What actually happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke?

Sir Walter Raleigh

The colony was first established on the island of Roanoke, in the Summer of 1585, in today’s Dare County in the state of Carolina. This was the first attempt by the British to lay the foundations for a permanent settlement in the new world, being North America. This expedition was sponsored by a Devon born man, that went by the name of Sir Walter Raleigh. He himself never set foot in the colony at all, and he was many things, a writer, politician, soldier, spy, explorer among other titles, however he is very well known for popularizing tobacco in England.

It was about 115 British settlers based on the Roanoke island and their Mayor being John White. Later on in the year, John White left and returned back to the British Isles to request for more supplies. Safe to say that his return to the colony took a lot longer than expected… he in fact returned 3 years later. The reason for the delay was that a naval war erupted between England and Spain, Queen Elizabeth I summoned each and every available ship to fight off the Spanish. The Mayor of the colony didn’t make his imminent return to Roanoke till August 1590. Upon his return, he found that there was no sign of his people… not even his wife, daughter and grandchild. His grandchild was the first English born over in the states, and her name was Virginia Dare. Every single person from this expedition vanished, leaving not a trace behind. To this day, the Lost Colony of Roanoke is still one of the most infamous enigmas in American history, and the only thing that was left behind was a word, carved on a wooden post – ‘Croatoan’. Other letters, specifically ‘CRO’ were carved on trees within the borders of the settlement.

“CRO” written on a tree, part of the Lost Colony performance at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

These were the only clues left as to the disappearance of the British settlers, and they were unable to carry on searching for more clues about what might have happened to them as there was a storm thus they were forced to turn round and go back to England.

Many people have speculated over the centuries as to what may have happened to the colony back then, and there is one explanation that makes sense as to what could have happened. Farther south of the Roanoke settlement, there was an island known as Hatteras Island, but was and is also known as Croatoan Island. There was the same word carved on a tree close to the southern island that was occupied by the Hatteras Indians. It would have made sense due to how long it took the Mayor to make his return if at least some of the British settlers made their way to try to join or maybe seek help from the Native Indians to be able to survive.

There are also other theories about what may have happened. One, being that the British settlers tried to sail back the England themselves, but met their end at the hands of the Spanish Armada as they were making their way up from Florida. Second, could be that maybe they became friendly with another settlement and joined in with them, be it the Hatteras Indians or others, although due to closeness the Hatteras would have made more sense, but of course that all depends on communication from both parties as well and what they could or couldn’t bring to the table.

Either way, unfortunately, we will never know the truth; all we can do is speculate on this matter. However, one good thing did come out of this settlement, even though it crumbled. It helped to pave the way for the British to set another colony in the Americas 17 years later, at Jamestown.

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