It was on April 26, 1607 that about a hundred English settlers arrived at the Chesapeake Bay. I didn’t know until my reading that only after they landed did the Captain Christopher Newport open the sealed orders from the Virginia Company. There were several surprises. John Smith was named to the Governing Council. Smith had been charged with mutiny on the voyage and was scheduled to be hanged. The orders also directed them to choose an inland site for their colony. So, they left Cape Henry and made their way up the James River. A couple of weeks later, they landed on an island that seemed like a good location and named it Jamestown, in honor of their king, James I.
But that was not the first attempt to establish a permanent English settlement in what Shakespeare would call a “brave new world.” That honor would go to the Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island (in present-day North Carolina). That attempt came from Queen Elizabeth I’s desire for a settlement.
This failed settlement ended with the final group of colonists disappearing during the Anglo-Spanish War. It had been three years since they had received their last shipment of supplies from England and when the island was found deserted, their disappearance gave rise to the nickname “The Lost Colony”.
We still don’t know today in any conclusive way what happened to the colonists.
More than a decade after it became The Lost Colony, Sir Walter Raleigh decided to find out what happened. In a sense it was his colony because he had gained his brother’s charter from Queen Elizabeth I to form the colony, though he executed the charter through delegates. (One being Richard Grenville, a distant cousin.)
He sent out an expedition led by Samuel Mace in 1602 to Roanoke. But the ship first landed in the Outer Banks to gather aromatic woods or plants such as sassafras that could turn a profit for the voyage back in England. Bad weather forced them to return without even making it to Roanoke Island. In England, Raleigh had been arrested for treason and so no further missions were planned.
There are a good number of theories for what happened to the colonists. (I’ll pass on any alien abduction scenarios.) One that seems to have good evidence is that the colony’s remaining survivors sought shelter with the Chowanoke tribe to survive. That tribe was attacked by another tribe that has been identified as the “Mandoag” (an Algonquian word that was generically used to identify an enemy nations) or the Tuscarora (Iroquois-speaking) or the Eno, also known as the Wainoke.
Evidence for this theory points to the “Zuniga Map” drawn about 1607 by the Jamestown settler Francis Nelson. The map says “four men clothed that came from roonock” were living in an Iroquois site. A history written by another Jamestown colonist reported that the Indian settlements of Peccarecanick and Ochanahoen had two-story houses with stone walls that were designed by Roanoke settlers.
Sightings of European captives at various Indian settlements during this time period were fairly common. An account in 1612 claimed that that four English men, two boys and one girl had been sighted at the Eno settlement of Ritanoc. It has been 400 years, and people still theorize that the captive girl was Virginia Dare. Virginia was the first child born in the Americas to English parents. She was born in the Roanoke Colony.
The Hatteras Indians spent a good amount of time living on “Ronoak-Island” and told stories that their ancestors were white people. The Hatteras were found to have gray eyes which does not occur with other Native Americans.
Whether the colonist moved permanently into Indian tribes or not, another theory is that the survivors simply relocated westward.
Captain John Smith and the Jamestown colonists were told in their charter to locate the Roanoke colonists. Chief Powhatan told Captain Smith that he had wiped out the Roanoke colonists just prior to the arrival of the Jamestown settlers because they were living with the Chesepian. The Chespian the Chief’s Powhatan Confederacy.
Another possibility is that the colonists tried to return to England on their own using a pinnace and several small ships they were left for coastal exploration. They were ill-prepared for an ocean crossing and perished.
Less likely theories include that the Spanish destroyed the colony. Earlier the Spanish had destroyed French colonies at Fort Charles (South Carolina) and Fort Caroline (Florida) but the Spanish recorded that they were looking for the location of England’s failed colony as late as 1600, ten years after the colony was reported to be missing.
In the late 1930s, a series of stones were “discovered” that claimed to have been written by Eleanor Dare, mother of Virginia Dare, telling of the travelings of the colonists and their end. But most historians believe that they are a fraud.
Unfortunately, there is not much archaeological evidence due to shoreline erosion on the island. A fort was found on the north shore and the settlement was assumed to be nearby. The northern shore, between 1851 and 1970, lost 928 feet because of erosion. Assuming erosion to have been similar in the time leading up to and following the brief life of the settlement, the site of any dwellings is under water.