Roanoke Island, the Virginian Colony
[now in North Carolina]
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

The Roanoke Island Colony made many mistakes in their association with the Native American Indians. This page will to speak to that and the fatal consequences. The promoters of this colony were Sur Francis Drake, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Humprey Gilbert.


The Roanoke Colony was located east of Croatan Sound, and was the site of Fort Raleigh, in what is now Robesan County, North Carolina. In 1584, explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe "found" Roanoke Island. They returned to England with two Natives, Manteo and Wanchee. It is unclear what Manteo told his tribesmen about his trip to London.

Early on, one of the Powhatan shaman had a vision about the English. His vision predicted that the first two English settlements would fail, but the third settlement would result in the conquering and death of the Indians and their lifestyle.

Richard Grenville (1542-1591) was on the ship called Tiger. They went ashore at Pamlico Sound, hoping to make friends with the locals. Manteo was born on Croatoan Island. Wanshee did not go ashore with the others, as he was tiring of the English and wished only to return home. They went to a settlement called Pomeic, some thirty miles from the Tiger. Raleigh had told Grenville that they were to treat the Natives with respect. Their punishment for disobedience was death for rape, twenty blows from a cudgel for striking an Indian, and imprisonment or slavery for entering an Indian's property or home uninvited.

The Natives were hospitable, but the colonists treated them harshly. When Grenville noticed his silver drinking cup missing, his anger rose and he vowed to have his men burn their corn and village, and kill Chief Wingina. This was ignorant behavior for a man who had a colony that needed the Natives to feed them. Grenville was born in Clifton House and was brought up in Buckland Abbey, in Devon, England. He was the cousin of Sir Walter Raliegh and Sir Francis Drake, and had once met Theodore Paleologus, the last Byzantinum emperor. Paleologus retired to Clifton, England. You could say that Grenville had friends in high places. This was not the first time his temper had got him into trouble. In 1562, Grenville was in a dispute on the Strand and ran through Robert Bannister with his sword. He left Bannister to die, offering no assistance. Grenville was pardoned.

Grenville had fought against the Turks in Hungary in 1566, so he knew Captain John Smith. Grenville was appointed vice-admiral of the fleet under Thomas Howard. Grenville had planned to circumnavigate the globe in the 1570's, but Queen Elizabeth gave this honor to Sir Francis Drake instead. The Native village, called Scotan, was reputed to have some cruel and bloody tribesmen. In 1586, the colonists asked Sir Frances Drake to take them back to England, since the Indians had already wiped out some of their numbers and they could not feed themselves without the Natives' help.

Shortly before Ralph Lane’s expedition departed for England with Sir Francis Drake, in 1586, Lane attacks the Dasamonquepeuk village, and kills Chief Pemisapan (previously called Wingina), as Grenville wanted. This act of revenge turns Wanchese, possibly the son of Pemisapan, into an even stronger enemy. Wanchese remembered well the words of Richard Grenville, as he vowed to get revenge for the stealing of his silver drinking cup.

Meanwhile a supply ship arrives and finds no one, except the body of one of the men left behind by Lane. Why these 14-15 men were left, knowing that the Indian would more than likely want their own revenge for the killing of their Chief, is mind-boggling. Of course, this was why this colony failed. Stupid moves by stupid people. Meanwhile, the supply ship that arrived with new provisions for the colonists, turned around and went back to England. These supplies were to be for both the old and the new colonists. Again someone did not have good judgment. As if this is not bad enough, in a nasty turn of fates, Governor White arrives soon after Lane departed with Drake. Once again, they do not know what happened to the other colonists. Nor did they have any idea that an Indian village was burned, and their chief killed. Manteo knew and recognized that these are new settlers. The saw the others sail away. No one is sure what Manteo's opinions were at this point. Was he friend or foe?

The Indians did prove to be more hostile than before, and George Howe, one of the assistants, was killed by the Indians soon after the landing. Through the intercession of the Indian Manteo, who had relatives on the barrier island of Croatoan, friendly relations with the Croatoan Indians were reestablished, but the others remained aloof. The only question is was this reconcilliation real or a tactic to keep them there? The remnants of the Roanoke Island Indians dwelling at Dasamonquepeuc were accused by the Croatoan Indians of killing Grenville's men (that burned the village) as well as George Howe. Hence, on August 8, Governor White, with Captain Stafford and 24 men, suddenly attacked the town of Dasamonquepeuc with fire and sword. It was a blunder. Since the Roanoke Indians had already fled. In their place were the friendly Croatoan Indians who had heard of the flight of the other Indians and had come over to take whatever corn and fruit might have been left behind. Thanks to Manteo, the Croatoan Indians forgave the Englishmen once again, or pretended to do so.

The Roanoke Island colony certainly was not successful. Their first food was mostly worm-infested barley brought from England. George Percy was one of the colonists, and brother to the Earl of Northumberland. He said their fare was only fit for animals. Men got hungry and sick. The heat and mosquitoes also took their toll. People were dying.

Had the noblemen shown more compassion, none of these events would have occured. The Native Americans has a great bounty of food to eat. No one should have starved, but bad-blood reigned from day one. The English had drawn first blood. Had things been different, they would have been successful.


The Native American field and garden crops included corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, gourds, tobacco, maypops, Jerusalem artichokes, sumpweed, may grass, little barley, and chenopods.

There are not as many records left about these things at Roanoke since the colony failed, but Captain John Smith, in the later Jamestown Colony tells us that the Indians began to plant in April, but their chief planting time was May. Plantings continued until the middle of June.

What is planted in April is reaped in August
What is planted in May is reaped in September
What is planted in June is reaped in October

Women and children continually weed their crops. In May, with their corn, they also plant pumpkins, a sort of musk melon, beans, and squash. The corn lends support for the beans, while the squash and pumpkins shade the roots. The Indians also planted a wild fruit, called "Maracock," that was identified as being like a lemon. Passion flowers grow wild without plantings in the fields. Indians tended to let fields go fallow after they lost their fertility. Of course, they had loads of land. The English later used fish fertilizer, which the Native American Indians thought this was a strange practice, especially in the swampy areas. This would cause rot and disease. They did this in England, so again the English refused to listen to the Native American Indians. Foolhardly move.

Fruit orchards were plentiful with cherries, persimmon, honey locusts, chickasaw plums, beauty berry, red mulberries, hickory, and black walnuts.

Berries came in many varieties: blackberry, huckleberry, raspberries, dewberries, and strawberries.

Typical seasonal menus included:

In March and April: fish, turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels.

In May and June: acorns, walnuts, fish, crabs, oysters, turtles, mulberries, and strawberries.

In June, July, and August: berries, fish, and green wheat.

Winter: smoked meats, nuts (hickory nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns) deer, turkey, and bears.

List of Roanoke Colonists


...... 1546, February 18 - the death of Martin Luther, father of "Lutherism." Luther was a fromer ordained Catholic priest, who followed the Augustinian path.

...... 1583 - English colonizer Humphrey Gilbert leads a group of settlers to Newfoundland, which he claimed for Queen Elizabeth. Humphrey dies on the return voyage, and the settlers left behind disappear. No one knows if they died or mixed with the local natives. There were reports of blue-eyed Indians in this area after contact.

...... 1584 - Sir Walter Raleigh was the half brother of Humphrey Gilbert who died trying to colonize Newfoundland the year before, Raleigh sends a group of colonists to Roanoke Island in Virginia (named for Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen).

..... 1585 - Raleigh sends more colonists to the island. During this voyage, Sir Ralph Lane discovers the Chesapeake Bay.

...... 1586 - Sir Francis Drake sails with a fleet of 30 ships and 2,300 men. Drake is the scourge of the Spanish in the West Indies and Spanish treasure ships on the high seas. After burning the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine, Florida, Drake visits Roanoke Island, and takes the men back to England. They are few and fear for their lives.

...... 1586 - There are 117 colonists, including woman and children that are newly arrived on Roanoke. Their arrival is only one week after Francis Drake took the first inhabitants home. The first English child, Virginia Dare, is born in North America, to Eleanor [nee White] Dare and her husband Annanias Dare, at Roanoke Island on August 18, 1586. A new group of 150 settlers lands on Roanoke Island, but they arrive too late in the season to plant crops, thus they did not have enough food for everyone. Plans are to move to Chesapeake Bay. Simon Fernandez, a Portugues, is to take them up the coast by ship. Instead, he orders them ashore at Roanoke Island. Then they find the body of one man the Indians had murdered, and they do not know the fate of the other fourteen (14) left by Drake to wait for the next ship and watch over the new colony.

...... 1587 more colonists come to replenish the ones that died. This colony is led by John White. The new colonists are very upset. John White goes with Fernandas to get more supplies. This is the last time he sees his family alive. During the war between England and Spain there are no ships available to returned with supplies to Roanoke.

...... 1591 - John White returns to Roanoke Island. This was after the English war with Spain, he discovers the entire colony has disappeared without a trace, including members of his own family. His young grand-daughter was Virginia Dare, the first child to be born in Roanoke. Her mother was White's daughter. The colony may have been wiped out by Indians in the region. Only one word was scrawled on a doorpost left as a clue to where the missing colonists went: "Croatoan." Croatoan was a nearby island with friendly Indians. Their leader was called Manteo, a former friend who after various actions taken by the English, is less friendly with each passing day. Before the landing party could investigate, fierce storms force the ship's captain to return to England. Though England sends several other expeditions to search for them, the fate of the "Lost Colony" remains a mystery today. Two attempts were made to establish the Roanoke Island colonists and they BOTH failed.

...... 1603 - Queen Elizabeth I dies.

After the Roanoke Colony fails, the British try a colony at Jamestown, in 1606.

CLICK HERE for information on the Jamestown Colony,
and the relationship of the English towards all non-English.

In 1700, John Lawson finds a Native American group with European features. Not only that but they spoke English and many could write. Some members of this tribe had both blue and grey eyes. It is thought that the Croatoans took the 100 Roanoke colonists into their village and adopted them. Today the Lumbee are thought to have some of the descendants of the Croatoan Indians or Hatteras who lived on the Croatoan sound. They were renamed Lumbee in 1953. They are Algonquian-speaking, and now live in Pembroke, North Carolina (Waldman). Another theory is that they moved to Beechland The English were seen as wanting to dominate the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, and all other animals. The Native Americans saw the spirits and animals as their equals.

When Jamestown was founded, Roanoke was already in ruins. No one has ever found real proof of their fate. This is a mystery that needs to be solved.

Five hundred (500) supposed descendants of the Roanoke County now live in North Carolina. Many modern Lumbee names match up with the surnames found in the Roanoke Colony.

CLICK HERE for more information

There is a art exposition scheduled in October 2007. It will feature the paintings of John White. This exhibit is called "A New World: England's First View of America." The exhibit will be at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, N.C.

Also see Fort Raleigh National Historic Site for related events.



Wikipedia on the Roanoke Colony .... Roanoke Colony


Blow, Michael and Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. (editors). The American Heritage History of the Thirteen Colonies. Simon and Shuster, Inc., 1967.

Gleach, Frederic W. Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Josephy, Jr. (editor), Alvin M. The American Heritage Book of Indians. American Heritage Publishing co., Inc., 1961.

Milton. Giles. Big Chief Elizabeth. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000.

Polly (editor), Jane. Reader's Digest Folklore and Legend. Pleasantville, N.Y.: The Reader's Digest Association, 1989.

"The Lost Colony of Roanoke," by Ryan Whirty. Native People Arts and Lifeways. Volume XX No. 2, March/April 2007.

Thomas, David Hurst, et al. The Native Americans: An Illustrated History. [Chapter Eleven] Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., 1993.

Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1988.

Wood (editor), Peter H. Powhatan's Mantle: Indians in Colonial Southeast. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.


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