I recently took a driving trip to the East Coast of the United States. I have a friend moving to Roanoke, Virginia and she wanted someone to keep her company in a U-haul truck on her journey to Virginia. So in a big truck I climbed and made the trip with her. We stopped along the way to see Mount Rushmore (see previous article.) When I told people that I was going to Roanoke, Virginia with a friend, the response was amazing. People were excited that I was taking a new trip. The only problem I had with their excitement was this question that 9 out of 10 people asked, “Are you going to tour the lost colony?” I loved that people knew that there was a lost colony called Roanoke, but I was a bit shy about telling them it’s not there, it’s there. Roanoke Colony was actually on the Outer-banks on an Island off North Carolina. So the Roanoke Colony, which is now also known as the “Lost Colony”, was originally established on Roanoke Island, which is what is today’s Dare County, North Carolina. It was a late 16th-century attempt by Queen Elizabeth I to establish a permanent English Settlement. You might also be interested in the fact that it was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh.
A bit about Walter Raleigh. Raleigh was a soldier, a poet, courtier, and explorer. It was speculated that he was also the Queen’s Consort. Raleigh and his half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert went on a search for the Northwest passage to the Orient; however, this journey turned out to be false and quickly decayed into a privateering foray against the Spanish. On their return to Britain, in 1579, they both faced the displeasure of the Privy Council.
Raleigh’s subsequent behavior didn’t make him any more liked as he was involved in several other altercations which caused his imprisonment twice in a 6 month period for disturbing the peace. It has been bothering me that although people were aware of the lost colony, they were not aware of its location. Raleigh was considered to be extravagant in dress and manner. He was handsome, and superbly self-confident, making him a favorite at court, and he rose through the ranks quickly. Queen Elizabeth I was quite taken with not only his manner, but his knowledge of Ireland and often sought his advice and opinions on Ireland. When he earned a new commission for Service there, the Queen kept him home to advise her on all matters Irish. He was also given more concrete favors, such as houses, estates in Oxford, and the most lucrative of all, the monopolies for the sale of wine licenses and the export of broadcloth.
The Queen knighted Walter Raleigh in 1584. He was actually disliked because of his arrogance, his reforms of the mining codes and his association with local privateering ventures made him popular and he sat for Devonshire in the Parliaments of 1584 and 1586. In 1586, Raleigh became the captain of the Queen’s Guard. This was to be his highest office at court.
Now here is where we get to his settlement of the Roanoke Colony. The patent under which Gilbert had led his expedition in 1578 had authorized him to explore, and claim lands in the Queen’s name, it also gave him the right to exploit them as he saw fit. In 1582 Gilbert had organized a company of English Catholics to settle in the Americas. Although Raleigh had been forbidden by the Queen to accompany his brother, Raleigh invested money and a ship of his own design was given in the venture. After Gilbert’s death Raleigh, was given a charter to “occupy and enjoy” new lands. Upon reaching the Carolina shore of America he claimed the land for the court-bound empire builder. Which in turn leads to the second expedition led by John White. The coming of the Spanish Armada delayed sending supplies for more than 2 years, and when the relief ships reached the colony it had vanished. That disappearance gave rise to its unfortunate nickname…’The Lost Colony’. To this day there has been no conclusive evidence of what occurred to the colony and the disappearance of the colonists themselves. There is, of course, plenty of speculation, but nothing conclusive has ever been found to explain the disappearance.
Raleigh and Elizabeth had intended the Roanoke Colony would provided riches from the New World, and be a base from which they could send privateers on raids against the Spanish treasure fleets. Neither Raleigh or Queen Elizabeth I would ever set foot on the colony of Roanoke, nor would either of them ever visit North America.
In 1587, Raleigh dispatched a new group of 115 colonists to establish a colony on the Chesapeake Bay. They were ordered to check on the settlers of Roanoke. When they arrived on July 22, 1587, they found nothing except a skeleton. At this point the fleet commander, Simon Fernandez, refused to let the colonists return to the ships, and thereby insisting that they establish a new colony on Roanoke. His motives remain unclear to this day. Fearing for their lives they asked John White, to return to England and explain the situation and ask for help. Left behind were the 115 colonists, and White’s newly born granddaughter Virginia Dare. Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the Americas. White was unable to return for three years due to the Anglo-Spanish war and the attack on England by the Spanish Armada. He was finally able to find passage on a privateer, and when he landed on August 18, 1590, his granddaughter’s third birthday, it was to find the settlement deserted. He and his men could find no trace of the 90 men, 17 women, and 11 children he had left behind. Nor was there any sign of a struggle or battle. The only clue to be found was the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post of the fence that surrounded the village. All the houses and fortifications had been dismantled, which would indicate that their departure had not been quick. Before White had left the colony three years prior, he had instructed the colonists to carve a Maltese cross into a nearby tree, which would indicate that their absence had been under protest. There was no cross, and White then assumed that the colonists had moved to Croatoan Island, which is now known as Hatteras Island. He was unable to conduct a search as a massive storm was forming and his men refused to go any farther, they left the next day.
It was twelve years before Raleigh decided to find out what happened to his colony. The expedition failed to stop in Roanoke Island due to bad weather and they were forced to return to England. Raleigh would be unable to send any further ships to the colony due to his arrest for treason and subsequent beheading.
The Spanish, meanwhile, had begun too look for the colony. They were hoping to destroy it knowing that Raleigh had planned to use it as a base of Privateering. They believed that the colony was much more successful than it actually was. In 1590, they found the remnants of the colony by accident. They assumed that it was an outlying base of the main settlement that they believed to be the Chesapeake Bay area.
It was not until the Jamestown settlement was established in 1607, that any real effort was made to acquire information about the Lost Colony. Two separate sources told that the Chief of the Powhatan had personally conducted the slaughter of the Colonists. Due to the information, and testimony given by two reputable sources it was 400 years before anyone thought to question the slaughter scenario, even though there was no trace of any kind of slaughter, or even a struggle.
In recent years there hve been two independent teams of Archaeologists that are studying the remains of the sites, that suggest that at least some of the Roanoke colonists might have split into two groups. Each group having assimilated itself into a different Native American Community. Nothing definitive has been discovered; however, there are artifacts that could support the theory.
Now that I’ve given you a run down on The Lost Colony, next time I travel to the East Coast, specifically Roanoke, you’ll ask if I’m going to Virginia, or to North Carolina. If you ever find yourself in the area of the Lost Colony it’s worth a stop to see.