Today, the Roanoke Island Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the return of Governor White and the landing party of August 18, 1590.
The Report of the Secretary of War to Congress, published in 1876, included “Remarks and Condensed Historical Extracts Relating to Changes in Coastline of North Carolina.
The following extract described the voyage that found the Roanoke Colony abandoned:
On the 20th of March, 1590, Sir Walter sent three ships under Governor White, who, as usual, took the southern route near the West Indies, and came to anchor near a narrow island supposed to be Wokokon.
August 3.—They found themselves off the coast, “in latitude 34,” near Cape Fear.
August 9.—“Anchor in 9 fathoms water in 35 degrees of latitude, near a long, narrow island west of Wokokon. Between the main (as we supposed) and this island is but one mile over, and 3 or 4 feet deep in most places.” This description agrees with Core Sound, but the latitude is near 34°45′ rather than 35°.
August 12.—“Anchor at northeast end of Croatoan (Cape Hatteras) by reason of a breach (channel through the Hatteras Shoals) which we perceived to lie out 2 or 3 leagues in the sea, where we rode all night,” “the ship riding in 5 fathoms, at a ship’s length it was 4 1/2, then deepening or shoaling for 2 miles, so that sometimes we found 5 fathoms and by and by 7, and within two casts of the lead 9 and then 8 fathoms; next cast 5 and then 6, next 4 and then 9 again and deepening, but 3 fathoms was the last at 2 leagues from the shore.” “This breach lyeth near the northeast point of Croatoan Island, whereat goeth a fret into the inner waters, which part the islands (barrier reefs) from the main land.”
August 15.—Anchor at Hatorask.
August 16.—They send a boat on shore—latitude 36 1/2 .
August 17.—They prepared to “go up to Roanoke Island.”
“The wind blowing northeast, the sea broke extremely on the bar,” so that the admiral’s boat was nearly swamped while passing in at the inlet, and the second boat was upset, and 7 out of 11 men were drowned.
After this accident two boats were again sent out with 19 men for Hatorask.
They anchored that night at Roanoke Island and landed the next morning. Here they found the recent foot-prints of savages.
“As we entered up a sandy bank, upon a tree near the very brow thereof was curiously carved in fair Romaine letters ‘Cro, which letters presently we knew to signify the place where I should find the planters seated, according to a secret token agreed upon between these men and me at my last departure from them, which was that, in any ways, they should not fail to write or carve on trees, post, or dores the name of the place where they should be seated, for at my coming away they were proposing to remove into the main.
“Therefore, at my departure in 1587, I willed that if they should happen to be distressed. that they should carve over the letters or name a cross.”
“Having well considered this, we pass toward the place where they were left in sundry houses, but we found the houses taken down and the place strongly enclosed with a high palisade of trees.
“On the chief tree or post on the right of the entrance had the bark taken off, and 5 feet from the ground, in fair capital letters, was engraven ‘Croatan,’ without cross or sign of distress.”
Here also they found “bars of iron, pigges of lead, and iron tools, overgrown with weeds and grass.”
Not far off they “find divers chests broken up,” and in the end of a trench made by Captain Amadas, five chests were found, three of which White recognized as his own, also some books torn from their covers, and the “frames of some of my pictures and maps, and my armor almost eaten through with rust. This could be no other than the deed of the savages, our enemies, the Dasamaqueheuk.”
While looking for water a storm arose, which obliged the men to leave the casks on the island. The wind increasing at night, they double their anchors and cables.
The next day they weigh anchor for Croatan, (now Ocracoke,) but before leaving came near grounding at Kendrick’s Mount.
From the above account of the fifth voyage it would seem that the fleet, after dispatching the two boats through Oregon Inlet, (Hatorask,) had moved down the coast to the safer anchorage near Croatan or Cape Hatteras.
The latitude of the breach out at sea, which they so carefully sounded, would place it near Wimble’s Shoals, but the description proves that this must be an error, the latitude being 25′ too far north.
The latitude of Hatorask, the description of which corresponds with Oregon Inlet, is given as in 36 1/3 degrees by Governor White, but this would place the inlet near Trinity Harbor, an impassable inlet north of Roanoke Island, according to Hariot’s map.
It is therefore necessary to suppose an error of 33′ in this latitude in order to explain the discrepancies.
It will be seen from the historical extracts of this note that Sir Walter Raleigh never visited the coast of Carolina, and that one of his fleets entered Ocracoke, the others anchoring off Hatteras or Oregon Inlets until they disembarked the explorers or colonists.
Roanoke Inlet does not appear on any of the maps until 1708. After that date it assumes importance on the maps.
But I am inclined to think that, as this part of the coast ceased to be visited at this date, the depth of water on the bars of many of the inlets was greatly exaggerated.
All the labor, suffering, bravery, and endurance manifested on these expeditions proved ineffective in establishing a colony.
In 1603 there was not a single individual left on the main. Sir Walter Raleigh, who had so liberally supplied the means, was beheaded in 1618.
About the period of the Revolution the maps of our coast, published by the English government, began to assume greater accuracy, but it was not until the charts of the United States Coast Survey were published that any accurate representation of our harbors and coast-lines could be obtained.
The Roanoke Island Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of Governor John White finding the Croatan carving.