Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed across the Atlantic in search of the northwest passage. In 1583 he made a second attempt and reached Newfoundland, where he selected a site for a colony, and claimed the island for England. On the return voyage he was lost at sea.
Sir Walter Raleigh. Gilbert’s work was continued by his half brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, who in 1584 received from Queen Elizabeth a charter which gave him the right to discover, colonize, and govern new lands. The first colonists he sent out landed on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina; but difficulties beset them and they returned to England. His second group of colonists, with John White as governor, arrived at Roanoke Island in 1587. Here was born Virginia Dare, granddaughter of Governor White. She was the first child of English parents born in what is now the United States. Thomas Harriot, famous English scientist and mathematician, accompanied this expedition to survey the land. Governor White went to England for provisions but was delayed for three years, and on his return found that the colonists had left the island. On a tree was carved CROAT AN, the name of an island inhabited by friendly Indians. All attempts to find the “Lost Colony” there or elsewhere failed.
Raleigh spent vast sums of money on colonization but finally realized that the task was far too great for a single individual. In the seventeenth century English colonization was again undertaken, not by any individual, but by a joint-stock company with greater financial resources.
The Defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588). As the English seamen continued their attacks on Spanish ships and on Spanish settlements, the rivalry between Spain and England became more intense. English attempts at settlement in the New World were a further challenge to the power of Spain. Philip II, who ruled over Spain 1556-1598, had extended his power in Europe and had laid claim to all of North and South America. Queen Elizabeth, who ruled over England 1558-1603, was not willing to concede the claims of the Spanish monarch, and her “sea dogs” were ready and eager to attack any power. Besides the rivalry over the colonial empire, there were other causes of friction between Spain and England. The Spanish maintained that Elizabeth had no legitimate claim to the English throne. The fact that Philip II ruled over Catholic Spain, and Elizabeth over Protestant England, was another source of friction. Elizabeth had been sympathetic with the Protestant Netherlands and gave them aid in their struggles against the rule of Catholic Spain.
Philip, in 1588, felt that the Spanish had been sufficiently offended by the English to warrant a war, and ordered the Spanish Armada, a large fleet of powerful fighting vessels, into the English Channel. Here the “Invincible Armada” encountered the somewhat smaller English navy, commanded by such able seamen as Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher. The English had superior fighting ships, equipped with her best and heaviest cannon, while the Spanish ships were designed for hand-to-hand conflict – for land battles to be fought on sea. The wind favored the English and scattered the Spanish fleet. Directed by better-trained leaders, the English thoroughly defeated the Spanish Armada. This was an important step in the development of English sea power, which in turn gave England an advantage in the struggle for colonization in America and greatly influenced the course of American history.