Lost Colony of Roanoke
North Carolina's First Permanent Settlement



    For more than four hundred years, the question has remained, "What happened to Roanoke?" That conundrum will probably continue to puzzle experts and amateurs alike for many more years to come.


    ON 25 Mar 1584, Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to Sir Walter Raleigh to start a colony in Virginia. The charter stated that he either started a colony or give up his right to colonization. The intention behind the charter was to start a colony to take some of the riches from the New World and also to provide a base for privateering on some of the Spanish ships returning to Europe loaded with treasuers. Raleigh, himself, never landed on North American soil.


    In April 1584, Raleigh sent an expedition led by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to explore the east coast. Landing on 4 Jul, the established relations with two tribes, the Secotans and Croatans. Barlowe returned to England with two Croatans, Manteo and Wanchese, who were able to communicate with Raleigh about the assorted political and geographical aspects of the chosen location. Using this information, Raleigh organized another expedition to be led by his cousin, Sir Richard deGrenville. deGrenville led five ships, departing Apr 1585. His flagship was blown off course in a severe storm, and, as pre-arranged in the event they were separated, he changed course for Puerto Rico, landing at "Baye of Muskito", now known as Guaynilla Bay, 11 May. While waiting for the other ships to arrive, deGrenville established relations with the Spanish, while also engaging in some privateering against them. He also built a fort.



    A drawing of the fort built in Guyanilla Bay, the exact location is unknown.


    The Elizabeth arrived soon after the fort was constructed, and on 7 Jun, deGrenville abandoned the fort and departed, tired of waiting for the remaining three ships. When they sailed into Ocracoke Inlet 26 Jun, the Tiger, deGrenville's ship, struck a shoal and most of the food supply was lost. They repaired the ship and continued on, meeting up with the Dorothy and the Roebuck at the Outer Banks. The Red Lion had been with them, but it merely dropped off its passengers and supplies and left for Newfoundland to do some privateering.


    After exploring the region, the village of Aquascogoc was blamed for stealing a valuable cup. In retaliation, the village was sacked and burned. Despite this climate and a lack of food, deGrenville departing leaving Ralph Lane in charge of 107 men in order to protect Raleigh's charter. Lane had a small fort built on one end of Roanoke Island. It is assumed that it was similar in design to the one on Guayanilla Bay, but no known drawing exist. deGrenville promised to return with more men and supplies in April 1586.


    April 1586 came and went, with no sign of deGrenville, or any other supplies. In June, the colonists were able to repel an attack from the natives for the sacking and burning of the village. Shortly after the attack, Sir Francis Drake stopped by on his return from a successful raid into the Carribbean and offered to take the men back to England. The all accepted and when deGrenville finally arrived at Roanoke Island after Drake's departure, he found it abandoned. Leaving a small force to protect Raleigh's charter, he returned with the majority of the men and supplies.


    In 1587, Raleigh sent 150 colonists, with John White as governor, and twelve assistants, to establish a colony at Chesapeake Bay. They were to pick up the garrison at Roanoke prior to establishing the colony. However, when they arrived at Roanoke, they discovered the fort empty and one skeleton, which may or may not have been part of the garrison. The ship's captain, Simon Fernandez, refused to take the colonists further and left them at Roanoke.


    John White attempted to establish fresh relations with the native tribes, but was not successful, since there had been the bad blood between the colonists under Ralph Lane a year earlier. The tribes were hostile to the colonists and then George Howe was killed when searching alone for crabs in Albemarle Sound. The colonists persuaded White to return to England for help in their desparate situation. White left a small pinnace with the 115 colonists, including his newborn granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America.


    White departed for England later in the year, which was considered a risk. After his arrival in England, he could not find any available ship due to the winter. In the spring, the Spanish Armada was occurring and every available seaworthy vessel was called into service. White was able to find two ships which were not needed against the Armada, and hired them to take him to Roanoke. However, the captains were greedy and attempted to capture several Spanish ships, but were themselves captured and their cargo seized. With no supplies to take, the returned to England. It took nearly three more years for White to acquire the necessary supplies and by getting a ride on a privateering vessel, he finally arrived at Roanoke on his granddaughter's third birthday, 18 Aug 1590.


    There was no sign of any human at the fort, or on the island. The houses and forts had all been dismantled which led to the assumption that their departure wasn't hurried. White had told them to carve a Maltese cross if they were taken by force and no such carving was found. They did find "croatan" carved into one of the fort posts and "cro" carved into a nearby tree, which indicated at the time that perhaps they had gone to Croatan Island, now known as Hatteras Island. But, a storm was brewing and White was unable to do further searching.


    In 1590, the Spanish found the remains as well, but they assumed that it was merely an outlying post and the main post was further inland. However, Spain was unwilling to provide support to do further exploring.


    In 1602, Raleigh purchased and ship and hired a crew to search out the lost colony. In doing so, he expected to ascertain that the ship would not have an inherent need to go privateering and could concentrate on his mission. But, he also expected to make a profit, as they were to return with a load of sassafras and other plants and woods which are not found in England. The ship made it to the Outer Banks and gathered the items, but the weather turned bad and they returned to England without making a trip to Roanoke. Raleigh, now arrested by King James I for treason, was unable to send any more ships.


    What happened to the colonist in three years? That same question has been asked for four centuries and for four centuries, the question has been unanswered. There are suspicions. Early in 2012, a researcher looking at the map drawn by John White in 1585 and 1587, discovered two patches on the map. One of the patches corrects the coast, the other covers an image similar to a fort. Some researchers believe that these colonists moved to the location indicated on the map, which is in present-day Bertie County. Others believe that the colonists either moved to the site with one of the friendly tribes in the area and then intermarried with them, or that they were captured by a hostile tribe and the survivors made to be slaves. It would explain why there is a tribe in the area that has been identified as having grey eyes and blond hair among it's people. Several tribes claim that they descend from the English. A Lost Colony DNA project is also trying to ascertain the truth.



  • Allen, Morris
  • Archard, Arnold
  • Archard, Joyce, adult female
  • Archard, Thomas, child
  • Arthur, Richard
  • Bailie, Roger, governor's assistant
  • Bennet, Marke
  • Berde, William
  • Berrye, Henry
  • Berrye, Richard
  • Bishop, Michael
  • Borden, John
  • Bridger, John
  • Bright, John
  • Brooke, John
  • Browne, Henry
  • Browne, William
  • Burden, John
  • Butler, Thomas
  • Cage, Anthony
  • Chapman, Alis, adult female
  • Chapman, John
  • Cheven, John
  • Clement, William
  • Colman, Thomas
  • Colman, unknown, adult female
  • Cooper, Christopher, governor's assistant
  • Cotsmur, John
  • Dange, Richard
  • Dare, Ananias, governor's assistant
  • Dare, Elyoner, adult female
  • Dare, Virginia, child
  • Dorrell, Henry
  • Dutton, William
  • Earnest, John
  • Ellis, Robert, child
  • Ellis, Thomas
  • English, Edmond
  • Farre, John
  • Florrie, Charles
  • Gibbes, John
  • Glane, Elizabeth, adult female
  • Gramme, Thomas
  • Harris, Thomas
  • Harvie, Dyonis, governor's assistant
  • Harvie, Margery, adult female
  • Harvie, unknown, child
  • Hemmington, John
  • Hewet, Thomas
  • Howe, George, governor's assistant
  • Howe, George, child
  • Humfrey, Thomas, child
  • Hynde, James
  • Johnson, Henry
  • Johnson, Nicholas
  • Jones, Griffen
  • Jones, Janes, adult female
  • Jones, John
  • Jourdan, Edouard
  • Kemme, Richard
  • Lasie, James
  • Lawrence, Margaret, adult female
  • Little, Peter
  • Little, Robert
  • Lucas, William
  • Mannering, Jane
  • Martyn, George
  • Merrimoth, Emme, adult female
  • Myllet, Michael
  • Mylton, Henry
  • Newton, Humfrey
  • Nicholes, William
  • Pattenson, Hugh
  • Payne, Henry
  • Payne, Rose, adult female
  • Phevens, Thomas
  • Pierce, Jane, adult female
  • Powell, Edward
  • Powell, Wenefrid, adult female
  • Prat, John, child
  • Prat, Roger, governor's assistant
  • Rufoote, Henry
  • Sampson, John, governor's assistant
  • Sampson, John, child
  • Scot, Thomas
  • Shaberdge, Richard
  • Smart, Thomas, child
  • Smith, Thomas
  • Sole, William
  • Spendlove, John
  • Starte, John
  • Stevens, Thomas, governor's assistant
  • Stilman, John
  • Sutton, Martyn
  • Tappan, Audry, adult female
  • Taverner, Richard
  • Tayler, Clement
  • Tayler, Hugh
  • Tomkins, Richard
  • Topan, Thomas
  • Tydway, John
  • Viccars, Ambrose
  • Viccars, Ambrose, child
  • Viccars, Elizabeth, adult female
  • Warner, Thomas
  • Warren, Joan, adult female
  • Waters, William
  • White, Cutbert
  • White, John, governor
  • Wildye, Richard
  • Wilkinson, Robert
  • Willes, William
  • Wood, Agnes, adult female
  • Wotton, Lewes
  • Wright, John
  • Wyles, Brian
  • Wyles, John
  • Wythers, William, child




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