NPS Logo

Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading


Explorers and Settlers
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

North Carolina

Location: Dare County, on N.C. 345, about 3 miles north of Manteo, on Roanoke Island; address, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, on Roanoke Island, is the scene of the earliest English colonizing attempts within the limits of the present United States and the birthplace of the first English child born in the New World, Virginia Dare, on August 18, 1587. Two attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh at settlement, in 1585-86 and 1587, failed because of supply problems and Indian attacks.

The first colony, originally consisting of 108 persons, was founded by Raleigh's cousin, Sir Richard Grenville. Settling on the north end of Roanoke Island in 1585, the colonists constructed dwellings and a fort and began to plant crops and explore the area, while Grenville returned to England for supplies. He left Ralph Lane in charge. The colony fared badly. Sir Francis Drake visited it in 1586 and took the survivors back to England. Soon afterward, Grenville returned and found the colony deserted. After searching along the coast, he left 15 men to hold the island for Queen Elizabeth and returned to England.

earthern fort
Restored earthen fort at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, North Carolina. Late in the 16th century, in 1585-86 and 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh made two attempts to found a colony on Roanoke Island—the first English colonizing efforts within the present United States.

The second colony consisted of 150 settlers, who arrived at Roanoke Island in 1587, under the leadership of John White. Finding only desolation and the bones of one of Grenville's men, they began to rebuild the settlement. White returned to England for supplies, but found it in danger of an invasion by Spain. The Queen, refusing to spare a large ship, dispatched two small pinnaces to the colony, but they never reached it. When White returned to the colony in August of 1590, he found that the colonists had disappeared.

Fort Raleigh, designated a National Historic Site in 1941, consists of 144 acres. The fort, probably built by Lane, was investigated by archeologists in 1947-48 and restored in 1950. The village site, presumably close by, has not yet been located. At the Waterside Theater, the Roanoke Island Historical Association presents a noted pageant-drama, Lost Colony by the playwright Paul Green, during the summer months.

Previous Next
Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005