Roanoke Colonies Research Newsletter
Volume 5.1 (November 1997)
16th- and 17-Century Maritime History and Culture on the Web
by E. Thomson Shields, Jr.
Roanoke Colonies Research Office
Most readers of John White’s narratives about his attempts to find the Roanoke colonists left behind in 1587 understandably concentrate on such things as White’s discovery of the word CROATAN carved on the fort’s palisade. However, White’s narratives of his 1589 and 1590 voyages are filled with tales of piracy and privateering, of the sailors’ unease over the Outer Banks’ weather, of sixteenth century sailing, and so forth. White ends up telling much about shipboard life on late sixteenth-century ocean voyages.
All the Roanoke colonization ventures are necessarily tied to maritime history and culture. With the Atlantic Ocean serving as the roadway between the Old and New Worlds, maritime studies is an important part of Roanoke colonization - related research. It is interesting, then, that there are few maritime sites on the World Wide Web with specific Roanoke colonization connections. Still, there are a number of sites on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century maritime history and culture
that can be useful for those studying the Roanoke colonization attempts through their parallels to and differences from the Roanoke ventures.
The only place on the World Wide Web with maritime information specifically related to the Roanoke ventures is one page devoted to the Elizabeth II on the site SchoonerMan: Schooner and Tall Sailing Ships. The Elizabeth II is a replica sixteenth-century ship built in 1982-83 similar to those that were part of the fleets bringing colonists from England to Roanoke Island in the 1580s. The ship is berthed in Manteo, North Carolina, where it serves as the centerpiece of the Elizabeth II State Historic Site. On this page is found the ship’s dimensions (70 feet long with an 8 foot draft carrying some 1,920 square feet of sail) and a picture.
The SchoonerMan site itself is a collection of such information for all sorts of vessels, originals and replicas, from throughout history. For example, it includes a descriptive page on the 1989 replica of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon from his 1609 expedition to the area of the Hudson River in New York. The SchoonerMan page on the Half Moon includes links to several Hudson-related sites as well as information about contacting the owners of the replica, the New Netherlands Museum in Crotonon-Hudson, New York.
Several other replicas of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century ships have fuller sites on the World Wide Web than the brief notices on the SchoonerMan. Among these are the Duyfken, the Batavia, and the Mayflower. The original Duyfken was a small jacht built about 1595 in the Netherlands which became famous as the ship Willem Janszoon sailed in 1606 on the first recorded European visit to Australia. The Australian builders of the replica see the project as experimental archaeology, a tool for learning about sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch shipbuilding.
Several interconnected web sites about the Duyfken are on the World Wide Web,
including Duyfken, by a group of students at Yangebup Primary School in Perth, Australia (a site much more professional and valuable for basic research than the typical schoolchildren’s web pages); the Duyfken 1606 Friends web site; and the
Duyfken 1606 Replica Project web site. A later Dutch ship replica from the East Indies trade is the Batavia, a reconstruction of a 1628 merchant vessel, completed in 1995. Its web site, Batavia-werf, includes material about the replica, the original ship’s history, and visiting the Batavia Yard in Lelystad, the Netherlands.
Plans for a new replica of the Mayflower, the ship which brought the Pilgrims to Cape Cod in 1620, are underway. The web site for the project is mainly about the project and its fundraising. However, a completely independent web site, Mayflower Web Pages, provides an amazing amount of valuable historical information on the original ship and the history in which it was involved. Assembled by Caleb Johnson, a Mayflower descendent, the site has a heavy genealogical component, but it is also strongly historical, including maritime-related material about the ship and its voyages back and forth between Old and New England.
Researchers can also find World Wide Web sites related to sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century maritime archaeological finds. The earliest of these finds is the Mary Rose, built around 1510 and sunk in 1545, now excavated, raised, and on display at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, England. Aside from providing information about the museum, The Mary Rose web site includes a very complete and well documented history of the ship, drawings of the artifacts found, and an isometric drawing of the hull as found at the time of excavation.
Another find, a bit later chronologically, is the discovery of an unidentified ship that appears to have been part of the Tristán de Luna expedition attempting to colonize Florida in 1559. With this lower hull and a significant number of associated artifacts being located in Pensacola Bay, the wreck and its accompanying web site have been dubbed The Emmanuel Point Shipwreck. Some of the artifacts from the excavation as well as a full-scale replica of the ship’s stern section are on display at the J. Earle Bowden Building in the Pensacola Historic District. However, with ongoing excavations (the latest occurring during the spring and summer of 1997), The Emmanuel Point Shipwreck web site is a good source for updated information. The web pages include excavation site plans along with artifact descriptions and photographs.
Even later in time is the Vasa, a 1628 Swedish warship which heeled over and sank during he first moments of its maiden voyage out of the Stockholm shipyards. Poorly designed but tightly built, the ship was raised whole in 1961 and is now preserved in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. The museum web site, Vasamuseet, includes such items as a short history of the Vassa’s sinking, a description of shipboard life in the early seventeenth century, and a history of the ship’s raising, as well as an illustrated electronic version of the museum’s current exhibit of ship models.
A different type of archaeologically-related site is the Guide to Historic Wreck Sites Designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Assembled by the Archaeological Diving Unit at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, the guide lists all wrecks protected by Great Britain’s 1973 act defining the area around each wreck restricted from salvaging without a license. The guide notes when each wreck was designated as protected, the site of each wreck, and a site history, including citations of relevant reports and publications. Several sixteenth- and seventeenth century wrecks are included in the Guide.
Another interesting maritime history and culture site not connected to a specific ship replica or archaeological project is The Era of Spanish Galleons: The Story of the Spanish Treasure Fleets, by Michael Imig. The site is a presentation of the ships, onboard life, and history of the sixteenthand seventeenth-century Spanish fleets carrying New World treasures back to Spain. One section is entitled “The Jackals” about pirates and privateers who attacked the fleets, including the Englishman Francis Drake.
Also worthwhile is Alan H. Hartley’s Maritime History Citations for the OED. Hartley has put on his web site the maritime-related entries he has submitted for the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, now in progress. Most of these entries are from medieval and early modern sources with some antedating the earliest uses noted in prior editions of the OED (such as a 1550 use of bon voyage) and others not found in earlier editions at all (such as the nautical use of the term thwart).
A final type of site worth mentioning is the directory to maritime-related sites on the World Wide Web. Lars Bruzelius’s The Maritime History Virtual Archives, Peter McCracken’s A Guide to Maritime History Information on the Internet, and A Guide to Underwater Archaeology Resources on the Internet, by students in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Texas–Austin, have links to everything from maritime-related documents available on the World Wide Web, to nautical dictionaries, to calls for papers and conference announcements, to home pages for scholarly societies with a maritime focus. These guides have a broad focus but include sixteenth- and seventeenth-century materials.
There is nothing on the World Wide Web about the Hopewell, the Little John, and the John the Evangelist that made up the 1590 fleet charged with rescuing the “Lost Colony” or about any of the other Roanoke voyages. Still, much can be found that helps explain the maritime elements of the Roanoke colonization ventures.
Universal Resource Locators (URLs) for Sites Mentioned: