What Happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke?

A drawing depicting the discovery of the cryptic words on a tree in Roanoke.
A drawing depicting the discovery of the cryptic words on a tree in Roanoke.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke is one of the most confusing events in American history. What was supposed to be one of the first English settlements on the newly discovered continent ended up being a mystery where a group of people vanished from the face of the Earth.

Where Did Everyone Disappear?

On an island located on the eastern coast of North America, in 1587, a village was founded under governor John White. Due to poor life circumstances there, he needed to return to England and come back with essential life supplies and more people that were supposed to inhabit the island. His return was postponed because of the war with Spain, leaving him unable to return for the next three years. After John White finally came back in 1590, he found the colony empty from any signs of life. The buildings of Roanoke were utterly destroyed, and the residents who remained in the area appeared to be showing confrontational tendencies.

This was odd, as Roanoke wasn't portrayed initially like that. The first English expedition that went on exploring the area in 1584 saw a potentially ideal settlement for their people. Fertile land ideal for crop production, wild animals that could be caught, and indigenous people that appeared to be friendly towards the newcomers.

The now-empty settlement Roanoke left minimal clues that could explain what happened to the people living in that area. John White and his returning expedition found only the word "CROATOAN" and lettering "CRO" chiseled into the bark of surrounding trees. However, that information wasn't helpful at all to John White and his team, leaving them no trails to follow. The search for the lost colonists soon had to be stopped because of the approaching storm that made John White and the other colonists set sail back to England.

Was it Famine?

Without any proper investigation being done at the moment, and with a few very confusing inscriptions left by the now-vanished settlers of Roanoke, what happened can only be speculated. Usually, causes for this type of demographic disaster are either a war event, the extreme scarcity of food, or an appearance of any fatal epidemic disease that would eventually lead to the settlers dying.

The argument that holds famine responsible for the disappearance of the Roanoke colony seems plausible. People dying of hunger had already been a problem for the first colonists in the years prior to the Roanoke event. The early colonists' food supplies were rapidly depleted, and they hadn't established a relationship with the native people, where they could ask for help in the form of food supplies. If any kind of plague had affected the people living in the settlement, they had no supplies or no knowledge on how to deal with that kind of issue. What complicates all of these arguments is that no bodies were found in or around the settlement, which makes it possible that the settlers abandoned the area after a speculated catastrophe broke out.

Recent Findings

The most recent findings on the Roanoke colony suggest that the settlers living there had contact with the Hatteras tribe. The Croatoan Project that has been active from 1998 presented that theory that was supported by their archaeological findings from the area. However, this remains in the sphere of speculation, and the real truth behind the Lost Colony of Roanoke may never reach the light of day.


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