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

The following is the sixth 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.

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The Fourth Voyage is Raleigh’s second attempt at colonization and has become known as the famed Lost Colony.

It is important to realize from the outset and by design the Chesapeake area was the destination of the colony and not Roanoke. Recall two years earlier Lane had already decided that the first colony was to be moved to the Chesapeake area had it continued. While reports from Roanoke were favorable (perhaps somewhat contrived), it was known that there had been hostile relations created with the local indigenous peoples from the first abandoned colony, and all reports indicated that the harbor and site were much better in the Chesapeake area. Raleigh, by this time, had changed his view of the colony’s composition from solely military to one of permanence and one with families to be a success. So, Raleigh had recruited 85 men and 17 women with nine children – some were families, and some were intending for their families to join them later. These colonists departed from England in three ships on May 8, 1587 and arrived at Hatarask (Port Ferdinando).

 “The two and twentieth of July wee arrived safe at Hatoraske, where our ship and pinnesse ankered…[a pinnace – modern spelling – is a small boat with a shallow draft used in shallow water]”. 

Note, that even though named Port Ferdinando two years earlier, Hataraske was still used as it referred to the general area. The stated reason for stopping at Roanoke was only to confer with the 15 soldiers left by Grenville in 1586 since the Chesapeake was the actual destination. They found no trace except the skeleton of one soldier. They made inquiries and were told by the local indigenous peoples that the others left Roanoke Island by boat and no more was known or discovered about the remaining soldiers.

The colonists then were supposed to continue about 50 miles or so to the region of the Chespians (Chesapeake) where there was reportedly a deep-water port and better sites for a colony, and which represented the explicit hand-written instructions of Sir Walter Raleigh. The original conference with the 15 soldiers not being possible, it is indicated;

 “…to return again to the fleete, and passe along the coast, to the Bay of Chesepiok, where we intended to make our seate and forte…

For some unknown reason (a flimsy one given – see below), Fernándes, the expedition’s pilot (also pilot with the previous two voyages by Amadas & Barlowe, 1584 and Grenville, 1585) refused to transport the colony about 50 miles northward to the Chesapeake area, the original, announced, and declared destination indicating that it was too late in the season to continue. Some believe and circumstantial evidence indicates direct and deliberate treachery on the part of Fernándes because in a complicated turn of affairs years earlier, Fernándes had become a confidant of Walsingham, the “trusted” advisor of Queen Elizabeth I, a man who was reportedly jealous of Raleigh by his rapid rise to favor with Queen Elizabeth. So, Walsingham attempted at every turn to cause Raleigh to fail in his endeavors. There was suspicion that through Fernándes’s inexplicable refusal to transport the colonists to the Chesapeake area (a mere 50 miles or less), Walsingham then doomed the colony and colonists at a place (Roanoke) where any relief ships would not as readily find them as it was not their announced destination. The further relations with the indigenous people (except the Croatoan, Manteo’s people) were known to have been irreparably damaged by the attempted military colony previously established but now departed with Drake. So, inexplicably the colonists and their Governor John White allowed Fernándes to prevail, and the entire colony was “abandoned” at Roanoke. The ship’s captain was strangely silent on the entire matter.

There were problems from the outset such as the death by indigenous peoples of a colonist who had wandered off alone, and the indigenous peoples were clearly less friendly than with Amadas & Barlowe (first voyage) and initially with the first colony (second voyage). The colonists had arrived late in the growing season (end of July), and so dwindling supplies and lack of a harvestable crop were a problem. It was clear that someone must return to England to organize a relief expedition. There was discussion and argument and finally White (the colony’s governor and Virginia Dare’s grandfather) was approached and he reluctantly agreed to return to England and then return immediately with supplies. 

On August 18, Virginia Dare was born, the first English child born in North America to Aninias Dare and Elyonor [sic] Dare. A few days later a little-known event was the birth of a son to Dyonis Harvie and Margery Harvie (given name of child not known).

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