The Search for the First English Settlement in America: America's First Science Center

The Search for the First English Settlement in America: America's First Science Center

by Gary Carl Grassl
In 1585, the English made their first attempt to gain a foothold in what is today the United States. These Elizabethans studied the flora and fauna, the minerals and metals of what they called Virginia. Their findings showed enough economic promise to encourage them to establish a permanent settlement 22 years later at Jamestown.

American technology


In 1585, the English made their first attempt to gain a foothold in what is today the United States. These Elizabethans studied the flora and fauna, the minerals and metals of what they called Virginia. Their findings showed enough economic promise to encourage them to establish a permanent settlement 22 years later at Jamestown.

American technology began in 1585 in an unlikely spot-a small island inside the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This book explores what National Geographic calls "Colonial America's First Science Center. Conceived by Ivor Noël Hume, this name belies the humble birth of our technology in a small shed bordered by horizontal logs. Here, the "mineral man" Joachim Gans tested native copper objects for their silver content. But why was he forced to rely on a make-shift assay oven made of locally baked bricks? This at a time when an assayer never left home without his professionally constructed metal furnace? This and many other questions about the first English Settlement are tackled in this book.

The site of this pioneer technological activity has been pin pointed by archaeologists. The location of the first fort and settlement is also known-official historians tell us. According to the U.S. National Park Service and the State of North Carolina, it was located at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Island, NC. Here, in 1950, the National Park Service re-excavated the remains of an old earthwork and styled it "Fort Raleigh." "Historian Gary Grassl re-examines the evidence both archaeologically and documentary and puts forth a convincing argument that at the Fort Raleigh site seeing should not be believing. In sodoing, he makes a major contribution to the annals of Roanoke Island. At the same time, he addresses the still vexing question of where to look for the archaeological footprints" of the 1585 settlement. "His persistence in his documentary digging has been rewarded to a degree that archaeology has not, and in his The Search for the First English Settlement in America, Mr. Grassl makes an enduring contribution whose findings cannot-or should not-be ignored." These are the words of Noël Hume, the foremost American authority on early English colonization.

The author examines clues found on the ground and in documents. For example, what clues does the big breach in the center of the fort's western bastion offer toward solving the mystery of the origin of "Fort Raleigh." Does this anomaly plus old maps bolster the supposition that this fort was built more than a century after the Elizabethans? The reader is invited to decide if Fort Raleigh National Historic Site really marks the location of the First English Settlement. Or if this settlement was located somewhere else entirely. If that is true, archaeologists have been digging in the wrong place for more than 50 years. What clues can we pick up from John White, cartographers, early inhabitants of Roanoke Island or the Colonial General Assembly? The Search for the First English Settlement in America reads like a mystery novel, and the reader is encouraged to play historical detective. However, this is not a work of fiction; it deals strictly in facts.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.25(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.59(d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpts from Introduction

This First Settlement in what is today the United States has sometimes been called "the Cradle of America," because it was here that our country began. Three successive groups made the First Settlement their home. They all came at the initiative of Sir Walter Raleigh during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Before the settlers, however, Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe explored the nearby islands and sounds. In his famous sketch, the artist John White shows them sailing toward the Indian village of Roanoac in 1584; it was northwest of an inlet later called Shallowbag Bay. The First Colony of 107 settlers arrived in the area of Roanoke Island in June 1585. They began to build a fort and an adjacent small village that August under the leadership of their "Governour" Ralph Lane. He named the fortification "the Newe Forte in Verginia," and the village he called the "towne." This fort plus "towne" constituted the First English Settlement in America. Because it included a number of soldiers, historians have labeled this First Colony the "military colony." However, it was much more than that. The settlers included the astronomer and algebraist Thomas Harriot and a team of mineral men featuring the senior metallurgist Joachim Gans. These pioneers were a venturesome lot: They landed in the American wilderness and forthwith set out to study its flora and fauna and to discover and test its potential commodities. Harriot left a fascinating account-A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia. The mineralogists built a laboratory and conducted tests.

Yet, the First Colony was not a purely English enterprise. It is true thatthe English took the lead and made up the large majority of the pioneers on Roanoke Island. However, side by side with them labored Irishmen, Germans, Frenchmen and others. While it was not quite modern America in miniature, the First Colony foreshadowed the diverse, pluralistic society that would come to characterize our nation. We even witness religious diversity; among the Christians was a Jew-the metallurgist Gans. However, these nationalities were not feuding and fighting as in Europe but working together. People from all over the world have contributed their numbers and strength to the American people. We are, in fact, a nation of nations, and it all began on Roanoke.

We may trace the earliest beginnings of our country to the 107 men who established the First English Settlement in 1585. Likewise, we may trace the genesis of our mining and metals industry to the activities of the German mineral specialists among the first settlers. Our great industry had its beginning, in a sense, with a homemade assay oven in a crude laboratory. Ivor Noël Hume has called it tellingly "America's First Science Center...

The First Colony abandoned Roanoke Island after less than a year, because of Indian hostility and lack of food. They returned to England with Sir Francis Drake, who stopped by after having raided Spanish ports. Sir Richard Grenville, arriving too tardily with supplies for Lane, left a holding party of 15 to 18 men in the summer of 1586. Because this group was so small, historians have hesitated to call it a colony. However, it was the second contingent at the First English Settlement. Attacked by Indians, the survivors of Grenville's tiny garrison fought their way to their boat only to vanish from history.

The Second Colony, led by John White, arrived in 1587; these 117 men, women and children lived in the same village as the first two groups, but they enclosed it with a wooden palisade. Here, on August 13, 1587, their Native American friend Manteo was
christened and dubbed Lord of Roanoke and Dasemunkepeuc. Here, on August 18, the first English child-Virginia Dare-was born in America. Her grandfather, White, went back to England for supplies. When he returned 3 years later, Virginia Dare and the other settlers had disappeared mysteriously to become enshrined in American history and legend as "the Lost Colony.

We are familiar to a smaller or greater extent with each of these three pioneer attempts at colonizing the American continent. However, the precise location of their fort and village has posed as much a mystery to historians and archaeologists as the fate of "the Lost Colony" itself. This book seeks to solve this enigma as it sets out to discover the locus of the First English Settlement in America . . . .

The First Settlement was, of course, much more than a piece of land, a fort and an assay furnace. It was flesh and blood, men and women. I will attempt to tell their story in these pages.

Meet the Author

Gary Grassl pursued a 28-year career as a writer-editor with The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. He has published historical articles in various magazines including the Journal of American Jewish History and the Journal of German-American History. In May 2000, he received a citation from the Governor of Maryland "in recognition of [his] distinguished achievements as a well known German-American historian."

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >