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The Head in Edward Nugent's Hand

Roanoke's Forgotten Indians

By Michael Leroy Oberg

Publication Year: 2011

Roanoke is part of the lore of early America, the colony that disappeared. Many Americans know of Sir Walter Ralegh's ill-fated expedition, but few know about the Algonquian peoples who were the island's inhabitants. The Head in Edward Nugent's Hand examines Ralegh's plan to create an English empire in the New World but also the attempts of native peoples to make sense of the newcomers who threatened to transform their world in frightening ways.

Beginning his narrative well before Ralegh's arrival, Michael Leroy Oberg looks closely at the Indians who first encountered the colonists. The English intruded into a well-established Native American world at Roanoke, led by Wingina, the weroance, or leader, of the Algonquian peoples on the island. Oberg also pays close attention to how the weroance and his people understood the arrival of the English: we watch as Wingina's brother first boards Ralegh's ship, and we listen in as Wingina receives the report of its arrival. Driving the narrative is the leader's ultimate fate: Wingina is decapitated by one of Ralegh's men in the summer of 1586.

When the story of Roanoke is recast in an effort to understand how and why an Algonquian weroance was murdered, and with what consequences, we arrive at a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of what happened during this, the dawn of English settlement in America.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xvi

Drive onto Roanoke Island.Whether you take the bridge from Nag’s Head or come from the mainland by way of Mann’s Harbor, you will be greeted with a road sign bearing the same message. Roanoke Island, the sign reads, was the “birthplace of America’s First English Child...

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1. Ossomocomuck

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pp. 1-30

In the summer of 1584 Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, soldiers and sailors both in the service of Sir Walter Ralegh, first reached the Outer Banks of what is today the state of North Carolina. The new land, the home of Wingina and his people, impressed Barlowe. “The soile,” he wrote, “is the most...

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2. Granganimeo

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pp. 31-55

Wingina learned of the arrival of newcomers and sailing ships during the second week of July 1584. The Englishmen went ashore, perhaps on the island the natives called Hatarask, perhaps at Wococon, or perhaps farther north, near the present-day town of Southern Shores. We cannot know...

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3. Wingina

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pp. 57-80

The sojourn of Manteo and Wanchese in England lasted nine months. In the spring of 1585 they moved down to Plymouth, where Ralegh’s men prepared the ships and assembled the men and supplies for the new expedition to America. They saw immediately that the English planned a much larger...

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4. A Killing and Its Consequences

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pp. 81-100

Granganimeo died sometime during the winter of 1585-1586. Afterward Wingina changed his name to Pemisapan and, according to Lane, began plotting against the English. The precise significance of the name change is difficult to discern.We will never know for sure what it meant. We do know...

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5. Vengeance

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pp. 101-122

Pemisapan was shot, took flight, was hunted down, and was then beheaded, killed by colonists who feared that he was conspiring against them. It is a story few people know about. Most Americans, after all, are far more interested in the English struggle to conquer a wilderness than in the collateral damage...

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6. Lost Colonists, Lost Indians

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pp. 123-152

It is here that the story of the Roanoke ventures, and of the killing of an Indian and its consequences, moves slowly but certainly into the realm of myth, where what we wish we knew far exceeds that of which we can be certain. On August 18, 1587, Governor White’s daughter Eleanor gave birth to Virginia...

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pp. 153-162

If we are to relate the history of English efforts to plant and nurture an empire on American shores, it makes sense, at the end, to return to Sir Walter Ralegh. He did not forget about the Lost Colonists, at least not entirely. In 1602 he sent out a small party under the command...


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pp. 163-192


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pp. 193-201

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pp. 203-205

I have been thinking and writing about Roanoke for more than a decade, but it was not until the summer of 2005 that I decided to write a book about the native peoples who first encountered Sir Walter Ralegh’s colonists and, in the end, determined their fate.Numerous books on the attempts to plant...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203417
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812221336

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Early American Studies