Between 'Savage Man' and 'Most Faithful Englishman'

Manteo and the Early Anglo-Indian Exchange, 1584-1590

by Michael Leroy Oberg


[p. 146] In August of 1587 Manteo, an Indian from Croatoan Island, joined a group of English settlers in an attack on the native village of Dasemunkepeuc, located on the coast of present-day North Carolina. These colonists, amongst whom Manteo lived, had landed on Roanoke Island less than a month before, dumped there by a pilot more interested in hunting Spanish prize ships than in carrying colonists to their intended place of settlement along the Chesapeake Bay. The colonists had hoped to re-establish peaceful relations with area natives, and for that reason they relied upon Manteo to act as an interpreter, broker, and intercultural diplomat. The legacy of Anglo- Indian bitterness remaining from Ralph Lane's military settlement, however, which had hastily abandoned the island one year before, was too great for Manteo to overcome. The settlers found themselves that summer in the midst of hostile Indians.

Manteo led English attackers who sought to avenge the death of George Howe, a leader of their settlement who had been 'slaine by divers Sauvages' some days before.1 Manteo played an important role in the English assault. According to the colony's governor John White, 'behaved himselfe toward us as a most faithful English man'.2

It is a fascinating statement, and it can serve as a sort of shorthand for a road that might have been followed in Early America. Manteo had lived amongst the English, in England and America, since 1584, and during those years he had dramatically transformed himself. Described in 1584 as one of 'two savage men of that countrie' carried to England, Manteo now was in a state of liminality, a place-in-between, approaching closely, but not yet entirely, the place of a 'faithful English man'.3

Early America, the anthropologist Greg Dening recently has written, 'was a place of thresholds, margins, boundaries'. It was, he continued, 'a place of ambivalence and unset definition'. Early America 'was in between, always in defining rather than definition mode, always on the edge of being something different'.4 Bernard Bailyn, the important American colonial [p. 147] historian, as well described this colonial world as a marchland, 'a ragged outer margin of a central world' where 'the ordinary restraints of civility could be abandoned in pell-mell exploitation, a remote place where recognized enemies and pariahs of society [...] could safely be deposited, their contamination sealed off by three thousand miles of ocean'.5

But what of Manteo? Where does he, an Indian who seemingly cast his lot with the colonisers rather than the colonised, fit in Bailyn's stark and violent Atlantic world? Dening suggested that in Early America, in these 'boundary places [... ] everybody went a little savage to survive'. Indeed, there is much to commend this interpretation of the early American frontier, and it has informed a great many recent studies.6 But Manteo appears to have moved in the opposite direction. He became a little civilised in order to survive.7 His story shows that Indians found, at times and in places, a space for themselves in this emerging world. Manteo became an integral player in the Anglo-American society that Sir Walter Ralegh wished to plant in America, carving for himself a unique niche on the margins of England's expanding Atlantic world. Manteo, tragically, would find this a most treacherous place, owing to the nature of English settlement in America and the indigenous response to European colonisation.


It was on the fourth of July in 1584 that Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, soldiers and sailors both in the service of Sir Walter Ralegh, arrived off the coast of what is today North Carolina, setting in motion the forces that would transform the life of Manteo The two explorers travelled with instructions to scout out the location for the colony Ralegh hoped to establish in America in the very near future.

By the 13th ofJuly, the English voyagers had landed on Hatorask Island, taking possession of the land in the name of the Queen 'according to the ceremonies used in such enterprises'.8 They then returned to their two ships, anchored off the western side of the island, and waited. On the third day, according to Barlowe, they 'espied one small boate rowing towards us, having in it three persons'. These Roanoke Indians landed at Hatorask. Two of them remained with their boat while 'the third came along the shoare side towards us'. Where 'he walked up and downe upon the point of the lande next unto us'. Several Englishmen, including Barlowe and Amadas, rowed ashore to greet him. After the lone Indian 'had spoken of many things not understoode by us, we brought him with his owne good liking, aboord the shippes, and gave him a shirt, a hatte, and some other things, and made him taste of our wine, and our meate, which he liked very well'. He then 'requited the former benefits receaved' before he departed by providing the explorers with enough fish for an impressive banquet.9

The three natives returned to Roanoke Island with word that the [p. 148] newcomers posed no threat, for the next day, Barlowe reported, 'there came unto us divers boats, and in one of them the Kings brother, accompanied with fourtie or fiftie men, very handsome, and goodly people, and in their behaviour as mannerly, and civill, as any of Europe'. Granganimeo, the brother of the Roanoke weroance Wingina, met the English on the shore, and 'made all signes of joy, and welcome, striking on his head, and his breast, and afterwardes on ours, to shewe we were all one, smiling and making shewe the best he could, of all love, and familiaritie'.10

'We were all one', Granganimeo tried to tell Barlowe. The Roanokes took great interest in the English voyagers. Trading commenced quickly. Indians offered deerskins for English trade goods. Others brought 'with them leather, corrall, divers kindes of dies very excellent, and exchanged with us'.11 Such intercultural exchange provided the foundation for a fragile middle ground on the coast of Hatorask Island, as Indians and Englishmen each took steps to incorporate the other into their own conceptual world, and to make sense of the strangers they then were encountering.

After several days, and after the Indians 'had beene divers times aboord our shippes', Barlowe and seven others sailed around the southern tip of Roanoke Island, and north along the island's western shore, before stopping for several nights at the Roanokes' village 'of nine houses, built of Cedar, and fortified round about with sharpe trees, to keepe out their enemies', on the northern tip of the island. Though far from trusting entirely in his hosts, Barlowe wrote that he and his companions 'were entertained with all love, and kindness and with as much bounties after their manner, as they could possibly devise'.12

What Barlowe saw on Roanoke Island impressed him. The Indians were pure of heart, he wrote, and friendly. 'Wee found the people most gentle, loving, and faithful, void of all guile, and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the golden age. The earth', he wrote, brought forth for the Indians 'all things in aboundance, as in the first creation, without toile or labour'. Roanoke, or the surrounding islands, Barlowe reported, would provide the ideal location for a future English settlement.13

Barlowe and his company remained for only a short time on the Carolina Outer Banks, and by August they had departed for England. They carried with them Manteo and Wanchese, an Indian from Roanoke Island. The English, indeed, recognised that their colonising ventures would succeed most easily and least expensively with the support and assistance of local Indians, and Ralegh and his circle hoped to learn much from the pair. As the elder Richard Hakluyt wrote, English Christendom should expand peacefully, 'without crueltie and tyrannies' and in so doing 'best planteth Christian religion, maketh our seating most void of blood, most profitable in trade of merchandise, most firme and stable and least subject to remoove by practise of enemies'.14 Friendly Indians would willingly engage in trade, allowing the colonial enterprise to profit. Peaceful Indians would make valuable military allies, ensuring the defence of the settlement. And well-treated [p. 149] Indians, wrote the scientist and explorer Thomas Harriot, 'may in short time be brought to civilities and the embracing of true religion'. For all this to happen, Ralegh and his supporters recognised, they would have to learn something about the Indians amongst whom they planned to settle.15

The presence of Manteo and Wanchese aboard Barlowe's expedition, then, was emblematic of the desires of early English imperialists. These men wanted to extend English dominion and civility into America while benefiting the commonwealth and dealing destruction to the hated Catholic enemies of the realm. Despite English ethnocentrism, there was a place for Indians in the Anglo-American, Christian, New World empire that Ralegh and his supporters hoped to establish in America. Native American history should not be divorced from its broader transatlantic context, and Manteo and Wanchese became important members of a short-lived Atlantic community, as they confronted Englishmen at home and in England, viewing their developing relationship with Ralegh's settlers through lenses crafted of native material.16

Few historians who have studied Ralegh's attempts to found an American empire, however, have paid the pair much attention. Most tend to view Manteo and Wanchese as curious footnotes to the larger epic of English maritime expansion. This is a shame, for their lives are immensely important for what they reveal to us about the challenges that faced those Indians who confronted Englishmen along the margins of the English Atlantic world.17

There is much that we shall never know about Manteo and Wanchese. Much of their world is beyond recovery to historians and anthropologists, and the evidentiary foundation for any examination of Carolina Algonquian ethnohistory is quite thin. Ralph Lane and Thomas Harriot offered colourful but ultimately incomplete descriptions of Indians in the area, as did Barlowe. John White produced some wonderful drawings that reveal much about Algonquian culture. Beyond these sources, we know little. Still, the sparse documentation surviving from Ralegh's Roanoke ventures can allow one, using them with caution, to reconstruct something of what Indians saw when they looked at the English.

The surviving sources suggest that Manteo and Wanchese both held positions of high social status in their communities. Neither appears to have been a commoner. Manteo's mother may have been the weroansqua, or leader, of the Croatoans. Throughout Wanchese's career he remained close to the Roanoke weroance Wingina, and served him in an advisory capacity. As among the culturally analogous Powhatan Indians of Virginia, natives who demonstrated great valor in war could earn positions as consultants to their rulers, and this appears to have been the case with Wanchese. Certainly by 1587, one year after Wingina's death, the English identified Wanchese as the principal suspect in the slaying of George Howe, and the leader of the surviving Roanoke Indians.18 The relationship between the [p. 150] Roanokes and Manteo's Croatoans appears to have been close. On several occasions English explorers encountered Croatoans at Wingina's mainland village of Dasemunkepeuc. The Croatoans seem to have been a community distinct from, but subject to, Wingina. Both Manteo and Wanchese, however, owing to their status and their positions as advisers to powerful individuals, were well suited for their roles as diplomats and voyeurs, travellers to England who would report to their people upon all that they witnessed and all whom they encountered.19

Manteo, along with Wanchese, travelled to England on a mission. They entered the English orbit from an intensely spiritual universe. Carolina Algonquian peoples, like the Roanokes, according to Thomas Harriot believed 'that there are many Gods, which they call Mantoac, but of different sortes and degrees; one onely chiefe and great God, which hath bene from all eternite'.20

This 'chiefe and great God' probably was not the focus of much Carolina Algonquian religious activity. The culturally analogous Powhatans to the north worshipped a similar figure that they called Ahone, a kind deity so beneficent that he required neither offerings nor ritualised observance. The Powhatans devoted the bulk of their religious activity toward deflecting the wrath of an evil god called Okee or Okeus, who would deliver misfortune upon communities if not properly appeased. The Kiwasa of the Carolina Algonquians, described by Harriot and drawn by the artist (and later) governor John White, was certainly a similar figure.21

Like their neighbours throughout the Eastern Woodlands, Roanoke Indiaias believed that their universe was suffused with power, or Mantoac, and that rituals were an important means for acquiring this power.22 But power existed in many forms and some things and beings possessed more power than others, as Harriot's statement above suggested. Gregory Evans Dowd has pointed out in his excellent study of religious awakenings in eighteenth-century Eastern Woodland communities that 'nothing was more important for life than power'. Those who had it would fight well in battle, hunt successfully, and raise an abundant harvest. As throughout the Eastern Woodlands, so along the Carolina coast: native peoples needed power to survive.23

No direct evidence exists to identify how Manteo and Wanchese came to join the English, and much of what follows admittedly is conjectural. We can, at heart, venture only informed guesses as to why they crossed the Atlantic. I would suggest, however, that indigenous concepts of power - beliefs about Mantoac - are central to understanding their unfolding relationship with the English.

Granganimeo, the brother of the Roanoke weroance, wanted to establish friendly relations with the English, and he clearly reflected his people's great interest in trade with the newcomers. Interest in trade may well have made travel with these strangers to their homeland an intriguing option. The technology demonstrated to the Roanoke Indians by the English suggested [p. 151] that they were a powerful people and the Roanokes sought especially to acquire those elements of English material culture that manifested great power, or mantoac.24

Harriot, later, came to understand the Roanoke concept, mantoac, in terms analogous to the English 'god', perhaps a not unreasonable misunderstanding. But to Carolina Algonquians mantoac signified a power higher than that of human beings, a sacred power that could manifest itself immediately and constantly both in things and in beings. For example, the Roanokes, according to Barlowe, held English ships 'in marvelous admiration'. When the English fired a musket, the Indians 'would tremble thereat for very feare, and for the strangenes of the same'. Granganimeo hung 'a bright tinne dishe' that he had acquired from the English around his neck, according to Barlowe 'making signes that it would defende him against his enemies arrowes'. Granganimeo believed that this object contained a significant degree of beneficent power.25 English items manifested power and this made them both useful and attractive to the Indians. As Harriot wrote after the 1585 expedition:

English technology played a vital role in shaping Carolina Algonquian perceptions of the colonists, whom they viewed as powerful people bearing magical and perhaps otherworldly items permeated with mantoac, a power that allowed them 'to do things that ordinary human beings could not'. Indians on the Outer Banks, then, had good cause for taking interest in the English explorers who began to penetrate their world in the sixteenth century.27

In England Manteo and Wanchese, the 'two savage men of that countrie' upon whom observant Londoners remarked, provided Ralegh and his supporters at Durham House with a valuable supply of information as they began laying plans for further voyages to 'Virginia'. They learned English from Thomas Harriot and taught him, in turn, the rudiments of Carolina Algonquian. Harriot, 'being one that have beene in the discoveries and in dealing with the natural inhabitantes specially imployed', developed apparently a sound enough understanding of the native language to begin developing an alphabet for it. Manteo and Wanchese learned English well [p. 152] enough so that by the end of 1584 they could serve as interpreters, and they provided important ethnographic testimony on Carolina Algonquian social structure, which allowed Barlowe to complete his report on the 1584 voyage.28

Manteo and Wanchese also served an important promotional function for Ralegh and his circle. When parliament in December confirmed Ralegh's patent to his American holdings, it did so at least in part because, 'some of the people borne in those partes brought home into this our Realme of England' visited the Chamber so that the 'singular great comodities of that Lande are revealed & made knowen unto us'.29 Ralegh may as well have sent Manteo or Wanchese to visit and board with potential investors and supporters. The evidence here is at best sketchy, but it is at least possible that 'the Blackamore' who resided for a time with Henry Percy, the Duke of Northumberland, was either Manteo or Wanchese.30

While the time Manteo and Wanchese spent in England almost certainly informed their views of the English, we can only venture guesses as to how they responded to the myriad sights and sounds, the filth and the squalor, the crowds and the spectacle, of the rapidly growing metropolis. Dressed in clothing unfamiliar to them, paraded before the elite supporters of English maritime expansion, toasted and celebrated at Court, and marveled at in the street, their reactions are lost to us. One amateur historian, Catherine Albertson, many years ago suggested that 'in the kindly breast of Manteo, only wonder and admiration were aroused' in England, and 'child-like trustfulness in the good will of the Great Weroanza and her Court'. Wanchese, however, an Indian 'of sterner and far more savage temperment, viewed with dark forbodings the might and power of these strange pale faces', and 'with prophetic eye [... ] felt with a cold and fearful sinking of the heart that with the coming of the white man, the Indian was doomed'.31 The evidence simply cannot justify such invocations of the good Indian/bad Indian dichotomy, of noble and ignoble savagery. One need not rely on the supposed 'child-like trustfulness' of an Indian to explain his attachment to the English. Still, amidst Albertson's condescending interpretation of the Indian response to English society there may lie a kernel of truth, for upon returning to America the two Indians would follow very different courses. Wanchese quickly returned to his people and would oppose over the next three years continued native interaction with the settlers and successive English attempts to plant colonies in the region. Manteo, by English standards, would remain steadfastly loyal to Ralegh's settlers.

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1 David Beers Quinn ed., The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590 (New York 1991) 525, 530.

2 Ibid., 530.

3 Ibid., 91.

4 Greg Dening, 'Introduction' in: Ronald Hoffman, Fredrika Teute, and Mechal Sobel eds, Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identily in Early America (Chapel Hill, NC 1997) 1. See also Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570 (Cambridge 1987) 127; Richard White, "'Although I am Dead, I am not Entirely Dead, I have Left a Second of Myself": Constructing Self and Persons on the Middle Ground of Early America' in: Hoffman, Teute and Sobel, Through a Glass Darkly, 404-405.

5 Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling of British North Amerca: An Introduction (New York 1986) 112- 113.

6 Dening, 'Introduction', 1; For a recent, useful review of this rapidly growing literature, see Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron, 'From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History', American Historical Review 104 (June 1999) 814-841.

7 There were others who underwent similar processes of transformation. See James H. Merrell, "The Cast of His Countenance": Reading Andrew Montour' in: Through a Glass Darkly, 13-39; and Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York 1998).

8 See the discussion in Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 (Cambridge 1995) 16-40.

9 Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 94, 98.

10 Ibid., 98-99.

11 Ibid., 100, 103. Barlowe was not specific about the types of trade goods the English carried with them. Richard Hakluyt the Younger, in his well-known 'Discourse on Western Planting', suggested that Indians might accept 'hats, bonets, knives, fish-hooks, copper kettles, beads, looking-glasses, bugles, & a thousand kinds of other wrought wares'. See E.G.R. Taylor ed., The Original Writings and Cmrespondence of the Two Richard Haktuyts (London 1935) 332.

12 Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 107-108.

13 Ibid., 108, 114-115.

14 Taylor, Original Wtitings of the Haktuyls, 334.

15 Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 372.

16 On the goals of European imperialists, and the place of Indians within that empire, see Michael Leroy Oberg, Dominion and Civility: English Imperialism and Native America, 15851685 (Ithaca 1999) 12-22. For works property placing Native American history in its transatlantic context, see the following fine studies: Ian K. Steele, Warpaths: Invasions of North America (New York 1994); Eric Hinderaker, Elusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley, 1673-1800 (Cambridge 1997); Peter C. Mancall, Valley of Opportunity: Economic Culture Along the Upper Susquehanna, 1700-1800 (Ithaca 1991); Stephen Saunders Webb, 1676: The End of American Independence (New York 1984); and James H. Merrell, 'The Customes of our Countrey' in: Bernard Bailyn and Philip D. Morgan eds, Strangers Within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the first British Empire (Chapel Hill, NC 1991) 117-156.

17 Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony (Savage, MD 1984); David Stick, Roanoke Island: The Beginnings of English America (Chapel Hill, NC 1983).

18 Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 527-538; David Beers Quinn, Set Fair For Roanoke: Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606 (Chapel Hill, NC 1984) 39; Kupperman, Roanoke, 118.

19 On the leadership structure of native communities in the region, see Stephen R. Potter, Commoners, Tribute and Chiefs: The Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Vally (Charlottesville 1993) 14-16; Helen C. Rountree, The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture (Norman 1989) 101.

20 Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 372.

[p. 167]
21 Michael Leroy Oberg, 'Gods and Men: The Meeting of Indian and White Worlds on the Carolina Outer Banks', 1584-1586', North Carolina Historical Review 76 (October 1999) 373-378; Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 424-425, 888; Paul Hutton, America 1585: The Complele Drawings of John Wltile (Chapel Hill, NC 1984) plate 38, p. 68; fig. 25, p. 127. On Powhatan religious life, see Rountree, Powhatan, 126-140 and Frederic W. Gleach, Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia (Lincoln 1997) 36.

22 Oberg, 'Gods and Men', 376.

23 Gregory Evans Dowd, A Spitiled Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815 (Baltimore 1992) 3.

24 On this point see George R. Hamell, 'Mythical Realities and European Contact in the Northeast during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries', Man in the Northeast 33 (1987) 63-87; Christopher L. Miller and George R. Hamell, 'A New Perspective on Indian White Contact: Cultural Symbols and Colonial Trade', Journal of American History 73 (September 1986) 311-328; Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 100, 103.

25 Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 100, 112.

26 Ibid., 375-376, 371-372.

27 See the discussion in Bruce M. White, 'Encounters with Spirits: Ojibwa and Dakota Theories About the French and their Merchandise', Ethnohistory 41 (1994) 378.

28 Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 103-104, 119, 321; Vivian Salmon, 'Thomas Harriot and the English Origins of Algonkian Linguistics', Historiographia Linguistica 19 (1992) 25-56; W.A. Wallace, John While, Thomas Harriot, and Waller Ralegh in Ireland, Durham House Harriot Seminar, Occasional Paper no. 2 (Durham, UK 1988) 15. Harriot has been the object of some criticism from specialists in Elizabethan literature and the literature of discovery. See Stephen Greenblatt, 'Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion, Henry IV and Henry V', Glyph: Textual Studies 8 (1981) 40-60. For an effective critique of this work, see B.J. Sokol, 'The Problem of Assessing Thomas Harriot's A briefe and true report of his Discoveries in North America', Annals of Science 51 (1994) 1-16.

29 Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 127.

30 G.R. Batho, Thomas Hariot and the Northumberland Household, Durham Thomas Harriot Seminar, Occasional Paper no. I (Durham, UK 1983); Quinn, Roanoke Voyages, 127-128. The Percy family supported a number of efforts to plant English colonies in America.

31 Catherine Albertson, Roanoke Island in History and Legend (Elizabeth City, NC 1934) 12.

Permission to Reprint Courtesy of Michael L. Oberg and of Itinerario, European Journal of Overseas History


"Between 'Savage Man' and 'Most Faithful Englishman': Manteo and the Early Anglo-Indian Exchange, 1584-1590" by Michael L. Oberg, Volume XXIV (2000) Number 2, Itinerario, European Journal of Overseas History, Leiden University, The Netherlands.

Copyright 2001
Carolina Algonkian Project