A Year: Day to Day Men: 17th of August, Solar Year 2018

The Birdcage

August 17, 1590 marks the date Governor John White returned to the Roanoke Island colony, only to find it abandoned.

The first attempted settlement at Roanoke Island was headed by Ralph Lane in 1585. Sir Richard Grenville had transported the colonists to Virginia and returned to England for supplies as planned. The colonists were desperately in need of supplies and Grenville’s return was delayed. While awaiting his return, the colonists relied heavily upon a local Algonquian tribe. In an effort to gain more food supplies, Lane led an unprovoked attack, killing the Secotan’s chieftain Wingina and effectively cutting off the colony’s primary food source. As a result, when Sir Francis Drake arrived at Roanoke, the entire population abandoned the colony and returned with Drake to England.

In 1587, a group of 120 English men, women and children now led by John White tried to settle in Roanoke Island again. At this point in time the Secotan Tribe and their Roanoke dependents were totally hostile to the English; but the Croatoan tribe, who were on better terms with the previous settlers, remained allies. Manteo. the Croatoan chief, remained aligned with the English and attempted to bring the English and his Croatoan tribe together. John White, father of the colonist Eleanor Dare and grandfather to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World, left the colony to return to England for supplies. He expected to return to Roanoke Island within three months.

Instead, England itself was attacked by massive Spanish Invasion; all ships were confiscated for use for defending the English Channel. White’s return to Roanoke Island was delayed until 1590, by which time all the colonists had disappeared. The settlement was left abandoned. The whereabouts of Manteo and his people after the 1587 settlement attempt were also unknown.

Speculation has suggested that Manteo left with his people to live on Croatoan island. The only clue White found was the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post, as well as the letters, “CRO” carved into a tree. Before leaving the colony three years earlier, White had left instructions that if the colonists left the settlement, they were to carve the name of their destination, with an added  Maltese cross if they left due to danger.

Croatoan was the name of an island to the south, now known as Hatteras Island where the Croatoan people, still friendly to the English, was known to live. The 1587 colonists might have tried to reach that island. However, foul weather kept White from venturing south to search on Croatoan for the colonists, so he returned to England. White never returned to the New World. Unable to determine exactly what happened, people referred to the abandoned settlement as “The Lost Colony.” The fate of those first colonists remains unknown to this day and is one of America’s most intriguing unsolved mysteries.

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