Illustration by Greg Copeland

What Happened to This Colony?

For more than 400 years, experts have been trying to solve a famous case of a lost colony.

As You Read: Think about what makes a community successful. What problems did the Roanoke colonists face?

It was a hot August night in 1590. John White had spent weeks at sea. Finally, he spotted Roanoke Island, near what is now North Carolina. He couldn’t wait to see the family and friends he had left behind three years earlier.

But when White got to the island, no one was there. The houses had been taken apart. Weeds grew everywhere. One word was carved into a post: CROATOAN. It was the name of an island 50 miles south. Had everyone moved there?

Storms kept White from finding out. He had to return to England. To this day, no one knows what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke.

A Rough Start

White and about 115 other men, women, and children arrived on Roanoke in 1587. They had left England to make a home in what they called the New World.

Things didn’t go as planned. One American Indian tribe on Roanoke had been attacked by English explorers in the past. So when White’s group arrived, the tribe was not welcoming. They attacked, killing one colonist.

The colonists were running out of food too. White worried they might starve. In the summer of 1587, he sailed back to England for supplies. But his trip took longer than expected. He never saw the other colonists again.

Digging for Clues

Today, experts are still trying to crack the case. Did the colonists move? Were they attacked? No graves belonging to the colonists were ever found on Roanoke. But clues have been found nearby.

Experts dug up artifacts on the island of Croatoan (now called Hatteras). They include a sword handle and a stone writing tablet. And pieces of English pottery were found 50 miles west of Roanoke, in an area experts call Site X.

Archaeologist Eric Klingelhofer says these clues suggest that the colonists split up and moved. But others say the items could have belonged to Native Americans who traded with colonists. Experts are still searching for answers.

“We’ll keep digging until we solve this mystery,” Klingelhofer says.

1. What did John White find when he returned to Roanoake?

2. What problems did the Roanoke colonists face?

3. What is an artifact? What artifacts have experts recently found?

Close-Reading Questions

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