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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 carte of all the coast of Virginia," by Theodor de Bry, 1590.  The map is a depiction of the North Carolina coast, then known as "Virginia",  in 1585. Call no. FVCC970.1 H28w, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill. Presented online at NCMaps.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:

Lost Colony & Jamestown Droughts (NOAA):

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.

Image Credit:

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. (accessed May 31, 2016).


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Hi Kate,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing this question.

Are you interested in how the Roanoke Colony was governed or more generally about the government of the Carolina colony?  The Roanoke Colony only lasted a few years, and then disappeared.  The colony would have been governed by a charter and was led by John White.  If you are interested in colonial government after the formation of North Carolina as a colony under the Lords Proprietors, I can suggest some resources.

For starters, here are some resources:

The Roanoke Voyages and colony, NCpedia resources:

Colonial North Carolina, NCpedia resources:

I hope this helps!

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


hey just a question, can I use that image? Do I need to give credit? If yes, who too?


Hi Alexandra,

This map is from the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It is presented online at NCMaps for research and educational purposes.  If you are using it for a school project, you will need to give credit to the North Carolina Collection. If you are using for a commercial purpose, according to the copyright statement with the online version at NC Maps, you would need to get permission from the North Carolina Collection.

Here is a link to the item at NC Maps.

You can also see the citation we added in the References Section where it says "Image Credit."

I hope this helps!  Please reply back if you have additional questions.

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


Just wondering, I need to cite the credentials of the author, so what are the credentials of Matt Stokes?


Hi Demian,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia.

Matt Stokes was an intern at the Research Branch of the North Carolina Office of Archives and HIstory in 2007. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville prior to his internship.

I hope this helps! Please let us know if we can help with anything else.

Kelly Agan, N.C. Government & Heritage Library


Hi, my name is Alijah Smith and I need to correctly cite my source for this website and I can't find the publisher or the year that this website was published (specifically ) thanks in advance.


Hi Alijah,

If you are trying to the cite the actual NCpedia article that you used, I would recommend using the date of the article.  In this case for the Roanoke Island entry (where your comment is located), the date to use is 2007.  The essay is published in NCpedia but was originally published for the North Carolina Historical Highway Marker Program.  

Depending on the citation format you use, your citation might look like this:

Stokes, Matt.  "Roanoke Island: The Lost Colony."  North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program, 2007. (accessed December 2, 2015).


Stokes, Matt. 2007. “Roanoke Island: The Lost Colony.” (accessed December 1, 2015).

I hope this helps!  Please let us know if we can help further with this.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


I'm doing my project on Roanoke island!What was the effect of the little ice age?


Hi Javonte,

That's a great question. Unfortunately, NCpedia does not have any resources that directly address the effects of the climate change of the Little Ice Age on North Carolina.

Here are two resources that may help get you started.  You may want to get help from your school librarian or at your local public library to find resources.

Article on the Little Ice Age and Colonial Virginia (from the Encyclopedia of Virginia) --

Book: Fagan, Brian M. 2000. The Little Ice Age: how climate made history, 1300-1850. New York, NY: Basic Books.  Here is a link to the book on WorldCat --  You can search for the library nearest you that may have the book.  

I hope this helps and good luck!

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


Also I understand that we don't yet understand what happened when john white was not there, but what information did we get when he came back?

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