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Episode 111: The Lost Colony of Roanoke (aka, when exploration and war collide)

Twenty Years before Jamestown, Elizabethan England started their equivalent of the Apollo Program. They poured money and resources into stopping the Spanish expansion in the New World, in an Elizabethan arms race between these two warring nations. England’s early lunar outpost (or the equivalent thereof) was Roanoke, an island near Virginia, where over 100 men, women, and children landed in 1587. This was different than the later expeditions to Jamestown, since there were families on board. In fact, the governor’s daughter, who was heavily pregnant, was among the colonists – she gave birth to the first English person born in the new world, Virginia Dare.

But when the governor left to go back and get more supplies – and then got caught up in the war with Spain and the Spanish Armada – things got dicey. When he finally made it back to America three years later, he found an abandoned settlement with signs that maybe the colonists had gone to Croaton, an island about 50 miles to the south. There was no sign of distress or emergency. Just the signs for Croaton. He didn’t have enough provisions to keep going south, and he headed back to England, unaware of what had happened to his family and friends. When he tried to persuade his patron – Walter Raleigh – to make another trip back, Raleigh had already been distracted by a new shiny object… tales of the city of gold, El Dorado, in South America. He put his resources into a journey there, which was an abject failure. The fate of the Roanoke colonists remained a mystery.

But in 1993, a hurricane exposed evidence of a native American settlement on Hattaras Island where Elizabethan objects were found – in exactly the place where White believed that his family and friends would wind up.

What happened to the Elizabethans who journeyed to Roanoke?

In this episode I explore Roanoke, and the story of the lost colony.

Book Recommendation

The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, by Andrew Lawler

John White’s paintings

Complete Collection at the British Museum
Article: Sketching the Earliest Views of the New World from the Smithsonian
Article: Truth and Artifice in the Visualization of Native Peoples by Stephanie Pratt
Article: The Art of John White

Richard Hackluyt’s writings

Article: Was Richard Hackluyt a Negative Influence in the Colonization of Virginia by Robert Detweiler
Article: Richard Hackluyt and Early English Travel from the Public Domain Review