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Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh (25 March 1584)


With this document began the first determined endeavor by the British Crown to colonize the North American continent. A clever administrator as well as a soldier and occasional pirate, Walter Raleigh took over the charter from his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who drowned in 1583 during an aborted attempt to colonize St. John's, Newfoundland. By April 1584, Raleigh had already undertaken a new expedition, and in 1585–1586, the first colony at Roanoke, Va., had been established, some twenty-two years before the founding of Jamestown and thirty-seven before the Pilgrims made their landing at Plymouth Rock, Mass. Unfortunately, life in the New World was even more difficult than Raleigh's intrepid explorers had anticipated. Plagued by supply shortages and hampered by their failure to deal intelligently with their mostly agreeable Indian neighbors, the colonists soon became disenchanted with their new way of life. They took advantage of the coincidental arrival of the explorer and pirate Sir Francis Drake as a chance to abandon the colony. Only ten months old, the Roanoke expedition came to an end. A second expedition, mounted in 1587 and consisting of some 150 women, children, and men, was discovered three years later to have vanished without a trace, save for a single word etched into a post, "Croatoan." The colonists were never heard from again, and the second disastrous attempt to secure Roanoke Island for the Crown of England remains one of the greatest, still unsolved, mysteries of North American history.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also Colonial Charters ; Raleigh, Sir Walter, Colonies of .

ELIZABETH, by the Grace of God of England, Fraunce and Ireland Queene, defender of the faith, &c. To all people to whome these presents shall come, greeting.

Knowe yee that of our especial grace, certaine science, and meere motion, … we give and graunt to our trustie and welbeloved servant Walter Ralegh, Esquire, and to his heires assignes for ever, free libertie and licence from time to time, and at all times for ever hereafter, to discover, search, finde out, and view such remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countries, and territories, not actually possessed of any Christian Prince, nor inhabited by Christian People, as to him, … shall seeme good, and the same to have, holde occupie and enjoy to him, … for ever, with all prerogatives, … thereto or thereabouts both by sea and land, whatsoever we by our letters patent may graunt, … and the said Walter Ralegh, his heires and assignes, … shall goe or travaile thither to inhabite or remaine, there to build and fortifie, at the discretion of the said Walter Ralegh, …

And we do likewise … give and graunt full authoritie, libertie and power to the said Walter Ralegh, … that he … shall … have, take, and leade in the saide voyage, and travaile thitherward, or to inhabit there with him, or them, and every or any of them, such and so many of our subjects as shall willingly accompanie him or them, And further that the said Walter Ralegh, … shall have … all the soile of all such lands, territories, and Countreis, so to bee discovered and possessed as aforesaide, and of all such Cities, castles, townes, villages, and places in the same, with the right, royalties, franchises, and jurisdictions, as well marine as other within the saide landes, or Countreis, or the seas thereunto adjoining, to be had, or used, with full power to dispose thereof, and of every part in fee-simple or otherwise, according to the order of the lawes of England, …: reserving always to us our heires, and successors, for all services, duties, and demaundes, the fift part of all the oare of golde and silver, that from time to time, and at all times … shal be there gotten and obtained: …

And moreover, we doe … give and graunt licence to the said Walter Ralegh, … that he, … shall and may … for his and their defence, encounter and expulse, repell and resist … all … as without the especiall liking and licence of the said Walter Ralegh, … shall attempt to inhabite within the said Countreis, … or within the space of two hundreth leagues neere to the place or places within such Countreis, … where the saide Walter Ralegh, … shall within sixe yeeres … make their dwellings.… And for uniting in more perfect league and amitie, of such Countreis, landes, and territories so to bee possessed and inhabited as aforesaide with our Realmes of Englande, and Ireland, and the better incouragement of men to these enterprises: we do … declare that all such Countreis, so hereafter to be possessed and inhabited as is aforesaide, from thencefoorth shall bee of the allegiance of us, our heires and success ours. And wee doe graunt to the saide Walter Ralegh, … and to all and every of them, … that they … being either borne within our saide Realmes of Englande, … shall and may have all the priviledges of free Denizens, and persons native of England.…

And … we … do give and graunt to the said Walter Ralegh, … that hee … shall, within the said mentioned remote landes … have full and meere power and authoritie to correct, punish, pardon, governe, and rule by their and every or any of their good discretions and pollicies, as well in causes capital, or criminall, as civil, … all such our subjects as shall from time to time adventure themselves in the said journies or voyages, or that shall at any time hereafter inhabite any such landes, countreis, or territories as aforesaide, … according to such statutes, lawes and ordinances, as shall bee by him the saide Walter Ralegh … devised, or established, for the better government of the said people as aforesaid. So always as the said statutes, lawes, and ordinances may be as neere as conveniently may be, agreeable to the forme of the lawes, statutes, government, or pollicie of England,…

Provided alwayes, and our will and pleasure is, and wee do hereby declare to all Christian kings, princes and states, that if the saide Walter Ralegh, his heires or assignes, or any of them, or any other by their licence or appointment, shall at any time or times hereafter, robbe or spoile by sea or by lande, or do any acte of unjust or unlawful hostilitie, to any of the subjects of us, our heires or successors, or to any of the subjects of any the kings, princes, rulers, governors, or estates, being then in perfect league and amitie with us, our heires and successors, and that upon such injury, or upon just complaint of any such prince, ruler, governoir, or estate, or their subjects, wee, our heires and successours, shall make open proclamation within any the portes of our Realme of England, that the saide Walter Ralegh, his heires and assignes, and adherents, or any to whome these our letters patents may extende, shall within the termes to be limitted, by such proclamation, make full restitution, and satisfaction of all such injuries done, so as both we and the said princes, or other so complayning, may holde us and themselves fully contented. And that if the saide Walter Ralegh, his heires and assignes, shall not make or cause to be made satisfaction accordingly, within such time so to be limitted, that then it shall be lawfull to us our heires and successors, to put the saide Walter Ralegh, his heires and assignes and adherents, and all the inhabitants of the said places to be discovered (as is aforesaide) or any of them out of our allegiance and protection, and that from and after such time of putting out of protection the said Walter Ralegh, his heires, assignes and adherents, and others so to be put out, and the said places within their habitation, possession and rule, shal be out of our allegeance and protection, and free for all princes and others, to pursue with hostilitie, as being not our subjects, nor by us any way to be avouched, maintained or defended, nor to be holden as any of ours, nor to our protection or dominion, or allegiance any way belonging, for that expresse mention of the cleer yeerely value of the certaintie of the premisses, or any part thereof, or of any other gift, or grant by us, or any our progenitors, or predecessors to the said Walter Ralegh, before this time made in these presents be not expressed, or any other grant, ordinance, provision, proclamation, or restraint to the contrarye thereof, before this time given, ordained, or provided, or any other thing, cause, or matter whatsoever, in any wise notwithstanding. In witness whereof, we have caused these our letters to be made patents. Witnesse our selves, at Westminster, the 25. day of March, in the sixe and twentieth yeere of our Raigne.

SOURCE: Thorpe, Francis N., ed. The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1909.

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