The Roanoke Colony

The Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island in Dare County in present-day North Carolina was an enterprise financed and organized by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 16th century to establish a permanent English settlement in the Virginia Colony. Between 1585 and 1587, groups of colonists were left to make the attempt. The final group disappeared after a period of three years elapsed without supplies from England, leading to the continuing mystery known as "The Lost Colony."

As the ships anchored at Hatoraske, smoke was seen rising on Roanoke Island, giving hope that the colonists were still alive. On the morning of the 16th, Governor White, Captain Cooke, Captain Spicer, and a small company set forth in two boats for Roanoke Island. En route they saw another column of smoke rising southwest of "Kindrikers mountes." There are no mountains on this coast, except the great sand dunes. Perhaps the smoke was coming from the general area occupied today by the Nags Head dunes. They decided to investigate this latter smoke column first. It was a wearisome task that consumed the whole day and led to nothing, since no human beings were at the scene of the woods fire.

The next day, August 17, they prepared to go to Roanoke Island. Captain Spicer and six other men were drowned in the treacherous inlet when their boat capsized. Despite this unfortunate occurrence, White was able to proceed with the search. They put off again in two boats, but before they could reach the place of settlement it was so dark that they overshot their mark by a quarter of a mile. On the north end of the island they saw a light and rowed toward it. Anchoring opposite it in the darkness, they blew a trumpet and sang familiar English tunes and songs, but received no answer. In the morning they landed on the north end of the island and found only the grass and sundry rotten trees burning. From this point they went through the woods to that part of the island directly opposite Dasamonquepeuc on the mainland, west of the north end of Roanoke Island, and from there they returned by the water’s edge round about the north point of the island until they came to the place where the colony had been left by Governor White. From the description just given of White’s itinerary, this place must have been near the shore on the north end of the island on the east side, i. e., at or near the present Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. In the course of the long walk along the shore, nothing of interest was seen except footprints, which two or three natives had made in the sand during the night.

As they climbed the sandy bank toward the settlement area, they found CRO carved in Roman letters on a tree at the brow of the hill. Going from there to the site of the dwelling houses, they found all of the houses taken down and the area strongly enclosed with a palisade of tree trunks, with curtains and flankers "very Fort-like." One of the chief trees, or posts, had the bark peeled off, and carved on it in capital letters was the word CROATOAN, but without the maltese cross or sign of distress that White had asked the settlers to use in such messages in the event of enforced departure from Roanoke Island. On entering the palisade, they found iron and other heavy objects thrown about and almost overgrown with grass, signifying that the place had been abandoned for some time.

From the fort and settlement area, White proceeded again along the shore southward to the "point of the creek" (i. e., the point of Shallow Bag Bay or, as it was called in 1716, "Town Creek"), which had been fortified with "Falkons and small Ordinance" and where the small boats of the colony were habitually kept, but could find no sign of any of these things. Then, on returning to the fort and settlement area, White searched for certain chests and personal effects, which he had secretly buried in 1587. The Indians had discovered the hiding place, had rifled the chests, torn the covers off the books, and left the pictures and maps to be spoiled by rain. Considering that Gov. John White was probably John White the artist and illustrator of the expedition of 1585-86, one can imagine his feelings on seeing his maps and pictures irretrievably ruined. However, according to his own words he was cheered at the thought that, as indicated by the word CROATOAN on the palisade post, "a certain token," his daughter, granddaughter Virginia Dare, and the colonists would be found at Croatoan Island, where Manteo was born and where the Indians had been friendly to the English.

As stormy weather was brewing, White and his little group returned in haste to the harbor where their ships were at anchor. Next day they agreed to go to Croatoan Island to look for the colonists but the weather would not permit. They planned to go to the West Indies instead, where they would have taken on fresh water and ultimately have returned to Croatoan. However, the elements willed otherwise and they were blown toward the Azores. From Flores in this group, they made their way to England.

Governor White could not finance another expedition to America himself, and Raleigh, although enjoying a large income at times, spent lavishly. As late as 1602, Raleigh was still seeking in vain for his lost colony. In that year he sent out an expedition under Samuel Mace, who reached land some "40 leagues to the so-westward of Hatarask," presumably at or near Croatoan Island. Here they engaged in trading with the Indians along the coast. They probably did not look as diligently as they should have for the lost colonists, because they alleged that the weather made their intended search unsafe. On August 21, 1602, in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil, Raleigh expressed his undying faith in the overseas English Empire which he had attempted to establish, saying, “… I shall yet live to see it an English Nation." The memory of the Lost Roanoke Colony by that time had become an imperishable English tradition. After the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia in 1607, the Virginia colonists evidenced an almost constant interest in trying to learn from the Indians the whereabouts of the Roanoke settlers. However, the hearsay data they collected were never sufficiently concrete to be of any real assistance in locating Raleigh’s men, and the answer remains a mystery to this day.

The original article was writen by: Shaman Cougar on 9/15/2008
and can be found by following the link below
Mass Disappearances

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