Lost Colony

Prior to the establishment of Jamestown, England attempted to colonize The New World. The first group landed along the coast of modern day North Carolina in 1585, but gave up a year later and returned to England. A second group landed in 1587 and was never heard from again. The colony seemed to vanish into the North Carolina wilderness, thus being immortalized as the “Lost Colony”.

The colonization of America was the brainchild of Sir Walter Raleigh, with the blessing of Queen Elizabeth I of England. The first group of colonists comprised of 75 men under the direction of military captain Ralph Lane. The colonists were put ashore with the guarantee that England would send supplies by the following year.

Two problems befell the colony almost immediately. First, they landed in the summer, too late to plant crops. Second, Lane alienated the local Roanoke Indians by killing their chief, Wingina. In addition, supply ships did not arrive when promised, food became scarce and the colonists began to lose heart. When Sir Francis Drake arrived in mid 1586, Lane and the rest of the men gave up and returned to England with Drake.

In an odd twist of fate, supply ships from England arrived less than two weeks later only to find the settlement deserted. The commander of the supply ships, Sir Richard Greenville left behind 15 men to hold the fort and returned to England.

Angry but not defeated, Sir Walter Raleigh sent another group colonists in 1587 consisting this time of over 100 men and women. He appointed John White as the governor of the new “Cittie of Raleigh”, and sent the ship off across the Atlantic.

Their destination this time was to be Chesapeake Bay near Virginia and Maryland. Since the first group set sail, explorers had determined that the Chesapeake afforded a better site for a settlement. Unfortunately, the colonists never arrived there.

Raleigh had employed Simon Fernandes, a Portuguese pilot who was familiar with the Chesapeake, to transport this second group of colonists. War between England and Spain was escalating, however, and Fernandes, a privateer, wished to return to hunt for Spanish shipping. Instead of taking the colonists to Chesapeake Bay, he forced them to disembark at Roanoke Island in July of 1587.

To everyone’s horror, the 15 men Sir Greenville had left behind to defend the settlement were all dead, murdered by the Indians. The colonists did not want to stay on the island, but Fernandes insisted. Fernandes unloaded the colonists’ belongings and set sail ten days later. With some trepidation, John White left the colony and accompanied Fernandes back to England to obtain more supplies. He never saw his daughter again.

The war between England and Spain kept White from returning until 1590. He arrived on August 18th, his granddaughter’s third birthday to find the Cittie of Raleigh completely deserted. The area had been plundered and was surrounded by a “high pallisado of great trees, with cortynes and flankers, very fort-like”.

John White searched for information regarding the colony. He found only the word “CROATOAN” carved into the surface of the palisades. Nothing else remained; the men and women of Roanoke Island had simply vanished. Several attempts were made by John White and others, including John Smith when he sailed to Jamestown in 1607, but none were successful. The “Lost Colony” remained lost.

Sir Walter Raleigh gave up his attempts at colonization, and John White died without ever knowing what happened to his family.

Historians have put forth several theories regarding the mysterious disappearance of the colony. Some say the group split up and headed to Chesapeake Bay. Others hypothesize that the colonists simply melded into the tribes of Indians. Still others insist that Spanish invaders sailed up from Florida and wiped out the colony. Oddly enough, the remains of the fort were never found.

Today, the “Lost Colony” is immortalized as a historic site inside the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island among the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Archeologists and scientists continue to hunt for clues, but at this point no one truly knows exactly what became of the “Lost Colony”.

Visit the Lost Colony website.

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