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“La Virginea Pars”, a map of the east coast of North America (c. 1585-87).

The Roanoke Colonies

European exploration of the Outer Banks of modern-day North Carolina began in the early decades of the sixteenth century. The Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano in the service of the French king, Francis I, skirted the Outer Banks in 1524 and the following year the Spaniard Pedro de Quejo passed by on a voyage to the Chesapeake Bay. Neither the French nor Spanish made any effort to settle the region, however, and other than a brief visit by the Spanish in 1566 Europeans showed no interest in the Outer Banks until the Roanoke voyages sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh nearly twenty years later.

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An Indian Woman by John White. 1585-1593. Image courtesy of the British Museum.

Indian Peoples of the Ossomocomuck

Approximately 7,000 Indians inhabited Ossomocomuck (coastal North Carolina), from the Great Dismal Swamp in the north to the Neuse River in the south. They were loose groupings of semi-autonomous peoples rather than centralized political entities controlled by powerful rulers.

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Swallow-tail butterfly by John White. 1585-1593. Image courtesy of the British Museum.

Historical Documents & Research

John White was an explorer, artist, and later, governor of the Roanoke Colony. He was a keen observer of the local Indians and the flora and fauna of the Outer Banks region, the likeness of which he recorded in a series of watercolors painted between 1585 and 1593. The British Museum kindly allowed First Colony Foundation access to their collection of John White’s paintings, a few of which can be viewed below.

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