Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Removing the Keystone of Turkish Theory

by Janet Crain

A persistant rumor has spread all over the Internet that Melungeons descend from the some 300 to 600 Turks and other nationalities said to have been left on Roanoke Island in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake. In truth, there is NO evidence there were any left, much less several hundred.

Drake was returning home from the sacking of Cartagena when he decided to visit Roanoke and dispose of some of the freed prisoners and Maroons he had acquired during his adventures. He was carrying a human cargo of several hundred. He is said by Ivor Noel Hume in "Virginia Adventures" to have highly inflated the numbers. This voyage is of great interest to Melungeon researchers because this voyage in 1586 is the basis of the Turkish connection first started by Brent Kennedy's book; Melungeons; an Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing. It is, in fact, the keystone of the Turkish Connection Theory. Remove it and the rest crumbles. That is what I propose to do.

It is known that many of the people never reached Roanoke. Many died of strange fevers in Florida. Apparently Drake intended to leave the rest of the freed Africans and South American Indians to furnish labor for the new Colony which he expected to have grown to some 600 English by then. In truth there were about 100 men, badly in need of food and suffering the ill effects of their bad treatment of the local Indians. Ralph Lane was in charge at Roanoke and he accepted Drake's offer of minimal food supplies (Drake had been out a long time and was running low himself) and a ship, the Francis, capable of navigation into the bay plus other pinnaces, etc. and armament. All the supplies were loaded onto the Francis along with Lane's best naval officers. Lane wanted to stay a few more weeks exploring the Chesapeake.

But the best laid plans of mice and men can be blown to pieces by a terrible storm such as the one that then struck. Many of Drake's ships which had been waiting "standing in the roadway" off the Outer Banks were blown out to sea by the massive "hurricano" and scurried back to England. The Francis was among them with the badly needed supplies and trained naval navigators. Ralph Lane then accepted Drake's offer to transport the first colonists back to England. Most of the small pinnaces carrying the extra passengers had been dashed to pieces on the shoals during the storms. The Turks, known to have been with Drake, were apparently better safeguarded. They were valuable as trade for English prisoners lanquishing in Ottoman prisons. Some 100 Turks were, in fact, ransomed to their homeland.

So, just who might have gone ashore before the storm hit? Many people have a hard time visualizing the scene at Roanoke. Roanoke is surrounded by very shallow waters, hence the name; Shallowbag Bay. The only way to get there was by laborious offloading of men and supplies to shore boats and threading through the one pass, Fernando Pass, and the treacherous shoals and currents made worse at times by Northwestern winds blowing directly into the Bay. The shore boats were large by our standards and equipped with a mast and sail. They require a skilled pilot and several strong sailors to row. People didn't just hop on one and go sight seeing. Only those with important business such as Sir Francis Drake and Ralph Lane who negotiated several times were transported back and forth. The rest of the fleet with the passengers onboard stood out in the Roadway, the navigable waters off the Outer Banks, which wrap around this area like protecting arms.

I am saying this to lay to rest the idea of a huge number of the passengers dis-embarquing and perhaps being caught off guard by the storms and staying behind. Hume and David Beers Quinn are the authorities on this period and both say there were no Turks left. Hume says no one else, Quinn, at most a very few. Left with no supplies on the Outer Banks what would they have found to eat? If the Indians had not killed them, they would have starved.

It should be noted that the Native Americans communicated by a"grapevine" so efficient that Indians in Canada knew of happenings in the Virginias. No mention of any dumped off passengers was ever made.

Additionally, there was plenty of room for these passengers to sail with Drake. Hundreds had died in the battles in Florida, from fevers, and in the hurricane. Drake was returning with more ships than he left with, having captured many. And they would have furnished badly needed labor to sail these ships back to England.

Add to this the extreme difficulty of unloading these passengers in addition to loading the Roanoke settlers, which the crew deeply resented for the delay and extra work and danger this imposed and it is highly unlikely Drake would have taken such actions.

Ivor Noel Hume says:

Thus the hurricane of June 1586 may have ripped away the first page from the history of blacks in English America.

A cruel and terrible fate for these forgotten people that historians of the time did not consider important enough to even record their fate.

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