England had a late start in colonization because over the past few centuries it had endured international conflict (the Hundred Years War), internal political conflict (the War of the Roses), and thanks to Henry VIII, religious conflict in England and in Europe (the English Reformation). England focused considerable wealth and manpower protecting itself from external and internal forces that had the potential to destroy the developing country. During the reign of Elizabeth I, 1558-1603, England emerged as a world power, reached religious stability, and began to look across the Atlantic at the potential for economic gain.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh dreamed of establishing a colony in North America, but had a setback in 1583 when Gilbert and his boat, scouting for locations of the coast of Canada, sank. Raleigh tried again in 1585 landing a small colony on Roanoke Island off the coast of what is now northern North Carolina, but back then was part of Virginia, which extended from Manhattan Island in the north to Spanish Florida in the south.
The colony was ill-prepared to survive life on a barrier island sticking, and later abandoned Roanoke and returned to England. Raleigh tried again in 1587 with a much larger and better planned venture, but again the New World proved too much. Governor John White returned to England to gain more supplies, support, and people, reluctantly leaving behind his colony, including his daughter and granddaughter, the first Anglo born in the New World.
The attack of the Spanish Armada in 1588 required every available English ship for defense, and White was unable to return to Roanoke until 1590. Upon his return White found Roanoke abandoned, and only the cryptic message “Croatoan” carved into a post. White never found the “Lost Colony of Roanoke.” What do you think happened to them?
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society