A Colony Vanishes, a Colony Appears
A passage to the East was not the only reason for English interest in the New World. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, author of the provocative tract on the Northwest Passage, earned renown as a soldier in the service of Queen Elizabeth I. She knighted him in 1570 and, eight years later, granted him a charter to settle any lands not already claimed by Christians. The ambitious Elizabeth wanted her island nation to become the center of a new world, the locus of a great trading empire—and she wanted to do this before Spain and Portugal succeeded in grabbing all of that new world for themselves. With her blessing, then, Gilbert sailed in 1579, but was compelled to return when his fleet broke up. He set sail again in June 1583 and reached St. John’s Bay, Newfoundland, in August, claiming that territory for the queen. On his way back to England, however, Gilbert’s ship, badly overloaded, foundered and sank with the loss of all hands. The charter was inherited by Gilbert’s half brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, the 31-year-old favorite of Queen Elizabeth.