1587: The Lost Colony

...we all of one mind, and consent, have most earnestly entreated, and incessantly requested John White, Governor of the planters in Virginia, to pass into England, for the better and more assured help... Roanoke colonists to John White - August, 1587

List of all colonists of the 1587 expedition.
List of all known colonists of the 1587 expedition.

National Park Service

1587 Voyage

 The 1587 voyage to Roanoke, consisting of 118 men, women, and children, was compromised from the beginning. The failures of the previous expedition to find a suitable base from which to privateer, coupled with the lack of discovery of precious metals and other supposed treasures, led many investors to begin withdrawing support. Sir Walter Raleigh himself, even though still supportive of the idea of an English foothold in the New World, began to show a decreased enthusiasm for the venture; the colonization attempt had already cost 30,000 pounds, a steep sum in the 1580s. Nevertheless, in April of 1587, the new group of colonists began their journey.

Led by John White, the colonists arrived at Roanoke in July, but it was not their intended destination. Roanoke Island was to only be a stopping point on this voyage so White could hopefully make contact with a very small garrison left on the island after the departure of the 1585 expedition. Instead, the colonists were to sail up the Chesapeake Bay to find a more suitable area for settlement. However, the flotilla’s captain, Simon Fernandes, refused to take the colonists farther up the coast, the excuse being that summer was rapidly ending. The colonists were left at Roanoke Island.

On July 22, 1587, White and the colonists set foot on Roanoke Island. The only clue as to the fate of the previous garrison was a sun-bleached skeleton of one of the men. The colonists got to work rebuilding and refurbishing the fortification and dwellings left by the 1585 expedition. By the end of July, they had made substantial progress. White, however, was convinced that he could move the colonists north to the Chesapeake, their intended destination, before winter.

Once again, the tenuous relationship between the English and the Algonquian broke down. Shortly after the colonists’ arrival George Howe was ambushed and killed by members of the Secotan tribe, In retaliation, White and his men attacked what they thought was a Secotan village on the mainland. It was Croatoan, staring relationships even further. 

The one bright spot in the month of August for White and the colonists was the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World. Her birth signified the possibility that the colony may very well take hold.

The threat of Algonquian attack, the lack of reliable food sources, and the approaching winter forced White to return to England for more settlers and supplies. White left for England in late-August, having only been on Roanoke for slightly over a month. Prior to leaving it was determined that the remaining colonists would split into two groups; one group would stay on Roanoke Island while another headed inland in search of a permanent settlement and more potential supplies. In addition, it was agreed that, should the colonists leave Roanoke Island prior to White’s return, they would carve their destination into nearby trees.

John White arrived in England on November 8, 1587 and immediately reported to Sir Walter Raleigh.

Last updated: May 14, 2021