The Lost Colony

by Sarah Masih

Holding the title for one of America’s oldest unsolved puzzle is the mystery of the Roanoke Colony.

This colony was the first settlement of the English in the ‘New World’. Led by Sir Walter Raleigh in August of 1585.

First Try

In 1586, about 115 people came from England to this colony. They settled in the land of Roanoke, in present-day North Carolina. The colony didn’t thrive for long. Their food supplies ran out quickly and the native Indians attacked constantly.

In 1586, they decided that they needed to head back. They all boarded a ship captained by Sir Francis Drake and traveled back to England.

Second Attempt

A year later, Raleigh sent another troupe of people under John White. After dropping them off, he returned to England to bring back more supplies. Unfortunately, he was held back because of a war.

Finally, he returned in 1590 to find that all the people had disappeared! The only clue was a single word carved into a tree. That word was ‘Croatoan’.


Many people have tried to make sense of the disappearance.

John White himself thought that the colonists simply moved down to Croatoan island above 50 miles away. Unfortunately, none of the settlers were found there. There were even theories about the Croatoan Native American’s killing all the colonists.

Other hypotheses tell stories about the colonists trying to sail back to England on their own and getting lost at sea. Others say that while they were traveling back, they were attacked by blood-thirsty Spaniards who settled in present-day Florida. Or they were taken in by a friendly tribe.

In 1988, some scientists studying the trees in that area found that there was an extreme drought between the years of 1587 and 1589. The drought is taken to be one of the factors for the disappearance.

In 2007, a group of scientists tested the DNA of people living in modern-day Roanoke in hopes to match their DNA to the ones of the colonists. Unfortunately, all their efforts were unsuccessful.

Treasure Hunt?

National Geographic made some very interesting discoveries. Their research was somewhat of a scavenger hunt. One of their main tools was a map.

This old tattered map is called “La Virginea Pars” and was drawn by John White. White was the grandfather to Virginia Dare, the first English child to take birth in the New World. Virginia was one of the missing cases.

Two patches stood out on the map, and it made archeologists wonder if they’d found something new. Inside those patches were red and blue dots.

Researchers think that those dots might represent hidden forts or hiding places. They were kept away to keep other foreigners from finding out about their colony.

The Question of Survival

After hearing about the map, the first question that came to my mind was:

Why did they need to go into hiding?

Most experts think it was due to an unknown disease or violence or maybe the drought. It may have been their only way of survival. Very few native tribes would’ve taken them in, due to their hate for these foreigners.

The best theories say that the colonists split into small groups and hid away. More research shows that some settlers didn’t move to Croatoan island, rather they went to Mettaquem. In Mettaquem, they might have found a safe home.

Taking Advantage of Modern Advances

What better way to research old ruin than technology?

Scientists use the old maps to compare the past and the present. What could have been and what is. A particular device can track some objects underground.

Objects like antennas, or coffins can be identified. A team found structures made of wood and mud. They could've joined structures or separate buildings.

Scientists also think that the remains were a type of fence used to separate farms. Whether they were buildings or tools, evidence indicates signs of colonization. Though scientists have figured out that people were living in that area, the puzzling part is the role of the Native American populations there.

Did the natives take in the colonists, did they attack the colonists and take over the land?

No one knows!

Foreign Relations

Most of the tribes hated the new colonists. They felt that the English had come to steal their land away from them and in a way they were right.

The other tribes, however, felt that they had to welcome the new travelers with open arms. The tribes that welcomed the colonists were often attacked by tribes that didn’t like the colonists. Other times, the tribes attacked the colonists themselves.

Researchers can only guess about what happened to the Roanoke colony.

Using pieces of the past and clues from the present, maybe we’ll finally discover the answer.





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