John White (colonist and artist)


John White (colonist and artist) : biography

c. 1540 – c. 1593

Arrival at Roanoke

In May 1587 White’s colonists sailed for Virginia in The Lion. They were guided by the Portuguese navigator Simon Fernandez, the same pilot who had led the 1585 expedition and who was given by his fellow sailors the unhappy nickname of "the swine".Milton, p.201 The settlers’ chosen destination was not Roanoke but the Chesapeake Bay but, on reaching Roanoake in late July, and allowing the colonists to disembark, Fernandez refused to let White’s men re-board ship. According to White’s journal, Fernandez’s deputy "called to the sailors in the pinesse, charging them not to bring any of the planters back againe, but leave them on the island".Milton, p.215 Faced with what amounted to a mutiny by his navigator, White appears to have backed down and acquiesced in this sudden change of plan. Despite the governor’s protests, Fernandez held that "summer was farre spent, wherefore hee would land all the planters in no other place.".Milton, p.216

This second colony at Roanoke set about repairing the structures left behind in 1585. They also searched for the fifteen men left behind by the previous expedition, but found only bones.Milton, p.217 From an early stage there were tensions with the local Algonkin Indians, though initially things went well. White quickly made contact with friendly natives led by Chief

Manteo, who explained to him that the lost fifteen had been killed by hostile Secotan, Aquascogoc and Dasamongueponke warriors,Milton, p.218 choosing a time and place of attack "of great advantage to the savages".Milton, p.220 

On August 8, 1587 White led a dawn attack on the Dasamongueponkes that went disastrously wrong. White and his soldiers entered the Dasamongueponke village in the morning "so early that it was yet dark", Retrieved April 2011 but mistakenly attacked a group of hitherto friendly Indians, killing one and wounding many. "We were deceaved", wrote White in his journal, "for the savages were our friendes". Henceforth relations with the local tribes would steadily deteriorate.Milton, p.235

Virginia Dare

On August 18, 1587 there was happier news – White became a grandfather. "Elenora, daughter to the governour and wife to Ananias Dare, one of the assistants, was delivered of a daughter in Roanoke".Milton, p.239 The child was healthy and "was christened there the Sunday following, and because this childe was the first Christian borne in Virginia,Modern-day North Carolina she was named Virginia".

White returns to England

However, the colonists’ food supplies soon began to grow short, and in late 1587 the settlers pressed White to return to England "for the better and sooner obtaining of supplies, and other necessaries".Milton, p240 Because the colony had been deposited in Roanoke rather than The Chesapeake, supply ships from England ignorant of Fernandez’s change of plan would most likely not land in Roanoke at all, and the settlement might not survive the coming winter. Retrieved April 2011 White was reluctant to abandon his colony, anxious that his enemies in England "would not spare to slander [him] falsely" should he leave,Milton, p.241 and worried that his "stuffe and goods might be spoiled and most of it pilfered away". Eventually the colonists agreed to stand surety for White’s belongings and he was prevailed upon to sail, "much against his will", in order to seek help.Milton, p.243

Misfortune struck White’s return to England from the beginning. The anchor of the flyboat on which White was quartered could not be raised, and many crew members were severely injured during the attempt.Milton, p.244 Worse, their journey home was delayed by "scarce and variable winds" followed by "a storme at the north-east", and many sailors starved or died of scurvy.Milton, p.245 On October 16, 1587 the desperate crew at last landed in Smewicke, in the West of Ireland, and White was finally able to make his way back to Southampton.Milton, p.246