1590 - The Lost Colony

March 7, 1589 - Sir Walter Raleigh transferred his interests in Virginia (excluding one-fifth of all gold and silver) to a group of merchants and adventurers of London, to Governor John White and nine other gentlemen. Seven of them at least were planters that White had left in Roanoke including his son-in-law Ananias Dare. Among others appeared Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Smythe.

Months passed and it emerged that White and the merchants of London proved unable to raise à consistent enough fleet to relief and strenghten the colony.

March, 1590 - Raleigh endeavors to support White through his influence with the Court when he is learned that a government order aims to form a fleet of privateers headed for the West Indies. It is maybe a matter of chance but this project comes timely to Raleigh, offering him the opportunity to carry new settlers and supplies to Virginia. The plan turns nevertheless evil.

March 20, 1590 - Gov. John White leaves Plymouth for Virginia without the planters nor the expected supplies.
He was actually the only passenger of an expedition headed by John Wattes consisted of 3 small ships, the Hopewell, the Admiral 150 ton-vessel with Captain Abraham Cocke, the John Evangelist, a pinnace captained by William Lane, the Little Hope, a 120 ton-vessel with captain Christopher Newport and two shallops. It had been planned to go to rescue the colonists in Roanoke but the purpose of the journey was primarily to do with piracy. Before leaving, Wattes had complied to the request of the Merchants and Noblemen of London to relief the settlers but once at sea, he was not to be influenced by the Court and showed no more eagerness to respect his promise towards White.

March 25, 1590 - Both shallops sink during the night further to a carelessness of the vigil crew.

March 31, 1590 - The fleet anchors in the island of Mogador where it retrieves by the way the Moonlight, a 80-ton pinnace of London captained by Edward Spicer.

April 1, 1590 - In stopover at Santa Cruz, they meet English ships captains of which hand over two shallops that will replace those lost a few days earlier.

April 5, 1590 - they chase after a flyboat off Canary Islands and loot it. Some men are killed during the collision.

April 30, 1590 - the expedition arrives at Dominica.

During May, June and July, the fleet led by John Wattes was engaged in the West Indies in an ordinary campaign of piracy, travelling from island to island in search of some booty. Two Spanish ships were prized uncluding the Buen Jesus, a 300-to galleon of Sevilla but results were rather weak. They followed coasts were often deserted or inhospitable, only lived by some starving fugitives. Some casualties were to regret but the boats had to suffer no additional damage.

Sunrise at Wococon
August 1, 1590 - Having sailed along Florida, the expedition reaches the coast of North Carolina. A strong gale and rain strike the ships.

 August 3, 1590 - Gov. White and the men of the expedition catch sight of the outerbanks west of Wococon but the bad weather prevents their ships from getting to the shore.

August 9, 1590 - The storm having ceased, the boats can anchor about 1 mile from the coast. The men land on a narrow sandy island located West of Wococon in order to make water supply. They also bring back a big quantity of fish.

August 12, 1590 - the ships cast anchor in the morning at the northeast end of Croatoan Island.

August 15, 1590 - Gov. White and the relief expedition anchor at Hatoraske. They observe a trail of smoke rising from the island of Roanoke, what they consider as the sign that the settlers are still alive.

For Gov. John White, there was no doubt that the colonists had expected his return and that he would soon see his daughter and grand-daughter Virginia to bring them back safely to England.

August 16 , 1590 - Gov. White sails to Roanoke with two boats and a company of crewmen commanded by Captain Cocke and Captaine Spicer, intending to land near the village where the settlers are supposed to live. It is agreed to fire shots at regular intervals to warn their people of their arrival. They search the area without finding anything until they see another smoke rising in the sky, southwest of Kindrikers Mounts. Thinking that it is a new sign, they decide to go in this direction.

Searching for the settlers
 The smoke was not so near as they thought and they reached the supposed place only after long hours. They found finally no trace of the colonists and returned to the harbor in the evening. They took the opportunity to make provision of fresh water and returned at dusk to their ships.

August 17, 1590 -Captain Spicer and Captain Cocke return to their ships anchored at sea when their small boats loaded with fresh water are surprised by a gale causing a sudden tide rise. Captain Abraham Cocke fails to sink during the operation due to a leak which damages a part of provisions and ammunitions but Captain Spicer's first mate is unable to control his boat which keels over. Four sailors succeed in escaping by swimming from the wreck but 7 others including Captain Spicer die drowned.

Despite this misfortune, White and his crew tried hard to conduct research. They left again to Roanoke on two boats but the sky darkened so fast that they failed the colony a few miles. They saw then the light of what seemed to be a great fire at the northern end of the island and headed in its direction. They hoped to be recognized by blowing a horn and singing familiar English tunes but got no response.

August 18, 1590 - Gov. White and his company land at dawn in the place where they had seen the fire but find only grass and pieces of wood ending up to be consumed. Thence, they cross thickets to the side of the island facing the village of Dasamonquepeuc and leave by the shore towards the northern end of the island, where the colony was settled. They see nothing interesting on the way, except footprints left during the night by two or three natives.

A mysterious message

While they climbed a sandy embankment, they found the letters "CRO" carved in Roman characters on a tree, on top of a hill. They found that all the houses had been taken down and found in the center an entrenchment protected by a palissade forming a kind of small fort. The bark on the largest beam had been removed and was inscribed in capital letters the word CROATOAN but without the Maltese cross, the distress signal that White had asked the settlers to include in their messages in case of forced abandonment. Crossing the fence, they found scrap and various objects scattered here and there, half covered with grass, meaning that the place had been left for a long time. Gov. White headed then southward along the shore up to the fitted out cove (today Shallow Bag Bay) where the settlers boats used to be anchored but he found nothing. He went in search of chests and personal things which he had secretly buried in 1587 but the Indians had discovered the hiding place. They had forced lids, torn the books bindings and scattered to the winds illustrations and maps.
According to his own words, Governor John White was however happy with the idea that the word CROATOAN carved on a beam of the palisade was maybe the sign that her daughter, her grand-daughter Virginia and the planters had taken refuge on Croatoan Island where lived Manteo and where the Indians always showed friendly to the English.
As the storm threatened, White and his men went back hurriedly to the harbor where their boats were at anchor.

Gov. White finds his hiding upset

 August 19, 1590 - Governor White and captain Abraham Cocke decide to visit the Croatoans where the settlers could have found refuge according to the clues discovered the day before. However, the rope of their anchor breaks while weighing and the stream rushes their ship to the shore. They reach fortunately deep water but have no more than an anchor on four. The weather becoming increasingly bad, it is decided to head to St John in West Indies to search provisions and fill up with fresh water.

It seemed too late in summer to return quickly to Virginia and Gov. White agreed with the proposal of spending winter in the Caribbean and to go back to Roanoke at the beginning of the following year. The crew of the Hopewell approved the principle but the men aboard the Moonlight's chose to go back without waiting to England.

August 28, 1590 - the winds have changed and a storm is brewing forcing captain Cocke to choose a new destination. He decides to head for Trinidad but winds being opposite, he has to set sail to the Azores.

October 24, 1590 - Gov. White arrives safe at Plymouth.

He found no traces of the planters but indications left on Roanoke Island supposed that they could have survived. The mystery of the Lost Colony will not, henceforth, cease to haunt minds.

John White had no means to finance himself a new expedition in Virginia and despite comfortable incomes, Raleigh kept squandering his fortune. He could have spent a little money and energy to the Virginian company but preferred at the time to beautify the estates he had received in Ireland. Walsingham died in 1590 and his death soon compromised Raleigh's business, already fallen out with the queen for having dared to marry Elizabeth Thockmorton without her consent. Disgraced, he ended up in prison in July, 1592. With the loss of his sponsor, White had to renounce his last hopes. He died the following year.

Did Virginia Dare survive?
Threatened with losing his charter, Sir Walter Raleigh put himself again in search of the colony. He sent for it in spring, 1602, an expedition under the command of certain Samuel Mace who reached the area 40 miles of Hatoraske nearby Croatoan Island. Mace traded with coastal Indians but made do with summary searches which proved logically unsuccesful. He justified by accusing the bad weather of being primarily reponsible for his failure. In a letter sent to Sir Robert Cecil dated August 21, 1602, Raleigh expressed however his firm belief in the creation of an overseas English empire, as he attemped to do. The memory of the lost Roanoke colony became from that time a true myth having for background the mysterious fate of Virginia Dare, the first English born on the American continent.

After the founding of Jamestown in 1607, the settlers did attempt to obtain from Indians informations in order to clear up this enigma but none provided credible answer.
One of the images that dominates American memory is Eleanor Dare cradling her baby, lost in the vast wilderness, abandoned by a father who brought her in this foreign country where she has to fight for her survival. Four centuries after their disappearance, Eleanor and Virginia Dare became the heroines of an epic mystery which always interests historians and archaeologists. In 1587, more than a hundred men, women and children had arrived from England to found a colony on a small island in North Carolina. Less than three years later, they had all vanished without leaving any trace except an only word carved on a beam. This first attempt of colonization ended in a disaster but one of the most long-lived legends of America had been born.

 In 1709, an English traveler named John Lawson went to Roanoke Island and spent some time together with The Hatteras Indians, descendants of the Croatoan tribe. He wrote that among the oldest were people with white skin who could read in a book and that some of them were grey-eyed, a character not found among other Indians. In the 1880s, as the 3rd centennial of the colony approached, Hamilton McMillan, native from North Carolina, proposed a theory which meets today still some credit. He had lived in Robeson County in the southeast of the State near Pembroke Indian Reserve among which some claimed that their ancestors came from Roanoke. According to McMillan, the Pembroke spoke out not only pure English but bore former settlers names. They had further European characters as clear eyes, blond hair and a British-style body.

Other more or less plausible theories, even fanciful were devised during the 20th century. Thus, a series of mysterious stones discovered in 1937 in eastern North Carolina appeared a time to remove the mystery. The original stone was picked up by a walker in a swamp 60 miles west of Roanoke. It was covered with strange engravings which, having been decrypted proved to be Eleanor Dare's message sent to her father stating that the colonists had fled after an Indians attack. Over the next three years were found not less than about forty similar stones which, put end to end, told the fantastic journey of the settlers southward with for strongest moment Eleanor's death. The scientific world, rightly, appeared skeptical and the papers which had made their front page with it felt rather deceived when a reporter unveiled in 1940 that it was just a huge hoax. Over the past forty years, researchers found in the English and Spanish archives documents hitherto unknown which suggested a logical solution to the mystery. Many historians believe that after White’s leaving, the colony was divided into two groups whose main headed to Chesapeake Bay, which was originally the purpose of the expedition. Lane had explored the area both before and settlers could orient themselves with maps drawn by White himself.

When John Smith and the Jamestown settlers landed in 1607, they began looking for the Roanoke planters and learned that they had probably stopped in the earea. During his dealing with the Powhatan leader, Smith heard from him that the first colonists have lived peacefully alongside the Chesapeake Indians settled in this area. Powhatan boasted of having attacked them and slain the most. As proof, he showed Smith a musket barrel, a brass mortar and some iron pieces which would have belong to them.

By 1612, the Jamestown administrators had recorded several testimonies according to which some of the former Roanoke colonists were still alive. Researches were unfortunately all unsuccessful. What happened to the group remained in Roanoke ? Historians have thought they had early enough found refuge at Croatoan and the inscription was a message for White. Spanish archives reveal that they had already left the island in June 1588, when a reconnaissance expedition found the place deserted. They have subsequently been assimilated by the Croatoan tribe. 
A recent find by English researchers based on a map drawn by John White would have suggested an indication of a place at the end of Albemarle Sound where the settlers would take refuge  but this one comes to contradict the deep feeling of failure in aftermath of his fruitless trip to Roanoke.
We must actually recognize that the mystery remains and we will probably never know what really happened at Fort Raleigh 426 years ago.

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