John White, A Festive Dance

North America
Around AD 1585-93

In 1585, John White and a group of English settlers sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh arrived on the east coast of North America to found new colonies. White had some artistic training and his duties included making visual records of anything unknown in England, including plants, animals, birds and the inhabitants, especially their costumes, weapons and ceremonies. In the area around Roanoke and the tidewaters of coastal North Carolina they found people who called themselves Secotan, who in mid-July held a green corn or harvest ritual, with ceremonies like the one recorded here. This may be the Green Corn or Harvest Festival, celebrating the first harvest of Indian corn or maize at the end of the summer.

Ten men and seven women dance around a circle of posts, carved with human heads, which may represent deities, and in the centre, three women clasp each other. Some of the dancers wear breeches and some aprons. The men have shaved heads except for a central section and they wear feathers in their hair. The dancers hold gourd rattles and leafy twigs. Some of the bodies have a roach and painted or tattooed decorations.

The large drawing has been folded in the middle so that some of the details of the left side of the drawing have been transferred, more faintly, to the right.

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More information


P. Hulton and D.B. Quinn (eds), The American drawings of John (University of North Carolina Press and London, The British Museum Press, 1964)

M. Jacobs, The painted voyage: art, trave (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

P. Hulton, America 1585: the complete dra (London, The British Museum Press and University of North Carolina Press, 1985)


Height: 274.000 mm
Width: 358.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1906-5-9-1(10)



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