About the place many of my things spoiled and broken, and my books torn from the covers, the frames of some of my pictures and Maps rotted and spoiled with rain, and my armor almost eaten through with rust. John White

John White and others viewing "Croatoan" carving on palisade.
John White and others viewing "Croatoan" carved onto palisade post, 1590 voyage.

North Wind Picture Archives

1590 Voyage

John White, upon his return to England in November, 1587, fully expected to be resupplied and have yet another expedition ready to sail for Roanoke by the spring of 1588. Initially, Sir Walter Raleigh was equally hopeful. However, the primary reason for English colonization of the New World, the Spanish, disrupted their plans.

The Spanish Armada, the most formidable fleet in the world, was preparing to attack England directly. Queen Elizabeth I ordered all English vessels to remain nearby in defense of the homeland. England, with her faster, more maneuverable ships under Sir Francis Drake, defeated the Spanish Armada, signaling a shift in global superpowers. However, the battle delayed the return of White to Roanoke.

After the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Raleigh’s interest in colonization began to shift to Ireland, forcing White to turn to other investors to acquire revenue for the journey. It was not until early 1590 that White was able to convince a group of privateers bound for the West Indies to take him to Roanoke. 

Landing on August 18, 1590, White and his men found remnants of the colonists but no signs of life. Arriving at the site of the 1587 settlement, White found “CRO” carved into a tree and “CROATOAN” carved into a palisade. There were no signs of a struggle or of the colonists leaving in haste. 

White immediately began to sail to Croatoan but, as had happened so often before, a storm disrupted his plans and he was forced to return to England, never knowing what became of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

After the failure of the Roanoke Colony and the disappearance of its settlers, John White all but disappeared from the historical record. He died, possibly in Ireland, around 1606, one year before England, having learned from the failures at Roanoke, established the first successful English colony at Jamestown, Virginia.

Last updated: August 16, 2017