In 1585, a small fleet set sail under the command of Sir Richard Grenville. Its mission was to travel to the location identified by Amadas and Barlowe, but not without some raiding of Spanish ships and bases on the way. This illustrates the hostility between Catholic Spain and Protestant England at the time, but this hostility would also haunt any fledgling English colony as the Spanish were the superpower of the era and had colonised much of the Caribbean and even had bases on Florida. Grenville's fleet had been dispersed en route to the Caribbean so Grenville waited at Puerto Rico on the Tiger. Whilst at Guayanilla Bay, they constructed a wooden palisade lest any Spaniards arrived to evict them. Sure enough, they discovered the English and were amazed that they had constructed such a large pallisaded fort so quickly. A tense standoff occurred and warning shots discharged but no fighting took place. The Elizabeth rejoined the Tiger and so the colony was now viable again. Grenville was able to capture two Spanish frigates and press them into English service also. There was one more stop at Hispaniola where the Spanish governor was remarkably welcoming and allowed the English to resupply and buy livestock. The English maintained to the Spanish that they were en route to Newfoundland where they intended to start a new colony.
The fleet's arrival in Virginia was fraught with difficulty as the much vaunted shoals combined with fearsome winds and currents to pull the Tiger towards the shoals. It grounded and salt water entered the ship spoiling much of the victuals and the precious seeds brought to sow new crops. For a while it seemed as if the ship would be lost, but a rising tide allowed it to break free and at least allow the for an opportunity to repair the damaged ship. The problem was that the ship was still 60 miles south of the intended target, Roanoke Island.
Grenville led a smaller party to explore Pamlico Sound and test the waters towards Roanoke Island whilst waiting for the Tiger to be repaired. Within a week he had explored some 200 miles of coastline and had come ashore at a village called Secotan where the two civilisations came face to face in a friendly if confused manner. Fortunately, he had taken Manteo the Indian and Thomas Harriot who had tried to master Manteo and Wanchese's tongue to act as an interpreter. Grenville was pleased that the natives seemed friendly but was shocked at how primitive their village and lifestyle appeared to be. It did not look as if the resources of the land were so abundant as to make them materially wealthy. One thing that Raleigh had insisted upon was the fair treatment of the native Indians and he had instituted an elaborate systems of punishments for anyone who should break his directions. The person responsible for putting Raleigh's will into operation was the experienced soldier Ralph Lane.
Grenville moved his large ships back out into deep waters and began the job of ferrying goods and equipment for the brand new settlement. Nothwithstanding the losses from the Tiger, everything that was to support them for perhaps a year or longer would have to come ashore. It was clear that the food supplies were not going to suffice by themselves. Either new sources of food would have to be located or they would have to rely on the goodwill and forbearance of the local Indian tribes to supplement the diets of 107 men.
Being a military man, the first thing Lane ordered to be done was the creation of a fort. Although the Indian tribes appeared friendly, there was no guaranteeing that this would remain the case forever. Also, they were worried about being discovered by the Spanish and were under no illusions that they would be exterminated or subject to the inquisition if discovered by them. The problem facing Lane was that there was no stone of rock of any consequence on the island of Roanoke, so a deep ditch and a bank of sand had to suffice supported by timber. It was basic, but Lane's military mind stayed focussed to the task.
After the fort was complete, attention was turned to their housing. Rough wooden shacks were cobbled together and communal buildings such as church, storehouse, armoury and stables were put together with the tools and materials to hand. They even constructed a jail with leg-irons, which indicated that Lane was anticipating having to lay down the law at some point or other.
Once the basic community appeared to be up and running, Grenville departed on his ship the Tiger. Three weeks after that, the remaining ship Roebuck weighed anchor and headed off into the Atlantic. The fledgeling colony was left to the mercies of the wild and the pleasure of their neighbours, the Indians.
Arguments soon broke out as the supposed 'promised land' was not as bountiful with food or raw materials as Raleigh had indicated that it would. Lane imposed a harsh disciplinary system on any shirkers or troublemakers - at least one colonist appears to have been hanged. He then arranged for expeditions to survey the local land and try to find the gold and silver which would make their fortunes and justify the colony's existence.
A few weeks later, the local Indian Chief Wingina visited the colony for the first time. The colonists seemed underwhelmed by his appearance which was skinny and lacking the strength and form of many of his warriors. Wingina himself was wary of the newcomers and must have wondered if they possessed supernatural powers or whether they could be trusted or not. His concerns seemed to be confirmed when within a few weeks of the meeting many of his tribespeople began dying of some strange malady or disease that they had never come across before. Unbeknownst to the Indians, they were suffering from smallpox and measles brought over by the colonists and they had developed no natural immunity to these diseases.
The guns of the colonists also fascinated the Indians who could not comprehend at first how the weapons worked, but were keen to find out. They were equally interested in the forms of worship that the colonists were practicing. They marvelled at the existence of a book that seemed to communicate directly the word of the colonists' god. The Indians were wary of the colonists and their attitudes and tolerance of the colony would change markedly over the coming months.
In the meantime, the summer months had given way to autumn and the colonists got the first hints that their housing and clothing would not be adequate to the temperatures and weather on its way. They were also worried about the lack of provisions due to the grounding of their ship on arrival. They had been unable to plant crops in time and no food was forthcoming in what should have been the harvest season. They found it difficult to catch the fish near to the island. They were unable to master the Indian fishing with traps methods and were not skilled enough with bows to spear the fish by arrow. Even hunting by guns was problematic as the gunpowder had become damp in the Tiger disaster and not recovered its full potency.
The difficulties in hoarding food did not seem too overwhelming as the Indians were bringing in their own harvest and appeared more than content to trade and share their produce - for the time being. However, the Indian society did not produce a massive surplus in food and they had to pace their supplies for thier own survival.
Lane organised expeditions overland and by boat to reconnoitre the local environment. One of these expeditions was particularly interested to find the deep water bay of the Chesapeake about 40 miles to the North and made a mental note of its suitability for ships in the future.
Over the winter months, relations between the colonists and the Indians had deteriorated markedly as they grew more reluctant to trade their food with the Europeans. Some of the colonists had taken it upon themselves to seize some of the stocks of food from the Indians and take them by force. Wingina's patience had snapped and he set up recruiting a huge army from his tribute nations. Lane took the initiative though and sailed to the mainland on hearing that a large army was being assembled there. Boldly he marched a phalanx of 40 armoured soldiers into a local village and seized the chieftan there. This chief confirmed that they had been told to raise an army with a view to wiping out the Europeans once and for all. He also learned that tribes to the West had copper in abundance. Lane organised a hasty expedition which he led to discover this valuable commodity. They travelled some 160 miles upstream before lack of food and hostile tribes forced them to turn around disappointed. They returned to Roanoke just in time as Wingina had told the remains of the colony that his men had killed Lane and his expedition and that they were now leaderless.
Lane's reappearance undermined Wingina's authority markedly and pro-European elements in his tribe pressured him to relent in his hostility to the colony. The change in heart was confirmed when the mainland tribe that Lane had so boldly attacked declared allegiance to Lane's Great Chief 'Elizabeth'. As spring arrived, it appeared that the colony had survived its harshest test and could now look forward to more bountiful seasons.
Unfortunately, events wouldn't turn out as easily as Lane had hoped for. On April 20th, 1586 the leading pro-English Indian in Wingina's tribe, Ensenor, died. There was a shift in attitude back to hostility towards the existence of the colony. Wingina ordered his tribe not to help the Europeans any longer and to refuse to trade with them. Lane was forced to divide his groups up into foraging and hunting parties and divide his colony up.
Emboldened by the precarious state of the English, Wingina resolved to rid himself of the colony once and for all. Lane learned of the plan from a sympathetic Indian and resolved to make a pre-emptive strike on Wingina's settlement on the mainland. He put out a false rumour that the English fleet had been sighted on the distant horizon to buy himself some time. He knew that this would cause Wingina to hesitate and allowed him and his colonists to gather up the canoes from Indians on the island to allow him to ferry across to the mainland and assault Wingina's camp directly. Two Indians seemed to escape and head off towards the mainland. They were caught by Lane's men and decapitated. Some of the Indians on the island saw this horrific events unfold and started to attack Lane's settlement but were unable to send a message across to Wingina. Lane resolved to continue his assault on Wingina and set off with his small flotilla of canoes. He sent a message that he was on his way to Croatoan island but wanted to have a word with Wingina. The chief suspected nothing and gave permission for them to enter his compound. On entering, Lane ordered a broadside at the seated collection of the Chief and his advisers. Wingina was wounded but was able to escape into the forests only to be followed at breakneck speed by two of the colonists who brought back his head shortly. The immediate threat to the colony had been removed, but great distrust and hostility and been generated as a result.
Barely a week later, all of the problems of the colony appeared to be over when a huge fleet was indeed spotted on the horizon. It heralded the arrival of Sir Francis Drake who was searching for them after having attacked the Spanish in the Caribbean. He had even attacked the Spanish forts in Florida which he believed, correctly as it turned out, would be used as bases to seek out and destroy the fledgeling English colony of Roanoke.
Drake's fleet had to stay out at sea due to the dangerous shoals, but had volunteered the services of a 70 ton vessel the Francis and various smaller boats to Lane and his men in addition to essential supplies and ammunition. It seemed that the colony would survive after all. They duly set about loading up with stores and victuals and began the process of ferrying them over the shoals towards the island.
Yet again though, the wheel of fortune was to deliver another blow to Roanoke. A massive storm hit the waiting fleet, scattering many of the ships in a three-day long meteorological assault. Disaster made itself apparent when the Francis with many of Lane's men on board and most of the supplies failed to reappear and return to the fleet in the aftermath of the storm.
Drake offered a smaller bark, but the loss of manpower and stores was devastating. A reluctant Lane declared that the only sensible option was for the colonists to return with Drake back to England. The first Roanoke Colony had come to an end. It had achieved much but had been bedevilled by setbacks and difficulties from the very day of their arrival. Lane had managed to allow it to survive due to his single-minded determination and military prowess. His professionalism and leadership had allowed the colony to survive in a hostile landscape for a year. However, the legacy of his time was the enmity of the local tribes who did not know what to make of the intentions of the ruthless colonists, but knew that they could not be trusted.