studies in the history of science and culture

© June 2006
revised 16 November 2009

“the Croatan Tradition”

WHAT ALEXANDER BROWN CALLS “the Croatan tradition” (Brown, i: 190) holds that Sir Walter Ralegh’s “lost colonists” of Roanoke Island, Virginia (now North Carolina) were absorbed by the Croatans, and migrated with that Indian tribe to a new region of the country some time between 1587 and 1590.

This explanation of the colonists’ fate was widely disseminated, and was believed by most of those who had anything to do with subsequent settlements of the so-called New Virginia spreading out from Jamestown. Indeed, Virginia Company officials back in England placed the lost colonists’ rescue — along with discovery of precious metals and a passage to the Orient by way of “Verrazzano’s Sea” — at the top of the Jamestown settlers’ To Do list from 1607 on.

They would continue their search for Ralegh’s lost colonists in vain, however.

Cumming, Skelton, and Quinn give a good summary of the story behind Sir Walter Ralegh’s Lost Colony:

In April 1587 Ralegh sent out yet another colony under John White as Governor, to establish “the Cittie of Ralegh in Virginea”. Ralegh’s instructions were to establish the settlement on Chesapeake Bay, which had been briefly explored by Lane’s men the previous year; but Simão Fernandes, the master of the flagship, whose chief interest was in privateering, put the colonists ashore at Roanoke, and refused to transport them further, “saying that the summer was farre spent” (for privateering). The colony consisted of about a hundred and ten, including seventeen women and eleven children. White, finding no trace of the fifteen men left by Grenville but the destroyed fort and a few overgrown huts, set the colonists to work “repayring houses and building new ones”. He made contact with the friendly Croatoan Indians, and christened Manteo as “Lord of Roanoke”, thus appointed Ralegh’s native ruler of the area. Five days after Manteo’s christening, on 18 August 1587, a baby girl was born to Ananias Dare, one of the twelve “assistants” of the colony, and Elenor Dare, White’s daughter. She was christened Virginia on the following Sunday, the first child of English parentage born in the New World.
     After the supplies had been landed, the settlers petitioned and “constrayned” White to return to England “for the better and sooner obtaining of supplies, and other necessaries for them”. On 28 August the flyboat, which he boarded, sailed for England; he never saw the colonists again. The England in which he landed needed to keep every ship it had at home against the now threatened Spanish invasion. A squadron under Grenville which Ralegh had planned to send to the Virginia colony was told peremptorily by the Privy Council to await the imminent arrival of the Spanish Armada. In April 1588, however, White managed to leave Bideford with supplies and additional colonists on two small vessels; neither reached Virginia. The Brave, on which he sailed, was captured and looted by a ship from Rochelle; the French captain allowed the ship, too crippled for use, and the survivors, including the wounded White, to make their way back to Bideford.
     It was not till August 1590 that White, desperately anxious to return to his colony and his little granddaughter, secured passage with a privateering expedition that landed him at Roanoke. In his own words: “We came to the place where I left our colony in the yeere 1586 [1587]. In all this way we saw in the sand the print of the Salvages feet of 2 or 3 sorts troaden that night, and as we entred up the sandy banke upon a tree in the very browe thereof were curiously carved there faire Romane letters CRO: which letters presently we knew to signifie the place where I should find the planters seated, according to a secret token agreed upon betweene them and me ... We found the houses taken downe, and the place very strongly enclosed with a high palisado of great trees ... in fayre Capitall letters was graven CROATOAN without any crosse or signe of distresse ... Wee found five chests ... three were my owne, and about the place many of my things spoyled and broken, and my bookes torn from the covers, the frames of some of my pictures and Mappes rotten and spoyled with rayne, and my armour almost eaten through with rust.” A storm came up, and in spite of White’s pleas for a search, the captains refused to stay. He was never able to return. His last known letter, from Ireland in 1593 to Hakluyt, shows him still believing his colonists alive and well.
     What happened to the “Lost Colony” is one of the unsolved problems of early American history. Did they take refuge with the Croatoan Indians, as White thought from the inscription, and eventually become absorbed into that coastal tribe? Were the colonists ambushed by hostile Indians, as the unfinished “CRO” suggests? Did they move to the mainland, as they were planning? The Jamestown settlers in 1607 heard of survivors living among the Indians to the south of Albemarle Sound on the mainland but did not succeed in rescuing them. Or did the Spanish discover and take them as prisoners? The last is least likely, for the Spanish authorities themselves thought for many years that the colony might still exist, as a threat to their shipping. Pedro Menéndez Marqués, then Governor of Florida, sent his nephew Juan and Captain Vincente González in the summer of 1588 to find and destroy the colony. They did not find it but searched the coast and Chesapeake Bay to its head. The accounts of this expedition were the earliest effective descriptions of the Bay.
(W. P. Cumming, R. A. Skelton, and D. B. Quinn,
The Discovery of North America 179–80)

Virginia Company investors and adventurers were not the only ones with an interest in the fate of Ralegh’s lost colonists. By the beginning of the 17th century, sensationalist narratives of Virginia and its peoples had captured the popular imagination back in England, where tales of the lost colonists intermingled with fantasies of miscegenation, illicit adventure, instant riches, and social mobility.

All of these colonial themes were adapted by the trio of playwrights, George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, for their popular comedy Eastward Hoe, which passed through four editions in its first year of publication, 1605, and played before King James — an enthusiastic supporter of commerce, colonization, and discoveries — on 25 January 1614. A particularly interesting scene is set in the Blewe Anchor Taverne, where a Captain Seagull enthralls the company with tall tales of Virginia, laden with sexual and racial innuendo:

Seagull. Come boyes, Virginia longs till we share the rest of her Maiden-head.

Spendall. Why is she inhabited alreadie with any English?

Seagull. A whole Country of English is there man, bred of those that were left there in 79. They have married with the Indians, and make ’hem bring forth as beautifull faces as any we have in England: and therefore the Indians are so in love with ’hem, that all the treasure they have, they lay at their feete.

Scapethrift. But is there such treasure there Captaine, as I have heard?

Seagull. I tell thee, Golde is more plentifull there then Copper is with us: and for as much redde Copper as I can bring, Ile have thrice the waight in Golde. Why man all their dripping Pans, and their Chamber pottes are pure Gold; and all the Chaines, with which they chaine up their streetes, are massie Golde; all the Prisoners they take, are fetterd in Gould: and for Rubies and Diamonds, they goe forth on holydayes and gather ’hem by the Sea-shore, to hang on their childrens Coates, and sticke in their Cappes, as commonly as our children weare Saffron guilt Brooches, and groates with hoales in ’hem.

Scapethrift. And is it a pleasant Countrie withall?

Seagull. As ever the Sunne shinde on: temperate and full of all sorts of excellent viands; wilde Boare is as common there, as our tamest Bacon is here; Venison, as Mutton. And the[n] you shall live freely there, without Sergeants, or Courtiers, or Lawyers, or Intelligencers, onely a few industrious Scots perhaps, who indeed are disperst over the face of the whole earth. But as for them, there are no greater friends to English men and England, when they are out an’t, in the world, then they are. And for my part, I would a hundred thousand of ’hem were there, for wee are all one Countrey-men now, yee know; and wee should find ten times more comfort of them there, then wee doe heere. Then for your meanes to advancement, there, it is simple, and not preposterously mixt; You may bee an Alderman there, and never be Scavinger; you may be a Noble man, and never be a Slave; you may come to preferment enough, and never be a Pandar: To riches and fortune enough, and have never the more villanie nor the lesse witte.

Spendall. Gods me! and how farre is it thether?

Seagull. Some six weekes sayle, no more, with any indefferent good winde: And if I get to any part of the coast of Affrica, Ile saile thether with any winde. Or when I come to Cape Finister, ther’s a foreright winde continually wafts us tell we come at Virginia.
(Eastward Hoe, Act III, Scene 2)

Seagull’s casual reference to “those that were left there in 79” (presumably, 1579) is a puzzle. 1579 antedates 1587 — when Ralegh’s lost colonists were left at Roanoke — by several years, and I know of no English voyage to the area c.1579 (Frobisher’s voyages in 1576–8 were to the North Atlantic). Unfortunately, none of the printed editions of Eastward Hoe included a list of errata, so it is impossible to know if ’79 was a misprint.

Perhaps ’79 should have read ’69 or ’68 — in reference to John Hawkins’ third slaving expedition to the Americas in 1567–1569, during which Hawkins had a disastrous encounter with the Spanish at San Juan d’Uloa, on the Mexican coast. Hawkins and about 200 of his men escaped the Spanish fleet on a single leaky ship, the Minion, then battled contrary winds for two weeks. Lacking both food and space on the battered Minion, and now in desperate straits, Hawkins landed 96 Englishmen in the Gulf of Mexico, some 200 miles north of the Spanish settlement at Veracruz, in October 1568, giving each man some cloth for barter. Hawkins barely made it back to England himself, arriving at Cornwall on 25 January 1569, with around 15 other survivors from a starting crew of 408. He soon published A True Declaration of the Troublesome Voyadge of M. John Haukins to the Parties of Guynea and the West Indies, in the Yeares of our Lord 1567. and 1568. at London in 1569, and opened proceedings against Spain in the admiralty court for the £25,000+ of damages he claimed the expedition suffered because of the assault in Mexico. Oft-told by generations of Englishmen, the Spanish actions at San Juan d’Uloa were not soon forgotten. Once seared in the collective memory of the nation, they led to reprisals and justified open attacks on Spanish cities and treasure ships.

Of the 96 crew members left in America by Hawkins, 5 are known to have made it back to England, and the earliest of their sensational stories were printed by Richard Hakluyt in the first edition of his Principall Navigations (1589), only to be omitted from later editions because of “certain incredibilities.” Three of the men — David Ingram, Richard Browne, and Richard Twide — claimed to have marched off into the American wilderness, eventually making their way across the continent to Nova Scotia (“within fiftie leagues or there abouts of Cape Britton”), where they were picked up by a French fishing vessel captained by a mariner named Champlain, and eventually “transported into England, Anno. Dom. 1569.” By the time Hakluyt sought an interview with the three, only Ingram was still alive, and Hakluyt published his unverifiable narrative as proof of the theory of a northwest passage to the Orient, concluding Ingram’s story with the comment:

Also the sayd David Ingram traveiling towardes the North [from the Gulf of Mexico, where Hawkins set him and the others ashore], found the maine sea upon the Northside of America, and travailed in the sight thereof the space of two whole dayes, where the people signified unto him, that they had seene shippes on that coast, and did draw upon the ground the shape and figure of shippes, and of their sailes and flagges. Which thing especially proveth the passage of the Northwest, and is agreeable to the experience of Vasques de Coronado, which found a shippe of China or Cataia upon the Northwest of America.
(Hakluyt, The Principall Navigations, Voyages
and Discoveries of the English Nation

Hakluyt juxtaposed Ingram’s story with

A discourse written by one Miles Phillips Englishman, one of the company put a shore in the West Indies by M. John Hawkins in the yeere 1568. contayning many speciall things of that countrie and of the Spanish governement, but specially of their cruelties used to our Englishmen, and amongst the rest to himselfe for the space of 15. or 16. yeeres together, untill by good and happy meanes he was delivered from their bloody hands and returned to his owne countrie. Anno. 1582.
(The Principall Navigations, Voyages and
Discoveries of the English Nation
, 1st edn.,
1589, part 3, Discourse No. 16, pp. 562ff.)

— yet another mariner’s adventure story which fanned the flames concerning Spanish imperialism. Such narratives were all too easily embellished in the rumor mills of London and other port cities, leading to the sort of exaggerated claims and braggadocio satirized in Eastward Hoe.

The fifth Englishman, Job Hortop, did not return to England until 2 December 1590, and so his American narrative

The travailes of Job Hortop, which Sir John Hawkins set on land within the Bay of Mexico, after his departure from the Haven of S. John de Ullua in Nueva Espanna, the 8. of October 1568.

was first published with the second (greatly enlarged) edition of Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations (1599–1600). Hortop, a “powder-maker” from Lincolnshire who was pressed into service as a gunner on the Jesus of Lubeck (the ships in Hawkins’ 3rd slaving expedition to the West Indies were named: the Jesus of Lubeck, the Minion, the Angel, the Swallow, the Judith, and the William and John) spent 23 years in Spanish captivity. In his narrative, Hortop comments that

Since my returne into England I have heard that many misliked that he [Hawkins] left us so behind him, and brought away Negros: but the reason is this, for them he might have had victuals, or any other thing needfull, if by foul weather he had bene driven upon the Islands, which for gold nor silver he could not have had.
(Hortop, in The Principal Navigations, Voyages,
Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation
2nd edn., 1599–1600, vol. 3, p. 491)

From the beginning, the slave trade in the Americas challenged English (and white) identities, with debacles such as Hawkins’ 3rd slaving expedition making uncomfortably clear the many contradictions of the profitable trade in human bodies. As Hortop well knew, the black slave was worth more than a white mariner on the imperial market, where national, racial and religious identities were more fluid than many wanted to admit. Miles Philips, also left by Hawkins near the River Panuco in Mexico, started out as a page to John Hawkins in the Jesus of Lubeck, then took on the identity of Miguel Perez while living in Mexico, where he was able to accumulate great wealth as an overseer of a mine, and apprentice himself to a taffeta weaver in Mexico City. Philips-qua-Perez lived for a period in relative luxury as a prisoner of the Spanish until “all his goods were seized and he was imprisoned with many fellow Englishmen for interrogation by the Inquisition throughout 1573.” (Makepeace, n. pag.)

Hortop, whose narrative includes multiple tales of transgressive human-monster hybrids encountered in Africa and the Americas, describes one in particular whose appearance was so remarkable that Hakluyt flagged it for readers in the marginalia as “A sea-monster in the shape of a man”:

When we came in the height of Bermuda, we discovered a monster in the sea, who shewed himselfe three times unto us from the middle upwards, in which parts hee was proportioned like a man, of the complection of a Mulato or tawny Indian. The [Spanish] Generall did command one of his clearks to put it in writing, and hee certified the King and his Nobles thereof.
(Hortop, in The Principal Navigations, Voyages,
Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation
2nd edn., 1599–1600, vol. 3, p. 493)

Almost 100 years later, the physician Thomas Glover reported to the Royal Society (as published in their scientific journal of 1676) that he, too, had seen a monstrous sea creature, in the shape of a man, swimming in the Rappahannock river in Virginia:

And now it comes into my mind, I shall here insert an account of a very strange Fish or rather a Monster, which I happened to see in Rapa-han-nock River about a year before I came out of the Country; the manner of it was thus:

As I was coming down the forementioned River in a Sloop bound for the Bay, it happened to prove calm; at which time we were three leagues short of the rivers mouth; the tide of ebb being then done, the sloop-man dropped his grap-line, and he and his boy took a little boat belonging to the sloop, in which they went ashoar for water, leaving me aboard alone, in which time I took a small book out of my pocket and sate down at the stern of the vessel to read; but I had not read long before I heard a great rushing and flashing of the water, which caused me suddenly to look up, and about half a stones cast from me appeared a most prodigious Creature, much resembling a man, only somewhat larger, standing right up in the water with his head, neck, shoulders, breast, and waste, to the cubits of his arms, above water; his skin was tawny, much like that of an Indian; the figure of his head was pyramidal and slick, without hair; his eyes large and black, and so were his eye-brows; his mouth very wide, with a broad, black streak on the upper lip, which turned upwards at each end like mustachoes; his countenance was grim and terrible; his neck, shoulders, arms, breast and wast, were like unto the neck, arms, shoulders, breast and wast of a man; his hands, if he had any, were under water; he seemed to stand with his eyes fixed on me for some time, and afterward dived down, and a little after riseth at somewhat a farther distance, and turned his head towards me again, and then immediately falleth a little under water, and swimmeth away so near the top of the water, that I could discern him throw out his arms, and gather them in as a man doth when he swimmeth. At last he shoots with his head downwards, by which means he cast his tayl above the water, which exactly resembled the tayl of a fish with a broad fane at the end of it.
(Glover, “An Account of Virginia” 625–6)

The accumulating accounts of such hybrid American species inevitably raised questions (and some cultural anxiety) about the new English identities being forged in the “new world.”

Once published by Hakluyt, Hortop’s narrative was picked up by Thomas Fuller for his History of the Worthies of England (1662) — the first English biographical dictionary — where Fuller, with typical wit, reclaims the Lincolnshire seaman as one of England’s most eminent persons, despite having spent most of his life abroad:

Job Hartop was (as himself affirmeth) born at Bourn in this County [Lincolnshire], and went Anno 1568. (early dayes I assure you for the English in those parts) with Sir John Hawkins, his Generall, to make discoveries in New Spaine. This Job was chief Gunner in her Majesties Ship called the Jesus of Lubeck, being the Queens by no other title, but as hired for her money, who in the beginning of her Reign, before her Navy-Royall was erected, had her Ships from the Hans-Townes.

Long and dangerous was his journey, eight of his men at Cape-Verd being killed, and the General himself wounded with poyson’d Arrowes, but was cured by a Negro drawing out the poyson with a Clove of Garlick, enough to make nice noses dispence with the valiant smell for the sanative vertue thereof.

He wrote a treatise of his Voyage, and is the first I met with, who mentioneth that strange tree, which may be termed The Tree of Food, affording a liquor which is both Meat and Drink; The Tree of Raiment, yielding Needles wherewith, and Threed whereof Mantles are made; The Tree of Harbour, Tiles to cover houses being made out of the solid parts thereof, so that it beareth a self sufficiency for mans maintenance.

Job was his name, and patience was with him, so that he may pass amongst the Confessors of this County. For, being with some other by this General, for want of provisions left on land, after many miseries they came to Mexico, and he continued a Prisoner twenty three years, viz: Two years in Mexico, one year in the Contractation-House in Civil, another in the Inquisition-House a Triana, twelve years in the Gallies, four years (with the Cross of St. Andrew on his back) in the Everlasting-Prison, and three years a drudge to Hernando de Soria, to so high a summ did the Inventorie of his sufferings amount.

So much of his patience, now see the end which the Lord made with him. Whil’st enslaved to the aforesaid Hervando, he was sent to Sea in a Flemish [Hortop makes a point of telling us that the Flemings “dwelling in Sivil” were “married to Spanish women, and sworne to their king”], which was afterward taken by an English ship, called the Galeon-Dudley, and so was he safely landed at Portsmouth, Decemb. the second, 1590. And I believe lived not long after.
(Fuller, History of the Worthies of England 163)

It is, of course, also possible that Seagull’s comment about “those that were left there in 79” alluded not to the controversial Hawkins expedition in the West Indies or to Ralegh’s lost colonists, but to Drake’s voyage around the world (Drake’s circumnavigation ended with his return to England in September 1580). Plus, Drake had been with Hawkins for the disaster at San Juan d’Uloa, although he fared much better than the others, inexplicably deserting Hawkins and the Minion on the well-provisioned Judith, which arrived back in England three days before the Minion.

There are several mentions of Drake in the play, including one at the end of a conversation between the drunken “Virginian Colonel” and “knight adventurer,” Sir Petronell Flash, and the equally intoxicated Captains Seagull and Scapethrift, with Quicksilver and Security in attendance:

Drawer. Sir Petronell, here’s one of your water men come to tell you, it will be flood these three houres; and that t’will bee dangerous going against the Tyde: for the skie is over cast, & there was a Porcpisce, even now seene at Londo[n] bridge, which is alwaies the messenger of tempests, he sayes.

Petronell. A Porcpisce? whats that to th’ purpose? charge him if he love his life to attend us: can we not reach Blacke wall (where my ship lyes) against the tide, and in spight of Tempests? Captaines and Gentlemen, wee’ll begin a new ceremony at the beginning of our voyage, which I beleeve will be followed of all future adventurers.

Seagull. What’s that good Colonell?

Petronell. This, Captaine Seagull; wee’ll have our provided Supper brought a bord Sir Francis Drakes Ship, that hath compast the world: where with full Cupps, and Banquets we wil doe sacrifice for a prosperous voyage....
(Eastward Hoe, Act III, Scene 2)

By the time Eastward Hoe was printed in 1605, Drake’s exploits in the New World had achieved mythical status, even though Captain John Smith neglects to mention Drake at all in the opening essay

How ancient authors report the new-world, now called America, was discovered: and part thereof first planted by the English, called Virginia, with the accidents and proceedings of the same

to his Generall Historie printed in 1624. Smith begins his summary description of British voyages to the Americas with the Welshman Madoc (in 1170), then progresses through John Cabot and his three sons (beginning in 1497), to Martin Frobisher (his voyage to Meta Incognita in 1576), Sir Humphrey Gilbert (to Newfoundland in 1583), and finally, Ralegh’s colonists in 1584, sailing under Captains Amadas and Barlow. Not only does Smith not place Drake in Virginia circa 1579; he doesn’t even mention Drake’s rescue of the Roanoke discoverers (White and Hariot among them) whom Drake brought back to England on his return voyage from the West Indies in 1586.

Throughout the 17th century, historians continued to debate whether or not North America was “discovered” by the Welshman, Madoc — another adventurer of mythic proportions who was also believed to have left his countrymen on that continent, their European identities lost over time as the men were assimilated by (rather than dominating, as fantasized in the Chapman, Jonson & Marston comedy, Eastward Hoe) indigenous cultures. Smith’s opinion on this subject reads:

For the Stories of Arthur, Malgo, and Brandon, that say a thousand yeares agoe they were in the North of America; or the Fryer of Linn that by his blacke Art went to the North pole in the yeare 1360. in that I know them not. Let this suffice.

The Chronicles of Wales report, that Madock, sonne to Owen Quineth, Prince of Wales seeing his two brethren at debate who should inherit, prepared certaine Ships, with men and munition, and left his Country to seeke adventures by Sea: leaving Ireland North he sayled west till he came to a Land unknowne. Returning home and relating what pleasant and fruitfull Countries he had seene without Inhabitants, and for what barren ground his brethren and kindred did murther one another, he provided a number of Ships, and got with him such men and women as were desirous to live in quietnesse, that arrived with him in this new Land in the yeare 1170: Left many of his people there and returned for more. But where this place was no History can show.
(Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia,
New-England, and the Summer Isles

While Smith is somewhat dubious about tales of Arthur etc. in America, he seems to accept the legend of Madoc, as would several commentators after him. In 1685, Nathaniel Crouch (using the pseudonym, R. B.) opined:

Yet it is not incredible but that in former Ages, some Ships might by Tempest or other Casualties be driven to these parts, whereby some parts of America were peopled, but it is likely none ever returned back again to bring any news of their voyage. The most probable Relation of this kind is that of Madoc ap Owen Gwyneth, who upon the Civil dissentions in his own Country of Wales, adventured to Sea, and leaving Ireland on the North, came to a Land unknown, where he saw many very wonderful things, which by Dr. Powel and Mr. Humfrey Lloyd is judged to be the main Land of America, being confirmed therein, as well by the saying of Montezuma Emperor of Mexico, who declared that his Progenitors were Strangers as well as the rest of the Mexicans, as by the use of divers Welch words amongst them observed by Travellers; the story adds, that Madoc left several of his People there, and coming home, returned back with ten sail full of Welchmen, yet it is certain there are now left very few footsteps of this British expedition, and no signs thereof were found at the Spaniards Arrival; they indeed used a Cross at Cumana, and worshipped it at Acuzamil, but without the least memory or knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the Welch words are very few, which might happen by chance to any other Language. Mr. Brerewood, and other learned writers are of Opinion, that America received her first Inhabitants from those parts of Asia, where the Tartars first inhabited the Coasts of both Countreys, being in that place not far asunder, and the likeness of the People favouring the same, though the Indians in general are so very ignorant as to ascribe their beginning, some to a Fountain, and others to a Lake or Cave; ....
(R. B., The English Empire in America 2–3)

And as late as 1705, we find John Harris, a Fellow of the Royal Society, repeating the legend in his two-volume Navigantium atque itinerantium bibliotheca. Harris included Emanuel Bowen’s map of Virginia, the cartouche of which reads:

A new and accurate chart of the western or Atlantic ocean drawn from surveys and most approved maps & charts. The whole being regulated by astronomical observations. By Eman. Bowen, geographer to His Majesty.

Tho’ Columbus is generally supposed to have been the first discoverer of ye new world yet there is great probability that Madoc a prince of North Wales sailed from thence & landed on ye coast of Florida anno 1170 as ye reader may obser[v]e p. 190 of this work.
(image of cartouche courtesy John Woram,
November 2005)

And on page 190, Harris wrote:

About the year 1170, steering due west, and leaving Ireland on the north, he [Madoc] came to an unknown country, where he settled a colony; and, returning thence into Wales, carried a second supply of people, but was never heard of more.

That the country he went to was really America, is more, I think, than can be thoroughly proved; but that this tale was invented after the discovery of that country, on purpose to set up a prior title, is most certainly false. Meredith ap Rees, who died in 1477, and was a famous Welsh poet, composed an ode in honor of this Madoc, wherein was contained an account of his discoveries. Now as this was several years before Columbus made his first voyage, we may be sure that this was a British tradition, and no tale of late contrivance.
(courtesy John Woram, private e-mail,
29 November 2005)

It is my understanding that modern researchers are even less willing than Harris to accept the traditional account of a Welsh settlement in North America in 1170.

Perhaps there never were any urban legends about Englishmen left in Virginia in 1579, and the playwrights responsible for Eastward Hoe simply made it up, or even got the date wrong, mistaking 1579 for 1569 or 1587. Whatever the explanation, Seagull’s offhand remark about ’79 indicates that, at the time of the play’s production in 1605, enough stories were circulating in London concerning Englishmen left in America that contemporary audiences would understand the reference.

Eastward Hoe (like Richard Head’s The Floating Island, issued decades later in 1673) is partly a spoof on the popular printed narratives of “discovery” (e.g., as published in Hakluyt) and the growing vogue for overseas adventure. As the play’s character, Security, quips:

Who would not sell away competent certenties to purchase (with any danger) excellent uncertenties? Your true knight venturer ever does it.

And indeed, Sir Petronell Flash has done this very thing, defrauding his new, young, upwardly-mobile wife of her entire estate in order to finance his Virginia dream (“as soone as his ladies hand is gotten to the sale of her inheritance, and you have furnisht him with money, he wil instantly hoyst saile and away” for Virginia, Quicksilver tells the money-lender, Security).

Eastward Hoe also pokes fun at the populist embrace of new technologies associated with the navigator and surveyor. There is one scene where the inebriated captain Seagull and Sir Petronell Flash emerge from the Thames, water-logged and bedraggled, having barely survived the raging tempest (foretold by the porpoise) in the river. Lacking all the trappings of gentility (cloak, hat, feathers, rapier, etc.), Petronell’s knightly know-how and breeding are shown to be artificially worn, rather than won through experience and innate to the man. Here Petronell relies on pseudo-science to determine that the two men have washed up on the coast of France, when in fact they have only journeyed to the other bank of the Thames.

Petronell. Zounds Captaine, I tell thee, we are cast up o’the Coast of France, Sfoote, I am not drunke still, (I hope?) Dost remember where we were last Night?

Seagull. No by my troth Knight, not I, but me thinkes wee have bin a horrible while upon the water, and in the water.

Petronell. Aye me we are undone for ever: hast any money about thee?

Seagull. Not a pennie by heaven.

Petronell. Not a pennie betwixt us and cast ashore in France?

Seagull. Faith I cannot tell that; my braines, nor mine eyes are not mine owne, yet.
Enter 2. Gentlemen.
Petronell. Sfoote wilt not beleeve me? I know’t by th’elevation of the Pole; and by the altitude and latitude of the Climate. See! here comes a coople of French Gentlemen; I knew we were in France: dost thou think our Englishmen are so Frenchyfied, that a man knowes not whether he be in France, or in England, whe[n] he sees ’hem? What shal we doe? we must eene to ’hem, and intreat some reliefe of ’hem: Life is sweete, and we have no other meanes to relieve our lives now, but their Charities.

Seagull. Pray you, do you beg on ’hem the[n], you can speak French.

Petronell. Monsieur, plaist il a’avoir pitie de nostre grand infortunes? Je suis un povre Chevalier D’Angleterre qui a souffri’l infortune de Naufrage.

1st Gentleman. Un povre Chevalier D’Angliterre?

Petronell. Oui Monsieur, il est trop vraye; mais vous scaves bien nous somes toutes subject a fortune.

2nd Gentleman. A poore Knight of England? a poore Knight of Windsore, are you not? Why speak you this broken French, when y’are a whole English man? on what coaste are you, thinke you?

Petronell. On the coast of France, sir.

1st Gentleman. On the cost of Doggs Sir: Y’are ith’ ile a Doggs I tell you. I see y’ave bene washt in the Thames here, & I beleeve ye were drowned in a Taverne before, or els you would never have tooke boat in such a dawning as this was. Farewel, farewel, we wil not know you for shaming of you. I ken the man well, hee’s one of my thirty pound Knights.

2nd Gentleman. No no, this is he that stole his knighthood o’the grand day, for foure pound giving to a Page, all the money in’s purse I wot well. Exeunt.

Seagull. Death, Collonell, I knew you were over shot.

Petronell. Sure I thinke now indeede, Captaine Seagull, we were something overshot.

The themes broached here by Chapman, Jonson, and Marston — including the wild speculation about a new mixed-blood race of English Croatans — would continue to dominate the public discourse on Virginia throughout the century. When Captain John Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, & the Summer Isles appeared in 1624, it fell on well-prepared and fertile ground:

Certainly his narratives furnished the average reader with colorful romance. And despite the Captain’s bluster, the career of the self-made hero, who started life an apprentice “with ten shillings and three pence” [as claimed in the opening chapter of Smith’s The True Travels], must have excited the admiration of tradesmen who had long ago learned to glory in the deeds of apprentice-heroes.
(Louis B. Wright, Middle-Class Culture 543)

In the dedication to the earls of Pembroke, Lindsey, and Dover fronting The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine John Smith, in Europe, Asia, Affrica, and America, from Anno Domini 1593 to 1629 (1630), Smith claimed that his exploits (also related in part by Hakluyt) had been so talked about that “they have acted my fatall Tragedies upon the Stage, and racked my Relations at their pleasure”:

Sir Robert Cotton, that most learned Treasurer of Antiquitie, having by perusall of my Generall Historie, and others, found that I had likewise undergone divers other as hard hazards in the other parts of the world, requested me to fix the whole course of my passages in a booke by it selfe, whose noble desire I could not but in part satisfie; the rather, because they have acted my fatall Tragedies upon the Stage, and racked my Relations at their pleasure. To prevent therefore all future misprisions, I have compiled this true discourse. Envie hath taxed me to have writ too much, and done too little; but that such should know, how little I esteeme them, I have writ this, more for the satisfaction of my friends, and all generous and well disposed Readers: ....
(Smith, The True Travels, sigs. A2r–A2v)

It is true that Smith’s tales of Virginia and other exotic locales in the Americas were mined by the age’s hack writers, dramatists, and serious intellectuals alike, in some cases providing fodder for political propaganda (on all sides of the argument over colonial development), and in some cases, providing much-needed data for contemporary scientists and later historians. Largely because of these many and varied cultural appropriations, Smith’s literary attempts at controlling the myth-making around the English colonial enterprise in Virginia — always casting himself as the unproblematic “hero” and central character — were doomed from the beginning.

Loss of control of his Virginia narrative extended to Smith’s famous maps as well, which, far from establishing his unquestioned authority concerning the newly-charted territory, encouraged those who might otherwise have become patrons to bypass his professional advice and services altogether. In The True Travels, Smith warned about the specious appeal of maps for the inexperienced traveler:

The last yeare, 1628. Master Littleton, with some others got a Pattent of the Earle of Carlile, to plant the Ile called the Barbados, thirty leagues Northward of Saint Christophers; which by report of their informers, and undertakers, for the excellencie and pleasantnesse thereof, they called Dulcina, but when they came there, they found it such a barren rocke, they left it; although they were told as much before, they would not beleeve it, perswading themselves, those contradicters would get it for themselves, was thus by their cunning opinion, the deceiver of themselves; for seeing it lie conveniently for their purpose in a map, they had not patience to know the goodnesse or badnesse, the inconvenience nor probabilities of the quality, nor quantity; which errour doth predominate in most of our homebred adventurers, that will have all things as they conceit and would have it; and the more they are contradicted, the more hot they are; but you may see by many examples in the generall history, how difficult a matter it is, to gather the truth from amongst so many forren and severall relations, except you have exceeding good experience both of the Countries, people, and then conditions; and those ignorant undertakings, have beene the greatest hinderance of all those plantations.
(Smith, The True Travels 57)

This would be a recurrent theme in Smith’s later writings, such as his final publication, Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters of New-England, or Any Where (1631), wherein Smith’s epistle “To the Reader” builds on a conceit about the classical Greek painter, Apelles, and his ability to deduce “the whole proportion of a man” “by the proportion of a foot”:

... were hee [Apelles] now living, he might goe to schoole, for now are thousands can by opinion proportion Kingdomes, Cities, and Lordships, that never durst adventure to see them.
(Smith, Advertisements for the
Unexperienced Planters
, sig. A3r)

Smith had by then (1631) been battling for well over a decade to obtain financing for a plantation in New England, to no avail. Despite his long PR juggernaut in London, Plymouth, and elsewhere,

... I spent that Summer in visiting the Cities and Townes of Bristoll, Exeter, Bastable, Bodnam, Perin, Foy, Milborow, Saltash, Dartmouth, Absom, Tattnesse, and the most of the Gentry in Cornewall and Devonshire, giving them Bookes and Maps, shewing how in six moneths the most of those ships had made their voyages, and some in lesse, and with what good successe ...
(Smith, Generall Historie 229)

Smith was finding that his own hands-on experience of America and his documentary evidence were not persuasive with this new “opinionated” audience, who brought their own interpretive schemata to bear on the evidence:

Now all these proofes and this relation I now called New- Englands triall. I caused two or three thousand of them to be printed, one thousand with a great many Maps both of Virginia and New-England, I presented to thirty of the chiefe Companies in London at their Halls, desiring either generally or particularly (them that would) to imbrace it, and by the use of a stocke of five thousand pound, to ease them of the superfluity of the most of their companies that had but strength and health to labour; neere a yeere I spent to understand their resolutions, which was to me a greater toile and torment, then to have beene in New-England about my businesse but with bread and water, and what I could get there by my labour; but inconclusion, seeing nothing would be effected, I was contented as well with this losse of time and charge as all the rest.
(Smith, Generall Historie 230)

As Smith tells it, Sir Petronell Flash was living large, all around him.


an IN BRIEF biography of Sir Walter Ralegh, whose handling of the “Lost Colony” of 1587 continues to draw questions

more on “the Croatan tradition” and the fate of the Croatans in the GALLERY exhibit, The “Zuñiga Chart” of Virginia, 1608

more on Virginia Company directives about where to “finde four of the Englishe alsoe, lost by Sr Walter Raweley, which escaped from the slaughter of Powhatan of Roanocke upon the first arivall of our Colony” in the GALLERY exhibit, The “Zuñiga Chart” of Virginia, 1608

facsimiles of White’s watercolor map of Virginia, “La Virgenia Pars” (Gallery Cat. No. 70) and de Bry’s engraving of the Hariot-White map of Virginia, “Americæ pars ...” (Gallery Cat. No. 69) with their callouts for Croatoan in the GALLERY exhibit, Powhatan’s Deerskin Mantle with Shell Map, c.1608

Ken Bradby’s webessay connecting the legacy of miscegenation with the traveling play reenacting John Smith’s rescue by Pocahontas, authored and performed by “Powhatan’s Pamunkey Indian Braves” from the 1890s on (a she- IN BRIEF topic

an IN BRIEF biography of Captain John Smith, whose exploits in North America were already being dramatized in the early decades of the 17th century

discussion of George Chapman’s Virginia-themed masque at White Hall (performed before the king on 15 February 1613 in honor of the princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Frederick I, King of Bohemia) in the two Gallery exhibits, “Portraits of Virginian Algonquian Men” and “Portraits of Matoaka”

a digital edn. of Thomas Glover’s printed An Account of Virginia, Its Scituation, Temperature, Productions, Inhabitants, and Their Manner of Planting and Ordering Tobacco, etc. (1676) in the LIBRARY

more on Nathaniel Crouch’s very popular historical work on the Americas in the IN BRIEF topic on the bishop and the antipodes

more on the classical painter, Apelles, referenced by Smith, in the sidebar on Dürer’s Impudent Fly & Classical Connections for the GALLERY exhibit, “Portraits of Melancholy — I”


“passage to the Orient by way of ‘Verrazzano’s Sea’”

This was the mythical South Sea imagined by Europeans as an arm of the Pacific, somewhere off the Carolina coast, around north latitude 34°.

return to TEXT of webessay


“briefly explored by Lane’s men the previous year”

Ralph Lane was the first governor of the Roanoke colony, which had 108 colonists as of August 1585 when it was first established.

“Lane’s men” included a physician, a clergyman, a metallurgist, apothecaries, and other specialists, among them the “brilliant mathematician and scientist” Thomas Hariot, as well as John White, the artist and later governor of the 1587 colony.

Both Hariot and White were members of the “expedition sent by Lane to explore the area along the southern shore of Chesapeake Bay. They apparently set out by sea, sometime in the autumn [of 1585], along the coast, rounded Cape Henry and penetrated the Elizabeth River as far at least as the ‘city’ of Skicóac, the main centre of the Chesapeake Indians. Somewhere in the region the Englishmen, led by a colonel, set up camp. Though there is evidence of considerable surveying activity en route (e.g. White’s indications of shoals in Currituck Sound), we do not know where the camp was, for Lane, perhaps for reasons of security, has left no account of the expedition. This area, now part of Virginia, was the northern limit of the colonists’ survey. Lane was impressed by the fertility of the land and was interested particularly in locating a suitable harbour for possible future use and in learning more about the powerful group of Indian tribes known later as the Powhatan Confederacy. The expedition was away several months and may perhaps have returned in February 1586.” (Hulton, America, 1585 10–11)

return to TEXT of webessay


“the fifteen men left by Grenville”

Lane’s colony of 1585 departed Roanoke with Sir Francis Drake in 1586. The colony “was plagued by antagonisms between the leaders, unruliness among the men ..., hostility from the Indians, lack of tools to establish settlement on a secure basis, and inadequate supply of food.” Facing famine by the summer of 1586, and promised supplies not yet arrived from England, the colonists decided to return with Drake.

“Scarcely had they sailed when the supply ship promised by Ralegh reached Roanoke, found to its surprise no colony, and returned. Later in the summer a squadron, with some 400 men under Sir Richard Grenville, arrived. From a captured Indian Grenville learned of Lane’s departure. With inexplicable bad judgement, he left a small holding force of fifteen men, who were attacked by the Indians and did not survive; this was the first ‘lost colony’.” (Cumming et al., 178–9)

return to TEXT of webessay


“I tell thee, Golde is more plentifull there then Copper is with us”

“‘Sir Thomas More, in the second book of his Utopia preferreth iron before gold and silver.’ ‘And giveth us there also a plot to bring gold and silver into contempt: telling us how the Utopians imploy these mettals, in making of chamber pots, and vessels of more uncleane use; how they make fetters and chaines herewith to hold in their rebellious slaves and maelfactors; how they adorne their infants and little children with jewels and pretious stones, etc.’—HEYLYN; but see Utopia.” (Brown i: 31n1)

Brown is here quoting from Peter Heylyn, who published his own abbreviated Virginia narrative in Microcosmus, or a little description of the great world. A treatise historicall, geographicall, politicall, theologicall (1621, 1625, 1627, 1629, 1631, 1633, 1636, 1639), then greatly expanded it for Cosmographie in four books. Containing the chorographie and historie of the whole world, and all the principall kingdomes, provinces, seas and isles thereof (1652, 1657, 1666, 1669, 1670, 1674, 1677, 1682).

The English lust for gold, commented on by Native Americans and moralizing Europeans alike, would eventually be replaced by a more sophisticated understanding of the return-on-investment (ROI) of colonization, as presaged by such early published writers as Thomas Hariot and John Smith, and discussed in the more privately-circulated advisory scribal publications of many others. In the 1610s, Smith was still feeling the sting of having returned from America without finding gold or new supply-lines of precious metals and stones. In a preface to his A Description of New England (1616), addressed to the adventurers of London, Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth, Dartmouth, Barnstaple, Totness, and other towns which had furnished investors in voyages to New England, Smith emphasized “the value of the products of the New World, from which profits can be realized when the country is properly colonized.” (Wright, Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England 541)

By the following decade,

The hope of wealth through the development of colonies and the stimulation of trade, instead of the discovery of gold, was gaining ground. Richard Whitbourne, a merchant and ship captain, in 1620 published A Discourse And Discouery Of New-Found-Land, With many reasons to prooue how worthy and beneficiall a Plantation may there be made, after a far better manner than now it is. The British Museum copy has attached a broadside sheet, signed by the Bishop of London, authorizing the collection of funds to advance the distribution of the treatise. A command from the King to the Archbishops of York and Canterbury to order collections for the same purpose is also printed in the preface. Whitbourne insists upon the importance of colonies as a source of trade. In 1622 he published A Discourse Containing A Loving Invitation both Honourable, and profitable to all such as shall be Aduenturers, either in person, or purse, for the aduancement of his Maiesties most hopefull Plantation in the New-Found-Land, lately vndertaken. Again he insists upon the trade likely to develop in the new colony. Not gold mines but trade will bring prosperity, he points out, and calls attention to the Dutch by “whose wealth and strength gotten in a few yeeres only by fishing, are good testimonies.” (P. 22.) This point of view is found in much of the travel literature in the seventeenth century.

(Wright, Middle-Class Culture in
Elizabethan England

return to TEXT of webessay


“And for my part, I would a hundred thousand of ’hem were there,
for wee are all one Countrey-men now, yee know; and wee should
find ten times more comfort of them there, then wee doe heere.”

Only the first impression of the 1605 edition of Eastward Hoe included “this passage reflecting upon the Scots, for the publication of which the authors got into serious trouble, and in the later impressions these lines are omitted.” Segull’s speech was amended to read:

Seagull. As ever the sunne shind on: temperate and ful of all sorts of excellent viands; wilde bore is as common there as our tamest bacon is here; venison as mutton. And then you shall live freely there, without sargeants, or courtiers, or lawyers, or intelligencers. Then for your meanes to advancement, there it is simple, and not preposterously mixt. You may bee an alderman there, and never be scavinger; you may be any other officer, and never be a slave. You may come to preferment enough, and never be a pandar; to riches and fortune enough, and have never the more villanie nor the lesse witte. Besides, there wee shall have no more law then conscience, and not too much of eyther; serve God enough, eate and drinke inough, and “enough is as good as a feast.”

(qtd. in Alexander Brown, i: 31)

Brown comments:

The story is thus related in Ben Jonson’s conversations with Drummond: “He was dilated by Sir James Murray to the King, for writing something against the Scots in a play Eastward Hoe, and voluntarily imprissonned himself with Chapman and Marston, who had written it amongst them. The report was, that they should then have had their ears cut and noses. After their delivery, he banqueted all his friends; there was Camden, Selden, and others; at the midst of the feast his old mother dranke to him, and shew him a paper which she had (if the sentence had taken execution) to have mixed in the prisson among his drinke, which was full of lustie strong poison, and that she was no churle, she told, she minded first to have drunk of it herself.”

(Brown, i: 31n2)

return to TEXT of webessay


“wee’ll have our provided Supper brought a bord Sir Francis Drakes Ship”

“For long years the Golden Hind was preserved in Deptford dockyard as a memorial of the first English voyage ‘round about the world,’ the cabin being turned into a banqueting-house.” (Brown, i: 32n3).

return to TEXT of webessay

top of page

This Web page was last modified on:  07/18/2016 11:17 AM.