In 1584, explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe were the first English explorers to set
eyes on the North Carolina. They had been sent to the area by Sir Walter Raleigh with
the mission of scouting the broad sounds and estuaries in search of an ideal
location for settlement. Amadas and Barlowe wrote glowing reports of the Albemarle Region,
and when they returned to England a year later with two Natives, Manteo
and Wanchese, all of Britain was abuzz with talk of the New World's wonders.
Queen Elizabeth herself was impressed, and she granted Raleigh a patent to
all the lands he could occupy. She named the new land "Virginia", in honor of
the Virgin Queen, and the next year, Raleigh sent a party of 100 soldiers,
craftsmen and scholars to Roanoke Island.
Under the direction of Ralph Lane, the garrison was doomed from the
beginning. They arrived too late in the season for planting, and supplies were
dwindling rapidly. To make matters worse, Lane, a military captain, alienated
the neighboring Roanoke Indians, and ultimately sealed his own fate by murdering
their chief, Wingina over a stolen cup. By 1586, when Sir Francis Drake stopped at
Roanoke after a plundering expedition, Lane and his men had had enough. They abandoned
the settlement and returned to England.
Raleigh was angry with Lane but not deterred from his mission. He recruited
117 men, women and children for a more permanent settlement, and appointed John
White governor of the new "Cittie of Raleigh.". Among the colonists were White's
pregnant daughter, Eleanor Dare, his son-in-law Annanias Dare, and the Croatoan Indian
Raleigh had since decided that the Chesapeake Bay area was a better site for
settlement, and he hired Simon Fernandes, a Portuguese pilot familiar with the
area, to transport the colonists there. Fernandes, however, was by trade a
privateer in the escalating war between Spain and England. By the time the
caravan arrived at Roanoke Island in July 1587, Fernandes had grown impatient with
White and anxious to resume the hunt for Spanish shipping. He ordered the colonists
ashore on Roanoke Island.
Because of the deteriorated relations with the natives, the colonists were
uneasy at the prospect of remaining on Roanoke Island. But Fernandes left them
no choice. They unloaded their belonging and supplies and repaired Lane's fort.
On August 18, 1587, Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter she named Virginia,
the first English child born on American
soil. Ten days later, Ferndades departed for England, taking along an anxious
John White, who hesitantly decided to return to England for supplies.
Upon his arrival in Britain, White found himself trapped by the impending
invasion of the Spanish Armada. Finally, two years after the stunning defeat of
the Armada, he again departed for Roanoke Island. He arrived on August 18,
1590--his grand daughter's third birthday--and found the Cittie of Raleigh
deserted, plundered, and surrounded "with a high pallisado of great trees, with
cortynes and flankers, very fort-like". On one of the palisades, he found the
single word "CROATOAN" carved into the surface, and the letters "CRO" carved
into a nearby tree.
White knew the carvings were "to signifie the place, where I should find the
planters seated, according to a secret token agreed upon betweene them and me at
my last departure from them...for at my coming away, they were prepared to
remove 50 miles into the maine". He had also instructed the colonists that,
should they be forced to leave the island under duress, they should carve a
Maltese cross above their destination. White found no such sign, and he had
every hope that he would locate the colony and his family at Croatoan, the home
of Chief Manteo's people south of Roanoke on present-day Hatteras Island.
Before he could make further exploration, however, a hurricane arose,
damaging his ships and forcing him back to England. Despite repeated attempts,
he was never again able to raise the funding and resources to make the trip to
America again. Raleigh had given up hope of settlement, and White died many
years later on one of Raleigh's estates, ignorant to the fate of his family and
The 117 pioneers of Roanoke Island had vanished into the great wilderness.