Roanoke Colony and the missing colonists has been one of the biggest mysteries in the history of America. After over four hundred years this mystery is still not solved. What is the story of how Roanoke Colony came to be and what lead up to the disappearance of more than 120 people?
Going back in time to England, we learn that under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh was granted a charter, in March of 1584, to colonize the new land the Queen had named Virginia. Raleigh financed, organized and appointed commanders for expeditions. In April, his first expedition to explore for suitable sites to build a settlement was lead by Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe. In early July, arriving on Roanoke Island, Amadas and Barlowe met with the Secotans and Croatoans, two American Indian tribes living in the Carolinas, and focused on creating good relations with them.
Manteo and Wanchese, two chiefs of small Croatoan tribes, were encouraging and helpful in showing Amadas and Barlowe the land. Barlowe took them both back to England with him to meet Raleigh. When Raleigh was satisfied with information he received from the Croatoan chiefs about the splendid possibilities of a settlement, he sent a second expedition to Roanoke.
Sir Richard Grenville was in charge of the expedition in April of 1585. The ship that carried the men who would be staying at Roanoke had scraped a sandbar on the way through the inlet, which caused enough damage to destroy most of the food supplies in the ship's hold. Grenville appointed Ralph Lane as Governor to be in charge of the group of 107 men who were left at Roanoke. They built a settlement on the north end of the island.
The extreme reaction of Grenville over a minor incident of a stolen cup caused very strained relations between the natives and Lane's colonists. One Indian had stolen the cup, a silver one, and Grenville retaliated by burning the Indian village and having several Indians killed. Grenville then left Lane and his colonists and returned to England to obtain more supplies to bring back.
Tensions between the natives and colonists escalated into open warfare. On June 9, 1586, word came to Lane that Sir Francis Drake was just off the coast and would anchor the next day. Negotiations were made between Lane and Drake. Lane accepted Drake's generous offer to give all the colonists passage back to England.
Grenville finally managed to return to Roanoke with the supplies that Lane and the colonists so needed, but he did not get there till after Drake sailed off with the colonists. Grenville left fifteen men with supplies of food and other necessities that would sustain them for two years, then returned to England.
In 1587, Raleigh sent another group of colonists to Roanoke. Some accounts mention 120 men, women and children, and others say 150. Among them was the appointed Governor John White and his twelve assistants. White's daughter, Eleanor, and her husband, Ananias Dare, were among the new colonists. Eleanor was pregnant and the baby was due at any time.
Upon arriving at the Roanoke Colony, White wanted to confer with the fifteen men Grenville had left there. They found only the bones of one man and no sign of the others. The settlement was overgrown with vines and melons, but the houses were still in decent shape. One of White's assistants was killed by Indians shortly after arriving.
White found the Croatoan tribe and their chief, Manteo, that had been on friendly terms with previous colonist leaders, and re-established good relations with them. When he asked if they knew anything about the fifteen men who had been at the colony, he was told that the tribe at Dasamonquepeuc had killed all the men plus George Howe, White's assistant.
The tribe at Dasamonquepeuc were a small group of survivors of the tribe that Grenville had attacked two years previously. White took a group of armed men, attacked and killed the natives he found there. White later found out that the ones he killed were part of the Croatoan tribe that he was on friendly terms with. White did not know that the Dasamonquepeuc tribe had deserted their town and a small group of Croatoans had gone there to scavenge for any items left behind. With the help of Manteo, it was explained to White and the friendly tribe what had happened and White made his apologies.
White's daughter, Eleanor, gave birth to a daughter, Virginia White Dare, on August 18, 1587. Virginia was the first European child born in America.
Less than two weeks after the birth of his granddaughter, Governor White returned to England to obtain much needed supplies for the colony. When he left, he had no idea that, due to weather and the England-Spain war, it would be three years before he returned to Roanoke . He also did not know he would never see his daughter and granddaughter again -- or that Roanoke Colony would become such a hauntingly famous legend of mystery.