What Happened To Virginia Dare?

HABS Photo of Fort Raleigh Reconstruction
HABS NC-389-D (LOC call # HABS NC,28-MANT.V,1-D-1)

One of the most mysterious disappearances in American history was that of "The Lost Colony" of Roanoke. In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh brought over a party of English colonists, who settled on Roanoke Island, off the northeast coast of North Carolina. This first group of colonists abandoned Roanoke in 1586 and returned to England. A second group arrived in 1587 and established the first English settlement in new world. In that year the first white child of English parents was born on American soil.

Her name was Virginia Dare. By the time additional supplies were brought from England four years later, the entire group of settlers had disappeared. What happened to Virginia Dare and members of "The Lost Colony" of Roanoke?

The Lost Colony

While the first Roanoke colony was being established, plots to overthrow Elizabeth I and place the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne were uncovered. Within months of Mary's execution in February of 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh's final colony sailed for the new world. Led by Governor John White, 117 men, women and children departed from England on May 8th, 1587. With the ship's pilot concerned with the summer hurricane season, the colonists were forced to disembark at Roanoke Island, instead of traveling farther north to their intended destination on the Chesapeake Bay.

From the outset, the settlers were plagued by a shortage of food and supplies and had a difficult time coexisting peaceably with the Native Americans. On August 27th of 1587, John White, who had been appointed Roanoke's governor, left the settlement and returned to England for supplies. A secret code had been worked out with the colonists so that if they should leave Roanoke Island, they would carve their new location on a conspicuous tree or post. If the move had to be made because of an attack, either by Indians or Spaniards, they were to carve over the letters or name a distress signal in the form of a Maltese cross.

Before the colony could be resupplied, the war had broken out between England and Spain. White was not able to return to Roanoke Island until 1590, at which time he found the settlement abandoned. Two carvings provided the only clues as to the fate of the colonists: “Cro” was carved on one of the trees and “Croatan” was carved on a fence post. Croatan (the Indian name for "Hatteras") was the name of a nearby island, but no trace of the settlers was ever found there or anywhere else. Storms prevented the further search, and the small fleet returned to England, leaving behind the mystery of "The Lost Colony."

Shrouded in Mystery

To this day, no one is certain where the lost colony went, or what happened to them. There is general agreement that not enough supplies had been sent to meet the colonists' needs before the settlement could become self-sufficient. Dr. David B. Quinn, one of the recognized authorities on the Lost Colony, believes that the majority of the colonists traveled overland to the southern shores of the Chesapeake, where they were later massacred by the Powhatan Indians.

The National Park Service's Fort Raleigh National Historic Site commemorates the first English attempts at colonizing the New World, including "The Lost Colony." Established in 1941, the 513-acre park includes the preservation of Native American Culture, the American Civil War, the Freedman's Colony and the activities of radio pioneer, Reginald Fessenden.

Visiting Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

The park's visitor center houses a museum with exhibits on the history of the English expeditions and colonies, the "The Lost Colony" on Roanoke Island, and the Civil War and Freeman's colony. A gift shop is operated by Roanoke Island Historical Association.

There are no lodging or camping facilities in the park. They can be found in Manteo and adjacent communities and on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The Lost Colony drama, which has been running since 1937, combines acting, music, and dance to tell the story of the 1587 Roanoke Colony. It is performed nightly (except Saturday) from early June through late August. For ticket information, call 252-473-3414 or 800-488-5012. Each August 18th, the Park and "The Lost Colony" drama commemorate the birthday of Virginia Dare, born on Roanoke Island on that date in 1587.