“extreme novelty of their situation” — Roanoke Island Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Roanoke Island large mug

Today, the Roanoke Island Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition under Sir Richard Grenville left Plymouth headed to the New World on April 9, 1585.

From the History of North Carolina: From 1584 to 1783 by Samuel A’Court Ashe, published in 1908:

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The first colony

Hastening to lay the foundations of a regal domain and with an eager anticipation of rich returns from his commercial dealings, Sir Walter now prepared a second expedition, which was to transport a hundred colonists for settlement in Virginia.

Provisions were collected for a year’s subsistence, by which time a new supply was to be furnished. The colonists were to be under the authority of Ralph Lane, as governor, who was chosen for this important post because he had already given the world assurance of his bravery, capacity, and resourcefulness. Among the enterprising men of that day he ranked high for energy, courage and versatile powers.

Barlow, who, years before, had served with Raleigh in Flanders, was again to be with the party, and was to remain in Virginia as admiral; while Cavendish, afterward famous as a bold and skilful navigator, Thomas Hariot, highly distinguished as a mathematician and scientist, and John White, whose maps and admirable sketches, made in Virginia, are still extant, and who was deeply interested in the work of colonization, were likewise members of the company.

At length, the preparations being completed, a fleet of seven vessels, all small, however, and capable of entering the inlets of the Virginia sounds, under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, a kinsman of Sir Walter Raleigh, and famous for his skill and bravery, set sail from Plymouth on April 9, 1585.

After various adventures that caused delay, the fleet passed the Cape Fear on June 23d, and two days later came to anchor at Wokokon, now known as Ocracoke, southwest of Cape Hatteras.

One of the vessels, under Captain Raymond, had, however, preceded the others, and having reached the vicinity twenty days earlier, had disembarked thirty-two men at Croatoan, a part of the sandbanks nearer the cape, that island also being called the “Admiral’s Island,” and Cape Hatteras itself was known as Cape Amadas.

Exploration on the mainland

Some ten days were spent in examining the vicinity, and then, on July 11th, a considerable party embarked in four large boats, and taking provisions for eight days, passed over to the mainland, bordering on Pamlico Sound.

They visited the Indian town of Pomeiok, and the great lake, Paquipe, and the town of Aquascogoc, and then Secotan, and explored the rivers of that region.

During the expedition an Indian at Aquascogoc stole a silver cup from Sir Richard Grenville, and not restoring it, according to promise, Sir Richard went back from Secotan to that town for the purpose of regaining it; but the Indians had fled.

So Sir Richard, to punish the theft, burned and spoiled their corn, which set those savages at enmity with the English.

Having gained some familiarity with those southern parts, the admiral weighed anchor, and turning the cape, reached Hattorask Inlet, having previously advised King Wingina at Roanoke Island of their coming.

The colonists were accompanied by Manteo and Wanchese. The former had been strengthened in his friendship for the English, but the latter, whether because of apprehensions of their great power, which he had beheld in England, or because he belonged to that tribe on the Pamlico whose corn Sir Richard had destroyed, displayed an unfriendly disposition toward them.

Arriving at Hattorask, the settlers disembarked on August 17th, and landed on Roanoke Island.

Who now can enter fully into the feelings of those first adventurers, who in that summer time made their lodgment in the New World!

The unknown country, the placid waters of the great sound, the delightful atmosphere and brilliant sunshine, and their difficult intercourse with the untutored savages who gathered around them — with their strange color, manners, and customs — and themselves so far removed from their distant homes — must have been constant subjects of reflection, mingling pleasure and apprehension, gratifying their spirit of adventure, and fostering hopes of personal reward, but ever startling them with the extreme novelty of their situation.

A week after the landing Grenville took his departure, leaving the colonists established on Roanoke Island.

Fort Raleigh on Roanoke Island

Lane at once began the erection of dwelling houses at a convenient point on the northern end of the island, and constructed a fort there, which he called Fort Raleigh; and from there excursions were made in every direction to get a better acquaintance with the country and its products.

To the southward they went eighty miles to Secotan, that lay near the mouth of the Neuse; to the north they reached the Chesipeans, some fifteen miles inland from the head of Currituck Sound, and temporarily a small number of the English established themselves in that region.

From those Indians, as well as from information derived from those on the Chowan, Lane learned that there was a larger and better harbor not far distant to the northward.

On the west they penetrated to Chowanoak, a large Indian town on the Chowan River, and in that region they found an Indian sovereign, or Weroance, who ruled about eight hundred warriors, having subject to him eighteen towns.

These towns, however, never consisted of more than thirty houses, and generally of only ten or twelve. The houses were made with small poles fastened at the top, the sides being covered with bark, and usually about twenty feet long, although some were forty and fifty feet, and were divided into separate rooms.

In these explorations the colonists ascended the various rivers emptying into the sound, and became familiar with the adjacent country.

Hariot devoted himself to the study of the natural history of the region and wrote a valuable account of the animals, the vegetables, the plants, and the trees found there, and White made many sketches that are still preserved in the British Museum.

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The Roanoke Island Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Roanoke Island Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

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