On the morning of April 27, 1584, two clinker-built ships owned by Sir Walter Raleigh, the Ark Royal and the Mary Spark were anchored in the Portsmouth Harbor. The morning air was softly depositing spring pollen across the ships’ decks as the water lapped against their sides from the incoming tide. The ships were fully loaded with supplies, ammunition, and a complete complement of crew members. The previous night, a company of soldiers were divided between both vessels and bedded down for the night.
The crew had been up early to prepare the ships for leaving with the afternoon outgoing tide. Everyone aboard was anxious to get underway. Their mission was to intercept a Spanish galleon that had been reported by British intelligence leaving Santo Domingo two days hence. According to the report, the ship was loaded down with gold and jewels, a port in Spain its destination.
The captains of the Ark Royal (Philip Amadas) and the Mary Stark (Arthur Barlowe) had been given permission by Queen Elizabeth to intercept this Spanish galleon and sail it back to England along with the contraband. The Queen had indicated that ten percent of the spoils would be divided among the crew and each captain would receive three percent for their trouble. Sir Walter Raleigh would receive five percent and the Crown would reimburse Raleigh for any damages that the ships might receive during the anticipated sea battle. Everyone aboard both ships was happy and agreeable with the arrangement.
Around two hours after dawn as Captain Amadas sat at his desk studying charts of the Atlantic Ocean, a knock was heard at the door.
Without looking up from the charts that he was studying, he said in a loud voice, “Enter!”
The cabin door opened and his first mate Thomas Berns said, “Captain, Mr. Barlowe and several gentleman have come alongside in a jolly boat and are proceeding to come aboard, sir.”
“Thank you, Mr. Berns. Have our visitors come directly to my cabin.”
The first mate left and proceeded back on deck. Amadas began to roll up the charts that he had been studying and within several seconds a knock was heard again at the door.
“Enter, please!” Captain Amadas said. He stood up from behind his desk to greet the visitors.
The first to enter was Captain Arthur Barlowe followed by three distinguished gentlemen.
“Captain Barlowe, please do the introductions,” Amadas said as he extended his hand in a welcoming gesture.
“I would like to introduce you to Simon Fernandez who is a chief pilot by trade.”
“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Fernandez,” Amadas said.
Barlowe turned to John White said, “John is a famous artist who has traveled with the Queens Navy around the known world and has sketched wonderful pictures of foreign lands. John is scheduled to sail with Richard Granville’s ship to America in a few months to make maps and explore the coast line.
Amadas and White shook hands.
Amadas said, “Yes, I’ve seen your work. You are a very talented, sir.”
White responded, “Thank you sir for the compliment.”
“And this is Thomas Harriot. Mr. Harriot” Barlowe said, “is a resident mathematician and intellectual at the Queens court.”
Barlowe slightly paused, and with some hesitation said, “I have received a direct order from Sir Humphrey Gilbert on behalf of Sir Walter Raleigh who has been given a six year charter from the Queen to immediately explore and settle on her behalf, unclaimed portions of North America and to convert the natives to the Protestant faith.”
He took another pause before he said, “We have been directed to take on this mission in the name of the Queen. Unfortunately, we are not going to intercept the Spanish galleon, but we’re to sail directly west to the North American coast and survey it for the possibility of establishing a colony. Richard Grenville’s ship will be following us in a month or so with metallurgists and explorers to determine the location of valuable metals. The Queen has indicated in this document that she will handsomely reward the crews and officers of both ships when they return to England in a year’s time.”
Barlowe set the document down and Amadas looked at the desk as if to collect his thoughts. After a few moments, “I can’t say that I’m not disappointed. However, if Sir Walter wishes that we change the mission and the Queen has commanded it, we will do our duty.”