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Home > History > The Lost Colony at Roanoke Island

The Lost Colony at Roanoke Island

This page tells the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke and the different theories on their disappearance.


Sir Walter Raleigh Colony had Dual Purposes

The"Lost Colony at Roanoke" was a settlement of 117 men, women and children that landed on Roanoke Island in 1587. It was the first English colony in the New World. The colony was funded by Sir Walter Raleigh and led by his friend John White. Raleigh had received a charter from Queen Elizabeth I. The main purpose of the expedition was to find riches in the New World. A secondary purpose of the colony was to establish a base for which the queen's privateers could attack Spanish treasure galleons. The colonists who settled Roanoke may have first believed their settlement was to be established on the Chesapeake Bay to the north.


John White's Absence

Soon after arrival, the first English child in the New World was born, White’s granddaughter, Virginia Dare. It quickly became apparent, however, that the colony needed additional supplies to survive. The settlers convinced John White to return to England to garner the necessary supplies. White, however, was unable to return to the island because of the onset of the Anglo-Spanish War in 1588. Because of the war, White could not procure a ship as all were being used in the war.

An Enduring Mystery - What Happened?

White was finally able to return to the colony on August 18, 1590, aboard a privateering vessel. This date also happened to be the third birthday of his granddaughter, Virginia Dare. White was astonished to find the island completely deserted. There was no sign of any of the settlers, nor was their evidence of any fight or struggle. The only clue was the word “Croatoan” carved into a nearby post. All fortifications were dismantled, rather than destroyed, which suggested a departure may have been planned by the settlers. There are several theories regarding the disappearance of the settlers. One of the leading theories is that the Roanoke settlers integrated with one of the local native groups to ensure their survival. We do know that the colonists arrived at Roanoke Island during one of the greatest draughts the region had ever experienced. This would have made it very difficult to grow crops or find drinking water. Others believed the colonists may have been killed by the Spanish, or, by other native groups. The Algonquin chief Powhatan, father of Pocahontas, claimed to have killed the Roanoke settlers.

Will we Ever Know?

The mystery of the Roanoke Island settlement lives on today. Scientists will probably never know what fate befell those settlers, but do know the failure of the colony led the English to establish the Jamestown Colony, the first permanent, successful English settlement in the New World, in 1607.

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