English Superiority in Roanoke Propaganda

Confidence Building through Indian Portrayals in 16th Century English Travel Writing


  • Steven Helms


“Roanoke Propaganda” is an analysis of 1580s English travel literature that encouraged American colonization. The English were reluctant to colonize due to pressing concerns at home and intimidating Indian portrayals from travelers from other nations. The Roanoke propagandists colored their portrayals of Native Americans to emphasize English superiority and to promote confidence in their potential for success in America. They claimed that the English religious doctrine had the power to turn native enemies into allies. They also used religious arguments to justify expropriating Indian land. Despite contrary popular sentiment, they also claimed that Indian desire for English merchandise ensured profitable settlements and more Indian allies. They claimed that the Indians were practically harmless due to the crude quality of their weapons, fear of firearms, and weak political structures. The paper concludes with the correlation between superiority based on points of difference and historian Jordan Winthrop’s description of racism, as well as an assessment of the propagandists’ degree of success.