The Lost Colony of Roanoke

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• Part 2: The Second Voyage
Part 3: The Mystery Endures

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Colonial Times

Part 1: The Beginning

It is one of American history's most enduring unsolved mysteries: What happened to the colonists at Roanoke? Since no one knows still, we can all make our own conclusions, based on available evidence.

Here are some facts.

The island and surroundings were first sighted by Europeans when English explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe sailed by in 1584, at the behest of Sir Walter Raleigh. Amadas and Barlowe were so impressed with the island and its location and adaptability for settlement that they convinced two of the Roanoke natives (willingly or not) to return to England with them. The presence of natives in the court of England no doubt impressed the monarch, Queen Elizabeth, who responded by giving Raleigh an open ticket to claim all lands in and around Roanoke and the surrounding mainland (which she named after herself). The very next year, a group of 100 men set sail for Roanoke Island.

In a series of events that can be described only as future-predicting, that first group of colonists almost singlehandedly doomed the colony. First of all, they arrived too late in the season to plant any crops that would survive the cold winter. Because of that, they had to rely on the supplies that they had brought with them, which were not designed to last all winter. Secondly, they were under the direction of Ralph Lane, a captain in the armed forces. His first priority was to build a fort; houses were then built around the fort, some with brick but most of wood. Running the colony like a tight ship, Lane also looked at the situation around him as a military one. He saw the neighboring Roanoke tribe as possible enemies; and when a dispute over a cup turned violent, it was Lane who ended up killing Wingina, the Roanoke chief.

Lane and his fellow settlers lasted until Sir Francis Drake sailed by in 1586, when they pleaded with him to take them along. Drake agreed, and the settlers left their new home for good. Ironically, a supply ship arrived a week later, under the command of Sir Richard Grenville. A total of 15 people from that crew stayed behind, finding a fort built by Lane and his men.

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