Sunday, June 21, 2009

Melungeon Myth of Drake Dropping off Passengers on Roanoke

by Janet Crain

A persistent 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.

Hume states:

When on June 11, the two men (Francis Drake and Ralph Lane) exchanged their unsettling news, several truths became evident; Drake was not there (as the Roanoke settlers had first hoped) to resupply the Colony; he was short of food himself and so was better able to supply guns than butter. Futhermore, Lane could not have had any desire or ability to house 250 blacks who would outnumber his white settlers two to one.

They came to an agreement whereby Drake would leave skilled workers, artisans, two pinnaces, several small boats and a large ship, the Francis. All the supplies were loaded onto the Francis along with the skilled mariners needed to sail such a ship. Immediately a terrible hurricano struck and it was every man for himself. The ships standing out in the roadway cut and ran, scurrying out to the deep ocean to get away from the treacherous shoals and currents, dangerous enough in good weather. The Francis was among those who sailed on to England.

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 in the middle of a three day hurricane.

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.

Two weeks later an emergency supply ship sent by Sir Richard Grenville arrived and found
no one although they searched diligently. They left to return to England. About one or two weeks later a big supply ship arrived with Grenville on board. They were as mystified at the deserted condition of the island as the men on the earlier supply ship. They searched even further "into the main" (mainland) and as far as Chesapeake. Grenville was heavily invested in this first effort, having sold an entire estate (consisting at this time as a manor house and every type of supporting industry needed to run the estate; mills, stables, barns, houses, dairies, animals, tools, even small villages) to finance the settlement of over 100 men for over a year. It was a requirement of Raleigh's patent from Queen Elizabeth that the area be occupied continuously by English people. Finding no one and not know where they had gone, he left some 15 soldiers to hold the fort. Based upon interviews with Indians, they all perished.

It is quite clear they found no one who could have been the passengers Drake
was previously carrying.

As previously stated the Indians had a very effective rumor mill which carried news far and wide. It is just inconceivable to me to these peoplecould have survived unnoticed when their appearance would have been a matter of great curiosity among people who had never seen African natives.

Present Day Map of the Area:

View Larger Map

The Virginia Adventurers by Ivor Noel Hume Copyright 1994 p. 53
Corbett, Spanish War. Refers to the return of 100 ex-galley slaves to the Turkish dominions.
William S. Powell, North Carolina through Four Centuries, p. 42. Refers to Queen Elizabeth's reason for returning the Turks.
David Beers Quinn, Roanoke Voyages. Cites Wright in footnote regarding Turks.
Wright, Further English Voyages. Source of Quinn's information about Turks.
Hakluyt Society for 1975, Second Series, No. 148, p. 202, Note 3. Sir Francis Drake's West Indian Voyage, 1585-1586. A detailed and authorative account.
Acts of the Privey Council, 1586-87, pp. 205-206. (Public Record Office [London]), PC 2/14:169) Contains a letter from the Queen's Privey Council addressed to a merchant in London, who traded with Turkey, that asks him to make arrangements for the return of 200 Turks to Turkey.
Document 10, The Primrose Journal (British Library Royal MS.7C,xvi, folders 166-173. Capt. Frobisher's journal of the 1586 Drake-led voyage. Mentions Turks being aboard his ship.
David Beers Quinn Set Fair for Roanoke
David Beers Quinn The Roanoke Voyages 1584-1590

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Unknown said...

"Please do not post racist or obscene comments. They will be deleted. Thank you"
I see this article as being the attempt of a racist person to motivate the degradation of a people. If you are not melungeon do not cast your opinion. It will be considered a racist attack.

Historical Melungeons said...

Shawn; It was never my intention to post a racist article and I cannot imagine what prompted you to accuse me of doing so. I am sorry if this is your perception.

Unknown said...

Good article, thankyou. I am stumbling around in the Dark and trying to reconstitute 160 yrs of fairy tales to find the truth, I descend from Nathaniel Goins, 1848 Rockingham, North Carolina, that is about all I know. The search goes on....I was told he was French/Cherokee, I did not know there was a group called Melungeon until 2 yrs. past. Keep up the work, again thankyou

Harold Reeves