WHEN Sir Walter Raleigh tried a third time to plant a colony on Roanoke Island, he sent across the ocean farmers, mechanics and carpenters, with their wives, thinking that families would be more content to stay than single men. The expedition was in charge of Captain John White.
The colonists landed on the island, built houses and forts, planted gardens, and cultivated the fields. Raleigh had advised them to make friends with the Indians. So, when one of the Chiefs came in, Captain White greeted him, and gave him some cheap jewelry, a gaudy handkerchief, and a knife as presents. He then asked the Indian to kneel down while he conferred on him the title of Lord of Roanoke.
All went well with the little colony. The houses were ready for the coming winter, the crops were growing, and the Indians were friendly. There was great rejoicing when it was announced that Mrs. Dare, the daughter of the Governor, had a little baby girl, the first white child of English parents to be born in America.
Governor White thought he might safely sail back to England in order to get some supplies for the winter; he planned to return to his colony in a few weeks. So he went to England, leaving his happy people on Roanoke Island. But, when he reached England, he found that country in a state of great excitement over the threatened Spanish invasion.
It seems that a bold Englishman, Sir Francis Drake, had sailed into the harbor of Cadiz, in Spain, and had burned or captured all the ships there. This had made the Spaniards angry, especially as he had said, "I have singed the beard of the Spanish King."
The King of Spain fitted out a great fleet intended to destroy the English navy; he would land an army on English soil and plunder England herself! The fleet consisted of about one hundred and thirty ships, with 30,000 soldiers and sailors. It would not be considered wonderful in these days, but it was considered a great fleet then, and was called the "Invincible Armada."
This expedition created consternation in England, and everybody was hurried on board ships to fight the Spaniards. Hardly had the Armada sailed out of the harbor before a severe storm scattered the English ships; so that, later on, Drake and the other English sea captains fought the enemy singly. Fortunately, the English ships were light and were able to sail all around the big, heavy Spanish ships, doing them much damage and not suffering much themselves. The Armada circled the British Isles, meeting storm after storm, and pursued and harried by the English. At last the great fleet was broken up in a terrible gale, many of the ships were lost, and the great Armada came to nought.
It took a long time for all this to happen, and, in the meanwhile, Governor White could not get back to his colony at Roanoke. One ship was fitted out and ready to sail, but the Government seized it and sent it off to fight the Spaniards. Another ship was made ready, and actually sailed, but the Captain turned pirate, and went after Spanish vessels in the West Indies. It was nearly three years before Governor White found himself on board his own ship, on his way to the colonists and to his little granddaughter.
We can imagine the feelings of the old Captain as he sailed over the seas, wondering what had become of his friends and family, and how they had fared all this time. They had looked for him to return to them in a few months, and here it was nearly three years!
Land was sighted one day just after dark, and a light glimmered on shore. "That must be the home of one of the colonists," exclaimed the Governor. Hastily, a boat was lowered and he was rowed to shore. On landing, his men with him looked about, called aloud, blew trumpets and fired off their guns, but there was not a sight or a sound of any of the colonists.
All night they searched, and next day. At last they came to a few huts, broken down and long unused; there were also some torn bits of clothing scattered about. No signs could be found of any colonists having been near in a great while. On a tree near by was carved the word, croatan.
On a tree nearby was carved the word 'Croatan'.
Governor White, when he saw this, thought he knew what had become of the colonists, because he had told them that if, for any cause, it was necessary for them to move away, they should carve on a tree or door-post the name of the place to which they were going. Croatan was the name of a tribe of Indians, and the Governor at once thought his colonists had gone to the island where those Indians lived.
He tried to reach this island, but storms arose and blew him off his path. Besides which, his crew demanded that he return home. So he set sail for England, leaving the lost colony to its fate. From that day to this no one has ever known what became of the lost colony of Roanoke, or of the little baby girl whose eyes first saw the light on the soil of America.