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Arthur Barlowe, 1550-1620
The First Voyage to Roanoke. 1584. The First Voyage Made to the Coasts of America, with Two Barks, wherein Were Captains M. Philip Amadas and M. Arthur Barlowe, Who Discovered Part of the Countrey Now Called Virginia, anno 1584. Written by One of the Said Captaines, and Sent to Sir Walter Ralegh, Knight, at Whose Charge and Direction, the Said Voyage Was Set Forth.
[Boston, Mass.]: [Directors of the Old South Work], [1898].


The First Voyage to Roanoke, Arthur Barlowe's enthusiastic description of the 1584 reconnaissance voyage to the coast of North America, was written for the benefit of Sir Walter Raleigh, who had commissioned the four-month expedition. Beyond this account, and biographical information indicating that Barlowe was once a part of Raleigh's household, nothing is known about the explorer's life or any other voyages he may have taken.

Barlowe's account was first published in Richard Hakluyt's The Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589). The Old South Leaflet version of Barlowe's account, published in 1889, regularized spellings and is thus not an exact transcription of the original document. The Old South Leaflets are primarily reproductions of original manuscripts with historical and bibliographic notes. The Leaflet series started in 1883, when the Old South Association began printing leaflets to correspond to lectures it sponsored. Today, the Old South Meeting House continues the tradition of the Leaflets by offering many of the original reprints as well as new Leaflets on a variety of topics. In 1955, editor David Beers Quinn included a new, more accurate transcription of Barlowe's work in his volume The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590.

The First Voyage to Roanoke highlights the expedition's exploration of the coasts of what would later become Virginia and North Carolina. Barlowe describes in great detail the interaction with the Native Americans they encountered on Roanoke and other islands, and the amiable relationship they developed through trade, the exchange of gifts, and mutual hospitality. He also praises the natural resources of the land, calling the soil "the most plentifull, sweete, fruitfull and wholesome of all the worlde" (p. 7).

In addition to Barlowe's description of the North American coast, this publication includes three additional documents. The first is the letters patent to Sir Walter Raleigh from Queen Elizabeth in 1584 authorizing him "to discover, search, finde out, and view such remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countreis, and territories" and to "goe or travaile thither to inhabite or remaine, there to build and fortifie" an English colony (p. 12). The next is an extract from a letter written by Ralph Lane to Richard Hakluyt. Lane, the first governor of Virginia, wrote the letter from the newly constructed fort on Roanoke Island. In it he praises the land and its resources, declaring it to possess "the goodliest soyle under the cope of heaven" (p. 18). The third document, written well after these events, is a short commentary on Raleigh's life and accomplishments as well as on the various biographies of Raleigh.

Works Consulted: "Arthur Barlowe," Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, ed., Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1979; Quinn, David Beers, ed., The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590: Documents to Illustrate the English Voyages to North America Under the Patent Granted to Walter Raleigh in 1584. London: The Hakluyt Society, 1955.

Monique Prince

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