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Document Number: AJ-034
Author: Barlowe, Arthur
Title: Captain Arthur Barlowe's Narrative of the First Voyage to the Coasts of America
Source: Burrage, Henry S. (editor). Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Pages 225-241.
Pages/Illustrations: 19 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

Arthur Barlowe captained one of the two vessels that Sir Walter Raleigh fitted out for a preliminary exploration of the American coast in 1584. Little more is known about him than the information contained in his narrative of the voyage.

Barlowe and Amadas Expedition, 1584

This journey was a reconnaissance trip financed by Sir Walter Raleigh, whose colonization efforts closely followed the plans laid out by Sir Humphrey Gilbert before his ill-fated expedition of 1583 (see AJ-033). On March 25, 1584, Elizabeth I granted Raleigh a patent empowering him to establish a colony in the New World. Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas led this preliminary expedition of only two ships to find a site for England’s first colony.

After setting out on April 27, 1584, from England, the explorers sailed to the West Indies. From July 4 to July 13, Barlowe and Amadas sailed north along the coast of America looking for a landfall. They found land on the North Carolina coast, above Roanoke Island, on a barrier island. The English explorers soon met the inhabitants, the Roanoke Island Indians, now known to be Carolina Algonkins. After some exploration of the river there, Barlowe and seven others went by boat to Roanoke Island where they found an Indian village. Barlow describes the wealth of the island’s natural riches, from fish, birds and game, to the superiority of the trees and plants and the generosity of the Indians there. He returned to England with two Indians, Wanchese and Manteo, to describe to Raleigh the area’s suitability for European settlement. They returned from their exploration in the middle of September 1584.

This text provides one of the first English accounts of the geography, soils, flora, fauna, and native inhabitants of the southern coast. It describes the process of burning out logs to form large canoes, and the fortified villages where the Indians lived. The document also provides insight into the beginnings of English colonization, the naming of Virginia in honor of the “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I. Barlowe and Amadas’ favorable report on Roanoke Island led to the colonizing expedition in 1585 under Sir Richard Grenville and Sir Ralph Lane (see AJ-035). Barlowe addressed his account to Sir Walter Raleigh, but it seems likely that he expected Richard Hakluyt to publish it.

Document Note

Hakluyt made several manuscript copies of Barlowe’s account but apparently never published them. The first known publication of this text took place in 1877, when the Maine Historical Society included it in the second volume of its Documentary Series, edited by Charles Deane.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

This text is also available from a variety of other online sources, including the University of North Carolina’s “Documenting the American South” and the University of Virginia Library’s Electronic Text Center's Virtual Jamestown at

The web sites for the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site offer general overview information on voyages of discovery in the Chesapeake region at

For specific information on the Roanoke Colony and Captains Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas, see the National Parks Service site, “Roanoke Revisited” at

The Norton Anthology of English Literature web site contains useful contextual information on English exploration and the Elizabethan view of the New World at

The National Park Service has also placed their Fort Raleigh guidebook online at

Ivor Noël Hume's The Virginia Adventure: Roanoke to James Towne, an Archeological Odyssey (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994) discusses the archaeological evidence from the early English Virginia voyages.

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