Roanoke Island: The Lost Colony
On July 22, 1587, long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, 117 hopeful colonists from England landed ashore onto a tiny island along the coast of what is today North Carolina. The group unpacked and founded a settlement, Roanoke Island. Then they vanished without a trace.
The story of the Lost Colony has fascinated people across four centuries and remains one of the enduring mysteries of early America. There are several theories put forth to explain the disappearance, but despite efforts by historians, archeologists, and other investigators, the fate of these early colonists seems destined to remain a mystery.
In the 16th century, many European nations wanted to establish themselves in the New World. They competed against one another by sending explores and settlers across the Atlantic Ocean to search for wealth (Durant, 1981). Queen Elizabeth I was responsible for bringing England into the competition by supporting explorers and settlers who wanted to cross the Atlantic (McGill, 2009). Elizabeth’s interest in the New World was fueled by a rivalry with the Spanish. Relations with Spain and England were so strained that the two nations were near war, and Spain had already found wealth in South and Central America (McCarty, 1993).
The first attempted English settlement came under the charge of Sir Walter Raleigh, a close friend of the Queen. Elizabeth granted him permission to found a colony, and he placed himself in charge of finding money, hiring the ships, and choosing a location for the venture. Raleigh hired Philip Amadas and Aruthur Barlowe to sail to the New World and scout a location. They departed England in April 1584 and soon returned with stories of a fertile green island off the coast of present day North Carolina (McGill, 2009). Raleigh found 100 men willing to set sail the next year. The captain of the fleet of ships was Sir Richard Grenville. He led the colonists across the Atlantic on a treacherous journey. The passengers endured cramped conditions, and many died of malnutrition (Davis, 2009). The colonists landed at Roanoke Island in April 1585. Grenville spent the summer sailing along the coast, familiarizing himself with the surrounding areas. He also burned an Indian village to demonstrate his English power (Mackay, 1998). He then returned to England to fetch more supplies.
Ralph Lane became the colony’s governor. He organized the colonists’ efforts to build a fort and thatch-roofed houses. During the first few months of his administration, relations with the local Indians went well. However, by the summer of 1586, food and supplies began to run out. The lack of food started quarrels between the Indians and the colonists. The conflict became so heated that incidents of violence broke out. Many people on both sides died in the conflict, and the colonists feared the settlement would not survive (McGill, 2009).
The Roanoke colonists were saved when Sir Francis Drake, an English Privateer, arrives at the island. He took all of the colonists back to England. Not long after their departure, Grenville returned to the colony and found it was abandoned. He left fifteen of his soldiers to protect the colony and keep it secure .
Raleigh was not daunted by his first failure and decided to try again. He recruited 117 settlers: 91 men, 17 women, and 9 children departed from England in May 1587 and landed at Roanoke in July. Each family received 500 acres of land and some view in the government of the colony. The new colonists found only charred ruins of the village, and Grenville’s fourteen of Grenville’s men were missing, one skeleton was found. It was an ominous welcome, but they made minor repairs and moved back into the area (Durant, 1981).
John White became the new governor of Roanoke. He soon learned that most of the local Indian tribes would not forget past troubles with English colonists...
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found in tree rings offers clues to historical mysteries
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Mackay, Katurah. (1998, November). The ‘Starving Time’. National Parks, 40(1).
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