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A Colonial Governor Reports to Sir Walter Raleigh on the Natives of Virginia

In 1584, Queen Elizabeth I granted the rights to settle the Roanoke colony to Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh sent a fleet to investigate the area called Virginia that year. A group of colonists, led by Sir Richard Grenville, established a settlement in 1585. Grenville returned to England, leaving Governor Ralph Lane to command the settlement. These excerpts from Lane's report to Raleigh refer to the supernatural explanations with which native peoples sought to account for the presence of the strange newcomers, and also to the amount of help they provided to the would-be colonists, who nevertheless abandoned their settlement the following year.

Ensenore a Savage father to Pemisapan being the only friend to our nation that we had amongst them, and about [among those around] the King . . .

Ensenore . . . had often before told them . . . that we were the servants of God, and that we were not subject to be destroyed by them: but contrarywise, that they amongst them that sought our destruction, should find their own , and not be able to work ours, and that we being dead men were able to do them more hurt, then now we could do being alive: an opinion very confidently at this day [held] by the wisest amongst them, and of their old men, . . . and many of them hold opinion, that we be dead men returned into the world again , and that we do not remain dead but for a certain time, and that then we return again. . . . .

Insomuch as forthwith Ensenore won this resolution of [the King], that out of hand he should go about, and withal, to cause his men to set up weirs* forthwith for us . . . and did so labor the expedition of it, that in the end of April he had sowed a good quantity of ground, so much as had been sufficient, to have fed our whole company (God blessing the growth) and that by the belly, for a whole year: besides that he gave us a certain plot of ground for our selves to sow. All of which put us in marvelous comfort, if we could pass from April until the beginning of July, (which was to have been the beginning of their harvest,) that then a new supply out of England or else our own store would well enough maintain us.


* A fence or wattle (intertwined branches) placed in a stream to catch or retain fish

Source | Ralph Lane, An account of the particularities of the employments of the English men left in Virginia by Sir Richard Greenevill under the charge of Master Ralph Lane General of the same, from the 17. of August 1585. until the 18. of June 1586. at which time they departed the Country: sent and directed to Sir Walter Ralegh,
Creator | Ralph Lane
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Ralph Lane, “A Colonial Governor Reports to Sir Walter Raleigh on the Natives of Virginia,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 18, 2024,

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