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What was the Lost Colony?

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  • Written By: M. Dee Dubroff
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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The lost colony, which is also known as Roanoke, was the dream of Sir Walter Raleigh. In March of 1584, Raleigh had received a grant from Queen Elizabeth allowing him to explore the heathen regions of the new world in exchange for one fifth of whatever treasure was uncovered. This colony represents the very first attempt at colonial settlement. Raleigh had to concentrate his activities far away from the Spanish domination of the American coastline, which was as far north as Florida. He also had to steer south of Newfoundland, which was infested with fog and hostile Indians.

Captain Arthur Barlowe and about one hundred Englishmen sent to the New World on behalf of Sir Walter Raleigh, arrived on the lush and fragrant Roanoke Island, which was christened Virginia, on a bright summer day in 1585. Protected by the slender sand dunes that would later become known as the Outer Banks, the lost colony offered the promise and hope of new beginnings. The fate of the very first white child born in the new world, Virginia Dare, as well as that of all the other inhabitants of the colony, remains a mystery to this day.

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The native inhabitants of the lost colony were friendly and helpful to the early settlers, among them a brilliant scientist named Thomas Hariot, who set up the New World’s first science laboratory, and an artist named John White. Things went well until Sir Ralph Lane, the colony commander, angered the Indians with his harsh policies. In the summer of 1586, Sir Francis Drake arrived at Roanoke on the way to England from the West Indies. Food and supplies were scarce because ships from the mother country had not arrived, and all but fifteen of the colonists opted to return with Drake.

The supply ships commanded by Sir Richard Grenville, arrived at the lost colony shortly after Drake’s departure from the island, but all they found was a deserted settlement with no trace of anyone anywhere. The following year, in August of 1587, Raleigh sent John White out with 115 men, women and children in a second attempt to settle the colony of Roanoke Island. The colonists rebuilt the charred remains of the former settlement and John White became the new governor. His family, including his newborn grandchild, Virginia Dare, awaited his return from England with more supplies, but he was delayed due to war between England and Spain.

In August 1590, John White returned to Roanoke but there was nothing there. The only clue was the mysterious word “Croatian” carved on a tree, which might have been a reference to a tribe of friendly Indians who lived to the south of the lost colony. Some say Indians killed the settlers, while others claim they moved farther inland and eventually married into Native American tribes. Still a third theory asserts that invading Spanish troops from Florida killed the colonists.

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