Attempts to colonise Virginia

Attempts to colonise Virginia

During Elizabeth’s reign she had a favourite at court called Sir Walter Raleigh. He was an avid explorer and wanted to colonise an area and name it after Elizabeth’s virtue. However, as he was Elizabeth’s favourite she forbade him to leave England - even though he was the person in charge of the project. Instead, there were three other men involved in leading the Virginia project.

Richard Grenville - Expedition commander

Grenville was a very experienced sailor and solider and he was known for being adventurous and hot headed. He did not get on with Ralph Lane, the governor of Virginia. He wanted to be feared rather than loved .

Ralph Lane - Governor of Virginia

Lane was an expert on fort building. He was also an explorer and an experienced soldier.

Thomas Harriot - Translator and cartographer (map maker)

Harriot had worked with Manteo and Wanchese, the Native Americans brought to England in 1584 to learn the native lanuguage. He formed a strong bond with these men. His skill set included navigation and map making.

There were two main attempts to colonise Virginia, so for the exam you should ideally know about the two different voyages.

Why did the attempts to colonise Virginia fail?

Native American Resistance

  • The colonists were lucky to have Manteo and Wanchese with them to help introduce the colonists to the Algonquian people. However, it was not enough. The local chief, Wingina, was very suspicious of the English. He also grew tired of the constant demands for food handouts by the English.

  • There were some violent clashes between the natives and English when Winter struck as there was a huge shortage of food.

  • Wingina believed that the English had supernatural powers from their christian God. They believed this as the English appeared as if they had the power to kill them from a distance. This was actually because the English bought diseases with them from England that the natives bodies were not used to.

  • By Spring 1586, Wingina asked other chiefs to join with him to attack the English. Lane found out about the planned attack, and was prepared. Lane arranged for Wingina to be killed.


  • The climate in Virginia was hot and humid. The English did not prepare for this, and because of this the food rotted quickly.

  • Many of the soldiers on the expedition were poorly behaved. One was actually executed for bad behaviour. This demonstrates the lack of respect the colonists had for their leaders.

  • The English bought too many skilled craftsmen and not enough farmers. Some skills went to waste. For example a few stonemasons went on the voyage, but there was no stone for them to build the fort they had planned!

Attempts to colonise Virginia, figure 1

The Colonists

  • Before the colonists arrived, many were ill. This meant when they first arrived in Virginia many men were unable to work and set up the new residence.

  • Many merchants joined the voyage in hopes of getting rich quickly. When they learned they had to forage for nuts and berries and were put hard to work they were not happy at all. They did not want to contribute to the settlements as they thought it was unfair that men of their status had to work.

  • The colonists who were farmers were not prepared to work for rich men. They did not leave England to become their slaves. They wanted to work on their own land.

  • Many soldiers were recruited to come on the voyage for protection, but they did not have the skills to farm the land so were useless at farming.

The Voyage

  • Disaster struck when the main ship, the Tiger, became damaged. A hole in the bottom of the ship let in seawater that ruined the food it was carrying, as well as seeds for planting.

  • The colonists left England too late to reach Virginia in time to plant crops during appropriate season time.

What was the name of the other Native American who worked with Wanchese with the English people?
Who was the chief to the Algonquian people?
Who was the governor of Virginia?
Ralph Lane