The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Thursday, October 11, 2007


Blue Hull Press • • 607 351 6615 • Ithaca, NY


The earliest illustrations of North Carolina, painted by the artist
John White, are coming to America this October. White traveled with a
company of Englishmen who explored the region and left tantalizing
records of their discoveries. One of their most unusual finds, an
Indian "Women's Towne," was never illustrated or explained.

The expedition camped in America for a year, from 1585-86, under the
leadership of Ralph Lane. In his journal, Lane describes venturing up
the Roanoke River with a party of men, finding the Algonquian villages
deserted, and growing desperate for food. He then mentions an
Algonquian "women's town" near the water. He intends to plunder that
settlement's fish weirs:

"... seeing all the Countrey fled before us, and therefore while wee
had those two dayes victuall left, I thought it good for us to make
our returne homeward, and that it were necessary for us to get the
other side of the Sound of Weopomeiok in time, where wee might be
relieved upon the wears [weirs] of Chypanum, and the womens Towne,
although the people were fled."

Historians have not determined why Lane referred to this village as
"Women's Towne." According to Professor Michael Oberg, author of a new
book on the Roanoke Indians, "We do know that women could lead
Algonquian village communities. It may be as simple as Lane referring
to a village community governed by a weroansqua (female leader). But
my short answer would be that we just don't know."

White's map of the region shows two settlements at "Chypanum," in
Weapemeoc tribal territory on the north of Albemarle Bay, that are
divided by the fork of an inlet and connected by a hatchmarked path.
No other villages are shown linked in this way. Was one of these the
Women's Town, led by a Native American woman, or by women? It is
unclear. Explorers reported that a weroansqua governed the Croatoan
tribe on Croatoan Island (now Hatteras), but that village was never
described as a "women's town."

A year after White ventured as an illustrator, he would return to
America in a new role – as governor of the ill-fated "Lost Colony," a
gamble that cost him his daughter and granddaughter. Deborah Homsher
has written a novel, THE RISING SHORE – ROANOKE, about that 1587
expedition. White's daughter, Elenor Dare, is one of the narrators.

"The historical record will always has holes in it, especially when we
search for facts about women," said Homsher. "They left few documents
of their own, and the men who wrote reports didn't usually give us
much news about them. John White painted beautiful watercolors of a
few Algonquian women, but he never sketched his daughter, Elenor, or
his granddaughter, Virginia Dare. So they're hidden. But clearly
Algonquian and English women were involved in these first encounters,
and even if they seem like shadows to us, they had enough muscle to
shape American history."

John White's watercolors, on loan from the British Museum, will be on
display at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh from
October 20 through January, in the exhibit, "Mysteries of the Lost
Colony. A New World: England's First View of America." This is the
first time these fragile paintings have been exhibited outside England
in forty years. For information, see

For information on Elizabethan pioneers, with links to their original
reports, see


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