Primary Source: Amadas and Barlowe Explore the Outer Banks

On April 27, 1584, Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe left the west coast of England in two ships to explore the North American coast for Sir Walter Raleigh. The party of explorers landed on July 13, 1584, on the North Carolina coast just north of Roanoke Island, and claimed the land in the name of Queen Elizabeth. Captain Barlowe's report describes the land and the people he encountered.

The second of July we found shole water, wher we smelt so sweet, and so strong a smel, as if we had bene in the midst of some delicate garden abounding with all kinde of odoriferous flowers, by which we were assured, that the land could not be farre distant: and keeping good watch, and bearing but slacke saileThe sails were slack because there was little wind to fill them and to propel the ship., the fourth of the same moneth we arrived upon the coast, which we supposed to be a continent and firme lande, and we sayled along the same a hundred and twentie English miles before we could finde any entrance, or river issuing into the Sea. The first that appeared unto us, we entred, though not without some difficultie, & cast anker about three harquebuz-shot within the havens mouth on the left hand of the same: and after thanks given to God for our safe arrivall thither, we manned our boats, and went to view the land next adjoyning, and to take possession of the same, in the right of the Queenes most excellent MajestieAmadas and Barlowe followed the example of European explorers since Columbus: On stepping out of their boats onto the shore, they claimed the land in the name of their ruler, Queen Elizabeth.

How much land they thought they were claiming is uncertain — probably they themselves had no good idea. And it doesn’t seem to have concerned them when, a few days later, they met the brother of the king who already ruled the land they had just claimed. Since he was not a Christian monarch, his claim to the land was irrelevant to them., and rightfull Queene, and Princesse of the same, and after delivered the same over to your use, according to her Majesties grant, and letters patents, under her Highnesse great sealeThe Queen had granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter giving him exclusive use of and profit from the land his men could claim.. Which being performed, according to the ceremonies used in such enterprises, we viewed the land about us, being, whereas we first landed, very sandie and low towards the waters side, but so full of grapes, as the very beating and surge of the Sea overflowed them, of which we found such plentie, as well there as in all places else, both on the sand and on the greene soile on the hils, as in the plaines, as well on every little shrubbe, as also climing towardes the tops of high Cedars, that I thinke in all the world the like abundance is not to be found: and my selfe having seene those parts of Europe that most abound, find such difference as were incredible to be written.

We passed from the Sea side towardes the toppes of those hilles next adjoyning, being but of meane higth, and from thence wee behelde the Sea on both sides to the North, and to the South, finding no ende any of both wayes.Here Amadas and Barlowe discover that they are not on the mainland at all, but on a barrier island. From the description of the hills and woods and from the fact that they were near Roanoke Island, we can guess that they landed near Nags Head. This lande laye stretching it selfe to the West, which after wee found to bee but an Island of twentie miles long, and not above sixe miles broade. Under the banke or hill whereon we stoode, we behelde the vallyes replenished with goodly Cedar trees, and having discharged our harquebuz-shot, such a flocke of Cranes (the most part white), arose under us, with such a cry redoubled by many ecchoes, as if an armie of men had showted all together.

This Island had many goodly woodes full of Deere, Conies, Hares, and Fowle, even in the middest of Summer in incredible abundance.... We remained by the side of this Island two whole dayes before we saw any people of the Countrey: the third day we espied one small boate rowing towardes us having in it three persons: this boat came to the Island side, foure harquebuzshot from our shippes, and there two of the people remaining, the third came along the shoreside towards us, and wee being then all within boord, he walked up and downe upon the point of the land next unto us: then the Master and the Pilot of the Admirall, Simon Ferdinando, and the Captaine Philip Amadas, my selfe, and others rowed to the land, whose comming this fellow attended, never making any shewe of feare or doubt. And after he had spoken of many things not understood by us, we brought him with his owne good liking, aboord the shipsBarlowe wants to make it clear that they did not kidnap the Indian., and gave him a shirt, a hat & some other things, and made him taste of our wine, and our meat, which he liked very wel: and after having viewed both barks, he departed, and went to his owne boat againe, which hee had left in a little Cove or Creeke adjoyning: assoone as hee was two bow shoot into the water, hee fell to fishing, and in lesse then halfe an houre, he had laden his boate as deepe as it could swimme, with which hee came againe to the point of the lande, and there he divided his fish into two parts, pointing one part to the ship, and the other to the pinnesse: which, after he had, as much as he might, requited the former benefites received, departed out of our sight.

The next day there came unto us divers boates, and in one of them the Kings brother, accompanied with fortie or fiftie men, very handsome and goodly people, and in their behaviour as mannerly and civill as any of Europe. His name was Granganimeo, and the king is called Wingina, the countrey Wingandacoa, and now by her Majestie Virginia. The manner of his comming was in this sort: hee left his boates altogether as the first man did a little from the shippes by the shore, and came along to the place over against the shipes, followed with fortie men. When he came to the place, his servants spread a long matte upon the ground, on which he sate downe, and at the other ende of the matte foure others of his companie did the like, the rest of his men stood round about him, somewhat a farre off: when we came to the shore to him with our weapons, hee never mooved from his place, nor any of the other foure, nor never mistrusted any harme to be offered from us, but sitting still he beckoned us to come and sit by him, which we performed: and being set hee made all signes of joy and welcome, striking on his head and his breast and afterwardes on ours to shew wee were all one, smiling and making shewe the best he could of al love, and familiaritie. After hee had made a long speech unto us, wee presented him with divers things, which hee received very joyfully, and thankefully. None of the company durst speake one worde all the time: only the foure which were at the other ende, spake one in the others eare very softly.

The King is greatly obeyed, and his brothers and children reverencedBarlowe describes the people of Roanoke as extremely deferential — submissive and respectful — to their king, his brother, and his brother’s wife. In fact, though, the native rulers of this region were not like European kings and emperors; they worked like everyone else and made decisions with a council. It seems reasonable that the Indians would have let their leaders do the talking when meeting dangerous-looking men from a faraway place, but Barlowe may also have exaggerated the separation between the rulers and the ruled.: the King himself in person was at our being there, sore wounded in a fight which hee had with the King of the next countrey, called Wingina, and was shot in two places through the body, and once cleane through the thigh, but yet he recovered: by reason whereof and for that hee lay at the chief towne of the countrey, being sixe dayes journey off, we saw him not at all.

After we had presented this his brother with such things as we thought he liked, wee likewise gave somewhat to the other that sat with him on the matte: but presently he arose and tooke all from them and put it into his owne basket, making signes and tokens, that all things ought to bee delivered unto him, and the rest were but his servants, and followers. A day or two after this, we fell to trading with them, exchanging some things that we had, for Chamoys, Buffe, and Deere skinnes: when we shewed him all our packet of merchandize, of all things that he sawe, a bright tinne dish most pleased him, which hee presently tooke up and clapt it before his breast, and after made a hole in the brimme thereof and hung it about his necke, making signes that it would defende him against his enemies arrowes: for those people maintaine a deadly and terrible warre, with the people and King adjoyningWarfare between tribes was common in precontact Virginia and North Carolina. You might think that potential settlers might have been interested in that fact, but Barlowe passes over it fairly quickly, perhaps because he doesn’t take the Indians or their weapons seriously... We exchanged our tinne dish for twentie skinnes, woorth twentie Crownes, or twentie Nobles: and a copper kettle for fiftie skins woorth fifty Crownes. They offered us good exchange for our hatchets, and axes, and for knives, and would have given any thing for swordes: but wee would not depart with any. After two or three dayes the Kings brother came aboord the shippes, and dranke wine, and eat of our meat and of our bread, and liked exceedingly thereof: and after a few dayes overpassed, he brought his wife with him to the ships, his daughter and two or three children: his wife was very well favoured, of meane stature, and very bashfull: shee had on her backe a long cloake of leather, with the furre side next to her body, and before her a piece of the same: about her forehead shee had a bande of white Corall, and so had her husband many times: in her eares shee had bracelets of pearles hanging downe to her middle, whereof wee delivered your worship a little bracelet, and those were of the bignes of good pease. The rest of her women of the better sort had pendants of copper hanging in either eare, and some of the children of the Kings brother and other noble men, have five or sixe in either eareThe Indians of the Chesapeake did use copper to distinguish rank and privilege — which is why they were happy to trade for the Englishmen’s copper kettle. Once the English learned this, early shipments to the Jamestown colony included sheets of copper for trade with local Indians.

Barlowe refers to the people wearing the copper jewelry as people “of the better sort.” In England, people “of the better sort” were of the upper classes — the nobility, which was mostly hereditary. Barlowe, seeing native men and women wearing extra jewelry, assumes that they are “of the better sort” and “noble” as well. We know that the copper jewelry was a mark of status, but does Barlowe’s assumption that they were “noble” seem reasonable to you? Are there other explanations for their special dress? What roles might these men and women have played in native society?.: he himselfe had upon his head a broad plate of golde, or copper, for being unpolished we knew not what mettal it should beThere were no gold mines in this region, but Indians in Virginia mined copper., neither would he by any means suffer us to take it off his head, but feeling it, it would bow very easily. His apparell was as his wives, onely the women weare their haire long on both sides, and the men but on one. They are of colour yellowish, and their haire black for the most part, and yet we saw children that had very fine aburne and chesnut coloured haire.

After that these women had bene there, there came downe from all parts great store of people, bringing with them leather, corall, divers kindes of dies, very excellent, and exchanged with us: but when Granganimeo the kings brother was present, none durst trade but himselfe: except such as weare red pieces of copper on their heads like himselfe: for that is the difference betweene the noble men, and the gouvernours of countreys, and the meaner sort. And we both noted there, and you have understood since by these men, which we brought home, that no people in the worlde cary more respect to their King, Nobilitie, and Governours, then these doe. The Kings brothers wife, when she came to us, as she did many times, was followed with forty or fifty women alwayes: and when she came into the shippe, she left them all on land, saving her two daughters, her nurse and one or two more. The kings brother alwayes kept this order, as many boates as he would come withall to the shippes, so many fires would hee make on the shore a farre off, to the end we might understand with what strength and company he approched.This sounds like a well-practiced strategy for communicating with potential enemies who might attack anyone who surprised them. Clearly, as Barlowe mentions, the people of the Outer Banks did not all get along with one another!

Their boates are made of one tree, either of Pine or of Pitch trees: a wood not commonly knowen to our people, nor found growing in England. They have no edge-tooles to make them withall: if they have any they are very fewe, and those it seemes they had twentie yeres since, which, as those two men declared, was out of a wrake which happened upon their coast of some Christian ship, being beaten that way by some storme and outragious weather, whereof none of the people were saved, but only the ship, or some part of her being cast upon the sand, out of whose sides they drew the nayles and the spikes, and with those they made their best instruments. The manner of making their boates is thus: they burne downe some great tree, or take such as are winde fallen, and putting gumme and rosen upon one side thereof, they set fire into it, and when it hath burnt it hollow, they cut out the coale with their shels, and ever where they would burne it deeper or wider they lay on gummes, which burne away the timber, and by this meanes they fashion very fine boates, and such as will transport twentie men. Their oares are like scoopes, and many times they set with long poles, as the depth serveth.

The Kings brother had great liking of our armour, a sword, and divers other things which we had: and offered to lay a great boxe of pearle in gage for them: but we refused it for this time, because we would not make them knowe, that we esteemed thereof, untill we had understoode in what places of the countrey the pearle grew: which now your Worshippe doeth very well understandNote the explorers’ interest in the source of the pearls — as in the copper and gold Barlowe mentioned earlier. Needless to say, Raleigh would have been very happy to learn of a source of precious metals or gems in the country they had claimed for him..

He was very just of his promise: for many times we delivered him merchandize upon his word, but ever he came within the day and performed his promise. He sent us every day a brase or two of fat Bucks, Conies, Hares, Fish and best of the world. He sent us divers kindes of fruites, Melons, Walnuts, Cucumbers, Gourdes, Pease, and divers rootes, and fruites very excellent good, and of their Countrey corne, which is very white, faire and well tasted, and groweth three times in five monethsHere, Barlowe is pointing out that North Carolina’s growing season is longer than England’s, which should make it easier for a colony to feed itself.: in May they sow, in July they reape, in June they sow, in August they reape: in July they sow, in September they reape: onely they cast the corne into the ground, breaking a little of the soft turfe with a wodden mattock, or pickaxe; our selves proovedtested. the soile, and put some of our Pease in the ground, and in tenne dayes they were of fourteene ynches high: they have also Beanes very faire of divers colours and wonderfull plentie: some growing naturally, and some in their gardens, and so have they both wheat and oates.

The soile is the most plentifull, sweete, fruitfull and wholesome of all the worlde: there are above fourteene severall sweete smelling timber treesThat is, more than fourteen different kinds of trees. This is not an exaggeration. Nags Head Woods, near where Amadas and Barlowe landed, is home to more than 300 species of plants, including eleven species of oak, ten ferns, three pines, two magnolias, two cedars, and two willows., and the most part of their underwoods are Bayes and such like: they have those Okes that we have, but farre greater and better. After they had bene divers times aboord our shippes, my selfe, with seven more went twentie mile into the River, that runneth towarde the Citie of Skicoak, which River they call Occam: and the evening following wee came to an Island which they call Roanoak, distant from the harbour by which we entred, seven leagues: and at the North end thereof was a village of nine houses, built of Cedar, and fortified round about with sharpe trees, to keepe out their enemies, and the entrance into it made like a turnepike very artificially; when wee came towardes it, standing neere unto the waters side, the wife of Granganimo the Kings brother came running out to meete us very cheerfully and friendly, her husband was not then in the village; some of her people shee commanded to drawe our boate on shore for the beating of the billoe: others she appointed to cary us on their backes to the dry ground, and others to bring our oares into the house for feare of stealingFrom this passage it isn’t clear whether the English mistrusted the Indians, or whether the king’s brother’s wife mistrusted some of her people.. When we were come into the utter roome, having five roomes in her house, she caused us to sit downe by a great fire, and after tooke off our clothes and washed them, and dryed them againe: some of the women plucked off our stockings and washed them, some washed our feete in warme water, and she herselfe tooke great paines to see all things ordered in the best maner shee could, making great haste to dresse some meate for us to eate.

After we had thus dryed ourselves, she brought us into the inner roome, where shee set on the boord standing along the house, some wheate like furmentie, soddensoaked with water. Here Barlowe means that the venison was stewed. Later in this paragraph, when he says that water is sodden with ginger, cinnamon, and sassafras, he means that the spices are steeped in the water like tea. Venison, and roasted, fish sodden, boyled and roasted, Melons rawe, and sodden, rootes of divers kindes and divers fruites: their drinke is commonly water, but while the grape lasteth, they drinke wine, and for want of caskes to keepe it, all the yere after they drink water, but it is sodden with Ginger in it and blacke Sinamon, and sometimes Sassaphras, and divers other wholesome, and medicinable hearbes and trees. We were entertained with all love and kindnesse, and with much bountie, after their maner, as they could possibly devise. sassafraWe found the people most gentle, loving and faithfull, voide of all guile and treason, and such as live after the manner of the golden age.The “golden age” refers to Greek mythology. In the Works and Days, the Greek poet Hesiod wrote that there were four “ages” before the present one, each less perfect than the last. In the Golden Age, which came first, there was absolute peace and the earth produced food without the need for agriculture, so that no one needed to work. Mortals lived like gods, and when they died they died peacefully as if they were falling asleep. The Golden Age ended when Prometheus gave mortals the secret of fire.

In stories of the Golden Age, as in the story of the Garden of Eden, humans lived in paradise until they tried to know too much and to become like gods — and then were thrown out and forced to work and suffer. In both stories, too, when humans “fell” they took up the trappings of civilization, such as wearing clothes. The similarities between Biblical story and Greek myth meant that the story of the Golden Age fit neatly into Europeans’ understanding of the world.

Here, Barlowe is comparing the native people of the Outer Banks to people of the Golden Age — suggesting that they are completely peaceful and happy and that they have hardly any need to work, since food will grow with so little effort. Compared with Europeans, the Indians wore little clothing, and their nakedness, too, reminded explorers of people of the Golden Age or of Adam and Eve in Eden. The people onely care howe to defend themselves from the cold in their short winter, and to feed themselves with such meat as the soile affoordeth: there meat is very well sodden and they make broth very sweet and savorie: their vessels are earthen pots, very large, white and sweete, their dishes are wooden platters of sweet timber: within the place where they feede was their lodging, and within that their Idoll, which they worship, of whome they speake incredible things. While we were at meate, there came in at the gates two or three men with their bowes and arrowes from hunting, whom when wee espied, we beganne to looke one towardes another, and offered to reach our weapons: but as soone as shee espied our mistrust, shee was very much mooved, and caused some of her men to runne out, and take away their bowes and arrowes and breake them, and withall beate the poore fellowes out of the gate againeHere it becomes clear that the “fear of stealing” Barlowe mentioned earlier was felt by the Englishmen, not by the Indians.. When we departed in the evening and would not tary all night she was very sorry, and gave us into our boate our supper halfe dressed, pottes and all, and brought us to our boate side, in which wee lay all night, remooving the same a prettie distance from the shoare: shee perceiving our jealousie, was much grieved, and sent divers men and thirtie women, to sit all night on the banke side by us, and sent us into our boates five mattes to cover us from the raine, using very many wordes, to entreate us to rest in their houses: but because wee were fewe men, and if wee had miscaried, the voyage had bene in very great danger, wee durst not adventure any thing, although there was no cause of doubt: for a more kinde and loving people there can not be found in the worlde, as farre as we have hitherto had triallIf the Indians were truly “void of all guile and treason” and as peaceful as Barlowe says, why didn’t the Englishmen stay the night? Were they just being cautious? Was Barlowe exaggerating how kind and gentle the people were? (Why might he do that?)..


Credit text

From Arthur Barlowe, The First Voyage to Roanoke, 1584.