Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Collections >> The North Carolina Experience >> Document Menu >> Summary

Thomas Hariot, 1560-1621, John White, fl. 1585-1593, and Richard Hakluyt, 1552?-1616
A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia: of the Commodities and of the Nature and Manners of the Naturall Inhabitants : Discouered bÿ the English Colonÿ There Seated by Sir Richard Greinuile Knight In the ÿeere 1585 : Which Remained Vnder the Gouerenment of Twelue Monethes, At the Speciall Charge and Direction of the Honourable Sir Walter Raleigh Knight Lord Warden of the Stanneries Who therein Hath Beene Fauoured and Authorised bÿ Her Maiestie and Her Letters Patents / This Fore Booke Is Made in English by Thomas Hariot seruant to the Aboue-Named Sir Walter, a Member of the Colonÿ, and There Imploÿed in Discouering
[New York]: [J. Sabin & Sons], [1871].

Summary

Thomas Hariot (also spelled Harriott and Harriot) (1560?-1621), explorer, scientist, and author, was the first English compiler and publisher of information relating to the New World. By 1580, Hariot had already been tutoring Sir Walter Raleigh and his sea captains in mathematics and navigation for a few years and was involved in the initial planning of Raleigh's Roanoke venture in 1583. But his first-hand experience in England's early attempts at exploring and colonizing the New World came from his participation in the second Roanoke expedition of 1585. After returning to England, Hariot lent his navigational expertise to helping the English defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. In the early 1600s, though, he served a brief sentence in the Tower of London for his role in a feud between Raleigh and the court of King James. By the mid-1600s, Hariot returned to his mathematical and astronomical interests, which he pursued until his death in England on July 2, 1621.

Illustrator John White was also part of early English expeditions to the Americas, including Martin Frobisher's exploration of the east coast of Canada in 1577. He traveled with Hariot on the 1585 Roanoke expedition and later returned there in 1587 as governor. White's 1587 party consisted of farmers, artisans, and their families, all willing and able to make a life for themselves. These pioneers were not paid wages but were promised shares in the colony's profits and grants of land as well as a voice in their own civil government. This colony, like the two previous, was lost, and White fled back to England. Raleigh's fortunes faded rapidly in the 1590s and he eventually lost his royal charter in 1603, foiling future colonization attempts. In the meantime, White had moved to Ireland, where he lived the remainder of his days, occasionally corresponding with translator Sir Richard Hakluyt.

Hariot and White both were members of the second Roanoke expedition in 1585. It is possible that they were also part of the first voyage in 1584, although the record is unclear. In June 1585, Sir Richard Greenville brought a group of one hundred sailors, soldiers, and colonists to Roanoke Island and left them under the command of Ralph Lane. The men spent an unhappy year exploring the mainland and the southern coast of Virginia, digging for gold and trying to build a settlement. The colonists arrived too late in the year to plant crops and avoided starvation largely because of the goodwill of the Native Americans in the area, led by the chief Manteo and other neighboring tribes. English-Indian relations, however, remained unstable throughout the year.

In the meantime, Hariot and White devoted themselves to their recording duties and managed to get along much better with the natives than did Lane. The pair ventured far and wide from the Roanoke base, collaborated on maps, drawings, and scientific notes, and sought the best way to interact with local Indians. By June 1586, the colonists' provisions were running out and tensions with the Indians flared into violence. The English pirate Sir Francis Drake arrived with his fleet just in time and offered to transplant Lane's colony to a safer, more congenial site further north in Virginia. A sudden hurricane, however, scattered Drake's ships and forced the colonists to make a desperate retreat back to England. In the rush to depart, a good portion of Hariot's notes and White's paintings and drawings were undoubtedly lost.

Hariot's Briefe and True Report, first published in Latin in 1588, was an account of his exploration during the 1585 expedition. Hakluyt included it in his compendium, Principall Navigations of the English Nation, the next year. In 1590, Theodor de Bry issued elaborate versions of Hariot's report in four languages. Most importantly, de Bry also included a new section with White's illustrations annotated by Hariot. In this volume, de Bry used his own engraved versions of White's watercolors, which were not published in their original form until the twentieth century. White later gave sets of his original watercolors to wealthy patrons, and the paintings eventually found their way into the British Museum. The version of Hariot offered here is a facsimile edition of the 1590 publication and includes a section of White's drawings.

White had also kept a journal of his experiences in 1587, which Hakluyt included in Principall Navigations under the title "The fourth Voyage Made to Virginia with Three Ships." Hakluyt also published White's later writings about the search for the Lost Colony. White's musings, along with tantalizing reports of survivors from English explorers in the Chesapeake Bay in the 1600s, kept the mystery of "The Lost Colony" alive. It became a historical legend that endures today.

Although it would be Jamestown, Virginia, not Roanoke, North Carolina, that would become the site of England's first permanent settlement in America in 1607, the Jamestown colonists' expectations of the New World were shaped by the lessons of Roanoke, especially as related in the works of Hariot and White. Hariot had to admit that Carolina and Virginia were not rich in gold, but he took pains in his report to point out the abundance of commercially viable and edible plants and animals, cataloging the variety of flora and fauna and their commercial potential. In describing the abundance and nature of silk worms, the dense pine forests, the rich soil, the profusion of game animals, and medicinal plants, Hariot presented the New World as a land of wealth. Their words and images both inspired potential English investors and settlers and enlightened them with practical information necessary for survival.

Hariot and White also wanted to dispel the negative rumors spread by the discontented Roanoke refugees. They presented a dignified and peaceful portrait of the Indians to counter the charge that they were violent savages. Their drawings and writings comprise one of the best records of sixteenth-century Native Americans during the time of first contact with Europeans.

Works Consulted: Powell, William S., North Carolina Through Four Centuries, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989; Parramore, Tom, and Barbara Parramore, Looking for the "Lost Colony," Raleigh: Tanglewood Press, 1984; Shirley, John, "Thomas Hariot," Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, ed., Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996; Quin, David B., "John White," Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, ed., Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

See also: "The fourth Voyage Made to Virginia with Three Ships"

Michael Sistrom

Document menu