In 1585, Englishmen (no women or children) settled there and formed Roanoke Colony. The first colony failed because of harsh weather, poor relations with the native tribes, and delayed supplies. When Sir Francis Drake arrived there, the settlers abandoned the colony and returned with him to England.
A second attempt to settle the island occured in 1587, this time including families. The colonists landed in late spring, too late to plant crops. They established friendly relations with the Croatoans, but the Secotans, another indigenous tribe, remained hostile.
Shortly after they arrived, a colonist was killed by natives while searching alone for crabs. Fearing for their safety and with dwindling food supplies, they asked John White to return to England for help.
White, grandfather of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World, left the colony to gather more supplies from England. He provided instructions, that if the settlers left the colony, they were to carve the name of their destination with a Maltese cross.
His return was to take three months. Instead, the war between England and Spain delayed him for three years.
When he finally returned to Roanoke, the settlement was abandoned and the colonists had vanished. The cabins had been taken down, and the livestock was gone.
The only clues left behind were two graves, the letters ‘CRO’ carvd into a tree and ‘croatoan’ carved into a fort post. Over one hundred people – ninety men, seventeen women and eleven children – had completely disappeared.
So why did they leave and where did they go?
Climatologists and researchers have found evidence in the tree rings on the island of a massive three-year drought from 1587-1589, when the colonists were attempting to found their settlement.
It is probable that they were in desperate need of food, due to the drought and lack of supplies. When John White didn’t return in three months as expected, the colonists may have abandoned the island in search of a place with better food sources.
Some believe that the settlers moved to a nearby island and settled with the Croatoan Indians there. John White attempted to sail to Croatoan Island, but bad weather prevented him. He returned to England, never knowing the fate of his daughter and her family.
Another theory is that some of the native Indians in the area continued to be hostile to the newcomers, as they were with the first settlement in 1587. Perhaps the natives wiped out the settlers to discourage future attempts at colonizing the island.
Roanoke Island is located in The Outer Banks off North Carolina. The Outer Banks experience hurricanes, Nor’easters (rain, sometimes snow or mixed precipitation), and other ocean-driven storms.
It is possible that a violent storm destroyed the colony and removed all signs of the settlers.
The Croatoans believed that Roanoke Island had a spirit. If this spirit was angered, it had the power to change those who offended it into the form of animals, trees and rocks.
Perhaps the people didn’t disappear, but were transformed and became part of the island themselves.
I like the last theory the best. I would love to write a story about the colony and its hardships. Along with meager food supplies and the danger from native tribes, the settlers would be mysteriously disappearing, one or two each day.
What do you think happened to the settlers on Roanoke Island?