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A New World: England’s First View of America

Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven, Conn. March 6-June 1

The British artist and explorer John White first sailed to North America in May 1577 as part of a Cathay Company expedition to search for precious metals and a northwest passage to China. The quest was unsuccessful, but White brought back riches of a different sort: sketches that offered his compatriots their first glimpses of the exotic world across the pond. On a subsequent voyage in 1587, White helped establish the Roanoke colony on the Outer Banks of present-day North Carolina and documented flora, fauna and native life along the Atlantic Coast in warm-toned watercolors that were meant to reassure potential investors and settlers that America was a welcoming promised land. When White made one last journey to America in 1590, Roanoke, including his daughter and granddaughter, had vanished without a trace. His drawings, now in the collections of the British Museum in London, offer rare glimpses of the New World before it was transformed by European settlements. The Yale Center for British Art recently hosted a traveling exhibit of White’s work that will be on view at Jamestown Settlement in Virginia from July 15 to October 15.


Originally published in the August 2008 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here