The Story of the Lost Roanoke Island Colony

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The Story of the Lost Roanoke Island Colony

The Story of the Lost Roanoke Island Colony
The Story of the Lost Roanoke Island Colony

The story of the lost Roanoke Island colony is one filled with mystery and historians still can’t agree upon a common story about what happened to the people of the ‘lost colony’. Since season 6 of ‘American Horror Story’ started, people have become more interested in Roanoke. Season 6 of AHS is entitled ‘My Roanoke Nightmare’ so you can imagine that searches for ‘what is Roanoke’, ‘where is Roanoke’ and ‘Roanoke’ have started flooding Google.

Everybody is interested in learning more about one of the biggest mysteries in US (and colonial) history. Here’s the whole story behind this legendary colony. Where was it? What happened to it? When and why did it disappear?

Lady Gaga starring in My Roanoke Nightmare
Lady Gaga starring in My Roanoke Nightmare

The Roanoke Island colony was the first English settlement in the New World, making it a key point for Britain’s great colonial expansion. It was founded in August 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh. As most colonists, the first Englishmen to arrive in the New World barely had the necessary supplies to survive.

The shortage of food, lack of materials to build strong shelters and Indian attacks have led to massive losses all throughout the colony. People started to starve and since winter was upon them, living conditions only became worst. The colonists decided to go back to England, considering that they had no other chance to survive. The first ship back the the Old Continent left with Sir Francis Drake as captain in 1586, followed a year later, in 1587, by another group of 100 colonists captained by John White, sent by Sir Walter Raleigh.

John White was the governor of the Roanoke Island colony, situated in present-day North Carolina, US, and he was in charge of returning from England with a ship full of supplies for the new settlement. The war between England and Spain delayed John White’s trip back to the colony, managing to return to the New World only in August 1590.

Upon his return, John White found the colony to be completely deserted with no trace of the approximately 100 colonists he left behind. No sign of violence or conflict was found.

Ellinor Dare, John White’s daughter was also missing from the colony, as well as Virginia Dare, who was his granddaughter and the first English child born in the New World, the first English child born in America! Virginia’s third birthday was supposed to be on August 18, however, no one knows if White’s granddaughter survived.

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After looking for clues of what may have happened, White and his men found the word “CROATOAN” carved into the palisade that had been built by the missing colonists around the settlement. He tried to understand what the word meant, and he considered it to be a message left by the colonists, letting him know that they have moved to Croatoan Island, located approximately 50 miles away. When they went to check out the island, nobody was there and they found no evidence to show that the island was inhabited.

A new analysis of John White’s 1580s map of Virginia revealed a hidden marking beneath a patch. British Museum.
A new analysis of John White’s 1580s map of Virginia revealed a hidden marking beneath a patch. British Museum.

In 1998, archaeologists studying a tree-ring found that Virginia went through extreme drought conditions from 1587 to 1589, meaning that this could have been one of the key factors that forced the colonists to abandon the settlement. Another theory says that the colonists were assimilated by a Native American tribe called The Croatoans, and this is why John White couldn’t find any of his fellow Englishmen when he came back.

(Source 1, 2, 3)