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John White ( c.1540 - c.1606 )  Category ( Historical_Figures ) [suggest a correction]
 

John White was an English artist of the sixteenth century. His best-known work includes numerous sketches and watercolors he made of Virginia natives at the time of the 1585 English settlement on Roanoke Island, located in what is today the State of North Carolina. His artistic efforts on Roanoke are invaluable to historians as they provide a rare glimpse into the lives of Eastern American Indians just prior to extensive and eventually overwhelming European settlement. The surviving paintings are now at the British Museum. White was part of an expedition to Virginia the following year, that time with Sir Francis Drake.

White returned to Virginia in 1587 as part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony. White was picked by Raleigh to serve as Governor of the new colony. Traveling with him were thirteen appointed Governor’s assistants. Accompanying White were his pregnant daughter, Eleanor, and her husband, Ananias Dare. After arrival on Roanoke he became grandfather to the first English child born in the New World, Virginia Dare. Not long after the birth of Virginia, White returned to England to obtain supplies for the colony. Tragically, he was prevented from returning the following year due to difficulties in England, particularly the conflict between England and Spain’s Armada. When he was finally able to return to Roanoke, bringing supplies, he found the settlement abandoned. Before he could carefully investigate the site and attempt to locate any surviving colonists, bad weather forced him to leave again. He never returned to Virginia. The fate of the Roanoke colonists, including baby Virginia Dare, remains unknown and is a popular topic of discussion amongst history buffs as well as historians.

Little is known of White’s life after his Roanoke adventures. Records suggest that he spent a number of years in Ireland on the estates of Sir Walter Raleigh, where he served as cartographer for Raleigh’s tenants. Evidence suggests that while he styled himself "Gentleman of London," he was likely of humble origins. The fact that his daughter, Eleanor, married a shoemaker, suggests the family was not highly placed. His talent and abilities, however, were recognized by some of the most powerful people in England, and White held a family coat of arms. The date and place of his death remain unknown.


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