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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Lost Colony of Roanoke

By Francis Lister Hawks (1798–1866)

[Born in New Berne, N. C., 1798. Died in New York, N. Y., 1866. History of North Carolina. Second Edition. 1857.]

ROUGH but brave men, for the most part, were these colonists under Lane, and let us honor them, at least, for the courage with which they encountered privations and hardships. But they could be pioneers only, for they had among them none of the gentler sex. They were but laying foundations that others might come in and help them to build thereon. But Providence saw fit to call them all away; and now, under White, another set of actors is on the stage, even that “lost” colony whose sad story we have told already. And here are women and children. Daily life, we may imagine, was somewhat different now. The men are probably not so rough-visaged and so untidy. They have been partially humanized by the gentleness of woman and the caresses of children. True, they have a hard battle to fight but they have also a stake to fight for. But, alas! here is an enemy more to be dreaded than even the vindictive and treacherous savage—starvation! And now the father wishes that wife and children were but in safety in the land whence he brought them. He can suffer himself, but it unmans him to see them suffer. That skeleton child for whom the mother has starved herself in vain; he has laid it in its coffin and buried it in the ground, and he turns sadly away from the task of comforting its desolate mother; for his own heart is breaking: that mother must go next. Domestic life was monotonous enough now. It was one long sad gaze over the waters: the eye might strain itself over the sea, but it looked in vain for the coming ship. No vessel ever came. “Hungry famine had them in the wind,” and gaunt spectacles of suffering humanity, attenuated almost to transparency, flitted like ghosts around. The spectral crew vanished by degrees, how, God knoweth; and whether they found a grave in the ocean’s depths, or on the land, is reserved for the revelations of that day when “the earth and the sea shall give up their dead.”…

We find no mention made of individual ownership acquired in the land cultivated: none of the stimulus created in man by the consideration that he is improving his own property; no awakening of forethought for the comfort of that period when age should overtake the colonist, and call for a repose from labor, to be enjoyed on the fruits of earlier industry. All, as far as appeared, labored for the benefit of a common stock out of which all were to live. Now, however such a system may answer for a short time in the beginning, in exploration for instance, it is not a system to insure success, when permanent settlement is once begun. The history of colonization presents no instance of success under such a system, because such a plan runs counter to human nature: it leaves out of view that consideration of personal interest which is left by Heaven in man, as a stimulus to exertion. There is too much equality in the return made alike to laborious toil and evasive idleness: industry is taxed to supply the deficiencies of indolence; and community of interest is not likely to produce economy of expenditure. Hence the plan is soon not merely seen, but felt to be inequitable, and men are not apt to make a prosperous community where they are treated unjustly. The colonization of Virginia, some twenty years later, commenced on this defective system. It never prospered until men were permitted to secure an individual right in their land and their labor.

Again: too little attention, probably, was paid to individual character in the selection of colonists. Doubtless, this was then as it is now, in some degree, unavoidable. The affluent, and the possessors of moderate comfort, in the home of their youth, are not likely to sever all ties and cross an ocean to people a wilderness. There must ordinarily be some strong moral influence to prompt such men to remove. But it is from among such men only, refined by culture, accustomed to some comforts, and disciplined, by their position, to orderly habits, and a proper respect for lawful authority, that good colonists are likely to come. Such men, only, meet privations with a cheerful spirit, and seek to supply their deficiencies. The outcasts of London prisons and the sweepings of London kennels, then as now, doubtless could furnish their quota to every ship-load of adventurers. The dissipated scions of respectable families were gladly sent off, lest they should finally tarnish ancestral honors by a felon’s fate at home: the inmates of the vile slums and alleys of the metropolis were but too glad to escape the grasp of violated law; to leave a country where they had nothing to gain and everything to lose, because they had reached an infamy and attained to a notoriety in guilt, which left them no further hope of committing crime with impunity. In short, we may not doubt that some of the earliest colonists belonged to that class which the poet has described as “the cankers of a long peace, and a calm world.”

But we are inclined to think that these causes would not have prevented the successful establishment of White’s colony, had it not been subjected to the horrors of famine. Time and experience would probably have corrected the evils we have named; but for starvation there was no remedy; and so, after the toil and suffering of years, the expenditure of much precious treasure, and the loss of still more precious life, the waves of Albermarle rolled, as of old, their ripples up the deserted island beach, and the only voice heard was that of the fitful winds, as they sighed through the forests of Roanoke, and broke upon the stillness of nature’s rough repose. The white man was there no longer.