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Colonial America

Lost Colony of Roanoke

Roanoke Colony was the first attempt by the English to establish a colony in the Americas. Unfortunately, the colony failed when the settlers disappeared under mysterious circumstances giving the colony the nickname the "Lost Colony."


Map showing location of
Jamestown and Roanoke Island Colonies

by NOAA
Where was the colony located?

The Roanoke Colony was located on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. The land was considered part of Virginia at the time.

Early Plans

In 1584, the land of Virginia in North America was granted to Sir Walter Raleigh by Queen Elizabeth I. The British hoped to establish a foothold in the Americas to expand their empire. Raleigh sent out Captain Philip Amada and Captain Arthur Barlowe to explore the area. They discovered Roanoke Island and met the local natives. Raleigh decided this would be a good place to establish a colony.

First Colony at Roanoke

The first expedition to Roanoke was led by Sir Richard Greenville. The expedition arrived at Roanoke in 1585. Greenville left 107 settlers, all men, at Roanoke under the charge of Ralph Lane. Greenville then returned to England in order to gather additional supplies for the settlement.

The settlers built a fort at Roanoke, but struggled to survive. It didn't help matters that they were constantly fighting with the local Native Americans. When English explorer Sir Francis Drake passed by the settlement and offered to take them back to England, the colonists agreed. Not long after the colonists left, Captain Greenville finally returned with new supplies only to discover that the settlement had been abandoned. He left a small group of men on the island and then returned to England.

Second Colony at Roanoke

A second attempt at starting a colony at Roanoke occurred in 1587. This time 115 colonists travelled to Roanoke led by John White. They hoped to find the men that Greenville had left a year earlier. However, upon their arrival, all they found at the settlement was a human skeleton. Despite this setback, the colonists began to build their settlement on Roanoke. Not long after their arrival, a girl named Virginia Dare was born. She was the first child born in the Americas to English parents.

Unfortunately, the colonists continued to have disputes with the local tribes and some colonists were killed. They also discovered that they were ill-prepared to build a thriving colony. John White decided to return to England in order to gain supplies and reinforcements for the colony.


John White discovers the word "CROATOAN"
carved at Roanoke's fort palisade

by unknown
The Colony has Disappeared

After returning to England, White could find little help for the colony. England was in the middle of a large battle with Spain and the Spanish Armada. As a result, White was unable to return until three years later in 1590. When White arrived he found the colony completely abandoned. The only clues that White found included the word "Croatoan" carved into a fence post and "Cro" carved into a tree.

White found no sign of a struggle, however, and figured that the colonists had moved to Croatoan, which was what they called a nearby island (Hatteras Island). He also had reason to hope because he had told the colonists to carve a Maltese cross if they were being forced leave. Since he found no cross, he figured the colonists were okay. White was unable to search the nearby island for the colonists because of a bad storm and was forced to return to England.

The colonists were never heard from again and the colony gained the nickname the "Lost Colony."

Theories on the Disappearance

There are many theories about the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony. Many historians think that the colonists moved. They probably moved to Hatteras Island or further inland into the forests of North Carolina. The colonists may have eventually starved to death or been killed by local tribes. They may also have survived, made friends with a local tribe, and eventually became part of the tribe. One theory is that they became part of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. Another theory is that the Spanish, who didn't want the English in the Americas, destroyed the settlement and took the colonists captive.

Interesting Facts about the Lost Colony of Roanoke Activities To learn more about Colonial America:

Colonies and Places
Lost Colony of Roanoke
Jamestown Settlement
Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrims
The Thirteen Colonies
Williamsburg

Daily Life
Clothing - Men's
Clothing - Women's
Daily Life in the City
Daily Life on the Farm
Food and Cooking
Homes and Dwellings
Jobs and Occupations
Places in a Colonial Town
Women's Roles
Slavery
People
William Bradford
Henry Hudson
Pocahontas
James Oglethorpe
William Penn
Puritans
John Smith
Roger Williams

Events
French and Indian War
King Philip's War
Mayflower Voyage
Salem Witch Trials

Other
Timeline of Colonial America
Glossary and Terms of Colonial America


Works Cited

History >> Colonial America





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