First English Colonies
Roanoke Island: The Lost Colony
by Matt Stokes
Research Branch, Office of Archives & History, 2007
NC Highway Historical Marker Program
Related entry: Lost Colony play
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:
Klingelhoper, Eric. “Captain Edward Stafford of the Roanoke Colonies.” The North Carolina Historical Review 94, no. 3 (2017): 283–98. http://www.jstor.org/stable/45184853.
Lost Colony & Jamestown Droughts (NOAA): https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/products/paleoclimatology
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.
Bry, Theodor de. "The carte of all the coast of Virginia". Frankfort: 1590. Call number FVCC970.1 H28w, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ncmaps/id/117 (accessed May 31, 2016).
1 January 2007 | Stokes, Matt