John White, A Festive Dance


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

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.


  • Title: John White, A Festive Dance
  • Date Created: 1585/1593
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 274.00mm; Width: 358.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: drawn
  • Subject: native north american; dance
  • Registration number: 1906,0509.1.10
  • Producer: Drawn by White, John
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Stevens, Henry. Previous owner/ex-collection Payne, Thomas. Previous owner/ex-collection Charlemont. Previous owner/ex-collection Charlemont

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps