The Roanoke Voyages (1584-1590), Second of Five Roanoke Voyages with Emphasis on Geographic Naming

The following is the fourth segment of a guest blog post series by Roger L. Payne, author of The Outer Banks Gazetteer: The History of Place Names from Carova to Emerald Isle. A book over twenty years in the making, The Outer Banks Gazetteer is a comprehensive reference guide to the region’s place names—over 3,000 entries in all. Click here to view Roger Payne’s entire guest blog series.

Upon receiving a favorable report from Amadas and Barlowe on their return from their voyage of reconnoiter in 1584, Raleigh authorized and funded the first attempt to establish an English colony in the New World. Actually, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Raleigh’s half-brother, had been granted patents in North America before Raleigh; these gave him, for a limited time, exclusive rights for trade, colonization, or other actions. Gilbert’s first attempt where he was accompanied by Raleigh did not make it to North America and returned to England. On his second attempt in 1583, Gilbert attemptedthe first English colony in North America in what is now Newfoundland, Canada. However, the colonists became disenchanted and after a few weeks convinced Gilbert to return them to England. During the return voyage, Humphrey and his ship were lost. Meanwhile, his half-brother Raleigh, was in high favor at Elizabeth I’s court and so he was granted Gilbert’s and other similar patents for North America. The initial purpose for attempts at colonization was to challenge and overcome Spanish influence in North America.

The second voyage was the first attempt by the English at establishing a colony in North America (not the lost colony; Gilbert’s attempt in Newfoundland was short-lived). Five ships plus two pinnaces (a small ship with shallow draft for navigating shallow water and useful on the Outer Banks) under the command of Sir Richard Grenville left England on April 9, 1585. Grenville’s party arrived at Ocracoke Inlet, and spent two weeks exploring Ocracoke and some indigenous peoples’ villages on the mainland west of Ocracoke. There are no known maps or drawings of Grenville’s foray at Ocracoke. One of the ships, the Tygre, ran aground on a shoal in Ocracoke Inlet spoiling most of its cargo of food. It was reported that the mishap was through error by the pilot, Simon Fernándes, for whom the inlet near Roanoke Island (Gunt Inlet) was named a bit later. While this might seem peculiar, Fernándes is noted with discovering the inlet, and so in accordance with the right of discovery at the time could have the inlet named for himself. There is still the controversy as to whether the inlet was named by Amadas and Barlow in 1584 or by Grenville in 1585 (see First Voyage, Parts 1 and 2) though more agree now with naming in 1585 (this second voyage).

There were 107 soldiers left on northern Roanoke Island, which was more of an outpost to challenge the Spanish in the “New World.”  Their supplies became exhausted and relations with the local indigenous people had deteriorated considerably. So, this colony was abandoned. Actually, Lane (the leader) had already (secretly) decided to “change” the location of the colony because it became clear that the Roanoke Island area was not suited to a colony as there was no deep-water port and the sounds were shallow and filled with shoals. Further, the situation with the indigenous peoples had deteriorated to a point where reinforcements were necessary. Additionally, it was known that there was a deep-water port about 50 miles north in the Chesapeake area. 

Francis Drake was a naval officer and privateer, as well as the second person to circumnavigate the Earth, for which he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. It is unclear whether Drake intended to visit the Roanoke Colony as a relief expedition or merely decided on his return to England to visit the colony. Hakluyt (1590) relates or implies that Drake merely decided to visit the colony on his way home. Anyway, Drake arrived in July 1586 just over a year since Lane and his military colony had arrived at Roanoke. Drake arrived with his vast fleet of 23 ships and well over 2,000 men, and Lane requested supplies and even two ships in case the relief ship did not arrive in a reasonable time. Drake agreed, and Lane was most appreciative and decided to stay, but after further consideration of the mostly hostile situation that had gradually developed because of misunderstandings and the actions of the colonists, no supplies, and no information regarding Grenville’s promised supply expedition, Lane decided to vacate the colony, which he did and to which Drake also agreed. Lane had already decided to vacate based upon the notion that a better harbor “Chesapeake” was to the north and ought to be the place of the colony. So, on June 19, 1586, Lane, and all but three men (who were missing) abandoned Roanoke and left with Drake for England.

From the second voyage and the colony lasting about one year there are few place names recorded. White’s 1585 map uses only indigenous names for general areas with no names applied directly by Lane or those in the colony. No doubt, Lane and others would have assigned some names necessarily since the function of naming is to communicate accurately by identifying and labeling landmarks in an otherwise undifferentiated spatial environment. But strangely, no crude maps or papers using geographic names survive. 

There were three letters from Lane to Sir Francis Walsingham (Secretary to Queen Elizabeth and later an ominous factor for The Lost Colony). In the second letter Lane identifies three “entries” “Trynytye Harborough,” “Ococan,” and “Porte Ferdynande.” There is no mention of another inlet, which would later be Port Lane (named for Lane) because it was a close companion to Port Ferdinando and simply too small and unreliable to mention but labeled clearly (unnamed) on White’s map of 1585. Use of Port Scarborough for Port Lane has been a mystery to many researchers, as it appears in Sainsbury’s (1860) rendition of Lane’s letter and nowhere else. However, examination concludes that in transcribing Sainsbury’s rendition, Lane’s reference “beste harboroughe” was misinterpreted or transcribed incorrectly as “Scarborough.” 

Ococan was one of the many variations of the time of Wokokon, the name generally used for most of what is now Ocracoke Island and Portsmouth Island. Lane indicates “Beste harborough of all the reste, ys the porte which is called Ferdynando, dyscoverdde by the master and pylotte maggiore of our fleete, you honor’sservant, Symon Ferdynando (Simon Fernándes).” Even so, Grenville’s log clearly indicates from “our Fleete ankering at Wococon, we wayed anker for Hatorask” (general name for the area around Port Ferdinando). Trynytye Harborough (Trinety Harbor) is a religious name though unknown specifically by whom it was named, but seemingly by Thomas Hariot during Grenville’s voyage (second Roanoke voyage).  Also, Lane indicates, Thomas Hariot (illustrator on the voyage) had a Bible and often religious terms were used in dealing with indigenous peoples (Lane’s 1585 second letter to Walsingham). 

Roger L. Payne is executive secretary emeritus of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.