Roanoke Colony: the English settlement that disappeared in the Americas

roanoke colony

The Roanoke Colony was one of the first English colonies to be established in North America, 1587 in present-day North Carolina. The entire colony mysteriously disappeared.

Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh

The English colony of Roanoke was established on Roanoke Island in the modern state of North Carolina by experienced explorer Sir Water Raleigh in 1585. Sir Walter Raleigh chose the area for the new colony as early as 1580 and a number of initial exploratory parties began arriving to scope out the area.

Two Native Americans were brought back to England to help Raleigh select the most appropriate place for the Roanoke Colony to be situated. In 1587 the first settlers began to arrive.

John White, an artist and personal friend of Raleigh was chosen as the leader of the new colony of 115 people. His granddaughter Virginia was the first English child to be born in the New World.

After six months the colonists persuaded their leader to return to England and request more supplies as their situation had become desperate. Many of the colonists were very poorly equipped for their new dangerous lives.

White nearly perished on the return journey to England due to severe winter storms, and then was unable to return to Roanoke for three years due to no availability of ships due to the naval requirements of the Anglo-Spanish War. When he eventually did return to Roanoke, he found that the Roanoke Colony was nowhere to be seen.

It remains a mystery as to what exactly happened to the colonists at Roanoke.

The settlers did not leave in a hurry as they appeared to have carefully dismantled their furniture and houses, so it is possible that they attempted to settle in a new area due to the serious ongoing drought as they still had a number of small ships.

It is also possible that they may have been taken in by a local Native American tribe. This theory is supported by John White’s discovery of the word “CROATOAN” carved into a fence in the remains of the village, a Native American group who were at the time located in the area. There were also some later reports of natives with European features suggesting that the native Croatoan and English groups had some contact.

There have been numerous studies to determine what happened to the Roanoke Colony over the centuries since this,  including archaeological digs and DNA studies of Americans who have ties to the descendants of the settlers, however, no conclusive explanation as to the what happened to the Roanoke Colony has been found.

The 115 people who left England to create a permanent settlement in the Americas are now referred to as the ‘Lost Colony’.

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