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The Roanoke Colony (/ˈrəˌnk/) refers to two attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh to found the first permanent English settlement in North America. The first colony was established by governor Ralph Lane in 1585 on Roanoke Island in what is now Dare County, North Carolina, United States.[1]:45, 54-59 Following the failure of the 1585 settlement, a second colony led by John White landed on the same island in 1587, and became known as the Lost Colony due to the unexplained disappearance of its population.[1]:xx,89,276

Roanoke Colony
Colony of England
1585–c. 1590
Location of Roanoke
Virginea Pars map, drawn by John White during his initial visit in 1585. Roanoke is the small pink island in the middle right of the map.
History
 •  Established 1585
 •  Birth of Virginia Dare August 18, 1587
 •  Abandoned Before August c. 1590
 •  Found abandoned August 18, 1590
Population
 •  1587 116 
Today part of  United States

Lane's colony was troubled by a lack of supplies and bad relations with the local Native Americans. While awaiting a delayed resupply mission by Richard Grenville, Lane decided to abandon the colony and return to England with Francis Drake in 1586. Grenville arrived two weeks later and left a small detachment to protect Raleigh's claim.[1]:70-77 In 1587 Raleigh sent White on an expedition to establish the Cittie of Raleigh in Chesapeake Bay. However, during a stop to check in on Grenville's men, the flagship's pilot Simon Fernandes insisted that White's colonists remain on Roanoke.[1]:81-82, 89

White returned to England with Fernandes, intending to bring more supplies back to his colony in 1588.[1]:93-94 Instead, the Anglo-Spanish War delayed his return to Roanoke until 1590.[1]:94, 97 Upon his arrival, he found the settlement fortified but abandoned. The word "CROATOAN" was found carved into the palisade, which White interpreted to mean the colonists had relocated to Croatoan Island. Before he could follow this lead, rough seas forced the rescue mission to return to England.[1]:100-103

The fate of the 1587 colonists remains unknown. Speculation that they may have assimilated with nearby Native American communities appears as early as 1605.[1]:113-114 Investigations by the Jamestown colonists produced reports that the Roanoke settlers were massacred, as well as stories of people with European features in Native American villages, but no hard evidence.[1]:116-125 Interest in the matter fell into decline until 1834, when George Bancroft published his account of the events in A History of the United States. Bancroft's description of the colonists, particularly White's infant granddaughter Virginia Dare, cast them as foundational figures in American culture and captured the public imagination.[1]:128-130 Despite this renewed interest, modern research still has not produced the archaeological evidence necessary to solve the mystery.[1]:270

Contents

BackgroundEdit

 
A 1529 map depicting "Verazzano's Sea" extending from the North Pacific to the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks were explored in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, who mistook Pamlico Sound for the Pacific Ocean, and concluded that the barrier islands were an isthmus. Recognizing this as a potential shortcut to China, he presented his findings to King Francis I of France and King Henry VIII of England, neither of which pursued the matter.[1]:17-19

In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to Sir Humphrey Gilbert to explore and colonize territories unclaimed by Christian kingdoms.[1]:27-28. The terms of the charter were vague, though Gilbert understood it to give him rights to all territory in the New World north of Spanish Florida.[2]:5 Following Gilbert's death in 1583[1]:30, the queen divided the charter between his brother Adrian Gilbert and his half-brother Walter Raleigh. Adrian's charter gave him the patent on Newfoundland and all points north, where geographers expected to eventually find a long-sought Northwest Passage to Asia. Raleigh was awarded the lands to the south, though much of it was already claimed by Spain.[1]:33 However, Richard Hakluyt had by this time taken notice of Verazzano's "isthmus," located within Raleigh's claim, and was campaigning for England to capitalize on the opportunity.[1]:31-33

Raleigh's charter, issued on March 25, 1584, specified that he needed to establish a colony by 1591, or lose his right to colonization.[2]:9 He was to "discover, search, find out, and view such remote heathen and barbarous Lands, Countries, and territories ... to have, hold, occupy, and enjoy".[3] It was expected that Raleigh would establish a base from which to send privateers on raids against the treasure fleets of Spain.[4]:12

Despite the broad powers granted to Raleigh, he was forbidden to leave the queen's side. Instead of personally leading voyages to the Americas, he delegated the missions to his associates and oversaw operations from London.[1]:30,34 On April 27, 1584, Raleigh dispatched an expedition led by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to explore the Outer Banks. They established contact with the Secotan, who controlled the mainland and Roanoke Island, and the Croatan, who lived on Croatoan Island. Amadas and Barlowe were impressed with the tribes' hospitality and the strategic location of Roanoke. They returned with a Croatan, Manteo, and a Secotan, Wanchese, who were able to describe the politics and geography of the area to Raleigh.[1]:44–45

Queen Elizabeth was impressed with the results of Raleigh's expedition. In 1585, during a ceremony to knight Raleigh, she proclaimed the land granted to him "Virginia" and proclaimed him "Knight Lord and Governor of Virginia." Sir Walter Raleigh proceeded to seek investors to fund a colony.[1]:45

The Lane colonyEdit

 
A watercolor by John White of the fort in Guayanilla Bay in Puerto Rico, which is likely similar to the fort constructed on Roanoke.

Raleigh assigned Sir Richard Grenville to lead the next expedition, and Ralph Lane to serve as governor of the new colony.[1]:45,48 The fleet departed Plymouth on April 9, 1585, with seven ships: The Tiger (Grenville's flagship, with Simon Fernandes as pilot), the Roebuck (a flyboat, captained by John Clarke), the Red Lion (under the command of George Raymond), the Elizabeth (captained by Thomas Cavendish), and three full-rigged pinnaces (including Raleigh's own ship the Dorothy).[2]:55-56 Among the colonists were metallurgist Joachim Gans, scientist Thomas Harriot, and artist John White. Manteo and Wanchese, returning home from their visit to England, also accompanied the fleet. No women or children were included in the mission.[1]:45-49

A severe storm off the coast of Portugal separated the Tiger from the rest of the fleet. The captains had a contingency plan if they were separated, which was to meet up again in Puerto Rico, and the Tiger arrived in Guayanilla Bay on May 11.[2]:57

As he awaited the other ships, Grenville established relations with the resident Spanish while simultaneously engaging in some privateering against them.[2]:62 He also built a fort. The Elizabeth arrived soon after the fort's construction.[5]:91 Grenville eventually tired of waiting for the remaining ships and departed on June 7. The fort was abandoned, and its location remains unknown.

The Tiger sailed through Ocracoke Inlet on June 26, but it struck a shoal, ruining most of the food supplies.[2]:63 The expedition succeeded in repairing the ship and, in early July, reunited with the Roebuck and the Dorothy, which had arrived in the Outer Banks with the Red Lion some weeks previous. The Red Lion had dropped off its passengers and left for Newfoundland for privateering.[2]:64

During the initial exploration of the mainland coast and the native settlements, the Europeans blamed the natives of the village of Aquascogoc for stealing a silver cup. As retaliation, the settlers sacked and burned the village.[2]:72[6]:298-299

Manteo arranged a meeting between Granganimeo (brother of the Secotan leader Wingina) and Grenville and Lane, to provide land for the English settlement on Roanoke Island. Both sides agreed that the island was strategically located for access to the ocean and to avoid detection from Spanish patrols. Lane began construction of a fort on the north side of the island. [1]:58-59 There are no surviving renderings of the Roanoke fort, but it was likely similar in structure to the one in Guayanilla Bay.

 
Watercolor of a Secotan warrior, by John White (1585)

Harriot and White both conducted detailed studies of the Roanoke area, with Harriot compiling his samples and notes into several notebooks that did not survive the colony's 1586 evacuation. Harriot also wrote descriptions of the surrounding flora and fauna of the area, which survive in his work A Brief and True Report of the New Founde Land of Virginia, written as a report on the colony's progress to the English government on the request of Raleigh. Viewed by modern historians as propaganda for the colony, this work has become vastly important to Roanoke's history due to Harriot's observations on wildlife as well as his depictions of Indian activities.[7]

Food shortagesEdit

Only 107 men would remain with Lane at the colony, due to the lack of supplies. The Tiger departed for England on August 17, 1585, promising to return in April 1586 with more men and fresh supplies.[8] Grenville in the Tiger on only his seventh day of sail captured (after a three-day battle) a rich Spanish galleon, Santa Maria de San Vicente off Bermuda which he took with him as a prize back to England.[4]:23 The last of the fleet left on September, 8, 1585.[1]:60

Harriot and Gans explored the Virginia territory, meeting Native American tribes and taking stock of natural resources. Although 16th century science could not explain the phenomenon, Harriot noticed that each town they visited quickly suffered a deadly epidemic, which may have been influenza. When Wingina fell sick, his own people could not treat him, but he recovered after requesting prayers from the English. Impressed, Wingina asked the colonists to share this power with other stricken communities, which only hastened the spread of disease. The epidemic likely had a severe impact on the fall harvest, at a time when Lane's colony would be heavily dependent on its neighbors to supplement its limited food supply.[1]:63-65

Food shortages during the winter strained relations between the Secotan and the colony. In March 1586, Lane led a mission to the Chowanoke capital, beyond Wingina's control, in search of provisions. To discourage Lane from forming an alliance with a powerful rival, Wingina warned Lane of plans to ambush his party. Lane's resulting hostility to the Chowanoke leader, Menatonon, provoked the sort of ambush he had been warned of. Meanwhile, Wanchese, whose time among the English had convinced him that they were a threat, had risen to become a senior advisor of Wingina. This, along with the death of Granganimeo, further alienated the colony. Wingina changed his name to "Pemisapan" ("one who watches"), and evacuated the Secotan from Roanoke, effectively depriving the colonists of their only remaining source of food. There was no sign of Grenville's relief fleet.[1]:66-69

When Lane learned that Wingina was amassing an Algonquian alliance to attack the colony, he planned a preemptive attack. On the night of May 31, Englishman captured canoes to storm the mainland. The following morning, Lane entered the Secotan village asking to parley, only to signal for his men to open fire with their pistols. Wingina was killed, and his severed head was impaled outside the colony's fort.[1]:69-70

EvacuationEdit

 
Map of Sir Francis Drake's 1585-6 voyage

In June, the colonists made contact with the fleet of Sir Francis Drake, on his way back to England from successful campaigns in Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and St. Augustine.[1]:70-71 During these raids, Drake had acquired refugees, slaves, and hardware with the intent of delivering them to Raleigh's colony. Upon learning of the colony's misfortunes, Drake agreed to leave behind four months of supplies and one of his ships, the Francis. However, a hurricane hit the Outer Banks, sweeping the Francis out to sea.[2]:134-137

After the storm, Lane persuaded his men to evacuate the colony, and Drake agreed to take them back to England. Manteo and an associate, Towaye, joined them. Three of Lane's colonists were left behind and never heard from again. Because the colony was abandoned, it is unclear what became of the slaves and refugees Drake had meant to place there. There is no record of them arriving in England with the fleet, and it is possible Drake left them on Roanoke with the some of the goods he had previously set aside for Lane.[1]:74-75 On this return voyage, the Roanoke colonists introduced tobacco, maize, and potatoes to England.[9]:5 Drake's fleet, along with Lane's colonists, reached England in July 1586.[1]:77

Harriot's reports suggested that relations between the Roanoke Indians and the English settlers were mutually calm and prosperous, contradicting other historical evidence that catalogs the bloody struggles between the Roanoke Indians and the Lane colony. He recounted little to none of these accounts in his report to England and did not mention the disorderly state of the Lane colony, correctly assuming these facts would prevent Roanoke from gaining more settlers. Harriot's text did not reach the English press, until 1588, after John White founded the second colony.[7]

Grenville's detachmentEdit

A single supply ship, sent by Raleigh, arrived at Roanoke just days after Drake evacuated the colony. The crew could not find any trace of the colonists and left. Two weeks later, Grenville's relief fleet finally arrived with a year's worth of supplies and reinforcements of 400 men. Grenville conducted an extensive search and interrogated three natives, one of which finally related an account of the evacuation.[2]:140-145 The fleet returned to England, leaving behind a small detachment of fifteen men both to maintain an English presence and to protect Raleigh's claim to Roanoke Island.[2]:150-151

According to the Croatan, this contingent was attacked by an alliance of mainland tribes, shortly after Grenville's fleet left. Four of the English were away gathering oysters when two of the attackers, appearing unarmed, approached the encampment and asked to meet with two Englishmen peacefully. One of the Native Americans concealed a wooden sword, which he used to kill an Englishman. Another 28 attackers revealed themselves, but the other Englishman escaped to warn his unit. The natives attacked with flaming arrows, setting fire to the house where the English kept their food stores, and forcing the men to take up whatever arms were handy. A second Englishman was killed; the remaining nine retreated to the shore, and fled the island on their boat. They found their four compatriots returning from the creek, picked them up, and continued into Port Ferdinando. The thirteen survivors were never seen again.[10]:364-365

Lost ColonyEdit

 
Death of George Howe

Despite the desertion of the Lane colony, Raleigh was persuaded to make another attempt by Richard Hakluyt, Thomas Harriot, and John White.[1]:81 However, Roanoke Island would no longer be safe for English settlers, following the hostilities between Lane's men and the Secotan, and the death of Wingina.[1]:90 Hakluyt recommended Chesapeake Bay as the site for a new colony, in part because he believed the Pacific coast lay just beyond the explored areas of the Virginia territory. On January 7, 1587, Raleigh approved a corporate charter to found "the Cittie of Raleigh" with White as governor and 12 assistants.[1]:81-82, 202 Approximately 115 people agreed to join the colony, including White's pregnant daughter Eleanor and her husband Ananias Dare. The colonists were largely middle-class Londoners, perhaps seeking to become landed gentry.[1]:84-85 Manteo and Towaye, who had left the Lane colony with Drake's fleet, were also brought along.[1]:88 This time, the party included women and children, but no organized military force.[1]:85

The expedition consisted of three ships: The flagship Lion, captained by White with Simon Fernandes as master and pilot, along with a flyboat (under the command of Edward Spicer) and a pinnace (commanded by Edward Stafford). The fleet departed on May 8.[2]:268-269

On July 22, the flagship and pinnace anchored at Hatteras Island. White planned to take forty men aboard the pinnace to Roanoke, where he would consult with the fifteen men stationed there by Richard Grenville, before continuing on to Chesapeake Bay. Once he boarded the pinnace however, a "gentleman" on the flagship representing Fernandes ordered the sailors to leave the colonists on Roanoke.[1]:89[5]:215[11]:25

The following morning, White's party located the site of Lane's colony. The fort had been dismantled, while the houses stood vacant and overgrown with melons. There was no sign that Grenville's men had ever been there except for human bones that White believed were the remains of one of them, killed by Native Americans.[1]:90[10]:362-363

Following the arrival of the flyboat on July 25, all of the colonists disembarked.[1]:90 Shortly thereafter, colonist George Howe was killed by a native while searching alone for crabs in Albemarle Sound.[12]:120–23

 
Baptism of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America. Lithograph, 1880

White dispatched Stafford to re-establish relations with the Croatan, with the help of Manteo. The Croatan described how a coalition of mainland tribes, led by Wanchese, had attacked Grenville's detachment.[1]:90-92 The colonists attempted to negotiate a truce through the Croatan, but received no response.[1]:91[12]:120–23 On August 9, White led a pre-emptive strike on Dasamongueponke, but the enemy (fearing reprisal for the murder of Howe) had withdrawn from the village, and the English accidentally attacked Croatan looters. Manteo again smoothed relations between the colonists and the Croatan.[1]:92 For his service to the colony, Manteo was baptized and named "Lord of Roanoke and Dasamongueponke".[1]:93

On August 18, 1587, Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter, christened "Virginia" in honor of being "the first Christian born in Virginia." Records indicate Margery Harvye gave birth shortly thereafter, although nothing else is known about her child.[1]:94

By the time the fleet was preparing to return to England, the colonists had decided to relocate fifty miles up Albemarle Sound.[10]:360 The colonists persuaded Governor White to return to England to explain the colony's desperate situation and ask for help.[12]:120–23 White reluctantly agreed, and departed with the fleet on August 27, 1587.[10]:369

1588 relief missionEdit

 
Launch of English fireships against the Spanish Armada, 7 August 1588.

After a difficult journey, White returned to England on November 5, 1587.[10]:371 By this time reports of the Spanish Armada mobilizing for an attack had reached London, and Queen Elizabeth had prohibited any able ship from leaving England, so that they might participate in the coming battle.[4]:119-121[1]:94

During the winter, Richard Grenville was granted a waiver to lead a fleet into the Caribbean to attack the Spanish, and White was permitted to accompany him in a resupply ship. The fleet was set to launch in March 1588, but unfavorable winds kept them in port until Grenville received new orders to stay and defend England. Two of the smaller ships in Grenville's fleet, the Brave and the Roe, were deemed unsuitable for combat, and White was permitted to take them to Roanoke. The ships departed on April 22, but the captains of the ships attempted to capture several Spanish ships on the outward-bound voyage (in order to improve their profits).[2]:302[4]:121-122 On May 6 they were attacked by French pirates near Morocco. Nearly two dozen of the crew were killed, and the supplies bound for Roanoke were looted, leaving the ships to return to England.[1]:94-95

Following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in August, England maintained the ban on shipping in order to focus efforts on a organizing a Counter Armada to attack Spain in 1589. White would not gain permission to make another resupply attempt until 1590.[1]:97

Spanish reconnaissanceEdit

The Spanish Empire had been gathering intelligence on the Roanoke colonies since Grenville's capture of the Santa Maria de San Vicente in 1585. They feared that the English had established a haven for piracy in North America, but were unable to locate such a base.[1]:60 They had no cause to assume Lane's colony had been abandoned, or that White's would be placed in the same location.[1]:88 Indeed, the Spanish greatly overestimated the success of the English in Virginia; rumors suggested the English had discovered a mountain made of diamonds and a route to the Pacific Ocean.[1]:95

Following a failed reconnaissance mission in 1587, King Philip II of Spain ordered Vicente González to search Chesapeake Bay in 1588. González failed to find anything in Chesapeake, but on the way back he chanced to discover Port Ferdinando along the Outer Banks. The port appeared abandoned, and there were no signs of activity on Roanoke Island. González left without conducting a thorough investigation. Although the Spanish believed González had located the secret English base, the defeat of the Spanish Armada prevented Phillip from immediately ordering an attack upon it. In 1590, a plan was made to destroy the Roanoke colony and set up a Spanish colony in Chesapeake Bay, but this was merely disinformation designed to misdirect English intelligence.[1]:95-98

1590 relief missionEdit

 
The discovery of the word "Croatoan" carved onto a stockade board

Eventually, Walter Raleigh arranged passage for White on a privateering expedition organised by John Watts. The fleet of six ships would spend the summer of 1590 raiding Spanish outposts in the Caribbean, but the flagship Hopewell and the Moonlight would split off to take White to his colony.[1]:97 At the same time, however, Raleigh was in the process of turning the venture over to new investors.[1]:98

The Hopewell and Moonlight anchored at Croatoan Island on August 12, but there is no indication that White used the time to contact the Croatan for information. On the evening of August 15, while anchored at the north end of Hatteras Island, the crews sighted plumes of smoke on Roanoke Island; the following morning, they investigated another column of smoke on the southern end of Hatteras, but found nothing.[1]:98 White's landing party spent the next two days attempting to cross Pamlico Sound with considerable difficulty and loss of life. On August 17 they sighted a fire on the north end of Roanoke Island and rowed towards it, but they reached the island after nightfall and decided not to risk coming ashore. The men spent the night in their anchored boats, singing English songs in hopes that the colonists would hear.[1]:xvii-xix

White and the others made landfall on the morning of August 18 (his granddaughter's third birthday). The party found fresh tracks in the sand, but were not contacted by anyone. They also discovered the letters "CRO" carved into a tree. Upon reaching the site of the colony, White noted the area had been fortified with a palisade. Near the entrance of the fencing, the word "CROATOAN" was carved in one of the posts.[1]:xix White was certain these two inscriptions meant that the colonists had peacefully relocated to Croatoan Island, since they had agreed in 1587 that the colonists would leave a "secret token" indicating their destination, or a cross pattée as a duress code.[13]:384[4]:126-127

Within the palisade, the search party found that houses had been dismantled, and anything that could be carried had been removed. Several large trunks (including three belonging to White, containing the belongings he left behind in 1587) had been dug up and looted. None of the colony's boats could be found along the shore.[1]:101

The party returned to the Hopewell that evening, and plans were made to return to Croatoan the following day. However, the Hopewell's anchor cable snapped, leaving the ship with only one working cable and anchor. The search mission could not continue given the considerable risk of shipwreck. The Moonlight set off for England, but the crew of the Hopewell offered a compromise with White, in which they would winter in the Caribbean and return to the Outer Banks in the spring of 1591. This plan fell through, though, when the Hopewell was blown off course, forcing them to stop for supplies in the Azores. When the winds prevented landfall there, the ship was again forced to change course for England, arriving on October 24, 1590.[1]:102-103

Investigations into RoanokeEdit

Walter RaleighEdit

Although John White failed to locate his colonists in 1590, his report suggested they had simply relocated and might yet be found alive. However, it served Walter Raleigh's purposes to keep the matter in doubt; so long as the settlers could not be proven dead, he could legally maintain his claim on Virginia.[1]:111 Nevertheless, a 1594 petition was made to declare Ananias Dare legally dead so that his son, John Dare, could inherit his estate. The petition was granted in 1597.[14]:225-226

During Raleigh's first transatlantic voyage in 1595, he claimed to be in search of his lost colonists, although he would admit this was disinformation to cover his search for El Dorado. On the return voyage, he sailed past the Outer Banks, and later claimed that weather prevented him from landing.[1]:111

Raleigh later sought to enforce his monopoly on Virginia--based on the potential survival of the Roanoke colonists--when the price of sassafras skyrocketed. He funded a 1602 mission to the Outer Banks, with the stated goal of resuming the search.[1]:112-113 Led by Samuel Mace, this expedition differed from previous voyages in that Raleigh bought his own ship and guaranteed the sailors' wages so that they would not be distracted by privateering.[4]:130 However, the ship's itinerary and manifest indicate that Raleigh's top priority was harvesting sassafras far south of Croatoan Island. By the time Mace approached Hatteras, bad weather prevented them from lingering in the area.[1]:113. In 1603, Raleigh was implicated in the Main Plot and arrested for treason against King James, effectively ending his Virginia charter.[4]:147-148

Bartholomew GilbertEdit

There was one final expedition in 1603 led by Bartholomew Gilbert with the intention of finding Roanoke colonists. Their intended destination was Chesapeake Bay, but bad weather forced them to land in an unspecified location near there. The landing team, including Gilbert himself, was killed by a group of Native Americans for unknown reasons on July 29. The remaining crew were forced to return to England empty-handed.[15]

John SmithEdit

 
Reproduction of the Zúñiga Map

Following the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in 1607, John Smith was captured by the Powhatan and met with both their leader Wahunsenacawh (often referred to as "Chief Powhatan") and his brother Opchanacanough. They described to him a place called "Ocanahonan," where men wore European-style clothing; and "Anone," which featured walled houses. Later, after Smith returned to the colony, he made arrangements with Wowinchopunk, the king of the Paspahegh, to investigate "Panawicke," another place reportedly inhabited by men in European dress. The colony produced a crude map of the region with labels for these villages. The map also featured a place called "Pakrakanick" with a note indicating "Here remayneth 4 men clothed that came from Roonocok to Ocanahawan."[11]:128-133

In the summer of 1608 Smith sent a letter about this information, along with the map, back to England. The original map is now lost, but a copy was obtained by Pedro de Zúñiga, the Spanish ambassador to England, who passed it on to King Philip III of Spain. The copy, now commonly referred to as the "Zúñiga Map," was rediscovered in 1890.[11]:129,131

Smith planned to explore Pakrakanick, but a dispute with the Paspahegh ended the mission before it could begin. He also dispatched two search parties, possibly to look for the other villages reported to him, with instructions to find "the lost company of Sir Walter Rawley." Neither group could find any sign of the Roanoke colonists living in the area.[11]:151, 154

By May 1609, word had reached England's Royal Council for Virginia that the 1587 colonists had been massacred by Wahunsenacawh.[16]:17 The source of this allegation is unknown. Machumps, Wahunsenacawh's brother-in-law, is known to have provided information about Virginia, and he had recently arrived in England.[1]:121 It has been speculated that the same voyage could have also delivered a letter from John Smith, although no evidence for this exists.[2]:365

Based on this intelligence, as well as Smith's earlier report, the Council drafted orders for the Jamestown colony to relocate. These orders recommended "Ohonahorn" (or "Oconahoen"), near the mouth of the Chowan River, as a new base. Among the purported advantages of this location were proximity to "Riche Copper mines of Ritanoc" and "Peccarecamicke," where four of Raleigh's colonists were supposed to held by a chieftain named "Gepanocon."[16]:16-17 These orders, along with the new acting governor, Thomas Gates, were delayed due to the shipwreck of the Sea Venture at Bermuda. Gates arrived at Jamestown in May 1610, several months into the Starving Time. The crisis may have deterred the colonists from attempting the proposed relocation. An expedition was sent to the Chowan River, but there is no record of its findings.[1]:120-122

William StracheyEdit

William Strachey arrived in Jamestown, along with Gates and Machumps, in May 1610. By 1612, Strachey had returned to England, where he wrote The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia, an overview of the Virginia territory.[1]:120-122 He described "Peccarecamek," "Ochanahoen," "Anoeg," and "Ritanoe" in a manner consistent with Smith's map and the Virginia Council's orders to Gates. However, Strachey introduced additional details about "the slaughter at Roanoak."[17]:26,48

Strachey suggested that the lost colonists had spent twenty years living peacefully with a tribe beyond Powhatan territory. Wahunsenacawh, he claimed, carried out the unprovoked attack at the recommendation of his priests, shortly before the arrival of the Jamestown colonists. Based on this account, seven English--four men, two boys, and one woman--survived the assault and fled up the Chowan River. They later came under the protection of a chieftain named "Eyanoco," for whom they beat copper at "Ritanoe."[17]:26,85-86

The Historie of Travaile never directly identifies the tribe that supposedly hosted the Roanoke colonists. However, Strachey did describe an attack against the Chesepians, in which Wahunsenacawh's priests warned him that a nation would arise in Chesapeake Bay to threaten his dominion.[17]:101 It has been inferred that the colonists had relocated to Chesapeake, and both groups were massacred in the same attack.[2]:367-368

Strachey believed that the Powhatan religion was inherently Satanic, and that the priests might literally be in communion with Satan. He advocated for England to facilitate the Powhatans' conversion to Christianity. To that end, he recommended a plan in which King James would show mercy to the Powhatan people for the massacre of the Roanoke colonists, but demand revenge upon the priests.[17]:83-86 However, the London Company did not publish The Historie of Travaile, which fell into obscurity until 1849.[17]:xx There is no indication that any actions were taken against Wahunsenacawh or his priests in retaliation for the alleged massacre.[1]:123

Samuel PurchasEdit

 
Powhatan attack on Jamestown

After the Powhatan attacked Jamestown in 1622, there was a dramatic shift in English commentary on Native Americans, as writers increasingly questioned their humanity. The London Company sponsored propaganda arguing that the massacre had justified genocidal retaliation, in order to assure potential backers that their investment in the colony would be safe.[18]:453-454[19]:265

In this context, Samuel Purchas wrote Virginia's Verger in 1625, asserting England's right to possess and exploit its North American claim. He argued that the natives, as a race, had forfeited their right to the land through bloodshed, citing the 1586 ambush of Grenville's garrison, an alleged attack on White's colonists, and the 1622 Jamestown massacre. Purchas offered no evidence for his claim about the 1587 colony except to state "Powhatan confessed to Cap. Smith, that hee had beene at their slaughter, and had divers utensills of theirs to shew."[20]:228-229

It is possible John Smith related the story of Wahunsenacawh's confession to Purchas, as they are known to have spoken together. However, Smith's own writings never mention the confession, leaving Purchas's claim to stand alone in what historian Helen Rountree dismisses as "an anti-Indian polemic."[21]:21-22 Even if taken at face value, the alleged confession is not persuasive, as Wahunsenacawh might have invented the story in an attempt to intimidate Smith. The European artifacts allegedly offered as "proof" of a raid on the Roanoke colonists could just as easily have been obtained from other sources, such as Ajacán.[22]:71

John LawsonEdit

Sea traffic through Roanoke Island fell into decline in the 17th century, owing to the dangerous waters of the Outer Banks.[1]:126 In 1672, the inlet between Hatorask and Croatoan Islands closed, and the resulting landmass became known as Hatteras Island.[23]:180

During John Lawson's 1701-1709 exploration of northern Carolina he visited Hatteras Island and encountered the Hatteras people.[23]:171 Although there is evidence of European activity in the Outer Banks throughout the 17th century, Lawson was the first historian to investigate the region since John White left in 1590.[23]:181-182 He was impressed with the influence of English culture on the Hatteras. They reported that several of their ancestors had been white, and some of them had gray eyes which supported this claim. Lawson theorized that members of the 1587 colony had assimilated into this community after they lost hope of regaining contact with England.[24]:62

While visiting Roanoke Island itself, Lawson reported finding the remains of a fort, as well as English coins, firearms, and a powder horn.[1]:138

Modern researchEdit

Research into the disappearance of the 1587 colonists largely ended with Lawson's 1701 investigation. Renewed interest in the Lost Colony during the 19th century eventually led to a wide range of scholarly analysis.

Site preservationEdit

 
Reconstructed earthwork at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

The ruins that John Lawson encountered in 1701 eventually became a tourist attraction. President James Monroe visited the site on April 7, 1819. During the 1860s, visitors described the deteriorated "fort" as little more than an earthwork in the shape of a small bastion, and reported holes dug by in search of valuable relics. Production of the 1921 silent film The Lost Colony and road development further damaged the site. In the 1930s J. C. Harrington advocated for the restoration and preservation of the earthwork.[1]:135-141 The National Park Service began administration of the area in 1941, designating it Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. In 1950, the earthwork was reconstructed in an effort to restore its original size and shape.[25]

Archaeological evidenceEdit

 
Archaeological research dig at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (2009)

Archaeological research on Roanoke Island only began when Talcott Williams discovered a Native American burial site in 1887. He returned in 1895 to excavate the fort, but found nothing of significance. Ivor Noël Hume would later make several compelling finds in the 1990s, but none that could be positively linked to the 1587 colony, as opposed to the 1585 outpost.[1]:138-142

After Hurricane Emily uncovered a number of Native American artifacts along Cape Creek in Buxton, David Sutton Phelps Jr. organized an excavation in 1995. Phelps and his team discovered a ring in 1998, which initially appeared to be a gold signet ring bearing the heraldry of a Kendall family in the 16th century.[1]:184-189[26] The find was celebrated as a landmark discovery, but Phelps never published a paper on his findings, and neglected to have the ring properly tested. X-ray analysis in 2017 proved the ring was brass, not gold, and experts could not confirm the alleged connection to Kendall heraldry. The low value and relative anonymity of the ring make it more difficult to conclusively associate with any particular person from the Roanoke voyages, which in turn increases the likelihood that it could have been brought to the New World at a later time.[27][1]:199-205

A significant challenge for archaeologists seeking information about the 1587 colonists is that many common artifacts could plausibly originate from the 1585 colony, or from Native Americans that traded with other European settlements in the same era. Andrew Lawler suggests that an example of a conclusive find would be female remains (since the 1585 colony was exclusively male) buried according to Christian tradition (supine, in an east-west orientation) which can be dated to before 1650 (by which point Europeans would have spread throughout the region).[1]:182 However, few human remains of any kind have been discovered at sites related to the Lost Colony.[1]:313

One possible explanation for the extreme deficiency in archaeological evidence is shoreline erosion. The northern shore of Roanoke Island, where the Lane and White colonies were located, lost 928 feet (283 m) between 1851 and 1970. Extrapolating from this trend back to the 1580s, it is likely portions of the settlements are now underwater, along with any artifacts or signs of life.[28]

Site XEdit

In November 2011, researchers at the First Colony Foundation noticed two corrective patches on John White's 1585 map La Virginea Pars. At their request, the British Museum examined the original map with a light table. One of the patches, at the confluence of the Roanoke and Chowan rivers, was found to cover a symbol representing a fort.[1]:163-170[29]

As the symbol is not to scale, it covers an area on the map representing thousands of acres in Bertie County. However, the location is presumed to be in or near the 16th century Weapemeoc village of Mettaquem. In 2012, when a team prepared to excavate where the symbol indicated, archaeologist Nicholas Luccketti suggested they name the location "Site X," as in "X marks the spot."[1]:176-177

In an October 2017 statement, the First Colony Foundation reported finding fragments of Tudor pottery and weapons at Site X, and concluded that these indicate a small group of colonists residing peacefully in the area.[30] The challenge for this research is to convincingly rule out the possibility that such finds were not brought to the area by the 1585 Lane colony, or the trading post established by Nathaniel Batts in the 1650s.[1]:174-182 In 2019, the Foundation announced plans to expand the research into land that has been donated to North Carolina as Salmon Creek State Natural Area.[31][32]

Climate factorsEdit

In 1998, a team led by climatologist David W. Stahle (of the University of Arkansas) and archaeologist Dennis B. Blanton (of the College of William and Mary) concluded that an extreme drought occurred in Tidewater between 1587 and 1589. Their study measured growth rings from a network of bald cypress trees, producing data over ranging from 1185 to 1984. Specifically, 1587 was measured as the worst growing season in the entire 800-year period. The findings were considered consistent with the concerns the Croatan expressed about their food supply.[33]

Genetic analysisEdit

Since 2005, computer scientist Roberta Estes has founded several organizations for DNA analysis and genealogical research. Her interest in the disappearance of the 1587 colony motivated various projects to establish a genetic link between the colonists and potential Native American descendants. Examining autosomal DNA for this purpose is unreliable, since so little of the colonists' genetic material would remain after five or six generations. However, testing of Y chromosomes and Mitochondrial DNA is more reliable over large spans of time. The main challenge of this work is to obtain a genetic point of comparison, either from the remains of a Lost Colonist or one of their descendants. Although it is conceivable to sequence DNA from 430-year-old bones, there are as yet no bones from the Lost Colony to work with. As of 2018, the project has yet to identify any living descendants either.[1]:311-314

Hypotheses about the disappearanceEdit

Without evidence of the Lost Colony's relocation or destruction, speculation about their fate has endured since the 1590s.[1]:110 The matter has developed a reputation among academics for attracting obsession and sensationalism with little scholastic benefit.[1]:8,263,270-271,321-324

Conjecture about the Lost Colonists typically begins with the known facts about the case. When White returned to the colony in 1590, there was no sign of battle or withdrawal under duress, although the site was fortified. There were no human remains or graves reported in the area, suggesting everyone left alive. The "CROATOAN" message is consistent with the agreement with White to indicate where to look for them, suggesting they expected White to look for them and wanted to be found.[1]:324-326

Integration with local tribesEdit

 
Watercolor of a Secotan village, by John White (1585)

People have considered the possibility that the missing colonists could have assimilated into nearby Native American tribes since at least 1605.[1]:113 If this integration was successful, the assimilated colonists would gradually exhaust their European supplies (ammunition, clothing) and discard European culture (language, style of dress, agriculture) as Algonquian lifestyle became more convenient.[1]:328 Colonial era Europeans observed that people removed from European society by Native Americans--even if captured or enslaved--were reluctant to return; the reverse was seldom true. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that, at some point, the assimilated colonists or their descendants would resist efforts at recovery.[1]:328

Most historians today believe this is the most likely scenario for the colonists' survival.[1]:329 However, this leaves open the question of which tribe, or tribes, the colonists assimilated with.

It is widely accepted that the Croatan were descendants of the 18th century Hatteras, although evidence of this is circumstantial.[23]:180[34] The present-day Roanoke-Hatteras tribe identifies as descendants of both the Croatan and the Lost Colonists by way of the Hatteras.[1]:339-344

Some 17th century maps use the word "Croatoan" to describe locations on the mainland, across Pamlico Sound from Roanoke and Hatteras. By 1700 these areas were associated with the Machapunga.[1]:334 Oral traditions and legends about the migration of the Croatan through the mainland are prevalent in eastern North Carolina.[4]:137 For example, the "Legend of the Coharie" in Sampson County was transcribed by Edward M. Bullard in 1950.[11]:102-110 More famously, state legislator Hamilton McMillan proposed in the 1880s that the Native American community in Robeson County (then considered free people of color) retained surnames and linguistic characteristics from the 1587 colonists.[35] His efforts convinced the North Carolina legislature to confer tribal recognition to the community in 1885, with the new designation of "Croatan." The tribe petitioned to be renamed in 1911, eventually settling on the name Lumbee in 1956.[1]:301-307

Other tribes claiming partial descent from surviving Roanoke colonists include the Catawba (who absorbed the Shakori and Eno people), and the Coree.[citation needed] Samuel A'Court Ashe was convinced that the colonists had relocated westward to the banks of the Chowan River in Bertie County, and Conway Whittle Sams claimed that after being attacked by Wanchese and Wahunsenacawh, the colonists scattered to multiple locations: the Chowan River, and south to the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers.[36]:233

Reports of encounters with white-skinned, blond-haired people among various Native American tribes occur as early as 1607. Although this is frequently attributed to assimilated Lost Colonists, it may be more easily be explained by dramatically higher rates of albinism in Native Americans than in people of European descent.[1]:116

Attempt to return to EnglandEdit

 
Construction of a pinnace to evacuate Charlesfort.

The colonists could have decided to rescue themselves by sailing for England in the pinnace left behind by the 1587 expedition. If such an effort was made, the ship could have been lost with all hands at sea, accounting for the absence of both the ship and any trace of the colonists.[36]:235-236 It is plausible that the colony included sailors qualified to attempt the return voyage. Little is known about the pinnace, but ships of its size were capable making the trip, although they typically did so alongside other vessels.[11]:83-84

The colonists may have feared that a standard route across the Atlantic Ocean, with a stop in the Caribbean, would risk a Spanish attack. Nevertheless, it was feasible for the colonists to attempt a direct course to England. In 1563, French settlers at the failed Charlesfort colony built a crude boat and successfully (albeit desperately) returned to Europe. Alternatively, the Roanoke colonists could have sailed north along the coast, in the hopes of making contact with English fishing fleets in the Gulf of Maine.[11]:85-89

The pinnace would not have been large enough to carry all of the colonists. Additionally, the provisions needed for a transatlantic voyage would further restrict the number of passengers. The colonists may have possessed the resources to construct another seaworthy vessel, using local lumber and spare parts from the pinnace. Considering the ships built by survivors of the 1609 Sea Venture shipwreck, it is at least possible that the Lost Colonists could produce a second ship that, with the pinnace, could transport most of their party.[11]:84-90 Even in these ideal conditions, however, at least some colonists would remain in Virginia, leaving open the question of what became of them.[36]:244

Powhatan attack at Chesapeake BayEdit

 
Chief Powhatan, detail of map published by John Smith (1612)

David Beers Quinn concluded that the 1587 colonists sought to relocate to their original destination--Chesapeake Bay--using the pinnace and other small boats to transport themselves and their belongings. A small group would have been stationed at Croatoan to await John White's return and direct him to the transplanted colony. Following White's failure to locate any of the colonists, the main body of the colonists would have quickly assimilated with the Chesepians, while the lookouts on Croatoan would have blended into the Croatan tribe.

Quinn suggested that Samuel Mace's 1602 voyage might have ventured into Chesepeake Bay and kidnapped Powhatans to bring back to England. From there these abductees would be able to communicate with Thomas Harriot, and might reveal that Europeans were living in the region. Quinn evidently believed circumstances such as these were necessary to explain optimism about the colonists' survival after 1603.

Although Strachey accused Wahunsenacawh of slaughtering the colonists and Chesepians in separate passages, Quinn decided that these events occurred in a single attack on an integrated community, in April 1607. He supposed that Wahunsenacawh could have been seeking revenge for the speculative kidnappings by Mace. In Quinn's estimation, John Smith was the first to learn of the massacre, but for political considerations he quietly reported it directly to King James rather than revealing it in his published writings.[2]:341-377

Despite Quinn's reputation on the subject, his peers had reservations about his theory, which relies heavily on the accounts of Strachey and Purchas.[1]:132

Spanish attackEdit

While preparing to compose a 1937 drama about the Lost Colony, Paul Green noticed that Spanish records from the period contained an abundance of references to Raleigh and his settlements. [37]:63-64 Green's play ends with the colonists leaving Roanoke Island to evade an approaching Spanish ship, leaving the audience to wonder if the Spanish found them.[1]:353

Spanish forces knew of English plans to establish a new Virginia base in 1587, and were searching for it before White's colonists had even arrived. The Spanish Empire had included most of North America in their Florida claim, and did not recognize England's right to colonize Roanoke or Chesapeake Bay. The colonists likely recognized the threat this represented, given the Spanish sack of Fort Caroline in 1565.[11]:33-34 However, the Spanish were still attempting to locate the colony in Chesapeake Bay as late as 1600, suggesting that they were unaware of its fate.[36]:238

Conspiracy against RaleighEdit

Anthropologist Lee Miller proposed that Sir Francis Walsingham, Simon Fernandes, Edward Strafford, and others participated in a conspiracy to maroon the 1587 colonists at Roanoke. The purpose of this plot, she argued, was to undermine Walter Raleigh, whose activities supposedly interfered with Walsingham's covert machinations to make England a Protestant world power at the expense of Spain and other Catholic nations. This conspiracy would have prevented Raleigh and White from dispatching a relief mission until Walsingham's death in 1590.[38]:168-204 Miller also suggested that the colonists may have been Separatists, seeking refuge in America from religious persecution in England. Raleigh expressed sympathy for the Separatists, while Walsingham considered them a threat to be eliminated.[38]:43-50,316

According to Miller, the colonists split up, with small group relocating to Croatoan while the main body sought shelter with the Chowanoke. However, the colonists would quickly spread European diseases among their hosts, decimating the Chowanoke and thereby destabilizing the balance of power in the region. From there Miller reasoned that the Chowanoke were attacked, with the survivors taken captive, by the "Mandoag," a powerful nation to the west that the Jamestown colonists only knew from the vague accounts of their neighbors.[38]:227-237 She concluded that the Mandoag were the Eno, who traded the remaining Lost Colonists as slaves until they were dispersed throughout the region.[38]:255-260

Miller's theory has been challenged based on Walsingham's considerable financial support of Raleigh's expeditions, and the willingness of Fernandes to bring John White back to England instead of abandoning him with the other colonists.[11]:29-30

Secret operation at BeechlandEdit

Local legends in Dare County refer to an abandoned settlement called "Beechland," located within what is now the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The area has had reports of small coffins, some with Christian markings, encouraging speculation of a link to the Lost Colony. After learning of the legends in 1982, engineer Philip McMullan pursued a history degree in the 2000s, and coordinated with amateur archaeologist Fred Willard to research the Beechland area.[39]

McMullan concluded that Raleigh dispatched the 1587 colonists to harvest sassafras along the Alligator River, to quickly compensate for the great expense of the failed 1585 colony. All records suggesting the colony's intended destination was Chesapeake Bay, and that England had lost contact with the colony, were supposedly disinformation designed to conceal the operation from Spanish operatives and other potential competitors. Thus, Raleigh's subsequent expeditions for sassafras covered up that these missions resumed contact with the colony in 1597, and were simply picking up the colonists' harvests. In this view, the colony was not truly abandoned until the secret of the colony's location died with Raleigh in 1618. After that point, McMullan argued, the colonists would have begun to assimilate with the Croatan at Beechland.[39]

This theory largely depends upon oral traditions and unsubstantiated reports about Beechland, as well as a 1651 map that depicts a sassafras tree near the Alligator River.[39] A significant problem is that the price of sassafras did not skyrocket in value until the late 1590s, well after the establishment of the 1587 colony.[1]:112

Dare StonesEdit

From 1937 to 1941, a series of inscribed stones was discovered that were claimed to have been written by Eleanor Dare, mother of Virginia Dare. They told of the travelings of the colonists and their ultimate deaths. Most historians believe that they are a fraud, but there are some today who still believe at least one of the stones to be genuine.[40] The very first one is sometimes regarded to be different from the rest, based on a linguistic and chemical analysis, and could possibly be genuine.[41]

In popular cultureEdit

 
Reverse of a commemorative 1937 US half dollar coin, depicting Eleanor and Virginia Dare

Raleigh was publicly criticized for his apparent indifference to the fate of the 1587 colony, most notably by Sir Francis Bacon.[1]:111 "It is the sinfullest thing in the world," Bacon wrote in 1597, "to forsake or destitute a plantation once in forwardness; for besides the dishonor, it is the guiltiness of blood of many commiserable persons."[42] The 1605 comedy Eastward Hoe features characters bound for Virginia, who are assured that the lost colonists have by that time intermarried with Native Americans to give rise to "a whole country of English."[43]

United States historians largely overlooked or minimized the importance of the Roanoke settlements until 1834, when George Bancroft lionized the 1587 colonists in A History of the United States.[1]:127-128 Bancroft emphasized the nobility of Walter Raleigh, the treachery of Simon Fernandes, the threat of the Secotan, the courage of the colonists, and the uncanny tragedy of their loss.[1]:128-129[44]:117-123 He was the first since John White to write about Virginia Dare, calling attention to her status as the first English child born on what would become US soil, and the pioneering spirit exhibited by her name.[1]:129[44]:122 The account captivated the American public. As Andrew Lawler puts it, "The country was hungry for an origin story more enchanting than the spoiled fops of Jamestown or the straitlaced Puritans of Plymouth... Roanoke, with its knights and villains and its brave but onumbered few facing an alien culture, provided all the elements for a national myth."[1]:129

The first known use of the phrase "The Lost Colony" to describe the 1587 Roanoke settlement was by Eliza Lanesford Cushing in an 1837 historical romance, "Virginia Dare; or, the Lost Colony."[1]:276[45] Cushing also appears to be the first to cast White's grandaughter being reared by Native Americans following the massacre of the other colonists, and to focus on her adventures as a beautiful young woman.[1]:277 In 1840, Cornelia Tuthill published a similar story, introducing the conceit of Virginia wearing the skin of a white doe.[1]:278[46] An 1861 Raleigh Register serial by Mary Mason employs the premise of Virginia being magically transformed into a white doe.[1]:280[47] The same concept was used more famously in The White Doe, a 1901 poem by Sallie Southall Cotten.[1]:283-284[48]

 
Recreation of the tree inscribed with "CRO", from a production of The Lost Colony

The popularity of the Lost Colony and Virginia Dare in the 19th and early 20th centuries coincided with American controversies about rising numbers of Catholic and non-British immigrants, as well as the treatment of African Americans and Native Americans.[1]:276 Both the colony and the adult Virginia character were embraced as symbols of white nationalism.[1]:281 Even when Virginia Dare was invoked in the name of women's suffrage in the 1920s, it was to persuade North Carolina legislators that granting white women the vote would assure white supremacy.[1]:281 By the 1930s this racist connotation apparently subsided, although the VDARE organization, founded in 1999, has been denounced for promoting white supremacists.[1]:290-291

Celebrations of the Lost Colony, on Virginia Dare's birthday, have been organized on Roanoke Island since the 1880s.[1]:294 To expand the tourist attraction, Paul Green's play The Lost Colony opened in 1937, and remains in production today. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the play on August 18, 1937--Virginia Dare's 350th birthday.[1]:141,347

Bereft of its full context, the colonists' sparse message of "CROATOAN" has taken on a paranormal quality in Harlan Ellison's 1975 short story "Croatoan," Stephen King's 1999 television miniseries Storm of the Century, and the 2005 television series Supernatural.[1]:185[49] In the 2015 novel The Last American Vampire, the colonists are the victims of a vampire named Crowley; the inscription "CRO" was thus an incomplete attempt to implicate him.[49]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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Historical/Archaeological organizations

Coordinates: 35°55′42″N 75°42′15″W / 35.928259°N 75.704098°W / 35.928259; -75.704098