The Roanoke Voyages - Page 2

A New Colony for Families

Not long after the return of Governor Lane and Sir Richard Grenville, Raleigh was ready to send his third expedition to "Verginia". He gathered more than one hundred men, women, and children as colonists and appointed John White as their governor. Once again guided by Simon Fernando the colonists set out for the New World. This time they did not intend to settle on Roanoke Island, but look further to the North, perhaps near the Chesapeake Bay.

Raleigh was aware of the trouble that Ralph Lane and his soldiers had caused with the Indians and he didn't want to put the new colonists back into that kind of situation. Also, Roanoke was a small island surrounded by shallow water with no place to anchor large ships. There was not enough farmland to feed a permanent colony. It was clearly not the right place for a 'new' England.

The new colony, Raleigh decided, would be north of Roanoke Island on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, near the modern city of Norfolk, Virginia. There they could make a fresh start and perhaps develop real friendship with the Native people. But first, the ships would stop at Roanoke to check on the 15 men left there by Sir Richard Grenville the year before.

After about two and one-half months of traveling Simon Fernando dropped anchor off the Outer Banks and John White rowed across the sound to the island in a smaller boat to look for the 15 men. He found only a single body. Manteo, who was with him, discovered that all of the English had been killed or driven off to die. The Natives had not forgotten how cruel the English had been to them. Surely, Roanoke Island was not the place to bring English families.

But then a very strange thing happened. Simon Fernando, who had guided the colonists all the way across the ocean and brought them safely to Roanoke, now refused to take them any further. It was too late, he said, to do any more sailing. They would have to stay on Roanoke Island. Nobody knows why Fernando, greatly trusted by Sir Walter Raleigh, did this. Governor John White, who did not like Fernando, believed that the guide wanted to hurry back out to sea. There he could capture a few Spanish treasure ships before heading home for England. It is also possible that Fernando was worried about the dangers of hurricanes in the late summer and early fall. Curiously, Fernando stayed with the colonists for several weeks instead of going back out to sea. Because Fernando didn't leave any written records, his actions can't really be explained.

The colonists made the best of things for a while. They repaired the houses that had been built by Governor Lane's men on the previous trip and tried to learn how to use the foods that grew all around them. With Manteo's help they contacted some of the Natives who were still friendly but another misunderstanding led the colonists to attack these people. They were Manteo's own family! Things were getting worse instead of better.

Not long after, one of the colonists was killed when he wandered away from the English town to catch crabs. Apparently, Wanchese , once a friend to the English, had led the attack. He had returned to his own people to fight against the intruders.

Not everything that happened to the colonists was bad. Just a few weeks after they arrived a baby girl was born to Eleanor and Ananias Dare and they called her Virginia in honor of the new land. Her grandfather was Governor John White! Virginia Dare was the first child born in America to English parents. Another child was born at about the same time but we know only that his last name was Harvey.

Despite the joys of new life the colonists were not at all happy with their situation. They were already running out of food and they were terrified of the Native people. They demanded that Governor White return to England and get some help. They wanted more tools, more food and more people.

Governor White did not want to leave. He did not want to desert his family or leave the colonists without a leader but at last he agreed, and sailed back to England. He waived goodbye to his colony of 87 men, 17 women and 11 children. He did not know it at the time, but he would never see his granddaughter Virginia, his family, or any of the colonists again.


Three Years Later...

It was three long years before John White got a chance to return to Roanoke and search for his friends and family. England was at war with Spain during this time. Spain had gathered a huge fleet of warships intended to sail across the English Channel and invade England. The English called this fleet the Spanish Armada. Queen Elizabeth of England was reluctant to let any of her own ships leave England. All of them were needed to defend the country against the terrible Armada. John White could not get a ship to take him back to America.

The Armada attacked England during the summer of 1588. England won, helped by a storm that scattered the Spanish ships, wrecking many of them. Although the battle was over, the war continued and John White had to wait still longer to find a ship to go to Virginia. He was almost alone. Sir Walter Raleigh still cared about his colony but he had become interested in other things. He did not have the time or money to do everything he wanted to do.

After much searching Raleigh found a sea captain, a privateer, who was willing to allow John White and a supply ship to join his pirating expedition to America. White and Raleigh gathered a new group of colonists and some supplies but at the last minute the captain refused to take them. John White was the only one allowed to get on the ship and he was just a passenger. He could not tell the captain what to do or where to go.

After a voyage of several weeks John White was put ashore on Roanoke Island. There was nobody there. A high fence of logs had been built around the village site but the houses themselves had been taken down! There were a couple of small cannons nearby and White found the chest he had buried before he left. It had been torn open and its' contents ruined. There were no bodies, no pots and pans, no tools. On one of the fence posts the word "Croatoan" was carved. It was the name of another island to the south where Manteo's family lived. Could the colonists have gone there? Were they safe after all? White's granddaughter Virginia would be three years old and he wanted very much to see her again.

He persuaded the captain to sail south to Croatoan but on the way the ship was caught in a storm and could not get there. The captain at first agreed to try again after the storm but then came a more terrible storm, probably a hurricane. He gave up and sailed the battered ship back to England. John White never got another chance and he never saw his family again. .


The 'Lost Colony'

And that's almost the end of the story. English people who came later to live in America at Jamestown, Virginia, looked for answers to the mystery. What had happened to the Roanoke people? The Natives living near Jamestown told some interesting stories, but the English could not find out if the stories were true. One Native group claimed that some of its' people had blue eyes and light hair and could read like the English. Powhatan, king of the Natives near Jamestown, said that there were some Roanoke colonists nearby, working for him! He also claimed that he had killed the English, to discourage others from coming into his land. Did this really happen?

Many people have tried to solve the mystery of the 'Lost Colony'. Now it's your turn.


Where Did They Go?

So, what happened to the 'Lost Colony'? Historians and archeologists have searched for answers for hundreds of years. There are at least five possible solutions that could be right. Which one do you like best?
  1. The Natives killed the colonists on Roanoke Island.
  2. The colonists were all killed on Roanoke Island by disease.
  3. Their town was washed away by a hurricane and the people drowned.
  4. They left Roanoke Island and went to live with the Natives.
  5. They left Roanoke Island and went to live in some other place.
  6. Do you have another idea about what may have happened?

Let's look at each possibility.

  1. When John White got back to Roanoke Island in 1590 he did not find any bones or bodies or any signs of fighting. Bones last a long time. If the Natives had killed the colonists, there would probably have been some remains or other signs of violence. We can guess that the colonists were not killed on Roanoke Island.
  2. When the English first came to Verginia they brought with them diseases, such as flu and smallpox, that were new to the Indians. They had no immunity against them and many died very quickly. Letters written by the colonists tell us that the English remained healthy. And remember, no bones or bodies or graves were found. We can guess that the colonists did not all die of disease.
  3. When John White got back to the Island he found that the houses were gone but a high fence, called a palisade, had been built around the town area. If a hurricane had blown away the house and drowned the people, would the fence still be standing? Probably not. We can guess that it wasn't a hurricane.
  4. The word 'Croatoan' carved on a fence post has puzzled historians for a long time. We know that Croatoan meant two things: the name of a group of friendly Indians, and the name of the island where they lived. The ocean has made changes in the shape of the Outer Banks over the years and not all of the islands look the same as they did when the colonists were there. The land, which was then called Croatoan, is now part of the island we call Hatteras, so don't get confused when you look at a map. When John White returned to find his colonists gone from Roanoke he thought they might have gone to Croatoan because the word was carved on the fence post. John White was never able to go to Croatoan to find out and modern searchers have not yet found anything on Hatteras Island (Croatoan) that shows that the colonists were there. We just don't know why the colonists carved that word.
  5. Remember that John White's group was supposed to build their town near the Chesapeake Bay, not on Roanoke Island. It is possible that they left Roanoke and went to the Bay, using the wood from their houses to build a boat. That might explain why the people, their houses, and their equipment were all gone when White got back. Is there any evidence ?
  6. Almost twenty years later a different group of English did sail to the Chesapeake and start a settlement. It was called Jamestown and one of its' leaders was Captain John Smith. The Native king of the area, Powhatan (remember Pocahontas? He was her father) told Captain Smith that the Roanoke colonists had been in his land! He claimed that he had killed them all to discourage other English from coming to the New World and taking the Natives' land. Was this story true? Captain Smith believed it and some historians today think it happened but again, there is no proof.
  7. Now it's your turn. What do you think?

Some Neat Stuff

(about those words you saw underlined in the text)

Settlement just means a place where people live, especially a new place. The people of long ago used another word for the same thing, 'plantation'. The people who went to live there were called planters. It didn't mean that they were all farmers who planted crops, although many did. The people planted themselves in the new place! Later in American history large farms, especially in the South, came to be called plantations and the people who owned them were called planters.

Most people in the United States speak English because most of the earliest European settlers were from England. The English were not the only people to come here however. The Spanish were first, building the city of St. Augustine in Florida about 45 years before Raleigh's colonists came to Roanoke Island. Look at a map of Florida and notice how many places have names that are Spanish. Let's not forget that the people we call Native Americans, or Indians, had been living in America for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Some of their words are preserved in the names of our states, cities, and rivers: Oconomowoc, Wisconsin; the Oconee River in Georgia; the state of Massachusetts, and Tallahassee, the capital of Florida.

When Columbus arrived in America in 1492 he first thought that he had found a new way to get to the Eastern World of China and India. It didn't take long to find out that this was not China or India but a place entirely new to Europeans. It was a whole 'New World'. Of course it was not new at all to the Native people who had lived here for thousands of years.

Sir Walter Raleigh was a soldier, poet, farmer, and adventurer. Although he never came to North America he was the spark that led to English settlement. In the books and other written records of his day, there are at least 70 ways to spell his name and nobody cared! Tell your teacher about this. See how many ways you can spell Rawley, Ralee, Raulegh...

'Verginia' was the name given to the land in North America where Raleigh expected to build an English town, but if you look at a modern map, you'll see that Roanoke Island is in the state of North Carolina, not Virginia. How can this be? In the beginning of European settlement almost the whole coast of the present United States was called Virginia in honor of the Queen of England. Later, when a new king came to the throne, he named part of the New World for himself. His name was Charles. In the old Latin language that a lot of the people still used back then, his name was 'Carolus'. That's where we get "Carolina". Roanoke Island is located in the area that King Charles named for himself.

The English who settled North America were considered to be Europeans, although their island home is not actually a part of the continent of Europe. Other European countries that explored and settled in the New World were Spain, France, and Portugal. Some of the very earliest settlers were from Scandinavia. Other countries also had business interests here, such as the fishing fleets of Norway.

The word "native" just means 'born' and usually refers to people who were born in a certain place. If you were born in the United States you are a native of the United States, no matter where you actually live now. If you were born in Mexico you are a native of Mexico although you may live in Washington, DC! We call the people who were in America before Columbus Native Americans because they were born the first people of America. The Spanish at first believed that they had found a new way to get to India and they called the people they met, 'Indians', for that country.

"Enemies" are people who really, really, really, don't like you at all and will do everything they can to mess up your life. The Spanish and English were deadly enemies and spent a lot of time and money planning ways to hurt each other. Such a waste. You should try very hard not to be an enemy to anybody.

A "port" is a place on the shore of a body of water (lake, ocean, river) where ships can safely come close to land and anchor. There is usually a town at the port where ships can get supplies, load and unload their cargoes, and where sailors can go ashore and rest. St. Louis, Missouri, is a port on the Mississippi River. Chicago is a port on Lake Michigan. New York City is a port on the Atlantic Ocean, and Norfolk, Virginia, is a port on the Chesapeake Bay.

Back in the days of Sir Walter Raleigh the governments of many countries were in the hands of a king or queen, like Elizabeth I of England. Important people, usually high-ranking nobles, would gather around the ruler to give their support and advice. These people were not elected but were chosen by the ruler for their wisdom, influence, and loyalty. This was the "court". Sir Walter Raleigh was a member of Queen Elizabeth's court. Members of the court were not always wise and loyal and could be dismissed if the ruler got mad at them.

A "sound" is a large body of water near the ocean that is mostly separated from the ocean by land, but it is connected to the ocean by waterways called inlets. Seawater can flow in and out of the sounds through the inlets. Look at a map. If the inlets were closed the sound might then be called a lake because it would no longer be connected to the ocean. There are several bodies of water near Roanoke Island that are called "sounds."

Manteo and Wanchese were two Native American men who sailed back to England with Raleigh's first expedition. They taught the English how to speak the Native language. Two modern towns on Roanoke Island are named for them.

The Europeans who came to the New World built forts to protect themselves from attack by other Europeans and by Native Americans. These forts were often just large rings of piled-up sand surrounded by a deep ditch. Inside the ring, which was called an earthwork, they put cannons. Buildings and houses might also be inside the fort. Sometimes fences made of logs, called palisades, were built on top of the ring of sand. This is the kind of fort that some historians believe was built on Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh's men.

Investors are people who give money to a business hoping that the business will in turn make money for them. The early attempts to settle in the New World were considered a business by the people who helped pay for them, the investors. It didn't always work that way and many investors lost their money when the colonies failed.


Last updated: April 14, 2015

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