The Lost Colony

While in school, we all learned about Columbus. Remember the little song?


"In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
He sailed and sailed and sailed and sailed
To find this land for me and you."

Actually, Columbus was looking for better routes for the spice trade and could give two hoots about me, but it's a good date reference for when he sailed and sailed and sailed and sailed. Spain ruled in those days when it came to establishing colonies in North America, and England really wanted to get a piece of the pie. While Jamestown, England's first established Colony, is well known, there were a few duds before we got there.

Enter Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh was given a 10-year charter to colonize the area in North America known as Virginia. In 1584 he sent a small expedition, lead by Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, to what is now the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Amadas and Barlow chose this as the best place to dig in and try to do a "one up" on the Spanish and introduce themselves to the Croatan tribe of the Carolina Algonquians. 

The following spring, Sir Richard Grenville and a small expedition of men were sent to do some further exploration and establish a colony.

There were a few little mishaps during this particular expedition. First, the event of the lead ship, which contained all of the food stores, running into a shoal upon arrival. Oops. Then there was the incident of the stolen silver cup that resulted in the execution, by burning, of the local tribal chief. Ouch. (Needless to say the locals were not very impressed.) In spite of these events, Grenville left Ralph Lane and 75 other guys to hold down the fort while he went all the way back to England to get some more food. After a few months of watching and waiting Ralph and his crew were running out of patience. Thankfully, Sir Francis Drake was doing a drive by so Ralph and his small crew hitched a ride home to England. When Grenville’s relief fleet finally arrived they discovered the abandoned fort. Leaving a few guys and guns behind to keep their claim protected, Grenville heads back to England.

 

Reconstructed earthen fort (circa 2001)

In 1587 Raleigh decides to load up another ship to send over to the new Virginia (which is actually North Carolina but they didn't catch on to that part yet). This time, he is ready to establish an actual colony. 

At a time well before flush toilets, hair dryers and chilled chardonnay, 114 men, women and children made the choice to leave their homes in England, stuff themselves in a tiny little boat and take the dangerous journey across the Atlantic to explore and colonize a new land. That boat was smaller than many of the McMansions we see in suburbia. Imagine 114 people and some livestock crammed into your house without a single bathroom! Now that, kids, is what we call roughing it.

QE II - Replica of 16th Century Ship (circa 2005)

Ships Mast (2011)

There isn't much information about the colony itself. The group was lead by John White, a very good artist who documented much of the island on prior expeditions. He was named Governor of the colony. We also know that on August 18, 1587 Governor Whites daughter, Eleanor, gave birth to Virginia Dare who would be the first English child born in the colonies.

Statue of Virgina Dare (2001)


Wait a moment . . . close up of this one:

Virginia Dare up close and personal (2001)

Fascinating. A grown woman. A voluptuous grown woman. That's taking a bit of artistic license since nobody knows if she ever had the chance to grow up. Shortly after Virginia Dare was born, a colonist named George Howe was killed by local natives. Fearing for their safety, the colonists asked Governor White to go back to England to get some back up. They were also running out of food so if he could make a pit stop at the Tesco that would be good too. So off he sails and leaves his colony quietly waiting, waiting.

Mike Campbell, Festival Park Blacksmith Reenactment (2011)


Unbeknown to the colonists, Queen Elizabeth was having a few troubles of her own. Phillip II of Spain was looking to get the Protestants out of town and sent the Spanish Armada to take care of things. In order to defend herself, all able vessels were called up to keep those Spaniards and their Armada out of merry old England. Poor Governor White had no choice but to wait it out. It wasn't until 3 years later, which would have been the third birthday of his grandaughter Virgina Dare, (remember the voluptuous babe . . .), that he was able to get back to the colony.  To his dismay all he discovered was an empty camp.

 

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (2001)

Not a trace of the ninety men, seventeen women and eleven children (that he knew of . . . there WAS some down time since he departed. . .). The only clue was the word "Croatoan" carved into a post in the fort and "Cro" carved into a tree. Houses and fortifications had been dismantled and there was no sign of struggle. It appeared that the colonists picked up shop and moved along.

There are many different ideas of what may have happened. Most of the theories have them moving somewhere and integrating with various Indian tribes. Either way, it makes for a good old-fashioned mystery. In lieu of CSI for lost English folks, there is a good pageant that tells the story, or a version of the story. If you are ever in the area and want to learn a little more you can always check out "The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama."

Lost Colony Outdoor Drama Stage (circa 2001)


It's quite a tale and there is something for everyone. It insinuates that Elizabeth and Walter could have been friends with benefits, there are little Indian battles and big Indian battles and, in the end, the tired colonists sing their way to a new life.  I guess if your Tesco delivery doesn't happen and your mouth is watering for some tea and crumpets, the only thing to do is put your best foot forward and sing.

NOTE: I am not an historian and I do not play an historian on TV. For accurate historic data on any of these sites go to your public library for more information.