English naturalist, astronomer, mathematician, ethnographer, and translator; worked closely with Sir Walter Raleigh and ‘Lost Colony’ Governor John White.
After completing his studies at Oxford, Harriot joined the household of Sir Walter Raleigh where he became deeply involved in Raleigh’s plans for colonizing a portion of the New World. In 1585, Harriot was a member of Raleigh’s First Colony, which settled on Roanoke Island and explored a considerable portion of what is now northeastern North Carolina. His only surviving published book, A briefe and true report of the new foundland of Virginia: is a report of many of his discoveries made during his 11-month tenure with Ralph Lane’s colony of exploration. On the voyage and on the land, he would have collected data for John White’s subsequent maps & Theodor de Bry’s engravings of White’s paintings. Harriot’s meetings with the Native Algonquians Manteo & Wanchese, resulted in his creation of a syllabary that could be used for translating the native language. Harriot also worked with fellow colonist & mineral expert, Joachim Ganz.
Shortly thereafter, when the Queen granted Raleigh 42,000 acres in Ireland to develop, Harriot was there—living in Molana Abbey and, among other things, making land plats of Sir Walter’s properties.
During the reign of King James, Raleigh was stripped of his properties and wealth and committed to the Tower, but he arranged for the Earl of Northumberland to accept Harriot into his household. Even so, Harriot performed extensive research for Raleigh’s History of the World.
In and among his projects with Raleigh and Northumberland, Harriot conducted his own experiments and maintained contact with other scientists.
In mathematics, Harriot invented the symbols for ‘greater than’, > and ‘less than’ <.
In astronomy, Harriot preceded Galileo by about four months, in making a drawing of the moon as seen through a telescope.
Thomas Harriot died in the London house of a member of 1585-86 expedition. Clearly, a long friendship was forged in America. Harriot’s will cites a bag of papers associated with Raleigh—and orders that it be burned.