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The Mystery of Mary Celeste
The Mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke - Unsolved Mysteries
1467    Dibyendu Banerjee    08/05/2021

The strange story of one of the oldest unsolved mysteries of America can be traced back to the summer days of August 1587, when an English fleet arrived at the Roanoke Island, just off the coast of today’s North Carolina, with a group of around 115 potential English settlers. The fleet was led by John White, accompanied by his wife, his daughter Eleanor, and her husband Ananias Dare, a bricklayer from London, and others.


John White, a friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, the Elizabethan explorer, was sent to the island to establish a colony in the New World following the failure of the 1585 attempt led by Humphrey Gilbert. However, the second attempt to establish a colony came to be known in history as the Lost Colony due to the subsequent unexplained disappearance of its population.

mystery of the lost colony of roanoke
Baptism of Virginia Dare

On 18 August, Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, the first child born to white English-speaking parents anywhere in the Americas. She was named Virginia, after the English settlement in North America, which was fondly named after the sobriquet of Elizabeth I, the virgin queen. Everybody in the settlement was happy at her birth, and it made her grandfather proud and delighted.


However, his delight was short-lived. By that time the fleet was preparing to return to England, and only nine days after the birth of his granddaughter, John White had to sail for England to explain the authority about the desperate situation of the colony and ask for supplies and support for his struggling venture.

mystery of the lost colony of roanoke
Location of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

John White, the governor of the new colony, intended to bring a fresh load of supplies for the settlers. But, as luck would have it, by the time he arrived in London after a difficult journey, it was reported that that the mighty Spanish Armada was advancing to attack London. Consequently, Queen Elizabeth prohibited any able ship from leaving England so they might be used in the ensuing battle, if necessary.


The situation compelled John White to be detained unwillingly for three long years, during which he had no way to contact his people or his daughter in the Roanoke Island. Finally, Sir Walter Raleigh arranged passage for White on a private expedition organized by John Watts, an English merchant when hisfleet of six ships would spend the summer of 1590 raiding Spanish outposts in the Caribbean.

mystery of the lost colony of roanoke
The Roanoke Colony

John White and his men finally landed at Roanoke in 1590, where he had left his wife, his daughter, and his granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America three years ago. With a grim twist of fate, he returned to the island on the morning of 18 August 1590, on the third birthday of his beloved granddaughter. However, to his utter surprise and horror, he found the settlement deserted. There was no sign of life, the settlers, including his wife, daughter, and the child had simply disappeared.

mystery of the lost colony of roanoke

As he approached the site of the colony, White found that the area had been fortified with wooden stakes and tree trunks, and near the entrance of the fencing, the word Croatoan was carved in capital letters in one of the posts, and only ‘cro’ on another tree. Croatoan was also an island, located in the south of Roanoke, home to a Native American tribe of the same. It was considered for the time being that perhaps, due to some unknown reasons, the colonists had relocated to that island. It was also found by White and his party that within the fortified palisade, houses had been dismantled, and the area was ransacked. Several large trunks of John Wright, containing his personal belongings that he left behind in 1587, had been dug up and stolen. Surprisingly, none of the colony's boats could be found along the shore. It was planned that the search party would visit Croatoan on the following day to search for the missing settlers. However, as a terrible storm snapped one of the anchor cables of the ship during the night, the search mission could not be complied with due to the considerable risk of shipwreck.

mystery of the lost colony of roanoke
Many believe that the settlers were massacre by American Indians

After that, Sir Walter Raleigh in his first transatlantic voyage in 1595, and Bartholomew Gilbert in 1603, tried to find out the truth about the Roanoke colonists. But both the missions failed due to bad weather. Moreover, Gilbert was killed by a group of Native Americans for unknown reasons on 29 July 1603, and his remaining crew was forced to return to England empty-handed. Since then, investigations about the fate of the lost colony of Roanoke continued over the centuries without yielding any satisfactory explanation. However, the cryptic clues left at the abandoned settlement and the lack of any concrete evidence gave birth to wild speculations and hypotheses. While it was maintained by many that in all probability, the colonists were killed or abducted by Native Americans, other hypotheses hold that perhaps they tried to sail back to England and got lost in the sea or were killed by the Spaniards. However, it was also considered that perhaps the isolated settlers were absorbed into a friendly tribe.

mystery of the lost colony of roanoke
(L) Statue of Virginia Dare, by Maria Louisa Lander (R) Monument to Virginia, Roanoke Island.

What happened to the settlers of the Roanoke Island is still shrouded in the mist of mystery, and probably it will be never known for sure. However, little Virginia Dare became almost a legendary figure in the United States, celebrated with postal stamps, coins, parks, and bridges. According to a popular local legend, she was adopted by Native Americans, miraculously turned into a white bunny, and accidentally and unknowingly killed by a hunter. Till today, whenever a white die is spotted in or around the Roanoke Island, the locals believe it to be the spirit of Virginia Dare, the first child born to white English-speaking parents anywhere in the Americas

The Mystery of Mary Celeste
Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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