Fort Raleigh is located in Dare County, North Carolina, near the city of Manteo and at the northernmost end of Roanoke Island. Just like Jamestown is to Virginia, Fort Raleigh is an important settlement in the early history of North Carolina. Yet unlike Jamestown, which was rebuilt as a living history museum, Fort Raleigh hasn’t been rebuilt at all, but rather it has had other attractions placed up around it so as to honor the events that transpired there. The fort was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, one of the most notable English noblemen of the Elizabethan era and the leader of the expedition that would ultimately end in disaster.
1584, Queen Elizabeth commissioned Raleigh with a charter to colonize the New
World to bring both riches and glory to England. On July 4th, 1584,
Raleigh and his colonists finally set foot on the shores of what would be known
as Roanoke Island, North Carolina. The
two explorers who went to survey the land, Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe,
reported to Raleigh that the land they found was ideal for settlement as it had
estuaries, fresh water ponds and dense forests.
Raleigh then sent 100 Englishmen to the island the following year. However the result was the most disastrous of
all the English attempts to colonize the New World.
The English had landed in the New
World at the end of autumn with hardly any time to plant crops, and worse,
their presence had aroused both the suspicions and the anger of hostile Native
American tribes. The first colonists
left the colony in 1586, when the renowned English seafarer Sir Francis Drake came
to see how far the colony was progressing.
Undeterred and determined to colonize
the New World for England, Raleigh made another attempt to establish a colony
on Roanoke Island. In 1587, he sent 117
Englishmen, as well as women and children to establish a colony on the island
under the command of John White. Raleigh
himself was unable to attend, as England was at war with Spain. However tensions between the English and
Native Americans were still high after the previous attempt to settle the
island. Despite this fear, White and his colonists had arrived on August 18 1587. Shortly thereafter, his daughter, Eleanor
Dare had given birth to the first English child to be born in the New World:
Unfortunately White realized that
they were low on supplies, and hesitantly left with his daughter and
grand-daughter back to England to restock and resupply the colony, only to find
himself trapped in the war against Spain thus delaying his trip by 3
years. When he finally returned, White
was shocked to find that the entire colony had been deserted. Not a single soul was found in the fort,
which was still standing. The only clue
he could find to the colony’s fate was the word “CROATAN” carved into a
tree. White believed that the settlers
had moved to Hatteras Island where the peaceful Croatan Indians lived. Yet he found no such villages, and what was
once Fort Raleigh became known as the lost Colony. It would be 17 more years before the English
finally established a permanent colony in Jamestown.
To this day, no one knows what
became of the colonists. No evidence of
them has ever been found. Fort Raleigh
was made a park in 1948 during an archaeological dig. It was discovered that the entire settlement
was an earthen built fort, so unlike Jamestown, there is not much that has been
reconstructed of the original fort.
Today visitors to Fort Raleigh can visit the park’s most popular
attractions which include a live performance at the outdoor theatre, where a
play is shown that tells the story of the Lost Colony, as well as an
Elizabethan garden commemorated in honor of the colonists whose fates remain