The Tudors: discovering foreign lands

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Go on a voyage of discovery to Roanoke Island to explore the mystery of the ‘lost colony’

Sailing the seas wasn’t only of interest to sea captains. Their travels of exploration also attracted the attention of other Englishmen who, often because of religious persecution, were keen to settle in the recently discovered lands and make new lives for themselves. Although Sir Humphrey Gilbert (half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh) claimed St John’s in Newfoundland for England in 1583, the first English colony in the New World was established at Roanoke Island in what was then Virginia and is now North Carolina.

Essential facts

  1. Two explorers, Arthur Barlowe and Phillip Amadas, first set eyes on Roanoke Island off the coast of North America. They had been sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to search for possible places for new settlements.
  2. Raleigh, having been granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth I on all the lands he could occupy, sent a party of about 100 soldiers, craftsmen and scholars to establish a settlement at Roanoke Island. They included the scientist Sir Thomas Harriot and the artist John White.
  3. When Sir Francis Drake called at Roanoke Island on one of his expeditions, he found there had been problems. Food was scarce and the settlers had fallen out with the local Amerindians (native Americans). The discouraged colonists opted to return to England with Drake.
  4. A second attempt was made. This time 117 men, women and children made the journey to Roanoke Island. They found only the ruins of a village and had to make a fresh start. John White, who had become governor of this second colony, later returned to England for fresh supplies but the outbreak of war between England and Spain delayed him.
  5. It was three years before White returned. The colony was completely deserted. Its fate has never been discovered, and it is now known as the ‘lost colony’. The only clue left behind was the word ‘Croatoan’ carved on a tree – the name of a tribe of friendly Amerindians who lived south of Roanoke Island.
  6. More colonists travel from England to the New World. This time they landed up the coast from Roanoke Island and founded a settlement called Jamestown in what is now Virginia.
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