The island of Roanoke in North Carolina holds the secret to the baffling disappearance of a band of English settlers in the late sixteenth century. The early colony simply vanished without trace, and their fate has intrigued and baffled historians ever since.
The story starts in 1587, with the second attempt to establish a British colony on Roanoke Island. Two years earlier, English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh made an unsuccessful bid to establish a settlement on the Island, sponsoring an all-male colony which initially integrated well with the Native Americans already living there. However, the harmony didn’t last as the brusque manner of colony commander Sir Ralph Lane soon angered the local tribe. To compound the colony’s problems, supply ships failed to show leaving them hungry and disillusioned, so when Raleigh dropped in on the colonists in 1586 after a trip to the West Indies, they elected to join him on the voyage home to Britain. But, because the New World offered such potential profits, the English tried again in August 1587, and it is the settlement that was established by 115 men, women and children that is the subject of the Roanoke colony mystery.
Very soon after setting up the colony its governor - artist John White - returned to England with the intention of immediately returning with much needed supplies. However, due to the war with Spain he was prevented from setting sail for three years. When he finally arrived back at Roanoke in August 1590 he came across a totally deserted colony, with only one clue as to where the inhabitants had gone; the word “Croatoan” - the name of the friendly tribe that lived on the south of the island - was carved in a tree. However, despite White spending the rest of his life searching, no trace of the colonists was ever found.
Theories by historians include that they may have been killed by the local Croatoan tribe, or that, tired of waiting for supplies and feeling abandoned, they moved inland and married into other Native American tribes. Another supposition is that they were murdered by Spanish troops on a northern sojourn from Florida. Their fate may never be known and any evidence that may have supplied clues is now long gone. The site of their inhabitation was soon overgrown by vegetation and has now been lost even to the point where historians still debate the original location.
Some argue that the doomed settlement is now under water some half a mile out to sea, as the coastline has shifted significantly since the sixteenth century. With the location of the settlement unknown, it is impossible to dig for clues. Many people have travelled to the region hoping to find some trace of the colony, and if you fancy joining their ranks, make sure that you locate a hotel in Roanoke near the north of the Island, where the settlement allegedly stood. Who knows? You might be the one who finally unlocks the secret to the ill-fated Roanoke colony.
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