||White, John, 1570-1615
||The Fourth Voyage Made to Virginia in the Yere 1587
||Burrage, Henry S. (editor). Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Pages 281-300.
||22 / 0
Almost nothing is known about John White beyond what little
can be gleaned from his two voyage reports. It is widely assumed
that the author of this text is the same man as John White the
artist. If this is correct, he may have accompanied Martin
Frobisher on a voyage to the Arctic in 1577 and served as the
artist for Ralph Lane’s 1585 expedition to Roanoke Island (see
This expedition sought to establish an English settlement in
America to exploit natural resources. Unlike the previous
colonization attempts that had been personally financed by Sir
Walter Raleigh, John White’s venture included the backing of a
corporation of thirty-two investors, many of whom were London merchants.
On January 7, 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh granted John White and
his partners the privilege of planting a colony in Virginia.
White intended to search for the fifteen men whom Sir Richard
Grenville had left at Roanoke in 1586 and then build a new
settlement to be named “the Citie of Raleigh” on the shore
Chesapeake Bay, where it would have deepwater access for
Almost nothing is known about John White’s life after his
return to Europe. A letter addressed from White to Richard
Hakluyt indicates that in 1593 White lived in County Cork,
Ireland. He died, perhaps in 1606, never knowing the fate of his
The Fourth Voyage to Virginia, May 8,
1587 to November 5, 1587
Governor John White’s ships left Portsmouth April 26, 1587,
and sailed past Plymouth on May 8 bound for the West Indies.
They sailed to Guadelupe and Dominica, the Virgin Islands,
Puerto Rico, and Vieques before leaving the Virgin Islands for
Virginia in early July. They arrived in Virginia July 16 to try
to find the fifteen colonists abandoned by Lane the year before.
When White arrived at Roanoke Island, the colonists were no
longer there. White found only the word “Croatoan” carved in a
tree, suggesting that the settlers may have moved to the nearby
island of that name when the supply vessels failed to arrive.
The settlement is now commonly referred to as “the Lost Colony.”
The expedition was plagued by disappointments. It failed to
find the missing colonists. Local Indians attacked a new
colonist while fishing, killing him. Attempts to establish
friendly relations the Indians were unsuccessful as several
English colonists were killed during attempts to make peace. The
conflict that followed showed the advantage held by the local
Native Americans, who attacked the English and escaped with
ease. The English retaliated by sneaking up on a village and
shooting one woman to death, at what turned out to be a camp of
Indians friendly to the English. A tentative peace was
established with several of the local tribes and more than one
hundred English men, women, and children remained to inhabit a
Before John White could relocate his colony to the shores of
Chesapeake Bay, the dire need for supplies compelled him to
leave his settlers at the Roanoke site and return to England.
The colonists forced White to promise to return to England and
bring back more supplies for the colony, which he agreed to do.
One of the boats departed for England September 18 1587, and White
waited two more weeks before sailing back home. A storm impeded
their progress and leaking barrels consumed their water supply,
leaving many crew sick and killing two. White’s ship arrived in
Ireland October 18 1587, and did not return to Portsmouth, England
until mid-November 1587. War with Spain, the attack of the
Spanish Armada in 1588, and a prohibition on vessels leaving
England prevented White’s return to until 1590. When he
eventually returned on his fifth voyage, the colony was gone.
The story of the Lost Colony ranks among the most popular and
romanticized episodes in early colonial American history. The
text presented here provides almost all of the documented facts
about the colony, including a list of the settlers’ names, an
explanation of how they came to stay at Roanoke Island, and
important clues about the environment in which they were left to
fend for themselves. In 1998, tree ring analysis revealed that
the years from 1587 to 1589 marked the most severe drought the
mid Atlantic coastal region had suffered in eight hundred years,
suggesting that crop failure may have played a part in the
This account was first published in Richard Hakluyt’s
Principall Navigations. . . . (London: George Bishop and
Ralph Newberie, 1589), pages 764-71.
Other Internet and References Sources
The text is available online from both the “Virtual
Jamestown” and University of Virginia Library’s Electronic Text
For specific information on the Roanoke Colony and a short
biography of John White, see the National Parks Service site,
The National Park Service has also placed their Fort Raleigh
Hume, Ivor Noël. The Virginia Adventure: Roanoke to James
Towne, an Archeological Odyssey. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1994) discusses the archaeological evidence.
For more information on the tree ring analysis, see:
Stahle, David W., Malcolm K. Cleaveland, Dennis B. Blanton,
Matthew Therrell, and David A. Gay, “The Lost Colony and
Jamestown Droughts,” Science Magazine 280: 5356 (April
24, 1998): 564-67.