Celebrating Labor Day - 16th Century Occupations

Sailor preparing to raise the sail on the Elizabeth II ship at Roanoke Island Festival Park
Monday, August 19, 2019

Labor Day is a time to relax, reflect and celebrate the achievements of the American worker. In a little over 400 years, our nation has reached its worldwide success through the fruits of our combined labor. The spirit and accomplishments of the American worker are a part of the daily history you'll learn about at Roanoke Island Festival Park. Although the technology has changed, the same occupations that were around in the 16th century are still practiced today. Not only did the first English settlement begin right here on Roanoke Island - so did the American dream. 

16th Century Jobs that Built America


Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh knew that to make the most of their treks to the new world, they would need a highly skilled group of explorers, linguist and cartographers. English scholar and mathematician, Thomas Harriot was the first to record an account of the settlement on Roanoke Island with the help of artist and cartographer, John White. Their reports showed all the new world had to offer and educated and prepared future settlers. 


The expedition to the New World would not have been possible without the ship's laborers. Getting safely to Roanoke Island's shores required a host of workers with various skills to work together for a safe voyage. Before GPS, a navigator and pilot worked together to calculate and record the ship's course. A boatswain was the ship's manager and in charge of the ship's operations and crew. Sailors were also needed to work the sails and rigging to operate the ship. When you board the park's representative ship, the Elizabeth II, it is hard to imagine sailing on a wooden vessel from England to Roanoke Island without an engine and modern maritime navigation.

Agriculturist & Ecologist 

Many techniques used by farmers and watermen today were developed by the American Indians. The American Indians were incredible farmers, fishermen and hunters that knew how to survive and thrive off the land. Potatoes, beans, corn, peanuts, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, peppers, nuts, melons and sunflower seeds are just a few of the crops that were grown and harvested first by American Indians. Their farming methods were shared with the early settlers and spread worldwide. 


Artisans in the 16th century were skilled craftsmen that practiced a specialized trade such as a blacksmithing, carpentry, tailoring and shoemaking. Experienced artisans often owned their own shops and provided necessary goods and services. The park's Settlement Site shows first-hand the type of tools a blacksmith and carpenter would have used and the products they would have made. These skills helped supply the settlers with the various tools and goods they needed to build their settlements and communities.

To learn more about 16th century trades, visit our historic attractions at the park. Meet a blacksmith and practice carpentry skills in the Settlement Site using 16th century tools. American Indian Town's garden, food preparation and fishing exhibits dive into the agricultural lessons passed down from the American Indians. To learn more about the Outer Banks modern economy, based around commercial fishing and hunting, visit the Adventure Museum. You can also learn about the Outer Banks Coast Guard history and heroic local surfmen. Spend your Labor Day enjoying the sights, sounds and history of Roanoke Island and America at the park. The park will remain open during normal hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Labor Day.