The Lost Colony

One of the greatest mysteries on the entire East Coast is over four centuries old, and happened in Manteo along the Outer Banks. The Lost Colony has drawn speculation and theories from historians around the world. Even now, hundreds of years later, no one has been able to prove exactly what happened.

The story of The Lost Colony begins with the dawn of colonization in the late 1500s. Sir Walter Raleigh, who was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I of England to set out and discover new worlds, landed on Hatteras Island and then moved north towards Roanoke Inlet. He told tales of the friendly Native Americans that resided there. This was great news, and a new colonization party of 600 men, led by Sir Richard Grenville who was appointed by Raleigh, set off for the Carolinas and began a settlement close to where Raleigh first explored (now present day Manteo.)

The settlement was called Fort Raleigh, and 6 months after the settlement was founded in April of 1585, Grenville, under the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh, returned to England leaving 107 men, women and children behind in this new home.

The man he had chosen to be in charge, Ralph Lane, was a questionable character who was known to steal supplies from nearby Native Americans and was not necessarily liked by the other colony members. When Lane invaded the Native American village in Roanoke and murdered their chief, the Native Americans were no longer friendly to their new neighbors.

Lane abandoned the colony less than a year later, and just a few weeks after that, Genville returned with three ships full of supplies for the colony. When he arrived at the settlement, he found that everyone had disappeared. Not a single man, woman or child remained. There was only one small clue of the colonists disappearance: on a tree was scrawled the word "CROATAN."

There are five major theories about what happened to the settlement. One of the most probable theories is the people of Roanoke simply left. Many historians believe they moved North towards the Chesapeake Bay, as 20 years later when John Smith landed there, the Native Americans admitted to killing a band of colonists that had been on their land.

Some historians believe that the population was killed by a disease, a definite possibility considering the rough terrain and awful conditions, but no bodies were ever found. Others believe that one of the coast's notorious hurricanes destroyed the colony, but because there was a fence left standing, usually one of the first structures to be damaged during a storm, this theory is also questionable.

Perhaps the answer lies in the remaining word "Croatan" that was carved on a tree. Some historians suggest that this means the settlers went to live with the Native Americans, as Croatan was the name of the friendly tribe who inhabited the area. Equally probable is the theory that the Native Americans ended up killing the colony and destroying the settlement. Considering the poor relations between the natives and the settlement at the time of Lane's departure, this is definitely also a possibility.

We may never know what happened, but the story has brought visitors from around the world to visit the site of The Lost Colony, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and Roanoke Island Festival Park.

The mystery is also the storyline of the country's longest running outdoor drama, "The Lost Colony," which is held in an outdoor pavilion every summer since 1937. Summer visitors can still go to the Waterside Theater and see the nightly production that brings the curious mystery to life. Over the years, the show has included performances by famous personalities early in their careers, like Andy Griffith, Terrance Mann, William Ivey Long and Senator Marc Basnight. This production has entertained more than three million people from all walks of life since its debut in 1937.

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Terms: North Carolina Tales, North Carolina Folklore, NC Tales, NC Folklore, The Lost Colony

Various Tales and Folklore of the North Carolina Coast: The Lost Colony

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