The London Company of Merchant Adventurers of England for the Discovery of Lands Unknown is organized. An "adventurer" is a business investor who "ventures" capital. The Company supports Sir Hugh Willoughby and his ship pilot, Richard Chancellor, in their attempt to find a northern sea route from England to Cathay (China) and the Spice Islands (Moluccas). The Company provides a model for future enterprises, such as the Virginia Company of London, chartered in 1606.
Two Spanish ships commanded by Pedro Menendez Aviles, on their way from Havana to Spain, land near the future Jamestown colony location to forage for supplies.
The northern provinces of the Low Countries (later the Netherlands) break away from the Spanish rule of King Philip II. The English aid the Dutch in their battle against Catholic Spain, and in 1578 make a treaty of alliance with the Dutch against the Spanish.
June. Five ships under the command of Sir Humphrey Gilbert sail from England for Newfoundland. Gilbert had fought in the Netherlands against the Spanish and been thwarted by them in an earlier attempt to establish a colony farther south. With 250 colonists, Gilbert stops first off Newfoundland Banks, and then off St. John's Harbor further south, where the colonists land. By 1602, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are regularly visited by fishing and trading expeditions.
March 25. Walter Raleigh obtains the patent that Gilbert had originally received from Queen Elizabeth. The patent allows Raleigh to claim and settle any lands in the New World not yet occupied by other Christians.
April 24. Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, commanding two ships for Walter Raleigh, leave Devon, England, for the New World. Barlowe writes an account of the voyage, which appears in Richard Hakluyt's three-volume work, The Principal Navigations Voyages Traffiques & Discoveries Made by Sea or Overland to the Remote & Farthest Distant Quarters of the Earth . . . ., first published in London between 1598 and 1600. Barlowe's voyage brings him to the outer banks of present-day North Carolina and to the later-named Roanoke Islands. Barlowe encounters Algonquian Indians and two of these, Manteo and Wanchese, return with him to England.
January 6. Queen Elizabeth knights Walter Raleigh and makes him governor of the new territory discovered by Amadas and Barlowe. Raleigh names it "Virginia" in her honor.
April 9. Another Raleigh-sponsored expedition, commanded by Sir Richard Grenville, departs for Virginia. It consists of the Tiger, Roebuck, Lion, Elizabeth, and Dorothy. After a variety of adventures, most of the ships arrive off Wococon and Croaton Islands off Pamlico Sound. The Indians Manteo and Wanchese accompany this expedition back to their home. After settling on Roanoke Island, the colonists begin to explore inland.
May. Philip II of Spain orders the seizure of all English ships in Spanish ports in retaliation for English support of the Dutch. This makes supplying the colony on Roanoke Island difficult.
June 1. Relations between the Roanoke settlers and Indians deteriorate, and under the leadership of Ralph Lane, the English attack the Indians at their village, Dasemunkepeuc.
June 11. Sir Francis Drake meets with Ralph Lane at Roanoke. Drake, famous for his recent circumnavigation of the globe, had left Plymouth, England, on September 14, 1584, on an expedition against the Spanish. He has attacked the Spanish at St. Augustine (in present-day Florida), looted Santo Domingo and Cartagena, and then sailed north to meet with the settlers at Roanoke who are desperate for supplies. Unfortunately, he has none, and after a severe hurricane the colonists decide to depart with Drake in August.
August. Shortly after Sir Francis Drake's departure from Roanoke with the colonists, Sir Richard Grenville and a supply ship sent by Raleigh arrive at Roanoke to find the place deserted except for three men mistakenly left behind by Drake. Grenville has brought more colonists, and his arrival reestablishes the colony.
April 26. Sir Walter Raleigh sends out three ships with women as well as men, with promises of land grants to whomever establishes a colony on the Chesapeake Bay. The expedition is headed by the flagship Lion and commanded by John White, an artist. The colonists make landfall at Roanoke instead of the shores of Chesapeake Bay, and on August 27, White sails back to England. Upon his arrival there on October 16, he learns that war has broken out between England and Spain.
England and Spain are at war and compete fiercely to dominate trade with the New World and to establish their respective churches, Spain's Roman Catholicism and English Protestantism, in New World settlements. Spain dominates trade routes across the Atlantic and establishes firm footholds on the Atlantic and South Sea (Pacific) coasts of South America. The English, Dutch, and French challenge this dominance.
July 31. A sea battle between the English fleet and the Spanish Armada takes place. The English win even though they are greatly outnumbered by Spanish ships. Spain attempts to send two more armadas against England in 1596 and 1597.
Late August. An expedition, made up of the Moonlight, Little John, Hopewell, and other ships, commanded by Christopher Newport and carrying former commander John White, arrives off Roanoke Island. The expedition finds the island completely deserted. White discovers the letters "CRO" carved on the trunk of a tree on the banks of the island. The full word "CROATAN" is carved on the fort's gate. White had agreed with the colonists that if they had to move inland, they would indicate where they were going by carving the information on a tree, with a cross above it if they were also in need of help at their intended destination. The expedition is unable to find the colonists and eventually returns home. In 1602, Raleigh sends an expedition to search for them. The colonists are never found and their fate remains unknown.