The Spanish Intervention
The following year 1588 was the Armada year. Sir Richard Grenville, who was preparing a new fleet at Bideford to go to Roanoke, was ordered to divert his five ready ships to the English Navy for service against the Armada. This is almost certainly how such a small town as Bideford was able to supply the third largest English fleet to fight the Armada; perhaps though the most intriguing part of this event is that it is recorded that the Native American buried in Bideford’s Parish Church, was onboard one of those ships bound for Roanoke. Whether he became one of those involved in the Armada war is uncertain but it is tantalizing to think that he may have also been the first Native American to fight alongside the British in defence of England.
A Failed Rescue Bid
Grenville did however finally gain permission to use two small ships to send to Roanoke with emergency provisions. John White sailed from Bideford with these on April 28, but the barques ‘Brave’ and ‘Roe’ were small, poorly equipped and provisioned and as ridiculous as it seems they chose to fight every Spanish ship they could en-route much to their own downfall and they finally turned back at Madeira beaten and exhausted.
The Mystery of the Lost Colony
It was not until March 20th 1590 that John White sailed for the last time for Roanoke.
Next day John White and the crew had planned to go to Croatoan Island to look for the colonists but the weather was completely against them. They headed for the West Indies to take on fresh water and food and hoped then to be able to return to Croatoan. However, a storm blew them off course and toward the Azores from where they eventually gave up and made their way back to England. John White never ventured to the New World again and reportedly spent his last days on Grenville and Raleigh’s plantations in Ireland dying perhaps as little as three years later in 1593.
As late as 1602, Raleigh was still seeking in vain for his lost colony. In that year he sent out an expedition which reached land southwest of Hatoras, presumably at or near Croatoan Island, but there is no record of any successful contact
Long after the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia in 1607 too, the Virginia colonists showed a constant interest in trying to learn from the Native Americans the whereabouts of the Roanoke settlers and despite several well documented stories of blue-eyed Native Americans, English styled fields, and a sighting of several white men and a young girl beating copper for the Native Americans, nothing was ever fully investigated and the story of the Lost Colonists was destined to become America’s greatest Mystery.
Advances in the study of DNA now mean that we have the ability to prove once and for all if any of those ‘Lost Colonists’ survived long enough to produce offspring, and to this end we are working with a group in the USA who have been compiling DNA evidence for some considerable time. What we now need is to establish if there are any living family descendants of those lost colonists living here in the UK and from them produce a reference library of DNA to match the American results against.
The significance of this project is simple. If we are right and there are descendants of those lost colonists alive in America today, then Thanksgiving Day is being celebrated on the wrong day and the ‘Little White Town’ of Bideford will become known for having played a pivotal role in the founding of America thirty-three years before the Mayflower set sail.
© Andrew Thomas Powell April 2009.