Friday, December 08, 2006

Voyagers to the East, Part XI

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

The first Native Americans to visit England were brought over by English mariners for display as curiosities. There was no shortage of Englishmen interested in viewing see Brazilian "princes" or Inuit hunters, even if it meant paying for the privilege. Shakespeare observed that men who "will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar...will lay out ten to see a dead Indian" (The Tempest, Act II, Scene ii.)

A change occurred in the 1580s, after Queen Elizabeth I chartered the first English colonial venture to North America, the Virginia Company. In 1584 the company's chief proprietor, Sir Walter Raleigh, dispatched a vessel to survey the North American coast, look for settlement sites, and procure local Indians who could be trained as interpreters. The ship returned later that year with two Algonquian werowances (or petty chiefs), Manteo and Wanchese, from Croatan and Roanoke Islands off the coast of present-day North Carolina. The chiefs had come voluntarily, probably because they and their kinsmen had heard of other European incursions in the area (like the Spanish Jesuit mission in present-day Virginia) and wanted to gather intelligence on these new intruders.

The two chiefs resided for several months in London, more specifically at Durham House, the royal mansion that Elizabeth I had loaned to Walter Raleigh. There Raleigh's friend Thomas Hariot learned some of the visitors' language and prepared a rudimentary Algonquian syllabary for future colonists, along with a 36-letter alphabet for spelling Algonquian words. Hariot also taught the Indians a fair amount of English.

In the spring of 1585 Manteo and Wanchese returned home on one of the ships that the Virginia Company sent to Roanoke to establish its first settlement. Manteo subsequently became a close ally of the Roanoke colonists, probably because he regarded them as useful trading partners - and because his continued relationship with the English strangers provided him with political prestige. Wanchese, by contrast, turned his back on the English, probably because his people had to leave Roanoke Island after the colonists proved quarrelsome and warlike.

In 1586 Manteo returned to England with a Croatan companion, Towaye. The two men lived in London for nearly a year, and returned to Roanoke in 1587 with the second major party of Virginia Company colonists. Meanwhile, another Algonquian captured by Virginia Company officer Richard Grenville arrived in England in the fall of 1586. Grenville brought the captive to Devonshire, where he was baptized (March 1588) as "Rawly, a Wynganditoan." Perhaps Grenville intended to train Rawly as a translator, but he soon died and was buried in Bideford Parish, Devonshire, in April 1589.

Back in the Roanoke colony, Manteo remained a strong English ally and was baptized by colonial officials in August 1587. His subsequent fate is unknown, but Alden Vaughan speculates that his kinsmen, or other coastal Algonquians, may have killed him after one of many skirmishes between the trigger-happy English settlers and their Indian neighbors. As for the Roanoke colonists, it seems likely that they left their island early in 1588 and (as they had been planning to do) relocated to the shores of Chesapeake Bay. The Virginia Company lost contact with the colony during the Armada crisis of 1588 and the long Anglo-Spanish war that followed; relief expeditions in 1590 and 1603 found no trace of the colonists but were probably looking in the wrong place. There is documentary evidence that the relocated colonists were killed or captured by warriors of the Powhatan confederacy in 1607, just as another English expedition arrived in the Chesapeake to establish the colony of Jamestown. (Alden Vaughan, "Sir Walter Ralegh and His Indian Interpreters," William and Mary Quarterly 59 [April 2002]), 346-357.)

For the next entry in this series, click here.

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