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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Pemisapan (Wingina)

by F. Roy Johnson

d. 1 June 1586

See also: Dasemunkepeuc

Pemisapan (Wingina), was king, or head man, of the Algonquian (or Algonkin)-speaking Indians on Roanoke Island and the opposite mainland when Sir Walter Raleigh was seeking to establish an English colony on the North Carolina coast. The Indian king was first mentioned by Arthur Barlowe in 1584 in his report to Raleigh concerning his and Philip Amadas's exploration or fact-finding mission. The explorers conversed and traded with Granganimeo, brother of King Wingina, who was said to be some distance away at "the main village" recuperating from wounds he had received in a fight with the chief of a neighboring country.

Soon after Raleigh's first colony, with Ralph Lane as governor, had settled on Roanoke Island in 1585, King Wingina took the name of Pemisapan. At first relations between him and the English were friendly, but friendship turned to enmity when the English exploited and subjugated the Indians through the threat of their superior weaponry and the natives' superstitions. Pemisapan and his great men considered several schemes to throw off the English yoke of oppression, and Lane came to regard him as a serious threat to the well-being of his colony. Rather than confronting the English alone with his small band of warriors from Roanoke and Dasemunkepeuc on the mainland near present Manns Harbor, Pemisapan sought the assistance of stronger tribes.

When Lane visited King Menatonon, the strong king of the Chowanocs on the Chowan River, in the spring of 1586, he learned that Pemisapan's emissaries had preceded him. However, he also learned that Menatonon had not been moved by his intrigues. But the Moratocs, a weaker group, were frightened when warned that the English planned to kill them. When Lane sought to explore the Roanoke River upon which they lived, they abandoned their villages and retired with their food into the interior.

When Lane and his men returned safely from Chowanoc and Moratoc, a disappointed Pemisapan gathered up his people at Roanoke and retired with them to the village of Dasemunkepeuc on the mainland, leaving the English to plant and tend their own crops and catch their own fish.

About this time Pemisapan's father, Ensenore, a man of great influence as "an advisor and prophet," died, leaving his son unrestrained. Forthwith Pemisapan began formulating plans to unite the coastal tribes in one great effort to destroy the English. Largely because of Menatonon's advice King Okisko of the Weapemeocs declined to be enticed by the promise of much copper to join him. Skiko, Menatonon's son who was held hostage by the English at Roanoke, told Lane of Pemisapan's plot, and Lane decided that the troublemaker should be destroyed.

On the morning of 1 June 1586, Lane and twenty-five of his men crossed over Croatan Sound in his largest boat and a canoe about three miles to Dasemunkepeuc. They hailed one of Pemisapan's men who was standing watch at the shore, and the man carried a message from Lane to his chief. The Englishmen were on their way to Croatoan and had stopped to complain about one of Pemisapan's men who had sought to free a prisoner.

Pemisapan and seven or eight of his great men and their followers came down to the shore. Whereupon Lane gave the watchword "Christ our victory" and his men shot into the group of Indians. Pemisapan was hit by a pistol ball and fell to the ground as if mortally wounded. But shortly he "started up and ran away as though he had not been touched." As he ran he was shot through the buttocks by one Kelly or Gavin ("mine Irish boy") with a petronel, a large cavalry pistol. The crippled chief then was chased into a woods and killed by Thomas Hariot and Edward Nugent, another Irishman. Soon they returned to the company with the king's head.

Although Lane may have prevented an Indian assault on the English at Roanoke, Pemisapan's followers became enemies unto death, perhaps costing the lives of some later arrivals at Roanoke Island.


David B. Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 2 vols. (1955).

Additional resources:

Oberg, Michael Leroy. 2008. The head in Edward Nugent's hand: Roanoke's forgotten Indians. University of Pennsylvania Press.

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