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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.