This work by Bideford 500 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License
Eric Klingelhofer, eminent archaeologist and History professor at Mercer University, Georgia USA is laying flowers at St Mary's Church in Bideford in memory of Rawley, the native American who was brought to the town by Sir Richard Grenville in 1586 following a skirmish on the Island. A member of the Grenville household, Rawley was baptised a Christian and later died and was buried in the Church in 1589, along with one of Richard's daughters Rebecca. In the background is Sadie Green (B500 project development worker 2009-2012) and Andy Powell, Chair of Bideford 500, Bideford Town Councillor and author of 'Grenville and the Lost Colony of Roanoke'
Who was Rawley, the first Native American baptised and buried in England?
“Raleigh a Wynganditoian, Richard the son of Baptist Tooker and Katheryne the daughter of William Berry all here Christened the Sunday 26th day of March” so reads the Bideford Parish Register of 1588; but just who was “Raleigh”?
Raleigh the Native Indian was brought back to Bideford from Roanoke Island by Sir Richard Grenville following his capture there during a skirmish in 1586.
Of his origins, we can say that he was not a member of the friendly Hatteras Indians led by Manteo; but a member of an Algonquin tribe allied to Wanchese. This particular tribe had been involved in several skirmishes with the English on Roanoke the previous year. “Raleigh” therefore, may not have started out as the most willing of pupils on his arrival in Bideford!
What took place during the following eighteen months before that Native Indian was christened upon the Font that still stands in St Mary’s Parish Church today is unknown. Nevertheless, christened he was, on that fateful day in March 1588. Whether Grenville was present for the ceremony, we cannot say for certain as we do not know the date of his return to Bideford after leading the town’s flotilla of ships to Plymouth in readiness for the fight against the Spanish Armada…. the same flotilla that was made ready with the original intention to sail to Roanoke as the relief voyage for the colonists early in 1588.
Sadly for “Raleigh”, his new life in England did not last long, for the same Parish register records the burial of “Rawly a man of Wynganditoia following of the day 2nd April 1589”, (meaning he died during the night of the 2nd.) The cause of his death was probably the same epidemic of Influenza that was to strike tragedy at the heart of the Grenville family when Sir Richard’s 12 year old daughter Rebecca also died from it only a few weeks later.
According to Watkins ‘Essay’ of 1792, the “man of Winganditoia” was buried in St Mary’s churchyard. Legend has it that the Victorians accidently smashed his grave marker, but that, like so much of his life, remains uncertain.
However, thanks to the work of the Bideford 500 Heritage Group, after more than 420 years, his last resting place will once again be commemorated when, in 2012, Bideford will be joined by representatives from the town of Manteo on Roanoke Island, who will unveil a plaque in his honour.
Author - Andrew Thomas Powell 2012