh, Lord of the new territory, known for his poetic ability, was undoubtedly involved in this way of immortalizing the sovereign.
Beyond the peaceful welcome reserved to the explorers by Wingina's people emerges however from Barlowe's report deadly rivalries among the Indian tribes and the dominance of an everlasting state of warfare. He describes often cruel and bloody fights, followed with crops and villages destructions leaving for long a deserted landscape.
It is not harmless to note that the Secotan king Wingina could never meet personally the English since he was just recovering from injuries further to a combat against the leader of a neighboring tribe. Warfare seemed to be the major pastime of these people described by Barlowe as of very healthy physical looking. That was not however the case of the explorers who, certainly exhausted by their journey, really had to look grimy. It was certainly a reason why Granganimeo's wife worried about them by asking her women to wash and dry their clothes and clean their feet.
The Secotans were fond of the things that offered them the English so much these seemed to them amazing as iron tools or knives far superior to those commonly used. Hardened in the handling of bows and arrows, they did not hide either their interest for English weapons including swords and firearms, hoping to gain the newcomers' support in their war against the Neusioks (Neiosioke) of which they were eager to take revenge since the latter had treacherously enjoyed a feast together before killing about thirty of their men and abducted women and children to enslave them. The purpose of their journey did not however allow the English to get involved in the quarrels of people whom they feared that they could change their minds about them if things worsened.

A Paradise on Earth?
The Outer Banks (NC)

What credibility could be granted to Arthur Barlowe's report? Although utterly valuable in describing topography, wildlife and the Natives way of living as well as their habits it reflects obviously a reality arranged to suit Sir Walter Raleigh's designs. It was actually in his interest that Virginia appears as an idyllic land, a true Eden in order to attract would-be settlers.
The Indians were described there as welcoming, friendly and peaceful but was it only the truth? Some accounts suggest conversely such a climate of violence among certain tribes and regular deadly confrontations. Such as it was presented, Barlowe’s report had a great impact and the propitious presence of both Indians Manteo and Winchese, well-liked and honored, helped to idealize Virginia in order to attract people fascinated by this New World looking like a promised land.

A mysterious shipwreck

The Secotans hinted at a mysterious shipwreck occurred off the Outer Banks about twenty years earlier. There would have been survivors who were taken in with hospitality before dispersing into the inland. This event would go back to the time when a group of French Protestants had attempted to establish a colony in the Port Royal Sound on Parris Island, South Carolina. 

French colonists slained by the Spaniards in South Carolina  (1562)
Started in 1562, this settlement led by Jean Ribault and relayed by René Laudonnière did not delay to iritate the Spaniards who, conveting Florida, did not spare their efforts to protect their interests against the French and English colonizing attempts. Regarding it as a threat, the Spanish troops hastened to seize the new fort, summarily executing all men and leaving only women to escape. Laudonnière managed to return to France while Ribault was back with a 5-ship fleet carrying 800 new settlers. This arrival induced the anger of the Spaniards who, with better weapons, made many prisoners and indulged in the methodical slaughtering of all those who did not proclaim themselves Catholic. Ribault was killed during the conflict while a storm raged over the region. Most of the settlers were slain during this adventure turned into a disaster and the few who escaped managed for some to go back to France, while others scattered among the Indian tribes. Their fate remained a mystery and it is likely that the wrecked ship which remembered the Secotans had a direct link with the dramatic events of this period.


  1. This is great stuff! Very helpful and useful in a number of ways. I hope you don't mind my using it for my podcast.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Of course, you can use it

    2. Thanks for your comment. Of course, you can use it

  2. Thanks for your comment. Of course, you can use it.

  3. Thanks for your comment. Of course, you can use it.