It’s summer time in North Carolina and for many people here it’s time to getaway to the beach. When I visit the beaches of NC, my thoughts always return to Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Their time spent here on the beach was far less relaxing as they braved hostile natives, endured heat, mosquitoes and disease and struggled to survive from day to day.
Here’s how their adventure began… In 1584, explorers were sent to Roanoke Island (a narrow island situated between the Outer Banks and the mainland of North Carolina) by Sir Walter Raleigh to determine if the area would be well suited to establishing a colony. Upon their return, they delivered a positive report of the location, which included a list of the abundant natural resources surrounding the area and findings that Roanoke was better protected from the elements than the Outer Banks. The island appeared all around to be a good choice for a settlement with live oaks and plenty of other trees to build cabins and a variety of wildlife to hunt for food. Sir Walter Raleigh delivered the information to Queen Elizabeth and she granted Raleigh a charter to all the lands that he could claim in the area.
The next year Sir Raleigh sent out a group of one hundred men, mostly soldiers and craftsmen to establish the colony under the guidance of Ralph Lane, a military captain. The group met with poor results from the beginning and departed the area.
Sir Raleigh responded to the news of Lane’s departure by gathering a party of one hundred and seventeen men, women and children who were willing to sail from England in order to establish a permanent settlement in the New World. As the group sailed to the New World, their leader John White included in his party his pregnant daughter Eleanor Dare. Upon their arrival, the situation was hostile on all fronts and the colonists asked John White to return to England to gather support and supplies.
Three years after Eleanor gave birth to her daughter Virginia Dare, her father John White returned to Roanoke Island to find everyone and everything missing. All traces of the settlement had disappeared. There was no sign of struggle nor were there any signs of where the group had gone. His heart raced with terror, were his daughter and his granddaughter alive? Had someone taken them? There had been no way to get a direct message to them for the past three years. The colonists had no news source and relied on ships that very infrequently stopped in the area. It’s highly likely that the colonists might not have known about the war that had kept White from traveling back to them. They may have presumed White to be dead or lost at sea.
Imagine how Eleanor must have felt, a new baby and practically defenseless, waiting each day in such dangerous territory, cradling her small daughter Virginia while everyone rationed the dwindling supplies. John White understood this and more, realizing that his dream of starting the first settlement in the new world and bringing his daughter with him, had led to her destruction.
White searched through the entire abandoned settlement and the only clues he found was the word CROATAN carved into one of the trees and the letters CRO carved in a second tree nearby. He had asked the group to leave a sign should they be forced to move further inland and suggested that they use the sign of a Maltese cross carved in a tree should they be under attack and forced to flee for their lives.
The lost colony of Roanoke remains a mystery to this day. Many theories have risen throughout the years over what happened to the colonists. They include: a hurricane swept over them and destroyed the settlement and washed all the colonists out to sea; a hostile native tribe killed them all, buried their bodies and destroyed the settlement; and the settlers, angry at what they perceived as White’s desertion or death, and now hungry, alone, and cold, set out to live elsewhere and died along their journey, or they left and went to live with the Croatan tribe.
Supernatural explanations have also been raised, including werewolves attacking the group and turning the colonists into werewolves; or as they abandoned the settlement, the native tribes destroyed the camp and cursed it in order to keep others from returning. One theory posits that aliens arrived on the shore and took all of the colonists with them onto their space ship. The area is considered to be haunted by the tragedies and deaths which occurred during this time.
Researchers continue to discuss and debate the lost colony of Roanoke. Many believe that the settlers argued during the months after White left, some believing that he would never return and others holding out hope. One opinion is that the group broke up into two parties and went their separate ways, some heading towards Chesapeake Bay where they had originally intended to settle and the others partnered up and assimilated into the Croatan tribe.
The settlers of Roanoke may have disappeared into the night without a trace, but they are certainly not forgotten. The legends and stories of Virginia Dare and the other colonists inspired Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green’s play, “The Lost Colony”. Each summer in North Carolina, visitors from around the world visit Manteo to see this outdoor theater performance. The theater uses the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean in the area where the Lost Colony once existed. The play recounts the historical events leading to the disappearance of the first English colonists who settled on Roanoke Island over 400 years ago. This year marks the 75th anniversary season of the nation’s longest-running symphonic drama, “The Lost Colony.” The live performance theater on the beach is performed by a professional company of over 100 actors, dancers, singers and technicians and runs from June 1st through August 23rd. From epic battles and Indian dances to the pageantry of the Queen and her court, “The Lost Colony” educates, enriches and entertains.
Want to know more about what I saw and experienced while investigating the Lost Colony of Roanoke along with my interview with some of the leading researchers and archeologists who are working to uncover the mysteries of Roanoke? It’s all in my new book, Ghosthunting North Carolina.