The Explorers: Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh is the nineteenth figure in the exploration of North America by non-indigenous people. This was a continuing effort to map and explore the continent and advance the economic interests of said non-indigenous peoples of North America. It spanned centuries, and consisted of efforts by numerous people and expeditions from various foreign countries to map the continent.
The European colonization of the Americas describes the history of the settlement and establishment of control of the continents of the Americas by most of the naval powers of Western Europe. This began with the Norse colonization of North America in the late 10th century CE when Norsemen explored and settled areas of the North Atlantic including the northeastern fringes of North America. The Norse settlements in the North American island of Greenland lasted for almost 500 years though there is no evidence of any lasting Norse settlements on mainland North America.
Systematic European colonization began in 1492, when a Spanish expedition headed by the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a new trade route to the Far East but inadvertently landed in what came to be known to Europeans as the “New World”. He ran aground on December 5, 1492 on Cat Island (then called Guanahani) in The Bahamas, which the Lucayan people had inhabited since the 9th century. Western European conquest, large-scale exploration and colonization soon followed.
Columbus’s first two voyages (1492–93) reached Hispaniola and various other Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico and Cuba. In 1497, Italian explorer John Cabot, on behalf of the Kingdom of England, landed on the North American coast, and a year later, Columbus’s third voyage reached the South American coast. As the sponsor of Christopher Columbus’s voyages, Spain was the first European power to settle and colonize the largest areas, from North America and the Caribbean to the southern tip of South America.
The Spaniards began building their empire of the Americas in the Caribbean, using islands such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola as bases. The North and South American mainland fell to the conquistadors, precipitating an estimated 8,000,000 deaths of indigenous people, primarily through the spread of Afro-Eurasian diseases. Some authors have argued this demographic collapse to be the first large-scale act of genocide in the modern era. Florida fell to Juan Ponce de León after 1513. From 1519 to 1521, Hernán Cortés waged a campaign against the Aztec Empire, ruled by Moctezuma II. The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, became Mexico City, the chief city of what the Spanish were now calling “New Spain”. More than 240,000 Aztecs died during the siege of Tenochtitlan, 100,000 in combat, while 500–1,000 of the Spaniards engaged in the conquest died. Other conquistadors, such as Hernando de Soto, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, pushed farther north. To the south, Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire during the 1530s. The centuries of continuous conflicts between the North American Indians and the Anglo-Americans were less severe than the devastation wrought on the densely populated Meso-American, Andean, and Caribbean heartlands.
The British colonization of the Americas started with the unsuccessful settlement attempts in Roanoke and Newfoundland. The English eventually went on to control much of Eastern North America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America. The British also gained Florida and Quebec in the French and Indian War.
Other powers such as France also founded colonies in the Americas: in eastern North America, a number of Caribbean islands and small coastal parts of South America. Portugal colonized Brazil, tried colonizing the eastern coasts of present-day Canada and settled for extended periods northwest (on the east bank) of the River Plate. The Age of Exploration was the beginning of territorial expansion for several European countries. Europe had been preoccupied with internal wars and was slowly recovering from the loss of population caused by the Black Death; thus the rapid rate at which it grew in wealth and power was unforeseeable in the early 15th century.
Eventually, most of the Western Hemisphere came under the control of Western European governments, leading to changes to its landscape, population, and plant and animal life. In the 19th century over 50 million people left Western Europe for the Americas. The post-1492 era is known as the period of the Columbian Exchange, a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations (including slaves), ideas, and communicable disease between the American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres following Columbus’s voyages to the Americas.
Henry F. Dobyns estimates that immediately before European colonization of the Americas there were between 90 and 112 million people in the Americas; a larger population than Europe at the same time. Others estimate that there were about 60.5 million people living in the Americas immediately before depopulation, of which 90 per cent, mostly in Central and South America, perished from wave after wave of disease, along with war and slavery playing their part.
Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1552 – October 29, 1618) was an English landed gentleman, writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer. He was a cousin of Sir Richard Grenville and younger half-brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He is also well known for popularizing tobacco in England. Raleigh was one of the most notable figures of the Elizabethan era.
Raleigh was born to a Protestant family in Devon, the son of Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne. Little is known of his early life, though in his late teens he spent some time in France taking part in the religious civil wars. In his 20s he took part in the suppression of rebellion in Ireland participating in the Siege of Smerwick.
Later, he became a landlord of property stolen from the native Irish. He rose rapidly in the favor of Queen Elizabeth I and was knighted in 1585. Raleigh was instrumental in the English colonization of North America and was granted a royal patent to explore Virginia, paving the way for future English settlements.
In 1591, he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, without the Queen’s permission, for which he and his wife were sent to the Tower of London. After his release, they retired to his estate at Sherborne, Dorset.
In 1594, Raleigh heard of a “City of Gold” in South America and sailed to find it, publishing an exaggerated account of his experiences in a book that contributed to the legend of “El Dorado”. After Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, Raleigh was again imprisoned in the Tower, this time for being involved in the Main Plot against King James I, who was not favorably disposed towards him.
In 1616, he was released to lead a second expedition in search of El Dorado. During the expedition, men led by his top commander ransacked a Spanish outpost, in violation of both the terms of his pardon and the 1604 Treaty of London with Spain. Raleigh returned to England and, to appease the Spanish, he was arrested and executed in 1618.
The Roanoke Colony refers to two attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh to found the first permanent English settlement in North America. The English, led by Humphrey Gilbert, had claimed St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1583 as the first North American English colony by royal prerogative of Queen Elizabeth I. Roanoke was second.
The first Roanoke colony was established by Governor Ralph Lane in 1585 on Roanoke Island in what is now Dare County, North Carolina, United States. Following the failure of the 1585 settlement, a second colony led by John White landed on the same island in 1587, and became known as the Lost Colony due to the unexplained disappearance of its population.
Lane’s colony was troubled by a lack of supplies and poor relations with the local Native Americans. While awaiting a delayed resupply mission by Richard Grenville, Lane decided to abandon the colony and return to England with Francis Drake in 1586. Grenville arrived two weeks later and left a small detachment to protect Raleigh’s claim.
In 1587 Raleigh sent White on an expedition to establish the City of Raleigh in Chesapeake Bay. However, during a stop to check in on Grenville’s men, the flagship’s pilot Simon Fernandes insisted that White’s colonists remain on Roanoke.
White returned to England with Fernandes, intending to bring more supplies back to his colony in 1588. Instead, the Anglo-Spanish War delayed his return to Roanoke until 1590. Upon his arrival, he found the settlement fortified but abandoned. The word “CROATOAN” was found carved into the palisade, which White interpreted to mean the colonists had relocated to Croatoan Island. Before he could follow this lead, rough seas and a lost anchor forced the rescue mission to return to England.
The fate of the approximately 112–121 colonists remains unknown. Speculation that they may have assimilated with nearby Native American communities appears as early as 1605. Investigations by the Jamestown colonists produced reports that the Roanoke settlers were massacred, as well as stories of people with European features in Native American villages, but no hard evidence was produced.
Interest in the matter fell into decline until 1834, when George Bancroft published his account of the events in A History of the United States. Bancroft’s description of the colonists, particularly White’s infant granddaughter Virginia Dare, cast them as foundational figures in American culture and captured the public imagination. Despite this renewed interest, modern research still has not produced the archaeological evidence necessary to solve the mystery
Next Explorer: Samuel De Champlain
Previous Explorer: Sir John Hawkins
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