Unraveling the Mystery Of The Lost Roanoke Colony

By | October 5, 2019

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Artist depiction of John White’s return to Roanoke. Source: (ancient-origins.net)

One of America’s oldest and most renowned unsolved mysteries centers around the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony in 1590. Throughout the years, the mystery has served as a plot device in various television shows, movies, and books, many of which capitalize on the strangeness of the word “Croatoan” found carved on a post. But for historians, the disappearance of the Roanoke colonists is more ambiguous than mysterious.

It began in August of 1587 when 115 English settlers arrived at Roanoke Island, just off the coast of present-day North Carolina. This was the third group of Englishmen to travel to the island. The first group came in an exploratory capacity in 1584, merely to map the area for future settlers. The second group arrived the following year but were driven out by local tribes. The third group came in 1587 hoping to succeed where the 1585 group had failed and many of the male explorers brought along their wives and children while others expected their families to join them later.

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Map of Roanoke Island. Source: (pinterest.com)

The colony, led by John White, got off to a rocky start. White had orders to land further north at the Chesapeake Bay, but the captain refused to take them further than the coast of Roanoke. At the same time, an accident during landing cost them valuable food supplies. When they arrived at the site of the former colony, it was to find it completely in ruins and surrounded by unwelcoming natives. As a result, it became necessary for White to return to England for supplies before the end of the year. However, when he left, he had reason to believe the colony was making progress with the natives.