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Harriott, Thomas 1560-1621

Astronomer, historian, and friend of Sir Walter Raleigh; born in Oxford, England, in 1560. In 1585 he accompanied Raleigh's expedition to Virginia, under Grenville, as historian, and most of the knowledge of that expedition is derived from Harriott's account. He was left there by Grenville, and remained a year, making observations; and from the pencil of With, an artist, he obtained many useful drawings. Harriott labored hard to restrain the cupidity of his companions, who were more intent upon finding gold than tilling the soil. While Governor Lane declared that Virginia had “the goodliest soil under the cope of heaven,” and “if Virginia had but horses and kine, and were inhabited by English, no realm in Christendom were comparable to it,” he utterly neglected the great opportunity. Harriott [255] saw that the way to accomplish that object was to treat the Indians kindly, as friends and neighbors; and he tried to quench the fires of revenge which the cruelty of the English had kindled. The natives were curious and credulous. They regarded the English with awe. Their firearms, burning-glasses, clocks, watches, and books seemed to the savage mind like the work of the gods. As the colonists were never sick, and had no women with them, the natives thought that they were not born of women, and were, therefore, immortal. Taking advantage of this feeling Harriott displayed the Bible everywhere, and told them of its precious truths, and it was often pressed to their bosoms affectionately. When King Wingina fell ill, he sent for Harriott, and, dismissing his juggling priest and “medicine-man,” placed himself under the Englishman's care. He invoked the prayers of the English, and, under the careful nursing of the historian, the king speedily recovered. Many of his subjects resorted to Harriott when they fell sick. Had his example been followed, Virginia might soon have been “inhabited by English,” and filled with “horses and kine.” On his return to England, Harriott published a Brief and true report of the New found land of Virginia. From the Earl of Northumberland he received a pension, and spent much of his time in the Tower with Raleigh and his wife. Harriott was the inventor of the present improved method of algebraic calculation by introducing the signs > and <. He died in London, July 2, 1621.

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