Many of the early colonies would fail and would be abandoned at great cost. This was true of the "lost colony" of the Roanoke Colony today preserved at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. This is one of the most mysterious and earliest pieces of American history - a place that saw the first children born from English settlement on American soil.

The English were beaten to the New World by the Spanish who had already set up many colonies mostly in South and Central America. The English, therefore, focused on North America where they were not in competition so much with the Spanish. This settlement would grow into a string of colonies along the Atlantic that would one day form the United States.


History And Background Of The Colony

Establishing colonies was difficult - really difficult and expensive, it could bankrupt whole countries. In fact, one of the reasons why Scotland joined England to form the United Kingdom was their failed Darien scheme. That was a disastrous attempt by Scotland to establish a colony in Panama. It greatly impacted Scottish finances and they needed English help and finance.

The Roanoke Colony was the first English settlement to be established in North America. A few years later, over in Jamestown in Virginia, the English settlement only just survived (helped by John Smith seen in the Disney cartoon Pocahontas). Jamestown was the first successful English settlement in America. Jamestown is another site everyone should visit, today it is part of the Historic Triangle, see here for how to visit and what to expect.

There were two settlements here. The first Roanoke colony was founded by governor Ralph Lane in 1585 but it quickly failed. This was followed by another colonial attempt in 1587 on the same island by John White. This also failed and became known as the Lost Colony. It was called the Lost Colony because the disappearance of its population was (and is) unexplained.

Related: Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: Remembering The Dark Days of The Past

  • First Settlement: 1585
  • Second Settlement: 1587
  • Rediscovery: 1590

The colony was plagued by a lack of supplies and poor relations with local Native American Indians. Supply ships failed to arrive on time and sometime between 1587 and 1590, the colony was abandoned. When the next people arrived to find the colony in 1590, they found it deserted with no survivors to be found.

No one knows what became of the settlers. Did they starve? Were they massacred by the local population? Did they assimilate with the local native population (Dances with Wolves style)? While most academic sources suppose they likely assimilated into the local indigenous tribes, no one really knows. The later settlers in Jamestown believed they were massacred.

  • Population: 116 Men, Women, And Children
  • First: First English Colony In America And First Children Born There

The colony consisted of around 116 men, women, and children (including the first two English colonists to be born in the New World).

Freedmen's Colony

The Freedmen's Colony was founded in 1863 during the dark days of the Civil War in America. It was formed after the Union Major General John G. Foster captured the island and classified the slaves living there as "contraband". Being under union control it was a safe haven for African American slaves and lasted until 1867.

To learn more about the struggle for equality and freedom in the United States, see here for why one should visit Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.

Related: What To Expect When Visiting The Replica Museum Of The Mayflower

Visiting The Site

Today the settlement is preserved in the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and one can visit for free.

  • Cost of Admission: $0.00 (Free)
  • Hours Open: 24 Hours Every Day Of the Year
  • Visitor Center Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm  (Every Day Except Christmas Day)

There is also a visitor center with a museum, which contains exhibits about the history of the English expeditions and colonies as well as the Freedmen's Colony that would follow many years later.

Join a Ranger-led walking tour of the site and learn all about the history of the site.

Lost Colony Walking Tour

  • Days: Every Day
  • When: 11.00 am, 1.00 pm, 3.00 pm (May Vary On Season)
  • Duration: 30 Minutes
  • What: With This Guided Walking Tour Delve In The History and the Mysteries Surrounding England's First Attempt To Establish A Colony In The New World That Would One Day Spawn The United States (and Canada With The French Colonies)

Tip: Don't Forget To Visit the Nearby Elizabethian Gardens

Visiting the site will not take long, there is little left of the site past the mounds of the fort they built 400 years ago. It is located in the Outer Banks - where the Wright Brothers first flew (the site can also be visited). The location is also famous for its many beaches and other attractions to see and enjoy.