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It's a mystery that has intrigued Americans for centuries: What happened to the lost colonists of North Carolina's Roanoke Island? See "America's Lost Colony. The settlers, who arrived indisappeared inleaving behind only two clues: the words "Croatoan" carved into a fort's gatepost and "Cro" etched into a tree.

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European exploration of the Outer Banks of modern-day North Carolina began in the early decades of the sixteenth century.

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Neither the French nor Spanish made any effort to settle the region, however, and other than a brief visit by the Spanish in Europeans showed no interest in the Outer Banks until the Roanoke voyages sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh nearly twenty years later. In late Aprilhe dispatched two small ships commanded by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe on a reconnaissance expedition that arrived off the Outer Banks a few months later. Entering into the shallow waters of the Sounds Pamlico Albemarle, and Currituckthey discovered numerous fertile islands covered with valuable timber and teeming with game.

In AprilRaleigh fitted out a fleet of five ships and two pinnaces carrying approximately soldiers and seamen under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, his cousin.

What happened to the “lost colony” of roanoke?

After a difficult crossing during which the fleet had been scattered for much of the voyage, the expedition arrived off the Outer Banks in June and began exploring lands along Pamlico Sound. A couple of months later, Grenville moved the fleet to a mooring off Hatorask Island and sent Ralph Lane, a veteran of the wars in Ireland, to establish a fort and settlement on Roanoke Island.

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In the winter and spring ofLane sent out two exploratory parties to the north and west. The first expedition discovered the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and made contact with Indian peoples along the southern shore of the Bay. The second, in the spring, explored the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers, during which the English picked up stories from Indians of copper possibly gold mines far inland.

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By this time, Lane had concluded that the colony should be relocated to the Chesapeake Bay where deep-water rivers would make better harbors for English shipping than the treacherous waters of the Outer Banks, and from which colonists could mount further expeditions into the interior of North Carolina to find the Indian mines that had eluded him.

He arranged with Sir Francis Drake, who had arrived off Hatorask Island with a large fleet from the West Indies earlier in the month, to transport the colonists to the Chesapeake Bay but a hurricane hit the coast as the men were about to embark and persuaded Lane to return to England instead.

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Back in London, he reported his discoveries to Raleigh and emphasized the advantages of the Chesapeake Bay as a location for a settlement from which to fit out explorations inland to search for gold mines and a passage to the South Sea. Determined to make another attempt, Raleigh sponsored a final expedition and placed in command John White, who had been on the two voyages.

In AprilWhite led a group of men, women, and children, including his daughter Eleanor, and son-in-law, Ananias Dare, besides many friends and associates to establish a settlement on the Chesapeake Bay called the City of Raleigh.

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They never reached their destination, however. The mariners responsible for transporting them, led by the master pilot, Simon Fernandes, put the settlers off at Roanoke Island instead and refused to take them any farther. After remaining on the Island for six weeks, White returned to England with Fernandes at the end of August for supplies and reinforcements. Whilst trying to reach them a fierce storm drove his ship out to sea and the attempt was abandoned.

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White returned to England and then moved to Munster in southern Ireland, where he likely died in the early years of the seventeenth century. What happened to the colonists remains a mystery.

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Standard historical s argue that a small group removed to Croatoan Island probably in late or earlywhile the main group went to live with the Chesapeake Indians on the southern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, possibly near the Lynnhaven River or Elizabeth River. Other research has provided a different theory, whereby the main group moved due west up the Albemarle Sound to the lands of the Chowanocs.

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Some might have eventually moved farther west up the Roanoke River and ed Tuscarora peoples. Whether on the southern shore of the Chesapeake Bay or in North Carolina, it is generally believed that many of the colonists and their descendants were killed by a large raiding party of Powhatan warriors sent in the spring of by the Powhatan paramount chief, Wahunsonacock father of Pocahontasto destroy the colonists and their Indian allies.

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Wahunsonacock apparently feared the possibility that the Jamestown settlers, who arrived in the Chesapeake Bay in late April, might develop contacts with the Roanoke settlers and peoples they lived with and thereby threaten his chiefdom. A few of the Roanoke colonists survived the attack, however, and fled up the Chowan River or found refuge with the Tuscarora people at a place called Ocanahowan on the Roanoke River, and to the south, possibly on the Tar River, at a town named Pakerackanick.

Descendants of the small group of settlers who went to live on Croatoan Island also survived.

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Paul E. David Beers Quinn, ed. Home History The Roanoke Colonies. National Portrait Gallery, London.

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Image courtesy of the British Museum. Lanham, Md.