Open main menu

Wikipedia β

Roanoke Island is an island in Dare County on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, United States. It was named after the historical Roanoke Carolina Algonquian people who inhabited the area in the 16th century at the time of English exploration.

Roanoke Island
Map of Roanoke Island showing Rebel forts, c. 1862-1865
Roanoke Island is located in North Carolina
Roanoke Island
Roanoke Island
Location of Roanoke Island
Roanoke Island is located in North America
Roanoke Island
Roanoke Island
Roanoke Island (North America)
Location Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates 35°53′20″N 75°39′40″W / 35.889°N 75.661°W / 35.889; -75.661Coordinates: 35°53′20″N 75°39′40″W / 35.889°N 75.661°W / 35.889; -75.661
Area 17.95 sq mi (46.5 km2)
United States
State North Carolina
Population 6,724 (2000)

About 8 mi (13 km) long and 2 mi (3.2 km) wide, the island lies between the mainland and the barrier islands near Nags Head. Albemarle Sound lies on its north, Roanoke Sound on the eastern, Croatan Sound on the west, and Wanchese CDP lies at the southern end. The town of Manteo is located on the northern portion of the island, and is the county seat of Dare County. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is on the north end of the island. The island has a land area of 17.95 square miles (46.5 km2) and a population of 6,724 as of the 2000 census.

Located along U.S. Highway 64, a major highway from mainland North Carolina to the Outer Banks, Roanoke Island combines recreational and water features with historical sites and an outdoor theater to form one of the major tourist attractions of Dare County.

It was, for thousands of years, the site of ancient Indian settlements. Archeological excavations in 1983 at the Tillett Site at Wanchese have revealed evidence of various cultures dating back to 8000 BC. Wanchese was used as a seasonal fishing village for 1500 years before English colonial settlement. Ancestors of the Algonquian-speaking Roanoke coalesced as a people in about 400.[1]

Roanoke Island was the site of the Roanoke Colony, an English settlement initially established in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh. A group of about 120 men, women and children arrived in 1587. Shortly after arriving in this New World, colonist Eleanor Dare, daughter of Governor John White, gave birth to Virginia Dare. She was the first English child born in North America. Governor White returned to England later that year for supplies. Due to impending war with Spain, White was unable to return to Roanoke Island until 1590. When he arrived, the colony had vanished. The fate of those first colonists remains a mystery to this day and is one of America's most intriguing unsolved mysteries.[2] Archaeologists, historians, and other researchers continue to work to resolve the mystery. Visitors to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site can watch The Lost Colony, the second-longest-running outdoor theatre production in the United States, which presents a conjecture of the fate of Roanoke Colony.

Roanoke Island is one of the three oldest surviving English place-names in the U.S. Along with the Chowan and Neuse rivers, it was named in 1584 by Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, sent by Sir Walter Raleigh.[3]

Another colony, more populous than that of Raleigh, was developed at the island during the American Civil War. After Union forces took over the island in 1862, slaves migrated there for relative freedom, as they were considered contraband by the military, who would not return them to the Confederates. The Army established the Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony in 1863, an important social experiment as part of the US government's developing policies related to the future of the slaves in freedom. The Congregational chaplain Horace James was appointed superintendent of the colony and of other contraband camps in North Carolina. With a view to making it self-sustaining, he had a sawmill built, and freedmen were allotted lands to cultivate. Those who worked for the Army were paid wages. When the United States Colored Troops were founded, many men from the colony enlisted. A corps of Northern teachers was sponsored by the American Missionary Association, and they taught hundreds of students of all ages at the colony.[4]

Today the residents of Roanoke Island are governed by the Dare County Board of Commissioners. They are located within Congressional District 1 of North Carolina.



The name of Roanoke Island comes from the Roanoke People who originally resided on the island for at least 1200 years prior to the coming of the English in the New World. The meaning of the word Roanoke itself is derived from the Powhowten language which was geographically close to the Roanoke. Pronounced rawrenock or /ˈɹəʊ.ə.nəʊk/ meaning white beads made from shells. White beads were used as ornaments and currency for the Costal Algonquin peoples of Virginia and North Carolina. The first Governor of Jamestown, Virgina John Smith records the usage of the road Rawrenock in Algonquin language.

Cuscarawaoke, where is made so much Rawranoke or white beads that occasion as much dissention among the savages, as gold and silver amongst Christians […]
John Smith, Generall Historie, in Kupperman 1988, p. 94

In the context of the quote, Rawranoke refers to the items being traded, not people. Roanoke People, were therefore known for the trade of shells that are part of Roanoke Island and the other barrier islands of the Outer Banks.


Geological Formation and Pre-Columbian SettlementEdit

Also see Roanoke People and Croatan People

The North Carolinian Coast began to shape into its present form as the Outer Banks Barrier Islands. Previously the North Carolina Coast had extended 50 miles eastward to the edge of the continental shelf. The melting of Northern Hemisphere Glaciers at least 14,000 years ago caused sea levels to rise. The Outer Banks and by extension the land of Roanoke Island began to stabilize around 6,000 B.C.[5] Roanoke Island was originally a large dune ridge facing the Atlantic coastline.[6].

Archaeological discoveries at the Tillett site of Wanchese, North Carolina have dated the human occupation of Roanoke Island's at 8,000 B.C. At the time Native Americans across North America were developing in the Archaic Period. Archaeologists discovered that the land of Roanoke Island was part of the Mainland when it was first inhabited by the first Native Americans. For thousands of years the development of Native Cultures on Roanoke Island corresponded with cultures occurring in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina.

Around the year 400 A.D the area experienced environmental transformation. The sand dune of Roanoke became disconnected from the mainland by water, and inlets in the Outer Banks turned fresh water sounds (lagoons) into brackish ecosystems. From approximately the years 460 A.D to 800 A.D the Mount Pleasant Culture had a village on the Tillett Site in southern Roanoke Island within the modern day Wanchese township. After the year 800 A.D the village was occupied by the Colington Culture, the Colington Culture was the predecessor to the Roanoke Tribe who were were encountered by the 1584 English Expedition.

The Roanoke People of the Tillett site had a semi-seasonal life style inhabiting the area from early Spring to early Fall , primarily the village existed for fishing. Shellfish was the main diet of the inhabitants with oysters and claims being the most common food source. Plants including acorns and hackberry nuts. Ronaoke Indians had smoking pipes and used plants such as Cleaver and Plaintain seeds for medicinal purposes. Four burials of Roanoke Indians of various social positions have been found at the site[7]..

There were other villages on Roanoke Island prior to European Contact as indicated by English maps and written accounts. Englishman Arthur Barlowe described a palisaded town with nine houses made of Cedar bark on the far north end of Roanoke Island. This second village according to historian David Stick was based on hunting of land animals. All Ronaoke Island villages were likely outlying districts of the Roanoke Tribe's capital, Dasamonguepeuk, located on the western shore of the Croatan Sound in the modern day mainland of Dare County. Upon contact with the English the Ronaoke Tribe had anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 members. The Roanoke Tribe, like many other tribes in the area were loyal to the Secotan. In 1584 WIngina was their king. [8].

The First ColonyEdit

Roanoke Island was the site of the 16th-century Roanoke Colony, the first English colony in the New World. It was located in what was then called Virginia, named in honor of England's ruling monarch and "Virgin Queen", Elizabeth I. There were two groups of colonists who attempted to establish a colony there, and both groups failed.

The first attempt was headed by Ralph Lane in 1585. Sir Richard Grenville had transported the colonists to Virginia and returned to England for supplies as planned. The colonists were desperately in need of supplies and Grenville's return was delayed.[9] While awaiting his return, the colonists relied heavily upon a local Algonquian tribe.[10] In an effort to gain more food supplies, Lane led an unprovoked attack, killing the tribe's chieftain and effectively cutting off the colony's primary food source.[11] As a result, when Sir Francis Drake put in at Roanoke after attacking the Spanish colony of St. Augustine, the entire population abandoned the colony and returned with Drake to England.

The discovery of "Croatoan"

In 1587, the English tried to settle in Roanoke Island again. John White, father of the colonist Eleanor Dare and grandfather to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World, left the colony to return to England for supplies. He expected to return to Roanoke Island within three months. Instead, with England at war with Spain, all ships were confiscated for use of the war efforts. White's return to Roanoke Island was delayed until 1590, by which time all the colonists had disappeared. The settlement was left abandoned. The only clue White found was the word "CROATOAN" carved into a post, as well as the letters, "CRO" carved into a tree. [12][13] Before leaving the colony three years earlier, White had left instructions that if the colonists left the settlement, they were to carve the name of their destination, with a Maltese cross if they left due to danger.[14]

"CROATOAN" was the name of an island to the south (modern-day Hatteras Island), where a native tribe, friendly to the English was known to live. Colonists might have tried to reach that island. However, foul weather kept White from venturing south to search on Croatoan for the colonists, so he returned to England. White never returned to the New World. Unable to determine exactly what happened, people referred to the abandoned settlement as "The Lost Colony."

In the book A New Voyage to Carolina (1709), the explorer John Lawson wrote the following, stating the ruins of lost colony were still visible:

The first Discovery and Settlement of this Country was by the Procurement of Sir Walter Raleigh, in Conjunction with some publick-spirited Gentlemen of that Age, under the Protection of Queen Elizabeth; for which Reason it was then named Virginia, being begun on that Part called Ronoak-Island, where the Ruins of a Fort are to be seen at this day, as well as some old English Coins which have been lately found; and a Brass-Gun, a Powder-Horn, and one small Quarter deck-Gun, made of Iron Staves, and hoop'd with the same Metal; which Method of making Guns might very probably be made use of in those Days, for the Convenience of Infant-Colonies.

Lawson also claimed the natives on Hatteras island claimed to be descendants of "white people" and had inherited physical markers relating them to Europeans that no other tribe encountered on his journey shared:

A farther Confirmation of this we have from the Hatteras Indians, who either then lived on Roanoke Island, or much frequented it. These tell us, that several of their Ancestors were white People, and could talk in a Book, as we do; the Truth of which is confirm'd by gray Eyes being found frequently amongst these Indians, and no others. They value themselves extremely for their Affinity to the English, and are ready to do them all friendly Offices. It is probable, that this Settlement miscarry'd for want of timely Supplies from England; or thro' the Treachery of the Natives, for we may reasonably suppose that the English were forced to cohabit with them, for Relief and Conversation; and that in process of Time, they conform'd themselves to the Manners of their Indian Relations."
Lawson, John (1709). A New Voyage to Carolina. University of North Carolina Press (1984). pp. 68–69. ISBN 9780807841266.

From the time of the disappearance of the Lost Colony in 1587 to the Battle of Roanoke Island in 1862, Roanoke was characterized by isolation due to its weather and geography. Sand shoals on the Outer Banks and the North American continental shelf made navigation dangerous and a lack of deep water harbor prevented Roanoke Island from becoming a major colonial port.

Intermediate YearsEdit

After the failure of the English Roanoke Colony, Native peoples on the island endured for seventy more years. Archaeology from the Tilliet sight indicates that the Roanoke population persisted until 1650. Written accounts indicate visible remnants of the final native presence survived long after the end of the island's native population. A large mound 200 feet tall and 600 feet wide was recorded in Wanchese in the early 1900's[16]. The 1650 extinction date corresponds with the final war between the Powhatan Tribe and the Jamestown Colony that took place 1646. Invaders from Virginia drove the Secotan Tribe out of Outer Banks region.

Survivors of the English Invasion fled southwards and became the Machapunga.[17] The Machapunga fought alongside the Tuscarora Indians against English encroachment in 1711. After their defeat the Machapunga settled and adapted to English lifestyle around Hyde County, North Carolina. Their descendants now live in the Inner Banks of North Carolina and continued to carry some native customs until 1900. Some in the former Roanoke Tribe went to Hatteras Island and maintained good relations with the English, being granted a reservation in 1759, decedents of the Roanoke-Hatteras tribes merged with English Communities. The 2000 federal census found that 83 descendants from the Roanoke and Hatteras Tribe live in Dare County, others lived in the states of New York, Maryland, and Virginia[18].

With Roanoke Island open for settlement, English Virginians moved from Tidewater Virginia to settle in Northeast North Carolina's Albremarle Region. In 1665 The Carolina Charter established the colony of Carolina under rule of landowners called the Lord Proprietors. Carolina under its original name Carolana included the territory of modern North and South Carolina[19]. Early organized English towns in North Carolina include Elizabeth City and Edenton. Pioneers crossed southwards across the Albremarle Sound to settle in Roanoke Island. They came primarily to establish fishing communities but also practiced forms of subsistence agriculture on the Northern parts of Roanoke Island. Most of the Pioneers had originally immigrated to the American Colonies from Southern English Paraishes such as Kent, Middlesex and Westcountry.Upon the creation of the Royal British Province of North Carolina in 1729 Roanoke Island became part of Currituck County. During the rule of the Lord Proprietors Roanoke Island had been a part of the earlier Currituck Parish.[20]. It was during this time that historical families arrived including the Basnights, Daniels, Ehteridge, Owens Tillets,and others.

Roanoke Island did not have any incorporated towns until Manteo was founded in 1870. From the 1650's to the Civil War period the Virginia settlers developed the distinct Hoi Toider dialect across the Outer Banks[21]. The island was ill suited for commercial agriculture or for a deep water port and remained isolated with little interference from outsiders. The nearby community of Manns Harbor came into being as a small trading post where goods were transported across the Croatan Sound. Unlike inland North Carolina the British authorities made no roads within or nearby Roanoke, the Tidewater region of North Carolina was avoided entirely[22]. The development of Colonial Roanoke Island also depended on the natural opening and closing of inlets on Bodi and Hatteras Islands to its east. As in other times the Island was struck by deadly hurricanes.

During the Revolutionary War there were eight recorded encounters fought in nearby Hatteras Ocracoke and the High Seas. These battles were between American privateers, or local ships from Edenton against small ships from the Royal Navy. Patrolling Royal Navy often had little to place to rest during their duty. On August 15th 1776 a British patrol sent foragers to the now extinct Roanoke Inlet in modern day Nags Head to steal cattle. The Outer Banks Independent Company who was guarding Roanoke Island and the Outer Banks killed or captured the entire party. This battle while not on Roanoke Island itself was less than three miles away[23]. Skirmishes involving ships continued until 1780 but no large land battles occurred in the area, Roanoke Island was largely spared from war violence. Independence for the United States had little effect on local residents. [24].

Thirty years later during the War of 1812 the British Royal Navy planned for an Invasion of North Carolina's Outer Banks, the invasion was aborted on Hattaras Island because there was nothing worthwhile for the British to occupy or pillage. The Invasion force then moved northward to attack Chesapeake Bay communities in Virginia[25]. Roanoke Island continued its isolation until authorities of the Confederate States of America hastily prepared Roanoke Island to defend Coastal North Carolina from the invading Unionist Navy and Army. After passing by Cape Hatteras Union forces attacked Roanoke Island in 1862.

Civil War yearsEdit

Map of Roanoke Island showing Rebel forts, c. 1862-1865

Main Articles: Battle of Roanoke Island and Freedmen's Colony of Roanoke Island

During the American Civil War, the Confederacy fortified the island with three forts. The Battle of Roanoke Island (February 7–8, 1862) was an incident in the Union North Carolina Expedition of January to July 1862, when Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside landed an amphibious force and took Confederate forts on the island. Afterward, the Union Army retained the three Confederate forts, renaming them for the Union generals who had commanded the winning forces: Huger became Fort Reno; Blanchard became Fort Parke; and Bartow became Fort Foster. After the Confederacy lost the forts, the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin, resigned. Roanoke Island was occupied by Union forces for the duration of the war, through 1865.

Slaves from the island and the mainland of North Carolina fled to the Union-occupied area with hopes of gaining freedom. By 1863, numerous former slaves were living on the fringe of the Union camp. The Union Army had classified the former slaves as "contrabands," and determined not to return them to Confederate slaveholders. The freedmen founded churches in their settlement and started what was likely the first free school for blacks in North Carolina. Horace James, an experienced Congregational chaplain, was appointed by the US Army in 1863 as "Superintendent for Negro Affairs in the North Carolina District." He was responsible for the Trent River contraband camp at New Bern, North Carolina, where he was based. He also was ordered to create a self-sustaining colony at Roanoke Island[26] and thought it had the potential to be a model for a new society in which African Americans would have freedom.[27]

In addition to serving the original residents and recent migrants, the Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony was to be a refuge for the families of freedmen who enlisted in the Union Army as United States Colored Troops. By 1864, there were more than 2200 freedmen on the island.[27] Under James, the freedmen were allocated plots of land per household, and paid for work for the Army. He established a sawmill on the island and a fisheries, and began to market the many highly skilled crafts by freed people artisans. James believed the colony was a critical social experiment in free labor and a potential model for resettling freedmen on their own lands. Northern missionary teachers, mostly women from New England, journeyed to the island to teach reading and writing to both children and adults, who were eager for education. A total of 27 teachers served the island, with a core group of about six.[27]

The colony and Union troops had difficulty with overcrowding, poor sanitation, limited food and disease in its last year. The freedmen had found that the soil was too poor to support subsistence farming for so many people. In late 1865 after the end of the war, the Army dismantled the forts on Roanoke. In 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued an "Amnesty Proclamation," ordering the return of property by the Union Army to former Confederate landowners.[26] Most of the 100 contraband camps in the South were on former Confederate land. At Roanoke Island, the freedmen had never been given title to their plots, and the land was reverted to previous European-American owners.

Most freedmen chose to leave the island, and the Army arranged for their transportation to towns and counties on the mainland, where they looked for work. By 1867 the Army had abandoned the colony. In 1870 only 300 freedmen were living on the island. Some of their descendants still live there.[27]

Antebellum Period- Becoming the Seat of Dare CountyEdit

In the aftermath of the Civil War the area which is today Dare County was still split between Tyrell, Currituck and Hyde. In 1870 Dare County being named after the famous Virgina Dare became independent from the surrounding areas. Originally in April of 1870 The Town of Roanoke Island was founded and Christened as the County Seat. In May the town's name was changed to Manteo, Manteo became the first place on in Dare County to have a post office. Roanoke Island went from being the outpost of Currituck to being the center of power in the new county. Dare County was allocated lands which included the Mainland, Roanoke Island and the beaches from Cape Hatteras upwards towards Duck[28].

Outside Interest in the history of the Roanoke Island took hold for the first time. The State of the North Carolina protected the historical Fort Raleghi Site that had been the location of the 1584 and 1585 English expeditions. N.C State Senator Zebulon Vance attempted to build a monument in honor of the Colony in 1886 but was rebuffed by Congress because the bill would have distracted attention from Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The Town of Manteo grew as the center of business in Dare County, though it was not even the largest community in the county at the time. Buffalo City on the mainland had over 3,000 on the mainland but the community did not endure into present times. Manteo while technically a new town was a combination of estates of landowners who had already resided on the island for two centuries. The organization of the town did spur new growth, as it became a central hub for the area. The waterfront become a bustling port with a network to Buffalo City, Edenton and Elizabeth City. Local fisherman, boat builders and landowners built fortunes whose wealth was later redistributed into new development.

There are five historically registered sites within Downtown Manteo all the turn of the 20th century. At the time Manteo carried a North American styled Queen Ann architecture combined with unique elements that reflected its costal Environment. Churches such as Mount Olivet Methodist and Manteo Baptist were early community centers that guided local life. The construction of the island's first Court House symbolized the permanence of organized government. Manteo became Roanoke Island's only incorporated town in 1899[29].

As seasonal tourists began to take interest Roanoke became more aligned with the national culture. In 1917 the Pionner Theater was established showing movies from around the country, the theater remains in existence as one of America's remaining small theaters. The transition from a wholly subsistence to a to a partial consumer economy began to gradually take place on the eve of the construction of the first bridge.


  • In 2001, Dare County erected a marble monument to the Freedmen's Colony at the Fort Raleigh Historic Site.
  • It is listed as a site within the National Underground Railroad to Freedom Network of the National Park Service.
  • Home and burial place of Andy Griffith

The "Mother Vine"Edit

Possibly[30] the oldest cultivated grapevine in the world is the 400-year-old scuppernong "Mother Vine" growing on Roanoke Island.[31] The scuppernong is the state fruit of North Carolina.[32]

Museums on Roanoke IslandEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Archeology of the Tillett Site", Carolina Algonkian Project, 2002, accessed April 23, 2010
  2. ^ Powell, William S. (1985). Paradise Preserved: A History of the Roanoke Island Historical Association. Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-0975-4. 
  3. ^ Stewart, George (1945). Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States. New York: Random House. pp. 21, 22. 
  4. ^ Patricia C. Click, "Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony", Official Website
  5. ^ Dolan, Robert; Lins, Harry; Smith, Jodi (2016). "The Outer Banks of North Carolina". USGS Science for a Changing World. 2nd Edition: 50-52. 
  8. ^ Stick, David; Dough, Wynne; Houston, Lebame. "Indian Towns and Buildings of Eastern North Carolina". National Park Service. Gov. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Retrieved 7 March 2018. 
  9. ^ "History of Virginia" Page 7, 1873
  10. ^ Taylor, Alan (2001). American Colonies: The Settling of North America. London, England: Penguin Books. p. 124. ISBN 9780142002100. 
  11. ^ Taylor, Alan (2001). American Colonies: The Settling of North America. London, England: Penguin Books. p. 124. ISBN 9780142002100. 
  12. ^ "The Roanoke Voyages". Retrieved July 23, 2010. 
  13. ^ Belval, Brian (2006). A Primary Source History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Rosen Classroom. p. 4. ISBN 1-4042-0669-8. 
  14. ^ Beers Quinn. David, Ed. The Roanoke Voyages 1584-90. Vol. 1-11. Hakluyt Society, 1955. p.615
  15. ^ Lawson, John (1709). A New Voyage to Carolina. University of North Carolina Press (1984). pp. 68–69. ISBN 9780807841266. 
  17. ^ "Carolina - The Native Americans - The Machapunga Indians". Retrieved 2018-03-10. 
  18. ^ "Algonquian Indians of North Carolina, Inc". Retrieved 2018-03-10. 
  19. ^ "Carolana vs. Carolina". Retrieved 2018-03-10. 
  20. ^ "Currituck County, NC - 1730 to 1790". Retrieved 2018-03-09. 
  21. ^ "Hoi Toiders | NCpedia". Retrieved 2018-03-10. 
  22. ^ "The Royal Colony of North Carolina - Internal Roads as of 1775". Retrieved 2018-03-10. 
  23. ^ "The American Revolution in North Carolina - Roanoke Inlet". Retrieved 2018-03-09. 
  24. ^ "The American Revolution in North Carolina - The Known Battles and Skirmishes". Retrieved 2018-03-09. 
  25. ^ "North Carolina - The War of 1812". Retrieved 2018-03-09. 
  26. ^ a b Click, Patricia C. "The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony", The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony Website, 2001, accessed November 9 2010
  27. ^ a b c d [ The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony, provided by National Park Service, at North Carolina Digital History: LEARN NC, accessed November 11, 2010
  28. ^ "Dare County, NC - 1870". Retrieved 2018-03-13. 
  29. ^ "Manteo, North Carolina". Retrieved 2018-03-13. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ Kozak, Catherine (July 14, 2008). "Mother of all vines gives birth to new wine". Virginian Pilot. Retrieved July 15, 2008. 
  32. ^ Official State Symbols of North Carolina

External linksEdit