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Document Number: AJ-033
Author: Hayes, Edward
Title: Voyage of Sir Humfrey Gilbert, Knight, 1583
Source: Burrage, Henry S. (editor). Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Pages 177-222.
Pages/Illustrations: 48 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

Little is known about Edward Hayes beyond the information contained in this account. He was the captain and owner of the Golden Hind, one of the seven ships on Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 voyage to establish England’s first colony in North America.

Gilbert (1539?-1583) was born in Devonshire and served Queen Elizabeth I in Ireland putting down rebellions. A strong advocate of English colonies in Ireland, Gilbert also pushed for state-sponsored exploration of North America to find a northwest passage to Asia. Sir Walter Raleigh’s half-brother and a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I, Gilbert was also and governor of Munster. He was knighted in 1570, entered Parliament in 1571, and sought royal permission to explore North America. Elizabeth I granted him letters patent on June 11, 1578, lasting six years, but the commission remained vague regarding the destination. It instructed Gilbert to discover, possess, and colonize “heathen lands” in North America “not in the actuall possession of any Christian prince.”

Gilbert’s First (1578-1579) and Second (1583) Expeditions

Gilbert’s first voyage commenced in November 1578 with seven ships, including one captained by Sir Walter Raleigh. These carried supplies for a reconnaissance of one year, and Gilbert probably intended to establish a colony on the southeastern coast of North America to serve as a base for attacks against the Spanish. This first expedition failed for unknown reasons and Gilbert in April 1579 prepared a second attempt focused more on colonization than privateering. Surviving notes suggest that Gilbert hoped to establish his colony somewhere between Cape Hatteras and the mouth of the Hudson. The second voyage set sail with five vessels on June 11, 1583, and Gilbert died when his ship foundered near the Azores on August 29. The remaining ships returned to England September 22, 1583, without leaving settlers in America.

This account by Edward Hayes seems to draw careful and accurate descriptions from the log of the ship he commanded, the Golden Hind. One of very few surviving accounts of this first English attempt to colonize North America, Hayes’ narrative provides the most extensive and detailed documentation of the failed venture. While Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s expeditions both ended in utter failure, his extensive preparations, including creatively exploiting his charter’s commercial provisions, led directly to three important developments: the establishment of the first English colony in Virginia; systematic development of the Newfoundland fishery; and more methodical efforts to discover a northwest passage.

Document Note

Hayes’ account was first published in Richard Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations (1589) and supplemented with other narratives in his The Third and Last Volume of the Voyages, Navigations, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation . . . (London, 1600). This text is an annotated version of the latter.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The web sites for the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site offer general overview information on voyages of discovery in the Chesapeake region at

The State Library of North Carolina maintains an informative site on early English colonization attempts at

Britain’s Channel 4 has a web site on Elizabethan pirates with information on Gilbert at piratesgilbert_t.html

For specific information on the Roanoke Colony and Humfrey Gilbert, see the National Parks Service site “Roanoke Revisited” at

The “Introduction” by David B.Quinn in his edition of The Voyages and Colonising Enterprises of Sir Humphrey Gilbert (Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint Limited, 1967) is the most thorough modern treatment of Gilbert.

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