Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Two Ships Enter Pamlico Sound

Two English ships, one weighing 50 tons and the other approximately 35 tons, arrived off the Outer Banks of the North Carolina coast during the second week of July 1584.  Sailing north, the ships paralleled the great sand banks for more than one hundred miles before their pilot, Simon Fernandez, found a narrow passage into Pamlico Sound.  The next morning, July 13, -- the ships anchored inside the inlet -- Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, a contingent of soldiers, and Fernandez, using two longboats, rowed to Hatarask Island a mile off.  The captains declared possession of the land in the name of Queen Elizabeth.  A soldier fired his harquebus at a flock of cranes, sending it, an undulating wave, crying, skyward.  The party explored the island the remainder of the day and returned to their ships before nightfall. 

The next morning three natives in a dugout canoe approached.  The Englishmen watched them beach their canoe not more than four harquebus shots away.   Two of the natives remained in the canoe while the third proceeded to walk the sandbank shoreline toward the ships.  He reached the point of land closest to Barlowe and Amadas, stopped, looked at them, walked back toward the canoe, pivoted, and headed back.  Barlowe, Amadas, Fernandez, and several soldiers climbed into a longboat and rowed toward him.

Standing erect, the native showed no fear.  He had been commanded by his Algonquian werowance, Wingina, to communicate with these peculiarly attired, pale-complexioned strangers.

They came together.  The native delivered a long speech, which the Englishmen did not understand.  Barlowe responded.  Pointing, he indicated that he wished the native to come aboard his ship.  The native agreed.  He was impressed with the ship’s enormous timbers, the strangers’ ability to craft such a ship, very likely the conspicuous cannons, and, certainly, the operations of the captain’s compass and telescope.  He was given gifts, including a shirt and a hat.  He tasted wine and ship’s meat, which he demonstrably liked.  He must have noticed that the strangers sailed without women and children.  Their faces were hairy; they smelled foul – he and his villagers bathed twice a day.  Their clothing was excessive and, surely, burdensome.

They returned him to his canoe and rowed back to Barlowe’s ship.  They watched him talk to his two companions, saw the two examine the gifts.  The three natives pushed the canoe into the water.  They paddled some fifty yards off shore where, using spears and a net, they fished.  An hour later, they returned the canoe, deep in the water, to the point of land where the Englishmen and the lone native had met.  The leader directed his companions to make two piles of fish.  They did so.  Gazing at Barlowe and Amadas, he pointed at one pile, then pointed at Amadas’s ship.  He pointed at the other pile.  He pointed at Barlowe’s ship.  His companions pushed the empty canoe into the water.  The three natives climbed inside.  The canoe disappeared behind a distant spur of land.

Friendly contact had occurred.  Captains Barlowe and Amadas had accomplished their first objective. 

Wingina would similarly be pleased.  His scouts had made contact with these newcomers.  Having been aboard one of their ships, his lead scout could report on their strength and their numbers.  Despite their strange language and behavior, they could be approached and they desired friendship.  Despite their technology that his scout didn’t understand and their considerable weaponry, they did not seem to pose a threat.  Perhaps he could establish with these imposing strangers a beneficial alliance.

My future blog entries will focus on different aspects of Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts to establish an English outpost inside North Carolina’s Outer Banks nearly two decades before the settlement of Jamestown and how the native communities responded.  The story involves self-interest, miscommunication, disregard of the native culture, hostility, cruelty, and betrayal.  I plan to dramatize this in a novel.