Historical Background

-Note to Reader-

     Skyco was an actual Algonquin boy who played a role in the earliest English explorations of America. He lived in the town of Chowanook on the Chowan River in present day North Carolina. During his boyhood, English explorers first arrived in America, combing the coastline for a defensible location with a port to harbor ships, which would provide an English foothold in the new world. The initial scouting expedition in 1584 was followed one year later by the first English colonists. They built a fort on Roanoke Island, strategically located between the Outer Banks and the mainland, as well as between the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds.

     The party of men sent by Sir Walter Raleigh included the scientist Thomas Harriot, the artist and mapmaker John White, and the military commander Ralph Lane as Governor. Together, they explored the region for one year, from the summer of 1585 until the summer of 1586. During this time, they encountered many Native Americans, including the Roanoac tribe on Roanoke Island and the Chowanoacs, a powerful Algonquin tribe ruled by Chief Menatonon and centered on the Chowan River in western Albemarle Sound. Lane said that Menatonon ruled 18 towns with 700 fighting men, but most historians think that the tribe was about 2000 total people.

     Menatonon told the English about the Chesapeake Bay to the north, and about a land to the interior, called Chaunis Temoatan, which produced copper, or as the English hoped, gold. Once settled, Lane kidnapped Menatonon's son or heir, Skyco, and held him for several months to force Menatonon's support of the English by providing them with food, guides, and protection from warring tribes. During the period of his captivity, the Englishmen befriended Skyco, and Skyco, in turn, aided the English by telling Lane of a plot among the Roanoke Indians to kill Lane and his party. As a result, Lane struck first, killing the chief of the Roanoac tribe and thus, not only heightening the animosity between the English and the Roanoacs, but increasing the tension among all the Algonquin tribes in the region.

     Faced with rising native hostility, dwindling food supplies, and the delay of resupply ships, Lane’s group of colonists welcomed the appearance of Francis Drake’s flotilla of English ships, full of booty acquired from his lucrative raids against the Spanish in the Caribbean and Florida. Although Drake delivered hardware and trade items, he did not carry enough surplus food to sustain the fledgling colony, and rather than face the uncertainty of resupply by Raleigh’s ships, the colonists abandoned America and returned home to England aboard Drake’s ships. Skyco’s fate was not recorded, although it was noted that three Englishmen were left behind in America. It is probable that Skyco was freed to return to his own people when the colonists left.

     A larger group of English colonists arrived one year later, in 1587, and this time included women and children. They planned to settle on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, but disembarked on Roanoke Island instead. There, the first English-American child, named Virginia Dare, was born, but her grandfather, John White, the artist who by then was Governor, was compelled to return to England to secure additional supplies. Unfortunately for the Roanoke colonists, his return was delayed for three years because England and English ships were fully engaged in a war with Spain. Ironically, it was the privateering raids of Drake against the Spanish that aggravated the English-Spanish conflict and led to the battle of the Spanish Armada. When White finally returned to Roanoke in 1590, the colonists had disappeared, but left the word “Croatoan” carved on a tree near the abandoned fort. The fate of those First Colonists remains a mystery.

     Some historians think that the colonists went to the island of Croatoan on the Outer Banks, which has since been separated into Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands by the breach of Hatteras Inlet. Other historians argue that the colonists abandoned Roanoke for the Chesapeake, their original intended destination, and left only a small contingent of men to await John White’s return. Sometime during White’s long, three-year absence, these men went to Croatoan, and it was they who left the carved message. According to this view, the bulk of the “lost colonists” migrated to the Chesapeake while a remnant later moved to Croatoan. Twenty years later, in 1607, the first Jamestown settlers heard reports from Powhatan, the chief of the Chesapeake tribal confederacy, that he had killed the first English colonists who had settled on the Chesapeake and intermarried with members of a local tribe.

     Manteo, from the Croatoan tribe, and Wanchese, from the Roanoke tribe, were taken to England from North Carolina by the first English explorers in 1584. They returned the next year, with the 1585 English expedition. Manteo continued to work with the English as interpreter and guardian, and may have suggested Croatoan as a place of refuge. Wanchese, however, returned to his tribe, turned against the English, and was implicated in an attack on the 1587 colonists.

     With Manteo’s assistance, the polymath Thomas Harriot learned and preserved the Carolina Algonquin language, but only a brief report, which he wrote for Raleigh back in England, exists today. Harriot also labeled some of John White’s beautiful and accurate watercolors depicting the Algonquin villages, people, animals, and plants. Many of the drawings of animals are identified in Algonquian (the language of the Algonquin), which can be correlated with the English (and Latin) names used today. Ralph Lane recorded some Algonquin words, most of which were the names of important people and villages, in his report to Raleigh.

     Many of the documents from these first settlements have been preserved, though Harriot’s extensive notes on language were not. Countless historians, David Quinn foremost among them, have pored over early records, annotated them, and mapped the area of English exploration during the Roanoke voyages. Another source of information comes from John Lawson, who traveled through what is now North and South Carolina in 1701, and published detailed information on the animals, plants, and native people he encountered.

     While this story is one of fiction, I have adhered to the factual information that is available about the Carolinian Algonquins. The names of the characters are all Algonquin words, listed in the vocabulary included as an appendix. The Algonquin culture and customs presented came either directly from historical records, or suggested by what is known of other natives of the Southeast. In this story, Skyco is Menatonon’s heir, which is not the same as his son in the matrilineal society of Native Americans. Because children remain part of their mother’s clan or family line, the children of a man’s sister are more closely related to him than the children of his wife. Thus, a man’s nephew is in his same family clan and would be his heir whereas his biological son is part of a different clan, that of his mother. It is unlikely that Lane understood this distinction, leaving Skyco’s designation as son or heir questionable.

     In addition to presenting to historical and cultural information factually, biological detail is also accurate. Medicinal uses of plants as well as the behavior and distribution of animals are realistic. In some places, I specifically chose to highlight animals and plants that are rare today but were common historically and important to native peoples.

     Most of the early Carolina Algonquin died from disease and other effects of English arrival, and those who survived largely assimilated into the growing European population. The Chowanoke Indian Nation, however, persists today near its historical location and is currently striving for legal federal recognition. The Algonquin people stretch all the way into Canada, and although they belong to the same ethnic and language group, linguists suggest Canadian Algonquin dialects are probably rather different from those of early Carolina Algonquin.