Circulating Theories Around the Disappearance of the Lost Colony

Updated on January 3, 2018
The only clue left behind was the word "CROATOAN" engraved into a wooden post.
The only clue left behind was the word "CROATOAN" engraved into a wooden post. | Source

Roanoke Expeditions

There were a total of three voyages to the famous Roanoke Island: The Amadas and Barlowe Expedition, the Sir Richard Grenville Expedition, and the Lost Colony Voyage. All three of these voyages were planned and constructed by Sir Walter Raleigh, an English writer, explorer, and prominent soldier. Raleigh had a strong connection with Queen Elizabeth I due to his combat role in 1579 - 1583. Due to their friendship, Queen Elizabeth I issued Raleigh a grant in 1584, allowing him to develop a settlement in North America. Between the years 1585 - 1588, he began investing in voyages to the New World, primarily focusing on establishing a colony where North Carolina is located today.

Amadas and Barlowe Expedition

This expedition is known as the first voyage to Roanoke Island, and was led by Captain Philip Amadas and Master Arthur Barlowe, along with Portugese navigator Simon Fernandez. They controlled two ships that departed England on April 27th, 1584, and arrived on the North American coast on July 4th the same year. They originally landed in the Caribbean area and sailed up the East Coast until they found a decent location abundant with natural resources. Barlowe recorded in his journal about their interaction and trades with the Algonquian Indians that they encountered near Roanoke Island. They learned valuable information from them, and overall it was a peaceful interaction. Six weeks after the initial landing, the sailors were satisfied after analyzing the terrain and resources. The expedition returned to England, along with two Indians: Manteo, from the Croatoan tribe, and Wanchese, from the Roanoke tribe.

Sir Richard Grenville Expedition

This expedition served as the first attempt at colonization on Roanoke Island, led by Sir Richard Grenville, Raleigh's cousin. Due to the success of the first trip, Raleigh quickly organized a party of 108 soldiers as well as Grenville to colonize the island in 1585. The settlers were able to create a settlement, but there were many difficulties that the colonists endured. For one, the tensions were high between the Indian tribes and the colonists. The natives were furious that the English were invading their land and establishing a village. Disputes were constantly occurring, and eventually Grenville killed an Indian chief in an argument. The shortages of food and supplies also made it difficult to survive. Soon enough, Grenville and the men abandoned the village and returned back to England.

Detailed map by John White depicting the Carolina coast
Detailed map by John White depicting the Carolina coast | Source

Lost Colony

Raleigh was still determined to establish a permanent colony even though his previous settlement had failed. In 1587, Raleigh sent his third expedition to North America, this time, sending families instead of soldiers. 150 settlers were led to Roanoke Island by John White and established a town in the ruins of the last expedition. This voyage proved to be very successful and many new milestones were reached. On August 18th, the first English child was born in the New World. John White's daughter Eleanor and her husband Ananias Dare had Virginia Dare.

Unfortunately, the colonists once again found themselves in brutal lands, as they were surrounded by hostile tribes and were starving. John White decided to travel back to England to persuade officials to send more supplies and reinforcements to the colony. When White returned to his home country, he found that they were at war with Spain. This prevented him from travelling back to Roanoke because of the frequent battles on the sea with the Spanish Armada. Finally, White managed to board a vessel along with 15 new settlers, and sailed back to the island. This was two years after he left Roanoke colony originally.

Once White and his fellow companions reached the colony, he only found an abandoned village with no trace of the settlers nor his family. They only found the word "CROATOAN" craved on a post. According to John White, the settlers had a code to indicate their change of location. They used various symbols and would engrave them on trees, posts, etc., such as a cross to display distress. White did not find a cross in the village. The colonists were never found, and the colony became famous for being known as "The Lost Colony."

Theory #1: Moved Elsewhere

Historians believe that the colonists may have left the settlement due to the hostility of the Indians and the lack of food. The settlers possibly could have created boats and rafts from their homes and the other available materials. They then sailed north to the Chesapeake Bay in the hopes of creating a more sustainable settlement. Evidence that backs this theory roots back to John Smith of the Jamestown settlement. According to Smith and the settlers, they heard stories from the natives stating they had killed a group of Englishmen that settled near the Chesapeake Bay, twenty years prior.

The colonists had most likely invaded the Indians' land, and were wiped out to prevent more settlers from stealing their land. These mysterious colonists could have been members of the Lost Colony, as this would have been around the time White returned to Roanoke to find a desolate colony. This theory explains where the colonists travelled and why there was no trace of them.

Theory #2: Assimilated with the Native Americans

Another probable theory is that the settlers left Roanoke Island to live with the Croatoan people, whom lived on Croatoan Island. This explains as to why “CROATOAN” was engraved on the post at the site. According to the Lumbee Indians, who still have an influence today, they were accepting of all tribes and people. Many tribes merged together to form the Lumbees, including the Iroquois, Siouan (East Coast tribes), as well as the Croatoan. The friendly Croatoan tribes may have welcomed the colonists, and eventually merged with the Lumbee tribes, creating an even more diverse civilization. Evidence that proves this theory is that the Lumbees began speaking English and practicing Christianity, 50 years after the disappearance of the colonists.

Theory #3: Murdered by the Natives

The most common assumption is that the Roanoke people were annihilated by the Native peoples. There was constant tension between the Englishmen and Indians, and there are many incidents in where the two groups clashed (Sir Richard Grenville Expedition). The natives were most likely upset about the sudden inhabitance of European people, so they wiped them out while their leader, John White, was gone. The natives then proceeded to tear down the buildings and disposed of the bodies over the course of the two years that John White was overseas.

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All articles/websites used are cited within the work and shown here.

Evans, Phillip W. "Amadas and Barlowe Expedition." NCPedia. State Library of North Carolina, 2006. Web. 16 May 2017. <>.

Evans, Phillip W. "Lost Colony." NCPedia. State Library of North Carolina, 2006. Web. 17 May 2017. <>.

G, J. The Lost Colony of Roanoke, 1588. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2017. <>.

"Native Languages of the Americas: Lumbee (Croatan, Croatoan, Pamlico, Carolina Algonquian)." Native Languages. Native Languages of the Americas Website, 2015. Web. 16 May 2017. <>.

Stokes, Matt. "First English Colonies." NCPedia. State Library of North Carolina, 2007. Web. 16 May 2017. <>.

"Walter Raleigh" A&E Television Networks, 7 Nov. 2016. Web. 16 May 2017. <>.

Wisser, William M. "Sir Walter Raleigh and South America." Learn NC. UNC School of Education, 2013. Web. 16 May 2017. <>.

Wolfe, Brendan. "The Roanoke Colonies." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 13 June 2014. Web. 16 May 2017. <>.


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    • profile image

      painted black coat 

      9 months ago

      this is helpful

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      good job

    • profile image

      Logan Lotts 

      13 months ago


    • stevarino profile image

      Steve Dowell 

      15 months ago from East Central Indiana

      First of all, I wanted to say that I have a link to this post from my latest hub about Moore's Creek. I've always been intrigued by the Lost Colony. I do remember something about the carving on the post, which was only the word "Croatoan", a local tribe that they had friendly relations with. I read somewhere later that the inscription had been pre-determined and that if there was hostility, then the inscription would include another mark (can't remember what that particular mark would have been, a cross or something such), so it appeared to be that the original settlers left by their own accord and under peaceful conditions.

      Anyway, thanks for your article! A real pleasure to read!

    • profile image

      Allison Helton 

      20 months ago

      also what if croatoan has more to it than a tribe maybe it was some sort of spiritual thing, not to get too fictional but maybe like slenderman like how he got in their head and caused them to do crazy things. my reasoning behind that is croatoan has shown up in other places too Edgar Allan Poe while on his death bed allegedly whispered "croatoan" so is it a weird coincidence or is there more to it because Black Bart a stagecoach robber supposedly etched the word in the wall of his prison cell before he was released to never be seen again

    • profile image

      Allison Helton 

      20 months ago

      i think that all these are possible but they also could've died from famine

      maybe even to the point of cannibalism. if eventually it ended up to only a few people to only one left something could've happened to those few like native Americans could have killed them or abducted them as slaves. i do feel like if the native americans did take the colonists i feel like they would've saved the children like Virginia Dare and accept them as their own and raise them to match their culture.

    • profile image

      Can Man 

      21 months ago

      I think they died of weather

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      What is this whole article about?

    • profile image

      bill nye 

      2 years ago

      they probably died in the war beetween england and spain

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Due to the lack of food, is it possible they were trussed and eaten by the Croatoan Indians?

    • Sonny Dominick profile imageAUTHOR

      S Dominick 

      2 years ago from Virginia

      @maybank bank

      Thank you!

    • profile image

      maybank bank 

      2 years ago

      great blog and nice

    • Sonny Dominick profile imageAUTHOR

      S Dominick 

      2 years ago from Virginia

      Very true. The settlers definitely did not have shipbuilding nor navigational skills, and probably encountered horrible weather.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      they probaly drowned when they were heading to the island because of the harsh weather


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