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Passing Ships and the Mystery of the Fifteen


Sir Walter Raleigh (Rawley)A supply ship sent out by Sir Walter Raleigh arrived barely a few days after the departure of Drake, but after searching in vain for the colonists, returned to England. Amazingly Grenville arrived only days later, barely two weeks after Drake had sailed, and likewise searched in vain for the colonists. Grenville found the places of colonial settlement desolate, but being unwilling to leave Roanoke unclaimed, he left 15 men on the Island, fully provisioned for 2 years, with orders to hold the country for the Queen while he returned to Bideford. (Most of these men it is though were actually from the Bideford area but their names were not recorded. When Governor John White arrived back in 1587 only the bones of one of them was found. The other 14 had disappeared without trace.)

It was however, whilst searching the area that Grenville skirmished with some of the now hostile Indians on Roanoke. The story goes that one of them was taken onboard ship and that it is this Native Indian who lies buried in Bideford’s Parish Church as the first Native American laid to rest on English soil. (“Rawley a Winganditioan”)

The Second ‘Lost’ Colony of 1587

Roanoke Map circa. 1584In the year 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh organized another colonial expedition consisting of 117 persons. This time rather than being a military Colony, this one consisted of settlers and came with its own government comprising of a governor (John White) and 12 assistants whom Raleigh incorporated as the "Governor and Assistants of the Citie of Ralegh in Virginia." (The title ‘City of Raleigh’ has now been bestowed upon the Town of Manteo by our Royal College of Arms.)

From the list of names that has come down to us, several of the colonists took their wives with them and at least two their children too. What is also now thought is that some of these colonists had once formed part of Grenville and Raleigh’s Irish Plantation workforce.

The fleet probably sailed from Bideford for Roanoke on May 8.

The ships reached Roanoke on July 22, 1587. John White and his party set out to find the fort of 1585 razed to the ground but a number of the houses still standing. These houses were repaired and new ones added. However, the Indians proved to be more hostile than they had been in 1585 and George Howe, one of the assistants, was killed by the Indians soon after the landing. Nevertheless, through the Indian Manteo’s negotiating skill, friendly relations with the Croatoan Indians were re-established, although many other tribes remained wary of the Englishmen.

On August 18th, John White's daughter, Eleanor, wife of Ananias Dare, gave birth to a daughter, who was named Virginia and was the first child of English parentage to be born in the New World. Shortly afterwards another child was born to Dyonis and Margery Harvie, a boy, but sadly his name is unrecorded.

Despite the apparent Joy, it was clear that the colony needed more help and supplies and on the 27th August 1587, John White, rather oddly agreed to abandon his daughter and grandchild and sailed homeward with Grenville’s fleet to obtain them.


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