Search For The Lost Colony

After John White's departure from Roanoke Island in August 1587, neither he nor any other Englishman ever saw the colonists again. When Fort Raleigh National Historic Site - Heritage Education Programhe reached England on November 8, White immediately began to assemble a fleet to carry supplies to America and within four months was ready to sail; however, the impending attack by the Spanish Armada led the Privy Council to prohibit his leaving England. Two of his smaller ships — the 30-tun bark Brave and the 25-tun pinnace Roe — were deemed inadequate for defense purposes and permitted to sail. On the voyage White's party followed the usual practice of engaging in piracy on the way. Unfortunately for both White and the colony, French ships attacked them and took their supplies. They limped back to England, and White did not reach Roanoke Island until 1590.

The colony, however, had not been abandoned. In 1587 Captain William Irish unsuccessfully attempted to find them on the Chesapeake Bay, not knowing that they probably were still on Roanoke Island. Ralegh himself was active in England. On 7 March 1589 he signed an agreement with nineteen "Gentlemen and Merchants" of London concerning the colony, making preparations for its continued support. However, it was not until 20 March 1590 that the relief expedition sailed from Plymouth. Again plundering the seas would be its primary objective. White was only a passenger; relief of the colony was secondary. The fleet consisted of three small ships — Hopewell, Little John and John Evangelist — and among the captains was Christopher Newport, better known for his later involvement at Jamestown. A fourth ship, Moonlight, owned by William Sanderson (Ralegh's banker) and commanded by Edward Spicer, sailed separately. The fleet took several prizes as it passed through the Caribbean and did not reach Hatorask, an inlet near modern Oregon Inlet until 15 August. Shallow water made it necessary to anchor three miles offshore. The next day they saw smoke rising south of the inlet and, thinking it a signal fire, wasted time and energy heading towards it. When they finally attempted to reach Roanoke Island in two small boats, the weather changed and a northeaster caused huge waves. Spicer's boat overturned and he and six of his men drowned. Finally, on 18 August 1590, White reached Roanoke Island. There he found the houses "taken downe" and the word "CROATOAN" carved on the palisade that had been built around the settlement site during his absence. Rough weather prevented their going to Croatoan and forced them to return to England rather than winter in the Caribbean as they first planned.

Perhaps because of the expiration of his patent of discovery in 1590, Ralegh seems to have lost interest in the colony. In 1591 he sent another expedition to America. Headed by John Watts and including Hopewell, Little John and perhaps John Evangelist, the expedition seems to have made no effort to find the colony. In 1595 Ralegh himself finally sailed for America, but he went to Guiana rather than to Virginia. In 1602, fifteen years after the abandonment of the colony, Ralegh renewed his search for it by sending Samuel Mace, who had Fort Raleigh National Historic Site - Heritage Education Programbeen to America twice before. This voyage may have been an effort to keep Ralegh's claims alive by suggesting that the colony still existed. To prevent the crew from spending time cruising the shipping lanes rather than searching for the colony, Ralegh hired the ships for monthly wages. After making landfall near Cape Fear rather than Hatteras, Mace and his men spent a month gathering sassafras, which brought a high price in London, but never searched for the colony. Bad weather was the excuse he offered. In 1603 Ralegh engaged Mace and Bartholomew Gilbert for another expedition. Gilbert failed to find the Chesapeake Bay and landed instead near the entrance of the Delaware Bay, where he was killed by the Indians. Mace may have visited the Chesapeake Bay. Powhatan later complained that Englishmen had captured some of his people, and records show that Indians were in London in August 1603. But by now Ralegh himself was in no position to send other expeditions — he was soon to be imprisoned in the Tower of London by the new king, James I.

The Roanoke colony, however, was not forgotten. Twice in 1604 George Waymouth presented versions of a treatise called The Jewell of Artes to the king. It assumed that the lost colonists had been found and could be reinforced. Waymouth led an American expedition but it went far to the north of Roanoke. The play Eastward Hoe, by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, produced in London in 1604, refers to colonists left in America. Its production implies that a broadside about the colony had recently been printed. Christopher Newport returned from a Caribbean voyage in 1604, on which he may well have reconnoitered the route to the Chesapeake. (In 1607 he reached that area with no trouble.)

In 1604 prisoners captured by the Spanish in St. Helena Sound on the Castor and Pollux said that their expedition, while French, had an English captain, John Jerome of Plymouth. This commercial venture had been instructed to call at Croatoan, but Jerome was killed and the ship captured before the expedition reached the Outer Banks.

In 1607, when the English established their first permanent settlement at Jamestown, they were well aware that a colony had been left on Roanoke Island twenty years earlier. The Jamestown colonists made several attempts to find the lost colonists; and investigated Indian reports of Europeans living at various locations; but no survivors ever surfaced. The fate of the lost colonists remains one of the great mysteries of American history.

 

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE COLONY. An island south of Cape Hatteras, now known as Ocracoke, was reached on June 26. The remainder of the month and most of July were spent in exploring the coastal islands and the adjacent mainland. During one of these expeditions, Grenville sought to strike terror into the hearts of the Indians by burning the Indian village of Aquascogok in retaliation for the theft of a silver cup stolen by one of the Indians. Not until July 27 did Grenville anchor at Hatoraske, off the barrier island, a short distance southeast of Roanoke Island. Here at a break in the barrier reef, almost due east of the southern tip of Roanoke Island, Simon Ferdinando discovered a port, named Port Ferdinando in his honor and considered the best port along that stretch of coast.

A colony was established on the "North end" of Roanoke Island, and Ralph Lane was made Governor. From Port Ferdinando, and later from Roanoke Island, letters were written by Lane to Secretary Walsingham informing him of the successful founding of the colony. Still another letter was written to Sir Philip Sidney, son-in-law of Walsingham, who was interested in western discovery. A letter to Richard Hakluyt, geographer and historian, written by Lane from the settlement on Roanoke Island indicated that the Governor of Virginia was impressed by the "huge and unknowen greatnesse" of the American continent. He added that if Virginia only had horses and cows in some reasonable proportion and were inhabited by Englishmen, no realm in Christendom would be comparable to it. The Indians, he said naively, were "courteous, and very desirous to have clothes," but valued red copper above everything else. Wingina, chief of the Roanoke Island Indians, had received the white men hospitably and had cooperated with them in the initial phases of the founding of the settlement. This is clear from Grenville's account as well as Lane's.

Grenville lingered a short while after the founding of the settlement, then returned to England for supplies. On the way home he captured a richly laden Spanish ship, which must have repaid him handsomely for his western trip. On his arrival in England, he too reported to Walsingham, thus acknowledging the interest of the Queen and emphasizing the seminational character of the Virginian enterprise.

Lane built a fort called "The new Fort in Virginia," where the present Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is situated and where the remains of a fort were still visible as late as 1896. The fort was located near the shore on the east side of Roanoke Island between the "North Point" of the north end of the Island and a "creek." The mouth of the so-called creek was big enough to serve as the anchorage for small boats (Shallow Bag Bay, known as late as 1716 as "Town Creek").

Lane's fort on Roanoke Island resembled in some noteworthy respects the fort which he had built on St. Johns Island, Puerto Rico, in May 1585, when he seized the salt supply. Both forts seem to have been roughly shaped like a star built on a square with the bastions constructed on the sides of the square instead of at the corners, as was common in later fortifications. Copies of the plans of these forts may be seen in the Fort Raleigh museum.

The dwelling houses of the early colonists were near the fort, which was too small to enclose them. They were described by the colonists themselves as "decent dwelling houses" or "cottages" and must have been at least a story and a half or two stories high, because we have a reference to the "neather roomes of them." The roofs were thatched, as we learn from Ralph Lane's statement that the Indians by night "would have beset my house, and put fire in the reedes that the same was covered with." The chimneys and the foundations may have been of brick, because Darby Glande later testified that "as soon as they had disembarked {at Roanoke} they began to make brick and fabric for a fort and houses." Pieces of brick were reported found at the fort site as late as 1860, and recent archeological work at the fort turned up a few brickbats, possibly of the Elizabethan period.

Thomas Hariot remarked that though stone was not found on the island, there was good clay for making bricks, and lime could be made from nearby deposits of oyster shells in the same manner that lime was made "in the Isles of Tenet and Shepy, and also in divers other places of England." However, as no evidence of the extensive use of brick has yet been found, it is perhaps safe to assume that the chief building material was rough boards. It has already been noted that they had a forge which they could set up to make nails. Richard Hakluyt, in his Discourse of Western Planting, written at the request of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, about 1 year before the colony sailed, had recommended as "things to be prepared for the voyadge" that any colonial expedition should include "men experte in the arte of fortification," "makers of spades and shovells," "shipwrights," "millwrights, to make milles for spedy and cheape sawing of timber and boardes for trade, and first traficque of suertie," "millwrights, for corne milles," "Sawyers for common use," "Carpinters, for buildinges," "Brick makers," "Tile makers," "Lyme makers," "Bricklayers," "Tilers," "Thatchers with reedes, rushes, broome, or strawe," "Rough Masons," "Carpinters," and "Lathmakers." The presumption therefore is that typical English thatched cottages and houses, such as were found in rural Elizabethan England, were built at Roanoke. (The log cabin appears to have been introduced into America about 50 years later by the Swedes and Finns on the Delaware.) The Roanoke cottages were presumably well built. The skilled labor of the expedition had been able to construct a seaworthy pinnace at Puerto Rico in less than a month's time.

LIFE IN THE COLONY. At first, relations with the Indians continued friendly, though the Englishmen had their detractors in the Council of the Indian Chief. The aborigines planted crops and made fish traps for the Englishmen. With rare foresight, the colonists also induced Chief Wingina (who had changed his name to Pemisapan) to put into simultaneous cultivation his lands both on Roanoke Island and on the mainland at Dasamonquepeuc in order that the Indians might have no excuse for not being able to supply the colony if need arose. The coast was explored by the English as far south as Secotan (about 80 miles) and as far north as the Chesapeake (about 130 miles). Thomas Hariot collected data on plants, animals, and minerals for his New Found Land of Virginia. John White made the inimitable water-color drawings of the Indians, the animal and plant life of Roanoke Island, and the coast, which have been engraved many times. The much rarer facsimile reproductions of these drawings in color may be seen in the Fort Raleigh museum. These paintings are the first artistic productions of Englishmen in America. The colonists also learned to smoke tobacco, using for this purpose Indian pipes or other pipes of their own modeled on the Indian pipes.

How closely the personnel of the first colony conformed to the standard suggested by Hakluyt in 1584 is not known; but historical documents indicate that there were men expert in fortification and that there were brickmakers, carpenters, and thatchers. Also the names of all of the colonists are known, if not their trades. Some were gentlemen, cousins of Raleigh and Grenville, as the names indicate. Hariot says that some were city dwellers "of a nice bringing up" who soon became miserable without their soft beds and dainty food. Others were excellent soldiers, as Lane testified of Captain Stafford; and there were the humbler folk, of whom Darby Glande was perhaps representative, though he was Irish and appears to have been forced to accompany the expedition. On the whole, they gave the appearance more of a military expedition than a colony. They were dependent upon the Indians and upon England for both food and supplies. Many of their basic commodities, such as salt, horses, and cattle, had been obtained in the first instance by trade, or by force, from the Spaniards in the West Indies. There appear to have been no women among them to give permanence to the settlement.

Grenville's deplorable action in burning the village of Aquascogok was indicative of the fact that the high-spirited Englishmen of that day could not live on even terms with the natives. In the lean period between the planting of crops in the spring and the expected summer harvest, English relations with the Indians grew strained and finally reached the point at which no further supplies could be had from them. Once the colonists and Indians were at odds, the fish traps began to be robbed or destroyed. Food became scarce, and Lane was forced to send groups of settlers to the barrier islands along the coast to live on oysters and other shell fish and to look for passing ships. Master Prideaux and 10 men were sent to Hatoraske Island for this purpose, while Captain Stafford and 20 men went to Croatoan Island, south of Cape Hatteras. (Croatoan Island is a sixteenth-century name, not to be confused with modern Croatan Sound area.) Sixteen or twenty others were sent at intervals to the mainland to live on oysters and native foods.

By June 1, 1586, the colonists were at open war with the Indians, and many of the latter were slain in the struggles that ensued both on Roanoke Island and on the mainland at Dasamonquepeuc. Pemisapan was among those who were killed in the fighting.

ABANDONMENT OF THE COLONY. Meanwhile, Grenville was delayed in leaving England for the supply of the Roanoke colony. This placed the colonists in a desperate predicament. Such was the state of affairs at Roanoke Island when, on June 9, 1586, Captain Stafford brought news of the fact that Sir Francis Drake was off the coast with a mighty fleet of 23 ships. Richly laden with booty from his attack on the Spanish West Indies and Florida, Drake's fleet anchored next day partly in the port near Roanoke Island (probably Port Ferdinando) and partly in a "wilde roade" at sea 2 miles from the shore. Second in command to Drake on this expedition was Capt. Christopher Carleill, Secretary Walsingham's stepson and son-in-law, who had been interested in American exploration since 1574. Lane and some of his company went on board Drake's flagship, and Drake made them a generous offer. He would give them a ship, one or two pinnaces, a number of smaller boats, and sufficient ship masters, sailors, and supplies to afford another month's stay at Roanoke and a return voyage to England, or he would give them all immediate return passage to England with his fleet. To Lane's credit it must be said that he was loath to give up the Roanoke Island project. He accepted the first offer, and the ship was turned over to him; but before the supplies could be made ready, a storm arose and the ship was blown out to sea and did not return. The fleet suffered other losses in this storm, but Drake remained open handed. He offered Lane supplies as before and another ship, but since this vessel was much too large to be kept in Lane's only harbor, its acceptance, and dependence on it, involved a great risk.

This fact, the troubled state of Europe and America, making war with Spain now practically inevitable, and the unaccountable delay in the arrival of Grenville's supply fleet caused Lane to ask for passage to England. When Drake sailed, on June 18, he carried the colonists home with him.

GRENVILLE'S FIFTEEN MEN. Shortly after Drake and the colonists had sailed, a supply ship sent out by Sir Walter Raleigh arrived at Hatoraske and after searching in vain for the colonists returned to England. About a fortnight after Raleigh's ship had left, Grenville arrived with three ships and likewise searched in vain for the colonists. Grenville found the places of colonial settlement desolate, but being "unwilling to loose the possession of the country which Englishmen had so long held," he left 15 men on Roanoke Island, fully provisioned for 2 years, to hold the country for the Queen while he returned to England.  

                                     The Lost Colony of 1587    

In the year 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh organized another colonial expedition consisting of 150 persons. Its truer colonizing character was evidenced by the significant facts that, unlike the expedition of 1585, this one included women and children, and the men were called "planters." Its government was also less military, since the direction of the enterprise in Virginia was to be in the hands of a syndicate of subpatentees--a governor and 12 assistants whom Raleigh incorporated as the "Governor and Assistants of the Citie of Ralegh in Virginia."

The new arrangement indicated that colonization was becoming less of a one-man venture and more of a corporate or business enterprise, anticipating in a certain degree the later English companies that were to found successful colonies in Virginia and New England. Exactly what inducements Raleigh offered to the planters are not known. His terms were probably liberal, however, because Hariot, writing in February 1587, paid tribute to Raleigh's generosity, saying that the least that he had granted had been 500 acres of land to each man willing to go to America. Those contributing money or supplies, as well as their person, probably stood to receive more. From the list of names that has come down to us, it would appear that at least 10 of the planters took their wives with them. Ambrose Viccars and Arnold Archard brought not only their wives but one child each, Ambrose Viccars and Thomas Archard. Altogether there were at least 17 women and 9 children in the group that arrived safely in Virginia.

In still another respect, this second colonial expedition seemed to anticipate the later Jamestown settlement. Raleigh had directed, in writing, that the fort and colony be established in the Chesapeake Bay area where a better port could be had and where conditions for settlement were considered to be more favorable.

The fleet, consisting of three ships, sailed from Plymouth for Virginia on May 8. Continuity with the previous expeditions was afforded in the persons of the Governor, John White, who was to make in all five trips to Virginia, Simon Ferdinando, Captain Stafford, Darby Glande, the Irishman, and perhaps others. The route, as in 1585, lay via "Moskito Bay" in Puerto Rico. Here Darby Glande was left behind, or escaped, and lived to testify regarding the first Roanoke Island colony before the Spanish authorities at St. Augustine some years later. The expedition sailed along the coast of Haiti, even passing by "Isabella" where Grenville had traded with the Spaniards for cattle and other necessities in 1585, but this time there was no trading, possibly because of the precarious relations between England and Spain, now on the eve of open war. Whatever the reason for this failure to take in supplies in Haiti, it constituted a certain handicap for the colony of 1587.

THE SECOND COLONY ESTABLISHED AT ROANOKE. The two leading ships of the expedition reached Hatoraske on July 22, 1587, and the third ship on July 25. Meanwhile, on the 22d, Governor White and a small group of planters had gone to Roanoke Island with the intention of conferring with the 15 men left there by Grenville the preceding year. On reaching the place where the men had been left, they found only the bones of one of them who had been killed by the Indians. There was no sign of the others.

The next day Governor White and his party "walked to the North end of the island, where Master Ralfe Lane had his forte, with sundry necessary and decent dwelling houses made by his men about it the yeere before." Here it was hoped some sign of Grenville's men would be discovered. They found the fort razed "but all the houses standing unhurt, saving that the neather rooms of them, and also of the forte, were overgrown with Melons of divers sortes, and Deere within them, feeding on those Melons." All hope of finding Grenville's men then vanished.

For reasons which are obscure, but perhaps because the season was late, it was decided to settle again at Roanoke Island rather than go on to the Chesapeake Bay country. Those houses found standing were repaired and "newe cottages" were built. The Indians proved to be more hostile than formerly, and George Howe, one of the assistants, was killed by the Indians soon after the landing. Through the intercession of the Indian Manteo, who had relatives on the barrier island of Croatoan, friendly relations with the Croatoan Indians were reestablished, but the others remained aloof. The remnants of the Roanoke Island Indians dwelling at Dasamonquepeuc were accused by the Croatoan Indians of killing Grenville's men as well as George Howe. Hence, on August 8, Governor White, with Captain Stafford and 24 men, suddenly attacked the town of Dasamonquepeuc with fire and sword. It was a blunder. The Roanoke Indians had already fled. In their place were the friendly Croatoan Indians who had heard of the flight of the other Indians and had come over to take whatever corn and fruit might have been left behind. Thanks to Manteo, the Croatoan Indians forgave the Englishmen, or pretended to do so.

On August 13, complying with Raleigh's instructions, Manteo was christened and declared Lord of Roanoke and Dasamonquepeuc as a reward for his many services. Five days later, Governor White's daughter, Eleanor, wife of Ananias Dare, gave birth to a daughter, who was named Virginia because she was the first child of English parentage to be born in the New World. Another child was born to Dyonis and Margery Harvie shortly afterwards. On the 27th, Governor White, at the earnest entreaty of the "planters in Virginia," sailed homeward with the fleet to obtain supplies for the colony.

GOVERNOR WHITE'S RETURN TO ENGLAND. With Governor White's departure on the 27th, the history of events in the colony becomes a tragic mystery which one can only seek to explain. There had been talk of moving the colony 50 miles inland, and White had arranged for appropriate indications of their whereabouts if they removed from Roanoke Island before his return. However, White could not return as soon as expected because of the outbreak of war with Spain. The year 1588 was the Armada year. Sir Richard Grenville, who was preparing a new fleet to go to Virginia, was ordered to make his ships available to the English Navy for service against the Armada. Both Raleigh and Grenville were assigned tasks connected with the national defense and could give little thought to Virginian enterprises. At length, the Queen's Privy Council gave Grenville permission to use on the intended Virginian voyage two small ships not required for service against Spain. White sailed with these on April 28, but they were small, poorly equipped, and poorly provisioned. Partly because of these circumstances and perhaps partly because of their own folly in running after Spanish treasure ships, they were unable to reach Virginia in the war-torn sea. Thus, while Grenville's large warships contributed to the defeat of the Armada, the Roanoke Island colony was doomed for the lack of them.

Although the Armada was defeated in the summer of 1588, the Anglo-Spanish battle of the Atlantic continued for several years. It was the intention of Spain to carry on the war not only against England by means of the Armada but also to seek out the English colony in the New World and destroy it at about the same time. In the latter part of June 1588, the Spanish Governor at St. Augustine sent a packet boat northward to locate the English colony preparatory to an early attack on it. After reconnoitering Chesapeake Bay, the packet boat, with the pilot Vincente Gonzalez in command and with Juan Menendez Marques nephew of the Governor on board, came somewhat by chance to Port Ferdinando. Here they found evidence of a harbor and of English occupation. They departed hurriedly to St. Augustine to report their discovery. They clearly thought the harbor still in use at the time of their visit; but the projected attack, at first postponed and later thought to be unnecessary because of the weakness of the fort and settlement, seems never to have been made. At least that is the conclusion to be drawn from available Spanish documents.

On March 7, 1589, Raleigh deeded his interest in the Virginian enterprise, except a fifth part of all gold and silver ore, to a group of London merchants and adventurers and to Governor White and nine other gentlemen, "Late of London." At least seven of them were planters whom White had left in Virginia, such as Ananias Dare, his son-in-law and father of Virginia Dare. Others included in the group were Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Smythe, later known as Sir Thomas Smythe.

The months slipped by, but Governor White and the London merchants seemed to have been unable to get a fleet organized for the relief and strengthening of the colony. In March 1590, Raleigh endeavored to assist White, through influence at court, when the latter learned that Master John Wattes, of London, was being hampered by a governmental staying order in his effort to clear a fleet of privateers for the West Indies. The scheme appears to have been that Raleigh, acting as middleman, would gain clearance for the ships and, in return, colonists and their furniture would be transported to Virginia. The plan went awry. Governor White sailed on March 20, 1590, for America, but without the accompanying planters and supplies. Indeed, his status was not much better than that of a passenger on one of Wattes' ships, who had limited court influence at home.

After operating for months in the West Indies, the Wattes expedition anchored on the night of August 12 at the northeast end of the island of Croatoan. If White had only known then the clue to the colonists' whereabouts that he was to learn 6 days later, he would have asked for a search of that island! But he had no way of knowing the promise that "Croatoan" held. After taking soundings, the fleet weighed anchor on August 13 and arrived at Hatoraske toward the evening of the 15th.

ATTEMPTS TO FIND THE LOST COLONY. As the ships anchored at Hatoraske, smoke was seen rising on Roanoke Island, giving hope that the colonists were still alive. On the morning of the 16th, Governor White, Captain Cooke, Captain Spicer, and a small company set forth in two boats for Roanoke Island. En route they saw another column of smoke rising southwest of "Kindrikers mountes." There are no mountains on this coast, except the great sand dunes. Perhaps the smoke was coming from the general area occupied today by the Nags Head dunes. They decided to investigate this latter smoke column first. It was a wearisome task that consumed the whole day and led to nothing, since no human beings were at the scene of the woods fire.

The next day, August 17, they prepared to go to Roanoke Island. Captain Spicer and six other men were drowned in the treacherous inlet when their boat capsized. Despite this unfortunate occurrence, White was able to proceed with the search. They put off again in two boats, but before they could reach the place of settlement it was so dark that they overshot their mark by a quarter of a mile. On the north end of the island they saw a light and rowed toward it. Anchoring opposite it in the darkness, they blew a trumpet and sang familiar English tunes and songs, but received no answer. In the morning they landed on the north end of the island and found only the grass and sundry rotten trees burning. From this point they went through the woods to that part of the island directly opposite Dasamonquepeuc on the mainland, west of the north end of Roanoke Island, and from there they returned by the water's edge round about the north point of the island until they came to the place where the colony had been left by Governor White. From the description just given of White's itinerary, this place must have been near the shore on the north end of the island on the east side, i. e., at or near the present Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. In the course of the long walk along the shore, nothing of interest was seen except footprints which two or three natives had made in the sand during the night.

As they climbed the sandy bank toward the settlement area, they found CRO carved in Roman letters on a tree at the brow of the hill. Going from there to the site of the dwelling houses, they found all of the houses taken down and the area strongly enclosed with a palisade of tree trunks, with curtains and flankers "very Fort-like." One of the chief trees, or posts, had the bark peeled off, and carved on it in capital letters was the word CROATOAN, but without the maltese cross or sign of distress that White had asked the settlers to use in such messages in the event of enforced departure from Roanoke Island. On entering the palisade, they found iron and other heavy objects thrown about and almost overgrown with grass, signifying that the place had been abandoned for some time.

From the fort and settlement area, White proceeded again along the shore southward to the "point of the creek" (i. e., the point of Shallow Bag Bay or, as it was called in 1716, "Town Creek"), which had been fortified with "Falkons and small Ordinance" and where the small boats of the colony were habitually kept, but could find no sign of any of these things. Then, on returning to the fort and settlement area, White searched for certain chests and personal effects which he had secretly buried in 1587. The Indians had discovered the hiding place, had rifled the chests, torn the covers off the books, and left the pictures and maps to be spoiled by rain. Considering that Gov. John White was probably John White the artist and illustrator of the expedition of 1585-86, one can imagine his feelings on seeing his maps and pictures irretrievably ruined. However, according to his own words he was cheered at the thought that, as indicated by the word CROATOAN on the palisade post, "a certaine token," his daughter, granddaughter Virginia Dare, and the colonists would be found at Croatoan Island, where Manteo was born and where the Indians had been friendly to the English.

As stormy weather was brewing, White and his little group returned in haste to the harbor where their ships were at anchor. Next day they agreed to go to Croatoan Island to look for the colonists but the weather would not permit. They planned to go to the West Indies instead, where they would have taken on fresh water and ultimately have returned to Croatoan. However, the elements willed otherwise and they were blown toward the Azores. From Flores in this group, they made their way to England.

Governor White could not finance another expedition to America himself, and Raleigh, although enjoying a large income at times, spent lavishly. Some of the money and energy that might have gone into the Virginian enterprise, Raleigh expended, during 1587-1602, in colonizing estates which he had received in Ireland. The Virginian enterprise would have required a prince's purse, but Raleigh was not a prince. Walsingham died in 1590, a blow to Raleigh. In July 1592, Raleigh was disgraced and imprisoned for marrying Elizabeth Throckmorton without the Queen's knowledge or consent. White, therefore, accepted the facts with resignation. His last recorded words, dated February 4, 1593, are: "And wanting my wishes, I leave off from prosecuting that whereunto I would to God my wealth were answerable to my will."

As late as 1602, Raleigh was still seeking in vain for his lost colony. In that year he sent out an expedition under Samuel Mace, who reached land some "40 leagues to the so-westward of Hatarask," presumably at or near Croatoan Island. Here they engaged in trading with the Indians along the coast. They probably did not look as diligently as they should have for the lost colonists, because they alleged that the weather made their intended search unsafe. On August 21, 1602, in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil, Raleigh expressed his undying faith in the overseas English Empire which he had attempted to establish, saying, ". . . I shall yet live to see it an English Nation." The memory of the Lost Roanoke Colony by that time had become an imperishable English tradition. After the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia in 1607, the Virginia colonists evidenced an almost constant interest in trying to learn from the Indians the whereabouts of the Roanoke settlers. However, the hearsay data they collected were never sufficiently concrete to be of any real assistance in locating Raleigh's men, and the answer remains a mystery to this day.  

Following his marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton, which displeased the Queen, Raleigh remained out of favor until after the capture of Cadiz, in 1596, in which he had participated. Upon the accession of King James I, in 1603, he again lost favor at Court and on July 16, 1603, was imprisoned in the Tower of London on the charge of having conspired to place Arabella Stuart on the throne instead of James. At the trial in November, Raleigh, along with Lords Cobham and Grey, was convicted and condemned to death. The lives of all three were dramatically spared at the last minute, but the conviction and sentence of death against Raleigh were allowed to stand and he remained in prison in the Tower until 1616.

One consequence of the conviction of Raleigh was the loss of any rights that he might still have had under the patent of 1584 giving him the sole right to colonize the vast territory called Virginia. The patent had obligated him to settle Virginia within 6 years but so long as the mystery of the Lost Colonists remained unsolved, Raleigh could allege that his colonists might be living somewhere in Virginia and that in consequence his rights under the Charter of Queen Elizabeth were still in force. These claims he asserted as late as 1603. In fact, the abolition of Raleigh's claims appears to have been one of the outstanding consequences of the Cobham plot trails. Because his patent was now clearly lost and because of his imprisonment, Raleigh was unable to participate in the movement that culminated in the settlement of Virginia in 1607. Yet this movement, and the movement to settle New England, had close ties with him. Among the leading spirits behind the later successful Virginian enterprise were Richard Hakluyt and Sir Thomas Smythe, two of those to whom Raleigh had deeded his interest in the Lost Colony undertaking on March 7,1589. Likewise, among the early leaders of the North Virginia, or Plymouth, group were Raleigh Gilbert and Sir John Gilbert, sons of Raleigh's half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Raleigh Gilbert participated in the effort to plant a settlement on the Kennebec River in Maine in 1607 and was a member of the Plymouth Company as late as 1620.

The first effort made by the English to establish a colony in America, occurred in the late sixteenth century, at Roanoke Island. Starting in 1584 efforts were made to explore the east coast of North America as far south as Spanish claims. It was in 1587 that a permanent colony was finally created. However great this accomplish was for the colonists and England, it proved to be one of the greatest American mysteries when the colony was discovered abandoned in 1590.

Roanoke Island is an island just off the coast of present day North Carolina. The Albemarle Sound, Croatan Sound, Roanoke Sound, and the Pamlico Sound are four bodies of water that surround the island. The Atlantic Ocean is less than ten miles away from Roanoke on it's eastern coast, but direct contact with the ocean is impeded by a strip of land called Bodie Island, which is part of the Outer Banks. The western coast of the Island is also less than ten miles from the mainland of North Carolina.

The history of the settlement can be found in England's increasing interest in laying claim to a portion of the New World during the late 1570's. This interest was even more apparent, when in the same decade, Queen Elizabeth encouraged exploration and settlement of new lands by issuing charters for this task, and it was during this time period when Roanoke Island was discovered by the English. However it was not until March 25, 1584 when the significant history of Roanoke was made with the re-issuing of the charter to Sir Walter Raleigh.

It was the responsibility of Raleigh to make the necessary provisions to complete the journeys to the New World and accomplish the goals of the charter. This meant hiring ship captains and their crews, recruiting possible colonists, purchasing food and other supplies, and finding those who would invest capital in the missions. Raleigh however does not actively participate in the journeys to Roanoke Island; he was just the organizer and major financier.

There are a total of four expeditions, under the Raleigh charter, which comprise the story of the lost colony.

The first and second expeditions take place from 1584 to 1586. The accomplishments of these missions include producing contact and establishing friendly relations with a native tribe called the Croatoan, the fortification of the island, and searching for an appropriate place for a permanent settlement. It is during the second expedition that there was an attempt to leave a small force of men behind, while the ships returned to England for supplies. They left a few more than one hundred men, which were need to finish fortifying the island, to continue the search for a permanent settlement sight, and to keep an English hold on the island. The effort failed due to the lack of supplies, weather conditions, and the strained relations with the Croatoans and other more violent native tribes. The situation becomes extremely desperate for the men when they resort to their dogs as a source of food. Luckily for the colonists, a ship came to their rescue and takes all but fifteen men back to England.

The mystery of Roanoke begins with the third expedition of 1587. John White was named governor of the colonist, which would now include women children. The permanence of this mission was believed to be insured by the involvement of entire families. To further insure success, the colonist themselves were the investors.

The third expedition of almost one hundred twenty people (men, women and children) ready for colonization, arrived on the island in the spring of 1587. Their intent was to locate the fifteen men who were left behind in the second expedition, and then find an new settlement sight. It was discovered that the fortifications built by the colonists the year before had been abandoned and there were no clues as to the fate of the fifteen men.

The next step was to find a new sight for settlement. It had been decided in England by Raleigh and John White, that the new settlement should be located in the Chesapeake Bay area to the north on the mainland. The colonist were denied the agreement that Raleigh and White had suggested. This was due to the strained relations between White and the ship captain. Therefore the colonists were forced to settle in the area of the abandoned fortifications for the time being.

While the colonists were assembling their homes, contact with the Croatoans was reestablished. In their communications the fate of the fifteen men left behind in the previous expedition was revealed. The Croatoans explain how an enemy tribe attacked the fort and killed some of the men, but how many was not known.

John White, upset with the news of the dead men and the recent discovery of a dead colonist, decides to launch an attack against the enemy, the Powhatans. Instead of attacking the enemy John White's men attack their friends, the Croatoans.

With this violation of trust, the relations between the Croatoans and the colonists had deteriorated. Thus the Croatoans refuse to supply the colonists with food, and the supplies brought with them had begun to spoil. With the shortage of supplies and winter soon approaching, it was decided by the colonists that someone must return to England with the ships in order to relieve them of their supply shortage. John White was sent for the supplies in the late summer of 1587. He leaves approximately one hundred sixteen men, women, and children on Roanoke Island.

John White does not return with the requested supplies until 1590. This three year delay was caused by a war between England and Spain. When he arrives he finds the colony abandoned. There is only a small clue as to where the colonist could be. This clue was the word Croatoan, carved into a tree. This word indicated to White that the colonists moved near or with the Croatoans, but White cannot determine whether his assumption was correct. Before White could make any more progress the captain and his crew, having no interest in the colonists fate wanted to return to England. This fourth expedition then returns to England not knowing the fate of the Roanoke Colonists.

In late 1590 White tries to convince investors and Sir Walter Raleigh to send yet another expedition. Due to the lack of interest in Roanoke by investors and Raleigh , White was unsuccessful in his attempt. It is not until the Jamestown settlement twenty years later, that a firm effort was made to find the true fate of the 1587 colonists of Roanoke Island.

Due to the fact that an investigation was not launched until twenty years later, no one knows what became of the colonists. Therefore there are several theories that attempt to explain their disappearance.

John Smith was the first to gather information about the outcomes of the Roanoke settlement. He questioned the local natives about Roanoke. From this line of questioning he came up with three similar stories. One story was the attack of the settlement and the massacre of all the colonists. In another story the settlement was attacked and the women and children were assimilated only. The final story was that the entire colony was peacefully assimilated into the local native tribes.

No new information or theories are concluded until many years later. These theories include the possibilities of an attack by the Spanish, disease, starvation, and an attempt to return to England in a small ship and then being lost at sea. Only spurts of interest in the fate of the colonists occurred throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There was also major destruction of the fort on Roanoke Island during the American Civil War, so most of the artifacts that could shed light upon the mystery had been destroyed.

I feel that the efforts made by those involve with establishing the Roanoke Colony were a learning experience for both investors and those who became colonists. We can see that England was involved in many activities during the attempts to establish permanent colony in Roanoke. These activities being a war with Spain, and acquiring treasures and natural resources to enrich England. Granted this was a new and unfamiliar part of the world for the colonists, I feel proper efforts were not made to ensure a permanent colony. For example, instead of raising their own crops and using hunting skills, they relied on the food supplies that were brought with the ships and then relied on the kindness of the natives to supply their food needs.

The Roanoke colonists made matters worse when John White decided to teach the enemy native tribe a lesson by attacking them in retaliation of killing one of the colonists and the men left behind in the second expedition. Instead of attacking their enemy they attacked their friends the Croatoans by accident. This was the second time an incident of this nature had happened. It had occurred in the second expedition with Ralph Lane (Governor of the colony left by the second expedition). Also I believe that mistakes of this nature reveal the possible fate of the lost colony, by assuming that relations between the colonist and the Croatoans had deteriorated. However, I do not believe that this tribe killed the members of Roanoke, I think that they refused to supply them with food supplies. From here I believe that the colonists had ventured into the interior of present day North Carolina, in search of food and a more suitable settlement. But in their venturing I believe the men were attacked by unfamiliar tribes. The women and children would have been spared and assimilated into their culture because it was the custom of the natives of this area.

It was not until 1959 that a theory was openly agreed upon by a group of historian and scholars. They theorized that the colony did go to the Croatan village and may have been assimilated into the tribe. It was possible that they later moved to one of two areas; the Chesapeake Bay area or the Chowan River area. They also agreed that there was the possibility that the group disbanded. If the colonists did not go to the Croatan village, it was surmised that they were attacked by the Powhatan and the women and children were taken captive.

Of course, some people also believe space aliens are too blame.  However, no credible evidence has been presented to verify this theory.

However, the panel did not agree on one solid theory because they lack any physical evidence. These few possibilities may be as close as anyone will get to an answer.