Characters - Roanoke Colonies Illuminated (2023)

Readers will find many names of individuals mentioned in the narratives included in Roanoke Colonies Illuminated. Regrettably we know very little about many of these individuals other than their names. And, also sadly, very few images of those persons were ever made during their lives and, of course, many fewer of those have survived to the present time.

Nevertheless, as an aid to identifying those people who were the critical figures and driving forces in the Roanoke explorations, we have gathered in this section of the website important biographical information on these individuals and—wherever they exist—images of those persons.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Ralegh/Raleigh (1554-1618): ; Soldier, sailor, explorer, courtier, historian, M.P., propagandist and poet, Sir Walter Ralegh was a Renaissance man among the Renaissance men of Elizabethan Britain. Ralegh fought with the Huguenots in France, helped put down a rebellion in Ireland, studied (though never earned degrees) at Oriel College, Oxford and Middle Temple, sailed the Atlantic with Humphrey Gilbert’s 1578 exploratory expedition as captain of the Falcon in his twenties, and was wounded in the naval action in the 1596 attack on Cadiz in his fifties. He was at times a member of parliament for both Dorsett and Cornwall and a favorite of Elizabeth’s in court, and at other times confined variously to fleet prison and the Marshalsea prison for brawling in his early years, and repeatedly sent to the tower of London by both Elizabeth and James. Ever looking towards the distant horizon (as well as towards personal wealth, glory and tactical advantages over Spain), Ralegh promoted and organized the Roanoke Voyages to colonize Virginia and himself embarked on several exploratory expeditions to Guiana in search of the fabled El Dorado. Finally, after a life of adventure, poetry, and a bit of villainy, Ralegh was executed in James’ reign in 1618 under accusations of treason;

Mastermind of the Roanoke Voyages (1583-1590): Though he never travelled to Virginia himself, Ralegh was perhaps the primary force in the early British efforts to colonize North America from 1583-1590. While Ralegh developed a base of financial and political support in court, it is thought that the Roanoke colony was primarily to be used as a base of operations for privateering expeditions against the Spanish, forming the colony’s tactical and economic raison d’état. It was Ralegh who, in 1583, secured a patent for exploration and colonization of the new world, together with the loan of a ship and the right to name the land “Virginia,” and who recruited Richard Hakluyt to compile works in favor of English efforts at colonization and exploration. Ralegh organized and sent out a primarily military expedition under Richard Grenville in 1585, which settled on Roanoke Island, but didn’t last. In 1587, Ralegh mounted another expedition under John White, this time intending a settled farming colony with the settlers being granted land. This plan also went rather badly and by 1590 (largely due to the cessation of supply ships cause by the Armada crisis of 1588) the colony had disappeared, spurring several hundred years of historical and archaeological investigations and occasional leaping to dramatic and speculative conclusions.

Citations: Mark Nicholls and Penry Williams, “Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554-1618),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 5 Sept 2011]. Paul Hulton. America 1585: The Complete Drawings of John White. (Galliard: UNC Press, 1984), 3. David Quinn, “Introduction. A Critical Assessment of the Materials,” in The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590: Volume I, ed. David Beers Quinn (London: Hakluyt Society, 1955), 6, 22.

Arthur Barlowe

Barlowe (Barlow), Arthur (fl. 1584); Arthur Barlowe was an explorer employed by Sir Walter Raleigh who, along with Philip Amadas, served as a captain on Raleigh’s 1584 exploratory expedition to North America. On this expedition Barlowe and the Amadas explored Roanoke Island and the surrounding area, and traded and interacted with Chief Wingina’s tribe on Roanoke Island. When they left for England, they took back with them two Algonquians, Manteo and Wanchese, who were used as promotional tools for the following expedition and from whom Thomas Harriot learned the Algonquian language. Barlowe is particularly notable for his report of the expedition which he drew up for Raleigh. His report describes both the land itself and the Native Americans in extremely positive terms, portraying the New World as a pseudo Eden-like paradise, with fertile soil and untouched by corruption.

Works Cited:; Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1979), s.v. “Barlowe, Arthur.”

Philip Amadas

Amadas, Philip (ca. 1565-?): Philip Amadas, of Plymouth England, was a sailor, naval captain and explorer in Elizabethan England. Early in life he became a member of Sir Walter Raleigh’s household, and in this function was, at the age of nineteen, made captain of the flagship Bark Ralegh (though the Portuguese navigator Simon Fernandez was master and pilot) on Raleigh’s 1584 expedition of North American coastal exploration in search of possible sites for settlement and future colonization. The expedition landed on Roanoke Island, explored the surrounding area and traded with the local Algonquian Indians, notably chief Wingina and his brother Granganimeo, and finally returned to England, taking with them the Indians Manteo and Wanchese. Amadas returned to the New World the following year as “Admiral of Virginia” on the Tiger, acting as second in naval command to Sir Richard Grenville on the 1585 expedition to Roanoke Island. He stayed at the Roanoke settlement, commanded by Ralph Lane, until June of 1586 when he and the other colonists returned to England with Sir Francis Drake’s fleet. naval commander and explorer, was the son of John and Jane Amadas of Plymouth, England. In his youth he released his estate in the manors of Trethake, Penkelewe, to Sir Walter Raleigh and became a member of his household. It is from this association that he was sent in 1584, at age nineteen, to explore the coast of America for a suitable site for Raleigh’s proposed colony. Amadas, like Arthur Barlow, was captain of his own flagship, the Bark Ralegh, with Simon Fernandez as master and pilot. On 13 July 1584 they arrived at an inlet leading to an island named Roanoke by the natives. This inlet they named Port Ferdinando after the pilot, who was the first to discover it. For six weeks, Amadas and Barlowe explored and traded, visiting chief Wingina on Roanoke Island, before returning to England witht the Indians Manteo and Wanchese on board. The next year, 1585, Amadas, now given the title Admiral of Virginia and second in naval command to Sir Richard Grenville, sailed again for the New World on the Tiger. He remained on Roanoke Island under the governance of Sir Ralph Lane for a year and possibly served as both admiral and colonel. He may also have been leader of the Chesapeake Bay expedition and was perhaps instrumental in making entrenchments for the Roanoke Island fort. In June 1586, Amadas and his fellow colonists left for England in Sir Francis Drake’s ships. From that time on, nothing further is known of Philip Amadas.

Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1979), s.v. “Amadas, Philip.”


Manteo (fl. 1584-1587): ; Manteo was an Algonquian Indian from the coastal area surrounding Roanoke Island who acted as interpreter, guide and negotiator for several successive English colonial ventures to the New World, and who was held in high regard by the English colonists. Evidently a member of the leading family in Croatan tribe, Manteo was one of two Algonquians (the other being Wanchese) brought back to England from the area surrounding Roanoke Island by Phlip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, out on Raleigh’s 1584 reconnaissance party to the New World. It is thought that Manteo and Wanchese, rather than being kidnapped or tricked into coming to England, actually were intentionally sent to England in order to gather intelligence so that the Algonquian’s might better deal with them. In London, the two Algonquians were taught English by Thmas Harriot, and taught him a bit of their own language. Manteo and Wanchese both returned to the Americas in 1585, accompanying Sir Richard Grenville on his voyage in the Tiger through the Caribbean and finally reaching Wokokon (modern Ocracoke Island). Once back in North America, Manteo acted as interpreter and guide for the colonists, managing to smooth over several troubling situations between the colonists and the local Algonquians on numerous occasions, and came back with them to England in 1586, of his own free will, only to return to the New World again with the 1587 Roanoke Voyage under John White. Manteo was baptized during this time, and when White returned to England to petition for aid in 1587 he left the “Lost Colony” under the care of Manteo. When White finally returned to the Roanoke Island settlement site in 1590 the word “Croatan” was carved into a tree, indicating that the colonists were safe and had gone with Manteo to his tribe.

Works Cited:; Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1991), s.v. “Manteo.”


Wingina (Pemisapan) (d. 1 June 1586): ; Wingina, who changed his name to Pemisapan soon after Raleigh’s 1585 colony settled in Roanoke, was the king of the Algonquian Indians on Roanoke Island and the nearby coast during the mid-1580s at the time of Raleigh’s first colony under Ralph Lane. In the early stages, relations between the colony and Pemisapan’s tribe were good, and the colonists traded with Pemisapan’s brother Granganimeo. As the colonists grew more aggressive and oppressive, Pemisapan began to warn other tribes about the English, pulled his people away from Roanoke Island, and plotted to bring together the various coastal tribes and attack the colony. However, Lane discovered the plot through a hostage (Skiko, the son of Menatonon, the king of the neighboring Chowanocs), and soon killed had Pemisapan through some rather villainous deception, simultaneously freeing the colony from immediate danger and earning the enmity of all of his followers, perhaps guaranteeing continued conflict and danger in future years.

Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1991), s.v. “Pemisapan (Wingina).”


Menatonon (fl. 1580s):; Menatonan was the king of the Choanac Indians, who lived in a town on the upper Chowan River, neighboring the territory occupied by the 1586 Roanoke Colony. He was at this time rather aged, and was revered by the Algonquian Indians and acknowledged by the Indians and colonist alike to be the most wise, knowledgeable and influential of the various chiefs among the Algonquians in the territory surrounding the Roanoke Colony. Though he was regarded as friendly to the English by Lane, and seemed to have acted in a consistently friendly and diplomatic manner, Lane and his men feared attack when exploring and visiting Menatonan’s town and territory, and so they held Menatonan himself prisoner while in his town. Upon leaving, they took Skiko, Menatonan’s grown son, with them as a hostage. Menatonon, picking up on the colonists’ lust for precious metals and pearls, evidently told the English stories concerning a king to the North East who harvested great numbers of pearls, as well as rumors of a mine from which the Algonquians obtained their copper.

Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1991), s.v. “Menatonan.”

Thomas Harriot

Harriot/Hariot/Harriott, Thomas (1560-1621):; Thomas Harriot was a brilliant scientist, mathematician, astronomer, and explorer of Elizabethan England. He graduated from St. Mary’s Hall at Oxford University, and shortly thereafter entered the service of Sir Walter Raleigh as an instructor of the theory and practice of the mathematics of navigation to both Raleigh and the various sea captains under Raleigh’s employ. Harriot was involved with the preparations for, and perhaps was a member of, Raleigh’s 1584 exploratory expedition to the New World under Amadas and Barlowe. The expedition returned with two Algonquian Indians, Manteo and Wanchese, from whom Harriot was able to study the Algonquian language. Harriot was instrumental in the planning of the 1585 venture under Sir Richard Grenville, and acted as Raleigh’s representative on the voyage, charged with studying and reporting on the commercial potential of any plants or minerals, as well as the inhabitants of Roanoke Island and the surrounding area. He evidently recorded a great deal of scientific observations during his year in the Roanoke colony, but unfortunately, right at the beginning of the return voyage home on Drake’s ships, much of this valuable data was thrown overboard and lost during a terrifying tempest.; Upon returning to England, Harriot compiled A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, first published in 1588, next in 1589 as part of Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations, and then combined together with the engraved illustrations of Thomas White in Theodore de Bry’s four-language, 1590 publication. In the following years, during which time he corresponded with Johnannes Kepler, Harriot’s various and brilliant scientific pursuits involved extensive studies of the uses of mathematics in navigation, cartography, astronomy and optics. He died in 1621 of cancer of the nose.

Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1988), s.v. “Harriot (Hariot or Harriott), Thomas.”

Ralfe Lane

Lane, Sir Ralph (ca. 1530-1603):; Ralph Lane, most notable as the first (rather incompetent) governor of Virginia, was an adventurer and soldier of Elizabethan England, one of the sort who makes his name and living alternating between currying favor in court and relying perhaps a bit too heavily on the might of the sword in military or exploratory adventures in Ireland and the New World. With a military background typical of men of his type, Lane entered the court scene in 1563 in the service of Queen Elizabeth, and appears to have pestered influential friends for positions of authority for his whole life, eventually gaining an appointment as sheriff in Country Kerry Ireland from 1583-85. Recruited by Raleigh for his 1585 Roanoke expedition, Lane sailed to the New World, with Sir Richard Grenville acting as commander of their little fleet, and Lane acting as governor of the colony. The pair did not get along well, but nevertheless, following an unfortunate incident in which Simon Ferdinando ran their flagship aground on Wococon Island near Pimlico Sound, they explored the area and began to build and settle on Roanoke Island. The following months involved exploration, a great deal of discomfort, and diplomatic troubles stemming from Lane’s tendency to exercise his martial talents rather than diplomacy when dealing with the Native Americans. As the tensions mounted between the colonists and the various surrounding tribes, Lane opted to surprise and murder Wingina, a local Algonquian king who was plotting to unite the tribes in alliance against the colonists. The Algonquians did not take kindly to this brand of diplomacy, and though Lane and most of the colonists, by now in dire straits, were able to return to England within days due to the timely arrival of Drake’s fleet, it is likely that the bad blood fostered by Lane did not work much in the favor of Raleigh’s subsequent Roanoke expeditions. In the following years Lane served as muster-master, first in Essex, then on the Spanish-Portuguese Coast, and finally in Ireland, where he periodically broke up the monotony of life by putting down the occasional Irish rebellion until his death in 1603.

Works Cited:; Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell. (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1991), s.v. “Lane, Sir Ralph.”

Richard Hakluyt

Hakluyt, Richard (ca. 1552-1616):; Richard Hakluyt was a priest, geographer, editor of geographical and travel literature, sometime adviser to the English East India Company, and promoter of English exploration and ventures overseas in Elizabethan England. Educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, he was ordained in 1580, acted as chaplain to Sir Edward Stafford, the English ambassador to Paris from 1583 to 1588 (during which time it is speculated that Hakluyt gathered intelligence for Sir Francis Walsingham), and for the latter years of his life was a rector in Suffolk and a prebendary of Westminster Abbey. Fascinated by geography since he was a boy, Hakluyt was involved in the editing, translating, or publication of over twenty-five works of travel literature, including, most notably, The principal navigations, voiages, traffiques and discoveries of the English nation, made by sea or over-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth. This work, published first in 1589 and then, in an even larger edition, from 1598-1600, was a compilation of documents concerning English travels of discovery from the fourth century right up to those of his contemporaries, such as the voyages of Drake or Raleigh’s expeditions to the New World. Hakluyt was also responsible for securing the services of Theodor de Bry to engrave and publish a widely distributed, ornate, four-language edition of Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, with John White’s illustrations, together recounting the Roanoke Voyages.

Works Cited:; Anthony Payne, ‘Hakluyt, Richard (1552?–1616)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [, accessed22 Sept 2011]

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