The Lost Colony was Elizabethan courtier and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh's third
expedition to “Verginia” (they spelled it that way). Raleigh sent the expedition
in 1587, right after the return of two previous expeditions by Sir Richard Grenville
and Ralph Lane. Part of Raleigh's expedition was to check on the 15 men left by them
at Roanoke, on the coast of what is now North Carolina.
Raleigh didn't want to land on Roanoke Island. He wanted to look farther north, to
perhaps the Chesapeake Bay area, in order to find a suitable place for settlement.
He was not impressed with the swampy coast and dangerous shoals of Roanoke Island
and the Outer Banks and would have preferred the stretch of America now known as
New England. Roanoke didn't have enough farmland to feed a lot of people, the water
around it was too shallow to anchor large ships, and Grenville's men had already
clashed with hostile Indians there, who might attack the colony.
On April 26, 1587, about 170 men, women and children left England, intending to set
up a colony in the Chesapeake Bay area. Their first stop was to be Roanoke Island
to check on the men left by Grenville. Sir Walter Raleigh appointed John White as
the colony's governor, and Simon Fernando as the ship's captain. Others on this voyage
included John White's daughter and son-in-law, Eleanor and Ananias Dare.
The trip to North Carolina was tense, for White and Fernando were constantly fighting.
When the ship, the Red Lion, stopped at Roanoke Island to check on the 15 men, left
by Grenville, Simon Fernando refused to go any farther. Fernando was greatly trusted
by Sir Walter Raleigh and no one knows the true reason as to why he stopped. He may
have been worried about hurricane season. Others say he was more interested in imitating
Sir Francis Drake and he wanted to go pirating gold-filled Spanish ships. The fifteen
men who had been at the Roanoke fort were all gone and the stockade they had built
was deserted. This should have given the colonists pause, but the captain more or
less dumped them on Roanoke and sailed away.
The stranded colonists did their best to rebuild the houses built by Grenville's
men, and to learn to use the foods around them. On August 18, 1587, Eleanor gave
birth to her first child. She was named Virginia after the queen and their new home.
Virginia Dare was the first English child born in America.
After a while, the colonists started running out of supplies. Luckily, a passing
English vessel put in and visited the colony and was able to help out with some basics
like powder and nails, although not much with food. The colony wanted John White
to go back for more supplies. John White didn't want to leave the colony, especially
his new granddaughter, Virginia. But he agreed in the end. The colony wanted more
food, supplies, and people. Around August 25, John White set sail for England.
Unfortunately he sailed right into the "Year of the Armada," 1588, and every English
ship was pressed into service to fight off the Spanish invasion. Due to England's
war with Spain and also due to assorted bureaucratic and logistic cock-ups, it took
three years for John White to return to Roanoke to find the colony.
To his lifelong horror and grief, he found—nothing. The settlement was deserted and
the cabins and stockade were decaying. Even the Indians wouldn't go near the place,
believing it to be haunted. He looked around the log boundary of the fort. On one
of the post was the word "Croatoan." White desperately wanted to sail to Croatoan
Island to find his daughter, but a storm was coming and the ship couldn't make it.
The captain turned back to England, carrying the broken-hearted White into obscurity.
For years after the disappearance of this group, English explorers and travelers
tried to locate the missing group. Jamestown was settled twenty years later, in 1607,
and over the next thirty years a number of expeditions went south into the Carolina
swamp country to try and find any survivors of the Roanoke colony, or at least some
clue to what happened. The Indians clammed up and refused to say anything, and were
of course blamed for massacring the English, but the still-standing site had shown
no signs of violence or destruction when White found it in 1590.
Stories of blue-eyed, English speaking natives were told, but no hard evidence of
connection to this particular group was ever found. To this day people are looking
for reasons for the colony's disappearance. Clues and theories have been created
and tested, but no one knows for sure what happened. The only possible clue to the
settlers' fate lies in several very odd groups of "Indians" which were found in North
Carolina several generations. One of these, who call themselves Lumbees, are a mulatto
people centered in Robeson County, North Carolina, and have among them a number of
very old names such as Locklear, Oxendine, Brayboy, Spaulding, Hunt, and Swet—names
present among the 170 Roanoke colonists who came over in Elizabethan times.
Of little Virginia Dare no trace was ever found, but to this day there are legends
among both the black and white people of the coast, stories that speak of a ghostly
figure that walks the swamps and sand dunes around Manteo, North Carolina—a golden-haired
little girl, crying for parents and a people long vanished.