Thursday, January 1, 2009

Roanoke Colonies Research Newsletter

Volume 4.1 (November 1996)
Manteo, Wanchese, or Whoever?
David Beers Quinn Emeritus, University of Liverpool

We know nothing about Manteo and Wanchese in the early months of 1585. Manteo certainly helped Ralegh and Barlowe in the closing months of 1584 when material was being prepared for Barlowe's narrative and for the publicity associated with Ralegh's bill before Parliament, but thereafter he would have had Manteo and Wanchese on his hands at a time when he was putting every penny he had into the preparation of the new expedition. It does not seem improbable that he would have introduced them to the households of his friends and supporters in order to spread the expense of maintaining them. It might appear he did so in the case of the Earl of Leicester, one of Queen Elizabeth's closest advisers. It so happens that the Royal Historical Society has just published a volume of the surviving household accounts of Leicester, Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert, Earl of Leicester, 1558 to 1585 (Camden Fifth Series 6 [London: Cambridge UP for the Royal Historical Society, 1995]). In it, the following item appears:

Gyven in reward the same day [January 6,1585]
by your lordship's commandement to Mr
[Master, but actually Sir] Rawles Blackamoore
xx s. [twenty shillings]. (210)

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary's definition of a blackamoore is "a Negro; any very dark-skinned person." Leicester's servant who compiled the account could well have used it for one of the two Carolina Algonquian men who were, at this time, in Ralegh's care. We do not know that he had any other dark-skinned person in his household, even if neither Manteo nor Wanchese could be described as "very dark-skinned," even if they were darker-skinned than the average Englishman.

We must be careful, however, since Leicester had had a dark- skinned person in his household in the previous year. Under April 17,1584, we have:

Gyven in reward the same day by your
lordship's commandment to the blackamore v
s. [five shillings].

This person evidently lived at Leicester House as a mattress was supplied for him-an African from Morocco or Guinea we must assume. The fashion of keeping a black servant in a noble household may already have become established, while we know that, in late Elizabethan times, Africans were to be found living in port areas in London and Plymouth.

We must be cautious about the identity of Ralegh's "blackamoore," but there is perhaps more than a chance that he was either Manteo or Wanchese.

From Roanoke Colonies Research Office