Big Chief Elizabeth

Giles Milton

Introduced by Giles Milton

Greed, romance and desperation abound in Giles Milton’s exploration of the colonial enterprise that paved the way to the United States of America. At the book’s heart lies the vanishing of the 1587 settlement on Roanoke Island, whose 115 inhabitants met with a grisly end.

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Big Chief Elizabeth

The colonial enterprise that paved the way to the United States of America was effectively a gamble on the part of a handful of adventurers motivated by a combination of greed, romance and desperation. Fired by envy of the vast gains being made by the Spanish in the South, succeeding waves of merchants and swashbuckling noblemen attempted to build a permanent colony in the North. Under the aegis of the energetic Walter Ralegh, several expeditions set out, and Queen Elizabeth was persuaded to give her name to the fledgling colony of Virginia.

Production Details

Big Chief Elizabeth book

New preface by the author

Bound in cloth

Blocked with an illustration by Joe McLaren

Set in Granjon with Gryphius display


16 pages of colour and black & white plates

320 pages

Book size: 9½" × 6¼"

Virginia's beginnings

‘Big Chief Elizabeth has it all: gallant English seadogs, coiffured courtiers, exotic locations, and lots of fights’

The colony of Virginia was a gamble, which at first seemed unlikely to pay off. The first settlers were repeatedly saved from starvation by the generosity of their Indian neighbours; however, relations soured and tensions spilled over into violence. Both locals and colonists suffered sicknesses to which they had little natural resistance. Investors were bankrupted, supply ships sank, and lack of food eventually reduced the colonists to cannibalism. The story features many larger-than-life characters, from Sir Humfrey Gilbert, who was so incensed at doubts cast on his courage that he insisted on sailing in the smallest and most overloaded boat (which promptly sank), to Captain John Smith, saved from death by a chief ’s daughter, Pocahontas. Some of the encounters described were cordial, even friendly: after talking to local tribes, the English were convinced the name of the country was Wingandacoa (which they wrote on all official paperwork). Later they discovered this meant ‘You’ve got nice clothes’. The artist John White was a guest of the villagers of Pomeioc, producing detailed watercolours of the village and its inhabitants and persuading a little girl to stand still for her portrait by giving her a doll. At the book’s heart, though, lies the mystery of what happened to the 1587 settlement attempt on the island of Roanoke. When a relief expedition arrived, they found the word ‘Croatoan’ scratched into a gatepost but no sign of the 115 settlers. Tantalising signs and rumours suggested they might be alive, but eventually the grisly story of their fate leaked out.

‘Giles Milton’s narrative races along as he stitches together a story of sacrifice and misplaced zeal’

For this Folio edition, Giles Milton has written a new preface which brings the search for the lost settlers right up to the present day – including archaeological finds and DNA investigation of whether survivors from an Indian massacre intermarried with local tribes.


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Review by wjcarter on 1st Mar 2018

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"The only bad thing about this book is the title which gives no idea of what this fascinating book is about. "Roanoake and Pocahontas - A History of the First English Settlements in North America" wou..." [read more]

Review by harrywol on 10th Nov 2012

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"Giles Milton is a wonderful story teller, accounting for the early days of British colonisation of North America. The book retraces the landings of various groups of adventurers and colonists and draw..." [read more]

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