The Roanoke Colony was a British colony in North America that disappeared mysteriously. It is called the "Lost Colony." It was on Roanoke Island in what is today Dare County, North Carolina, in the United States. It was started in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh. It disappeared sometime between 1587 and 1590. Today, nobody knows what happened to the people who were living there.
Virginea Pars map, including Roanoke Island, drawn by John White during his first visit in 1585
• Birth of Virginia Dare
|18 August 1587|
On 25 March 1584, Queen Elizabeth gave Sir Walter Raleigh a charter to start a colony in North America. A charter is a document which gives permission from a monarch to the holder. Raleigh's charter said he could start a colony in a part of North America called Virginia. It also said that if he did not start the colony, Raleigh would not be able to start any other colonies ever again.:9
Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth hoped that the colony would be rich. They wanted it to be a base for privateering. Privateers are pirates who work for the government to attack ships from other countries. The English privateers from the colony would attack the Spanish ships that were carrying treasure across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.:135
First trips to Roanoke IslandEdit
Raleigh sent some ships to explore North America in 1584. On 27 April 1584, Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe sailed to the Eastern coast of North America. They landed on Roanoke Island on 4 July 1584.:32 On the island they met some of the Native American people living there. The tribes they met were the Secotans and the Croatans. Barlowe took two Croatans back to England with him. They were Manteo and the chief, Wanchese. Manteo and Wanchese told Raleigh about Roanoke Island and the politics of the local tribes.:44–45 Raleigh decided to send more ships back to the Island to learn more. This new expedition (trip) was led by Sir Richard Grenville.
Grenville took five ships to Roanoke: the Tiger, Roebuck, Red Lion, Elizabeth, and Dorothy. They left from Plymouth on 9 April 1585. There was a big storm that made the Tiger get separated from the other ships.:57 The captains of the ships had a plan that if the ships got separated, they would all go to Puerto Rico to meet up again. The Tiger arrived at the "Baye of Muskito" (Guayanilla Bay) on 11 May 1585.
Grenville and the Tiger waited in Puerto Rico for the other ships. While they were waiting, Grenville built a fort called Fort Elizabeth. He also did some privateering from there against the Spanish.:62 One of the other ships, the Elizbeth, arrived in Puerto Rico right after Fort Elizabeth was built.:91 Grenville soon got tired of waiting for the other ships. On 7 June 1585 he left Puerto Rico and abandoned the fort. Nobody knows what happened to the fort, or where exactly it was.
The Tiger arrived at the Outer Banks on 26 June 1585. (The Outer Banks are islands on the coast of the Carolinas in North America. Roanoke Island is part of the Outer Banks.) The Tiger hit a shoal in Ocracoke Inlet. This damaged the ship and most of their food was ruined.:63 They fixed the ship and met up with the Roebuck and the Dorothy. The other ships had arrived at the islands a few weeks before. The Red Lion also arrived at the Outer Banks, but it dropped off its passengers and went to Newfoundland for privateering.:64
The English explored some of the coast and the Native American settlements there. One of the villages they visited was called Aquascogoc. The English blamed the natives of Aquascogoc for stealing a silver cup. They destroyed the village and burned it to the ground as punishment.:72  Aquascogoc was a village of the Croatan tribe.
Genville decided to leave some men to start a colony at the north end of Roanoke Island. He did this even though they did not have a lot of food and the Croatans were angry about Aquascogoc. Ralph Lane and 107 men were left on Roanoke Island. Grenville promised to return in April 1586 with more men and supplies. Lane and his men left for Roanoke on 17 August 1585. Lane built a small fort on Roanoke Island and explored some of the area. There are no pictures of the Roanoke fort. It was probably a lot like Fort Elizabeth on Guayanilla Bay, Puerto Rico.
Grenville did not return in April 1586. The Croatans were angry because the English had destroyed Aquascogoc, so they attacked the fort. The colonists were able to repel the attackers. (This means that the Croatan warriors didn't win the fight.):5 Soon after this attack, Sir Francis Drake stopped by the fort on his way back to England. The colonists agreed to go back to England with Drake. They brought with them tobacco, maize, and potatoes to Europe for the first time.:5
A little while after Drake left with the colonists, Grenville's ships arrived at the fort. When they got there, the fort was abandoned. Grenville decided to take his men back to England. A small number of men stayed behind to run the fort.
Starting the colonyEdit
Sir Walter Raleigh sent 150 people to start a colony in 1587. A man named John White was in charge of the colony. John White was an artist and a friend of Raleigh. He had gone to Roanoke with Barlowe and Grenville. Raleigh told them to start a colony on the Chesapeake Bay. On the way, they were going to stop at the Roanoke fort to pick up Grenville's men and take them to the new colony.
White's ships landed at Roanoke on 22 July 1587. They did not find any of Grenville's men at the base of the old fort. All they found was one skeleton that might have been the body of one of the Englishmen. The commander of the fleet (group of ships), Simon Fernandez, would not let the colonists get back on the ships. He said they had to start the new colony on Roanoke Island.:215 Nobody knows exactly why he did this.
White tried to talk to the Croatans and make peace with them. The Croatans were the same tribes that Ralph Lane and his men had fought against the year before. The Croatans would not talk to White. They killed a colonist named George Howe. Howe was looking for crabs in the Albemarle Sound when he was killed.:120–23
The colonists were scared. They asked Governor White to go back to England and get help.:120–23 White agreed to go. He left behind 115 colonists at Roanoke. 114 colonists had come from England with White. The last colonist was Virginia Dare. Virginia was the first English child ever born in the Americas. She was also John White's granddaughter.:19
Governor White left the colony in late 1587. The ship barely made it back to England. It was very dangerous to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the winter. There were bad storms and lots of heavy wind. White wanted to return to Roanoke fast with help. The captain said he would not go back during the winter because it was too dangerous. At the same time, the Spanish Armada was sailing to attack England. All English ships were sent to fight the Spanish, so there were no ships for White to sail back to Roanoke.:125–26
White found two small ships that were not being used to defend England against the Spanish Armada. He hired the ships to sail to Roanoke. They set sail in the spring of 1588. The captains of the ships were greedy. They tried to attack some Spanish ships to steal their cargo. (Cargo is things being carried by a ship. Cargo can be food, supplies, money, or treasure.) The Spanish ships fought White's ships and won. The Spanish took all of White's cargo. White's ships turned around and sailed back to England because they had nothing to take to the colony.:125–26
The Lost ColonyEdit
England was at war with Spain. White could not find any ships to take to Roanoke because of the fighting. After three years, White found a group of privateers who said they would take him to Roanoke. He landed on Roanoke Island on 15 August 1590. The colony was empty. All 90 men, 17 women, and 11 children were gone. There were no signs of fighting. The people had just disappeared.:130–33
The only thing White found was the word "CROATOAN" carved on a tree. The word "CRO" was carved on another tree. All of the houses and buildings had been taken apart. This means that the colonists did not leave in a hurry.
White had told the colonists what to do if something bad happened to them. He told them to carve a Maltese Cross on a tree if someone made them leave the colony. The colonists didn't carve the cross on any of the trees. White thought that the colonists had gone to an island called Croatoan Island. (Today, Croatoan Island is called Hatteras Island.)
In 1602, Raleigh decided to find out what happened to his colony. He sent several ships to the colony. A man named Samuel Mace was in charge. Raleigh bought all of the ships and promised that the sailors would be paid. He did this so they would not go privateering on the way to Roanoke.
The ships stopped at the Outer Banks to pick up some sassafras and other aromatic woods. These plants were used to make perfume in Europe. They could be sold in England for a lot of money. By the time they finished getting the sassafras, the weather had gotten bad. The ships turned around and went back to England. They never got to Roanoke Island. Raleigh could not send any more ships to Roanoke because King James I arrested him for treason.:134–35
The Spanish also tried to go to Roanoke. They knew that Raleigh wanted to use the colony for privateering. They wanted to destroy the colony so he could not do that. The Spanish thought that the colony was a lot more successful than it really was.:135–37 In 1590, the Spanish found the remains of Roanoke by accident. They didn't think it was the Roanoke Colony. They thought it was a small settlement outside of the main colony. They thought that Roanoke Colony was by the Chesapeake Bay. (That was where John White was supposed to set up the colony.) The Spanish could not get enough ships and people to look for the Roanoke colony because of the Anglo-Spanish War.:135–37
What might have happenedEdit
The colony was called the "Lost Colony" because no one knows what happened after 1587. There are many ideas about what might have happened. There is no proof that any of these ideas are right. It is still a mystery today.
Joining the Native AmericansEdit
One idea is that the colonists went to live with the Native American tribes. They may have joined the Chowanoke tribe. The Choanoke were attacked by another tribe. The Jamestown Colony's records say that a tribe called "Mandoag" attacked the Choanoke. (Jamestown was a colony in Virginia started 20 years after Roanoke.) The word "Mandoag" is from the Algonquian language. It means 'enemy nation.' The "Mandoag" might have been the Tuscarora people:45 or the Eno people.:255–56 The historian Lee Miller wrote about this idea in the book Roanoke: solving the mystery of the lost colony (2000).
There is some proof for this idea. A 1607 map from Jamestown called the "Zuniga Map" had some writing on it.:112) The writing said "four men clothed that came from roonock" were living in an Iroquois village on the Neuse River. (The Tuscarora tribe spoke the Iroquois language.) Also, a secretary from Jamestown wrote about strange Native American villages. William Strachey wrote that there were two-story houses with stone walls in the villages of Peccarecanick and Ochanahoen. He thought that the Roanoke colonists taught the Native Americans build these kinds of buildings.:222
In the late 1880s, there were Native Americans in Robeson County, North Carolina who said they were related to the Roanoke settlers. A politician from North Carolina named Hamilton McMillan learned about this claim. He found that a lot of the words in this Native American tribe's language were a lot like some old English words that are no longer used. Also a lot of the people in the tribe had family names that were the same as the names of the colonists'. McMillan thought that these Native Americans were the descendents of the Roanoke settlers. Because of this, he helped pass a bill called the "Croatan Bill" on February 10, 1885. This bill said that the Native American people in Robeson county were officially called "Croatan.":231–33
Two days after the bill, there was an article written about the tribe. It was printed in the Fayetteville Observer on 12 February 1885. It said that "Croatoa" was just a village and the tribe called themselves the Tuscaroras. The article also said that the tribe was always friendly to the white people of Roanoke. When they saw that there was no help coming from England, the tribe let the colonists live in their villages. Over time, the tribe left their old villages and moved to live in the center of Robeson County.
Historians are not sure that this is really what happened. There are many different Native American tribes that have legends and stories about the Roanoke Colony. There is a legend that is a lot like the Robeson County tribe about the Saponi people of Person County, North Carolina. The Saponi are now extinct (today there are no living Saponi people). The legend says that the Saponi were descended from the English colonists. When settlers met the Saponi, they were surprised to find that they already spoke English and knew about Christianity. The Saponi also had European features. (Their faces were shaped like Europeans' faces.)
Some of the other tribes that say they are descended from the Roanoke colonists are:
The Lost Colony DNA Project was set up to test if this is true.
A historian named David Beers Quinn thinks that the Roanoke colony moved to a new place and then was destroyed. In 1607, Captain John Smith started the Jamestown Colony in Virginia. One of his jobs was to find out what happened to the Roanoke Colony. Chief Powhatan told Smith that he had killed all of the Roanoke colonists. He said that they were living with the Chesepian tribe. The Chesepians would not join Chief Powhatan's Powhatan Confederacy.:21–24 Also there was a prophecy that said the Chespians would destroy Powhatan's empire.:101
Because of this, the Powhatan Confederacy killed all the Chesepians.:101 Chief Powhatan showed Captain Smith proof of this. He showed Smith some iron tools made in England. The bodies of the colonists were never found. Archaeologists do not have any evidence either.
In 1998, there was a team of scientists studying the climate (weather) of the Roanoke area. The team took cores of some 800-year-old trees on Roanoke Island. They wanted to look at the tree rings to see the history of rain and temperature over the years.
They found that the colonists had started Roanoke Colony in the middle of the worst drought in 800 years. (A drought is a period of time when there is very little rain.) "This drought persisted for 3 years, from 1587 to 1589, and is the driest 3-year episode in the entire 800-year reconstruction," the team wrote in the journal Science. The drought happened in all of the southeastern United States. It was worst in the area near Roanoke Island.
The people in charge of the team were David W. Stahle and Dennis B. Blaton. Stahle was a climatologist from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Blaton was an archaeologist from The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Governor White left some ships at the colony when he left in 1587. They had a full-rigged pinnace and some small ships. One idea is that the colonists tried to sail back to England in these ships. It could be that the ships sank and the colonists died.
Another idea is that the Spanish destroyed the colony. Earlier in the 1500s, the Spanish destroyed a French colony in South Carolina called Fort Charles. They also killed all of the people in a French colony in Florida. This is probably not what happened in Roanoke, because the Spanish were still looking for the colony in 1600.:137
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