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First English Colonies

Roanoke Island: The Lost Colony

by Matt Stokes
Research Branch, Office of Archives & History, 2007.

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The Roanoke colonies, the result of three attempts at colonization on the eastern shores of what would become North Carolina, laid the foundation for later English colonization initiatives. In April of 1584, explorers Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe set out from England to survey the coast near Cape Hatteras. In the course of their expedition, they encountered few obstacles and their positive report prompted Sir Walter Raleigh to establish a colony in the New World. In 1585, Sir Richard Grenville, Raleigh’s cousin, sent seven ships loaded with colonists and provisions to establish a colony on Roanoke Island. Although the settlement survived, poor relations with the natives and food shortages constantly plagued the colony.

After English supply ships failed to reach Roanoke Island, the colonists returned to England, and in the process missed the arrival of a re-supply ship. The ship’s crew found the colony deserted and left fifteen men at the site to await their return. They never did, and eventually the men returned to England. Two years later, Grenville sent another colonial expedition of 150 men, led by artist John White. The third colony, choosing the same location their predecessors had abandoned, saw improved relations with natives and the 1587 birth of Virginia Dare, the first child born to English parents in the New World. Soon after Dare’s birth, White returned to London to secure more provisions for his fledgling colony, only to return three years later to find the colony abandoned, with no trace of inhabitants and most structures destroyed. The vanquished settlement is often referred to as the “Lost Colony,” a story retold each summer on Roanoke Island in Paul Green’s outdoor drama.

Although the first English colonies were unsuccessful, the attempts brought attention to the dangers inherent in creating a new society in a foreign world, and laid a course for future colonists.


References and additional resources:

Lost Colony & Jamestown Droughts (NOAA):

Learn NC resources about the Roanoke Colonies.

Powell, William Stevens, and Jay Mazzocchi. 2006. Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 982-983.

Roanoke Colonies Research Newsletter. Online in the NC Department of Cultural Resources Digital Collections.

Quinn, David B. 1974. England and the discovery of America, 1481-1620, from the Bristol voyages of the fifteenth century to the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth: the exploration, exploitation, and trial-and-error colonization of North America by the English. New York: Knopf.

Quinn, David B. 1955. The Roanoke voyages, 1584-1590; documents to illustrate the English voyages to North America under the patent granted to Walter Raleigh in 1584. Works issued by the Hakluyt Society, 2d ser., no. 104. London: Hakluyt Society.

Quinn, David B. 1985. Set fair for Roanoke: voyages and colonies, 1584-1606. Chapel Hill: Published for America's Four Hundredth Anniversary Committee by the University of North Carolina Press.

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User Tags: 



My teacher is doing research on a cellar and I was wondering, is that part of the lost colony

Comment response:

That sounds like a wonderful question to ask your teacher! Please ask him/her and let us know.

Good luck,

Michelle Czaikowski Underhill, Government & Heritage Library.


who is the goverment of ronoake

Response to comment:

These entries may help. The first one tells you a little about government in the early attempts to establish a Roanoke Colony. The second and third tell you a little about the men who were put in charge, of considered the "governor" of the Roanoke colonies.

Good luck in your research!

Michelle Czaikowski, Government & Heritage Library


What really happened to the lost colony?


That is a very good question! No one knows for sure. Some historians have theories and some disagree with one another's theories. What do you think happened?

Michelle Czaikowski, Government & Heritage Library


I need to know about when they arrived and left :)


This entry on Learn NC may have some of the information you are seeking:

There were two previous attempts to create a settlement in what today is considered North Carolina. The third is known as the "Lost Colony" on Roanoke Island because no one is sure what, exactly, happened to the settlers there or even when it happened. We know they headed to the area in 1587, and that they were no longer there in 1590. We don't know what happened in between, however.

I hope this helps. If it does not answer your question you may also wish to contact Reference Services in the Government & Heritage Library at

Good luck in your research!

Michelle Czaikowski, Digital Projects Librarian


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