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America's Beginnings

God's Plantation - Chapter 2

by Phyllis Mackall

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It is the goodliest and most pleasing territory of the world (for the soil is of a huge and unknown greatness, and very well peopled and towned though savagely) and the climate so wholesome that we have not had not one sick since we touched the land here... if Virginia had but horses and kine in some reasonable proportion, I dare assure myself, being inhabited with English, no realm in Christendom were comparable to it. -- Ralph Lane, governor of the first Roanoke Colony, 1585.

In 1584, the first of Sir Walter Raleigh's private expeditions, one of exploration, briefly visited the coast of present-day North Carolina, and returned to England with ecstatic reports -- and two Indians they had kidnapped on the fourth of July.

The Indians, Manteo and Wanchese, survived their trip to England, and later were returned to Roanoke. Their reactions to the English culture typified relations between the races in the years to come: Manteo, a gentle man, was baptized into the Christian faith, but Wanchese became a bitter foe of the settlers. Manteo may have been the first Protestant convert in the United States (Catholic priests already had been working among the American Indians for about 40 years).

The first published account of Protestant missionary work among the Indians is traced to the second Raleigh expedition, a colonization attempt in 1585. A clergyman may have been among the 108 colonists, but a godly layman, Thomas Hariot, a geographer and scientist who acted as historian, seems to have carried out much of the work of evangelization. He wrote movingly:

Many times and in every Indian town where I came ... I made declaration of the contents of the Bible, that therein was set forth the true and only God, and his mighty works, that therein was contained the true doctrine of salvation through Christ, with many particularities of miracles and chief points of religion as I was able then to utter, and thought fit for the time. And although I told them the book materially and of itself was not of any such virtue, as I thought they did conceive, but only the doctrine there in contained; yet would many be glad to touch it, to embrace it, to kiss it, to hold it to their breasts and heads...

Hariot wanted these Stone Age Indians to live peacefully with the Elizabethan Englishmen and "be made partakers of His truth, and serve Him in righteousness." A man of prayer, Hariot impressed the Indians with the value of prayer, and related how Chief Wingina and his people gladly joined the English in praying and singing Psalms. Hariot recalled:

Twice this Wiroans (chief) was so grievously sick that he was like to die, and as he lay languishing, doubting of any help by his own priests, and thinking he was in such danger for offending us, and thereby our God, sent for some of us to pray and be a means to our God, that it would please Him that he might live, or after death dwell with Him in bliss: so likewise were the requests of many others...

The consummate U.S. historian Samuel Eliot Morison used this expedition of 1585 to illustrate another aspect of English zeal for evangelism. En route to Roanoke, the expedition had resupplied and plundered in Spanish Puerto Rico. One of their wealthy victims, Hernando de Altamorano, reported to the king that Manteo and Wanchese both spoke good English, loved music, and were well treated. He, too, was well treated, but the Englishmen forced him to accept a Spanish Protestant Bible to take back to San Juan.

Even the temptation of using "the new fort in Virginia" as a base to attack Spanish treasure ships wasn't enough to hold the 1585 expedition at Roanoke. They were overwhelmed with loneliness, discouragement, and fear in the strange New World. The governor of this military colony had foolishly mistreated the Indians, who supplied most of their food. The ubiquitous Drake, who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, turned up off the Outer Banks in 1586, and the colonists thankfully abandoned their fort and returned to England with his fleet.

Later that year, the supply ships the colonists were expecting arrived, and 15 men were left on the deserted island to hold the colony for the crown.

The 1587 expedition was launched from Portsmouth, England, on May 8, with great optimism: 150 men, women, and children could hardly fail. But when they arrived at Roanoke Island the last of July, they found that the fort had been razed, and deer were grazing on melons inside the thatched cottages Rev. Hakluyt had recommended Raleigh build. Only the skeleton of one of the 15 men left behind the previous year was found -- a grim welcome for what would be known in history as "The Lost Colony."

Raleigh had ordered this group to settle in the Chesapeake Bay area 130 miles North of Roanoke, but their pilot refused to sail that far. The colonists set to work repairing the abandoned fort and cottages in the "Cittie of Ralegh in Virginea."

Raleigh had given this expedition 100 pounds sterling to be invested as they pleased, with the profits to be used "in planting the Christian religion, and advancing the same." According to Bishop Perry, this was the first recorded gift for the Protestant evangelization of North America.

Two highlights of the colonists' first weeks in the New World were the baptism of Manteo on August 13th -- the first recorded Protestant baptismal service in the New World -- and the christening a week later of Virginia Dare, granddaughter of the colony's governor, John White. Virginia was the first white child born in America.

On August 28th, Gov. White and the ships returned to England, leaving the colonists at the mercies of the elements and the Indians. Upon his return to England, White found the country in imminent danger of invasion by Spain's dreaded Armada. England's very existence and the Protestant cause were at stake. The danger was so grave that no large ships were allowed to leave the country.

Two small pinnacles dispatched to the Roanoke Colony were plundered by the French. The handful of English colonists on faraway Roanoke Island would have to survive the best they could until England's fate was decided.

England was mobilized. Queen Elizabeth, wearing steel armour "like some Amazonian empress," reviewed her troops at Tilbury camp and gave a rousing speech. Drake, at whose name the Spanish paled, was one of the experienced captains called upon to defend England.

At a council of war, after the suggestion was made to send in fire ships, Drake volunteered one of his ships, and other captains followed his example. Loaded with tar and anything else that would burn, the eight crewless ships were lashed together and allowed to drift toward the wooden Spanish ships. At the fearsome sight of the blazing ships bearing down on them, the Spanish cut their cables and fled in the confusion. They did not know the English were out of powder.

When the English finally realized that the Spanish were not coming back for a return engagement, England was the scene of tremendous victory celebrations and thanksgiving services. On the Continent, too, the English victory was recognized as divine intervention. All during the week of the battle, the tides had favored the English ships, but when it looked like the Spanish ships were doomed to sink into Belgian sand dunes, the tide had turned enough for them to escape northward around Scotland and Ireland.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada marked a turning point for England. It preserved English freedom and the English Reformation, and it checked the advance of the Spanish colossus. It also paved the way for English colonization in North America.

It was not until August, 1590, however, that Governor White finally reached Roanoke Island again to search for his daughter and granddaughter. No trace of the colonists could be found. Their homes had been completely dismantled (archaeologists have not unearthed a single nail), and the settlement area had been enclosed, Indian style, in a high palisade of posts.

Bark had been peeled off of one post, and the letters CROATOAN carved on it, signifying the settlers' destination, an island just South of Roanoke. Croatoan was Manteo's birthplace. Storms and accidents forced the rescue party to return prematurely to England.

Governor White had to resign himself that he would never see his daughter or granddaughter again. On February 4, 1593, he wrote to Rev. Hakluyt, "And wanting my wishes, I leave off from prosecuting that whereunto I would to God my wealth were answerable to my will."

Persistent traditions among South Carolina Indians, however, tell of the white colonists being absorbed by friendly Indian tribes and migrating inland with them. In 1891, Professor Stephen Weeks wrote an article pointing out that 41 of the 95 surnames on the Lost Colony roster were found in an Indian tribe hundreds of miles from Roanoke Island. The pronunciation of certain old Anglo-Saxon words also had survived. Perhaps the settlers were not "lost"; just misplaced.

The English persevered, although it would be 17 years before their first permanent colony finally would take root in the alien wilderness.

In 1602, Samuel Mace halfheartedly searched for the Lost Colony, but bad weather kept him away from Croatoan (now spelled Croatan). In succeeding years, English crews cruised the coast off Massachusetts and other New England states.

In May, 1605, George Waymouth's expedition reached present-day Maine, anchoring in a pleasant harbor they named Pentecost Harbor. On May 29th, as was customary for all such explorations, they set up a cross and claimed the land. This party returned to England with five kidnapped Indians who fascinated the English and rekindled their interest in the New World -- despite the fact that the Indians had been dressed in taffeta finery.


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