Lost Colony of Roanoke

What are the main theories as to what happened to Roanoke?

Background: What happened to Roanoke?

Roanoke, an island near present-day North Carolina, was one of the first English attempt at a colony in the New World. Settlers arrived in 1587 and soon after John White, their governor, went back to England to get more supplies. Unfortunately fighting broke out between England and Spain so White wasn't able to return until 1590. When he got back to Roanoke all the colonists had disappeared and the only clue as to where they went was the word "Croatoan" carved in a wooden post.

So what happened to the colonists?

Four hundred twenty-six years later, historians still don't have a definite answer as to where the colonists went/what happened to them. However there are a few main theories and hypotheses that have been created to try to explain the mysterious disappearance of the colonists of Roanoke.

The Croatoan Theory

  • One of the most popular theories is that the colonists moved to the nearby island of Croatoan or that the Native Americans that lived there (The Croatoan) killed or abducted the colonists.

A New Theory Emerges from an old Map-- "Site X"

  • Researchers found a clue on an centuries-old map drawn by John White. Scientists found small blue and red symbols on two places on this map. These researchers believe that the colonists split up whenever some sort of crisis started in Roanoke and that a small group of colonists could have gone in the opposite direction of Croatoan.

  • The researchers set out with the new clue from the map, a newly discovered site of a small Native American town by the name of Mettaquem, and the modern technology to search deep underground for possible artifacts. They started searching for an area where the colonists could have disappeared to.



  • None of the modern technology was able to help explain the role of the Native Americans that lived in the area of the search. So far the search has led researchers to believe that there are clues that there was contact between the English colonists and the Native Americans of this area. This site is being called "Site X" and many researchers hope to dig soon in search of artifacts to help explain the mysterious disappearance of the colonists of Roanoke.

Other Theories Include:

  • The colonists decided to leave Roanoke to go back to England by themselves and ended up lost at sea.
  • The colonists were killed by Spaniards that moved up from Florida.
  • They joined a friendly Native American tribe farther inland.
  • A New World disease was spread through Roanoke killing all the colonists, as their bodies weren't exposed to disease from the New World.
  • There was a significant drought in the New World that made it hard for the colonists to grow food, drink, and live.

Works Cited

Basu, Tanya. "Have We Found the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island?" National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 8 Dec. 2013. Web. 22 May 2016. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131208-roanoke-lost-colony-discovery-history-raleigh/>.

History.com Staff. "What Happened to the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke?" History. A&E Television Networks, LLC., 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 May 2016. <http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/what-happened-to-the-lost-colony-of-roanoke>.

"Lost and Found; Colonial History." Economist 2 June 2012: 40(US). Global Issues in Context. Web. 22 May 2016.

MACKAY, KATURAH. "The `Starving Time'" National Parks Nov. 1998: 40. Student Resources in Context. Web. 22 May 2016.

White, John. "La Virginea Pars." N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. The British Museum. Web. 22 May 2016. <http://www.britishmuseum.org/>.