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The Lost Colony of Roanoke

The tale of Virginia Dare

Over thirty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, a group of 117 weary men, women and children waded ashore and made history on Roanoke Island in July 1587, establishing the first attempted settlement of its kind in the Americas.

Recruited by Sir Walter Raleigh, among these settlers was John White, his pregnant daughter, Eleanor Dare, her husband Ananias Dare, and the Indian chief Manteo, who had become an English ally during a previous visit in Britain.

They unloaded their belongings and supplies and repaired an old fort previously erected on the island. On August 18, 1587, Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter she named Virginia, thus earning the distinction of being the first English child born on American soil. Ten days later, John White departed for England promising to return with more supplies. It was the last time he would ever see his family.

Three years later, John White returned to Roanoke Island on his granddaughter’s third birthday only to find the settlement deserted, plundered and surrounded by overgrown brush. On one of the palisades, he found the single word "CROATOAN" carved into the surface, and the letters "CRO" carved into a nearby tree. White took the carving as a sign that the colonists had moved inland to Croatoan, the home of Chief Manteo’s people south of Roanoke in the Outer Banks in present-day Hatteras Island.

Before he could make further exploration, however, a great hurricane arose, damaging his ships and forcing him back to England. Despite repeated attempts, he was never able to raise the funding and resources to make the trip to America again. Raleigh had given up hope of settlement, and White died many years later on one of Raleigh’s estates, ignorant to the fate of his family and the colony. The 117 pioneers of Roanoke Island had vanished into the great wilderness and into folklore. Their collective fate subject to many theories and controversies, and their story reenacted every summer during performances of The Lost Colony, the nations longest symphonic drama.