Sir Walter Raleigh’s Attempt to Colonize America (1584-1587)

In 1578, ten years before the Invincible Armada sailed for England, a scheme was laid to plant on the coast of America an English settlement, or military post, from which attacks might be made upon Spanish fleets. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the author of the scheme, failed, but the idea of making a settlement in America had found a lodging-place in the English mind.

A little later Sir Walter Raleigh determined upon another effort. He saw that America’s greatest wealth did not consist in gold and silver, but in the opportunities it offered for the growth of a great people. He earnestly desired to plant an English commonwealth in America, and he had the honor of making the first English settlement. After obtaining a patent from the queen, he sent out in 1584 two vessels to make explorations. The explorers returned with glowing accounts of the new land and its people, and Queen Elizabeth was so delighted with the reports of the new country that she called it Virginia in honor of herself, the “Virgin Queen.”

In 1585 Raleigh sent out one hundred colonists, whom landed on Roanoke Island, bright with hope. As soon as the ships sailed back to England the unfitness of the colonists for their new trials became apparent. Like all who had come before them they failed because of their thirst for gold. Instead of building homes and trying to cultivate the soil, they gave themselves up to searching for gold and silver. Moreover, they showed so little wisdom in dealing with the Indians that latter became bitter enemies, eager to destroy the white strangers. The natural result of the experiment was failure. Fortunately for them Drake, who was returning from one of his cruising expeditions, happened along and carried the colonists back to England. The expedition was not wholly fruitless, however, for they took back to England on their return two products which were evidence of the real wealth and promise of the new country. These products were tobacco and the common potato.

Raleigh did not lose hope. Two years later he made a second attempt. He sent out a much larger number of settlers, among whom were women and children. The settlement was made at Roanoke under the leadership of Governor White sailed again for Roanoke. Not one of the colonists was ever found.

Raleigh sent out several expeditions in search of the lost colony, buy finally gave up hope of finding it or of planting another, He had spent what was equivalent to more than a million dollars of our present money. Although nothing remained to be seen in return for this vast expenditure of money, Raleigh’s work was not a failure, for his efforts had suggested to England that the real wealth of America lay in the opportunity it afforded for planting colonies which in time would become the foundation of a new English nation.

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