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After reading the attached reading (“What Happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island?”), please write a 3 page response in which you complete the following tasks:

Summarize the background information on the Roanoke colony

Defend the theory that you think best explains why the Roanoke colony failed.

What happened to the lost colony of
Roanoke Island?
It is one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries: what happened to the lost
colony of Roanoke Island? Founded in August 1585 by Queen Elizabeth I’s
favorite, Sir Walter Raleigh, the first English settlement in the New World was
found abandoned without a trace of the colonists in 1590. Here, Dr. Eric
Klingelhofer investigates…

August 3, 2016 at 5:04 pm

The morning of 18 August 1590, a group of sailors from two English privateering ships,
the Moonlight and the Hopewell, scrambled up from a sandy beach to enter open
woodland. They followed the lead of an elderly man who would have grown increasingly
desperate in his shouts: “Eleanor! Ananias! Anybody! Is anyone there?” The sailors had
landed on Roanoke Island in modern North Carolina, and their leader was John White,
governor of Queen Elizabeth’s North American dominion, Virginia.

White was trying to find his daughter Eleanor and her husband, Ananias Dare, and
indeed any other English settler on the island. Eleanor and Ananias, with his young
granddaughter Virginia, were members of the colony he had left there three years

In 1587 White had returned to England to get badly needed supplies from Ralegh for the
colonists who had wintered on Roanoke. His voyage back to America was soon beset by
problems. On his first attempt, his vessel was captured by French pirates and he was
seriously wounded in the fight. His efforts were also frustrated by a royal order to stop
all shipping because of the Armada threat.

Sir Walter Raleigh, c1590. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Even when White did manage to return, in 1590, another disaster took place the day
before his search on Roanoke. A captain and several crewmen drowned in rough seas
trying to reach Roanoke Island through the dangerous sand bars of the Outer Banks.
Nevertheless, the sailors pressed on, rowing around Roanoke to anchor off its north end
where the settlers had lived. But no one answered White’s calls. No one was there. White
found that a new strong fort had been erected but was now abandoned, containing only
discarded, heavy items. All the houses of the settlement had been dismantled and
removed. None of the 117 members of this Lost Colony were ever located. It remains the
greatest unsolved mystery in the shared histories of England and America.

A new Eden

White’s group of civilians had not been the first colony that Raleigh sent to Roanoke
Island. After his half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert drowned on a voyage to
Newfoundland, Queen Elizabeth transferred the charter for colonizing North America to
Raleigh, although as the new royal favorite at court, Elizabeth would not permit Raleigh
to lead expeditions himself.

Raleigh turned his attention to the North Carolina coast that juts out into the Gulf
Stream route that Spanish galleons took to bring gold and silver from Mexico and Peru.
In 1584, a single English vessel arrived on the Carolina shores and was soon guided by
native peoples to Roanoke Island. Based on its brief visit, Roanoke was described as a
land filled with crops, game and welcoming Indians – a new Eden.

Raleigh promptly sent a military expedition on a one-year colonial venture, exploring
the new province he named Virginia in honor of the queen. Commanded by Ralph Lane,
a cousin of Elizabeth’s stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr, the soldiers were to
determine its potential for profitable commodities and as a base to attack Spanish

Lane found that the land did have some promise, but it was not a new Eden, and its
shallow coastal waters were unsuitable for warships. Raleigh had taken care to provide
expert reporting of the venture, which he used to attract investment – and hopefully
royal support – for later settlement. He sent John White, an artist known at court, to
accompany the fleet that did the initial exploration. White made for him watercolor
drawings of the flora, fauna and native peoples of North America that remain our best
images from the Age of Exploration.

Raleigh also sent the mathematician-scientist Thomas Harriot to spend the year with
Lane on Roanoke, making navigational charts, learning the Algonquian language from
Manteo, a noble from the friendly coastal Croatoan tribe, and collecting samples to test
their mineral and pharmaceutical value.

Thomas Harriot map of Virginia, c1588. (North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy Stock Photo)

By the spring of 1586, however, Lane’s force, faced with shrinking supplies and
increasingly hostile local tribes, were waiting desperately for promised supplies. After
sacking Spanish cities in the Caribbean, the famed English sailor Sir Francis Drake’s
fleet gathered outside the banks by Roanoke. Before he could assist the colony though, a
hurricane damaged the fleet. Lane reluctantly accepted his offer to return to England.

The second colony

This, then, was the state of affairs in the winter of 1586–7 when John White, the artist in
the employ of Raleigh, offered to lead a civilian colonial expedition to Virginia. In 1585,
White had been in Virginia for only the initial weeks, so he had not experienced the
privation and danger that Lane’s men later faced. Most of the group that sailed with him
seems to have come from London, of artisan and middle-class backgrounds. Entire
families joined the second colony, while others sailed expecting their families to follow.
Economic opportunity was probably the main reason for their emigration, though
religious freedom may also have been important.

The second colony’s ships arrived on the coast near Roanoke in the summer of 1587.
There, a dispute arose between the captain, who commanded at sea, and the governor
who took charge on land. White later reported that Raleigh had instructed him to take
the settlers north to the deep-water Chesapeake Bay, which Lane had thought a better

base for privateers and closer to the mountain sources of copper and perhaps gold and
silver. The captain, however, seems not to have felt bound by these orders because he
refused to take the passengers any further.

When the group arrived, they found the Roanoke settlement empty, the fort in ruins and
the mainland Indians hostile. To compound matters, an accident in landing led to the
spoilage of much of the food supplies. After taking steps to repair existing cottages and
build additional ones, the colony’s leaders decided that a direct appeal to Raleigh was
needed and that only Governor White could make it. Before he left, White witnessed two
important events: the birth of his granddaughter Virginia, the first English child born in
the New World, and the baptism and induction as Lord of Roanoke of the native leader
Manteo. These two events must have been seen by White and all those present as the
beginning of a colonial-born population and the integration of Indians into Elizabethan
religious and political structures.

Baptism of Virginia Dare, White’s granddaughter and the first English child born in the New World. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

John White’s return in 1590 revealed that this overseas England had been a dream.
There was no colony, no population, no Christian Indian lordship. White and the sailors
saw fresh footprints on the Roanoke beach – evidence that local Indians were hostile or
fearful of the English search party. Interpreting the letters ‘CRO’ carved into a tree as
the name of Manteo’s friendly Croatoan tribe (White later remembered it also as a full
spelling on a gate post), the searchers intended to sail south to the tribe’s center near

Cape Hatteras. Once aboard ship, though, stormy weather forced them farther and
farther north until there was no option but to return home. No English ship ever did
reach Hatteras, but Spaniards sailing past the Outer Banks saw Natives waving and
making music on European-style musical instruments.

Explaining the mystery

What did happen to the Lost Colony, then? Why did it disappear? When considering
causes for social and demographic calamities, traditionally there are four general
possibilities: war, famine, pestilence, and death. It is probable that all four brought
Elizabethan Virginia to an end. We do know that the Spanish never found the colony,
but fear of that threat may have caused it to move further west. White thought that a
move “50 miles further up into the maine” had been intended. Also, the nearby
mainland Indians were clearly hostile in 1587.

Soon after the civilians arrived, the body of an Englishman who went crabbing was
found full of arrows and mutilated. This local threat was another reason to leave

We also know that Lane’s soldiers in 1586 faced a serious food shortage and that White
in 1587 returned to England because the supplies had been ruined. The civilian colony
had no real leverage to convince native tribes to share their winter reserves. Later,
famine would cause the ‘starving time’ at Jamestown, when Indians there refused to sell
food. North Carolina lacked a single, powerful native polity that might have supported
the colony, so it is probable that it broke up into smaller groups, independently intent
on survival. At Jamestown, disease – even the Plague itself – would again and again sap
the strength of the young colony. Infectious diseases may have had a similar impact at

(Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)

All three causes, if unchecked, led to the fourth – death. White’s sailors came across no
burials or human remains during the hours they spent on Roanoke, so it is quite
possible that the colonists evacuated the island before incurring such a fate. It then
seems likely that the survivors split into two or more groups. One would have waited for
supply ships among the Croatoan tribe on the Outer Banks. The other would have sailed
50 miles westward to a safer and more productive region. Jamestown colonists did hear
second-hand stories about a few survivors from Roanoke living among the tribes in this
interior here, but these stories were never confirmed.

Then, in 2012, First Colony Foundation (FCF), a group of historians and archaeologists
researching Raleigh’s American colonies, asked the British Museum to examine paper
patches on its manuscript map La Virginea Pars, drawn by John White for Sir Walter
Raleigh. The museum staff soon discovered beneath one patch the symbol of a
Renaissance fort, and upon the patch’s surface they noted the faint image of a fortified
town, perhaps drawn in invisible ink. The patch was located at the west end of the
Albemarle Sound, about 50 miles from Roanoke Island.

Remote sensing and fieldwork by FCF revealed no such fort in a five-mile-wide area, but
its teams did unearth metal objects and Tudor-period domestic pottery in one spot
adjacent to a contemporary Algonquian village. Because the pottery would not have
been carried by Lane’s soldiers in 1585–6, FCF researchers announced in 2015 that Site
X (for unknown) was the probable location of a few members of the Lost Colony for a

limited period of time. Excavations will resume in late 2016 to determine more fully the
nature of Site X and to find more clues to the four-century-old mystery of the Lost

Dr. Eric Klingelhofer is Emeritus Professor of history and research

fellow at Mercer University, Georgia, and vice-president of

research at First Colony Foundation.

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