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Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 - 1618) and the Lost Colony of Roanoke (1587) (W7:D2)


- The outer banks of North Carolina was explored by Giovanni da Verrazzano, in 1524, who promptly returned to Francis I, King of France, and Henry VIII, King of England, to report a route to China; though, with additional exploration, he would have seen that it was only a barrier island, protecting the mainland. In their wisdom, neither Kings granted further exploration.


In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Sir Humphrey Gilbert to explore the east coast of the New World (that not already claimed by any Christian nation - Florida was already claimed by Spain). Gilbert died in 1584, and his commission was split between his brother, Adrian Gilbert, and half-brother, Walter Raleigh. They were to claim the east coast, with Raleigh given the southern portion to explore and settle by 1591, or lose his rights.


Raleigh had found favor with the queen, by playing a major role in colonizing and thwarting the rebellions in Ireland. For his part, he was given a portion of Ireland to farm and mine. His influence grew, by serving the queen under many positions, including helping her to thwart the Spanish Armada’s attempts on Britannia.


In his commission, he was to colonize Virginia, search for gold, and set up a base for privateers - legal pirates commissioned to attack Spanish treasure ships. Now Raleigh never landed in, or explored, North America; he delegated that responsibility to others. Instead, he and his friends sailed off to search for El Dorado, the city of gold, in what is now known as Venezuela, and returned to publish a book about the city- which was debunked.

His first colony was founded in Virginia, on Roanoke Island. The first expedition was unfruitful, so he sent a second one, with a larger group of settlers. When they landed, they began to span out across Roanoke Island. They were well supplied and very driven to settle the land. They were governed by John White, who, when their supplies were running out, decided to return to England for more. His return was delayed, first, by all ships being recalled to help fight the Spanish Armada, and then further delayed when his fleet was sidetracked by the thought of attacking Spanish treasure ships.


When White arrived, the colony had disappeared. The settlers may have given up and moved, writing “CRO” into the trunk of a tree. “CRO” could have meant they moved to Croatoan Island, off North Carolina, but due to bad weather, White was never able to find them.


As for Raleigh, he secretly married one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, in 1591, and when discovered, in 1592, he and his new wife were locked in the Tower of London. He was temporarily released, a month later, to help manage the return of privateer vessels recalled by the queen. After his full release in 1593, he became part of Parliament. After the Queen died, he was accused of treason against King James I, and sent back to the tower. In 1617, he was granted another pardon and received a commission to peacefully search for El Dorado again. But, unbeknownst to him, one of his vessels broke a peace treaty, and attacked a Spanish outpost. Raleigh’s son was killed. Raleigh returned to Spain and, though given opportunities to escape, he accepted his execution. His wife was presented with his head, and kept it until her death.

Activity: Storytelling of the Past – Your task is to create a story of what you think happened to Roanoke. Why did the settlers leave; or was the colony destroyed with them inside? You have free rein over this story. You can make it what you actually believe happened to the city, or what most likely didn’t happen, but could have – try to be realistic. How do you see an entire colony disappearing? Read the unit on the Lost Colony of Roanoke at HuntThePast.com. Write your story first on a separate sheet of paper, and then condense it to fit in the space below.


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