CRO tree found at the lost colony

Colonization in America and the Missing Colony of Roanoke

I am a firm believer in the domino effect. That one small thing could change how history has panned out. Certainly, I am not the only person who believes this. Due to this belief, there have been examples of shows showing what could happen if someone changed time. You may be wondering why I am talking about changing time. Not that I want to do this, but history is interesting. So would anything be different if the first colony in America was different?

The United States, as many (should) know, started as the 13 colonies that were a part of Great Britain. But, there is a mystery that surrounds the start of the history of the United States. The first colony is considered to be Jamestown and then everything was built off of that colony. Before there was Jamestown, Great Britain had a failed colonial attempt on the Roanoke colony.

Colonizing America

A map of European countries and where they established colonies in America
Credit: Quora

For many years in elementary school, colonization was the main point of any social studies class. The colonies were the basis of what the United States has come to be. But, for many years, other countries wanted the land and would do anything to have it.

Colonies and Demands

Great Britain was not the only country that decided that the land in America was valuable. France, Spain and the Netherlands were all in the same boat in wanting land. They wanted this land away from their country. The land where the thirteen colonies sit, which is now the eastern coast of the U.S, was favorable. Trading was very important and this area was good for trade ports.

Christopher Coloumbus

The opinions of Christopher Columbus have changed since I first learned about him. Now, instead of Columbus day, it is Indigenous peoples day, which makes sense. This is to have history recognize that the Native Americans were the ones to discover the New World while Columbus did nothing. Though for many centuries he was credited as being the founder of the New World.

Columbus brought many things over to the world, but at what expense? The Native Americans were not as advanced as the Europeans, but they did know the land they were on. It seemed like it would be an even trade of knowledge. Columbus learned from the Natives about the land and used it to his benefit. In return, he gave the Natives goods they had never seen before. Along with those goods came diseases not around in the areas, making them deadly for them.

Jamestown Colony

The Jamestown Colony did come after the failed attempt of Roanoke, but I believe talking about Jamestown before is more beneficial. In 1607, an area that is now Virginia was colonized by the English. This became to be their first permanent settlement.

Since there was the failed colony of Roanoke, it gave insight into what the new settlers could do in order to make sure this next one did not fail. When coming to the land, the settlers split into three groups. These three groups had different tasks to support the settlement. There were builders, farmers and explorers.

A painting of the settlers coming off the boat in the Jamestown colony
Credit: National Park Services

Life in the Colony

Jamestown got off to a rocky start. When the Captain of the ship had traveled back to England for more supplies, the settlers then started becoming sick. Drinking water that was not safe for drinking, running low on food and many people came down with fevers.

Not only were they in danger from illness, but war as well. Some groups of Natives did not appreciate the settlers on their land and this led to some bloodshed and death. But the Powhatan Indians stepped in to help with the starvation of the colony. And many people believe that without the tribes’ help they would not have survived. Very few colonists did survive and it was not until later in 1608 were more people sent over to repopulate the colony.

John Smith

Disney has shown John Smith as a sort of Prince, even though he is not a fictional character, he is not a prince. And the love story between Pocahontas and him never sat right with me since she was 10 years old. Peo

The colonist of John Smith

ple form their own opinions of settlers and how they treated the Natives. But, for Disney to try and portray that any sort of settler and native were a prince and princess was far fetched.

John Smith was a part of the governing counsel for the colony. Alongside others as well, though, Smith’s focus was on survival and not status. Though he was at risk of being executed by the Powhatan tribe, Pocahontas saved him. Some people find it that Smith could have been lying, or misunderstood that incident. There are no writings from the tribe and Smith was the only colonist present, so it will remain a mystery and speculation. After that encounter, Smith was then in charge of the colony and he made his mission for its survival. They lost little under Smith’s control. And he was able to keep up relations with the Natives. Smith does not take the credit for its survival and says that other people helped. But this was the first successful colony after Roanoke’s failure.

The Roanoke Colony

Leading up to Colonization

In order to have successes, there needs to be failures. People are able to learn from mistakes more than anything else. The Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano founded the area in North Coralina which would become the Outer Banks in 1524. He did this for the French king. Following that venture, neither France nor Spain felt the need to explore the area further.

Painting of the settlers writing on the Tree

A few decades later, in 1584, England set out to colonize the rather unexplored North America. The goal was to establish a colony to seem like they were laying a claim on America, since nobody in Europe had done it yet.

First Roanoke colony attempt

When the large group of settlers came over in 1585, they had struggled a bit and sailed back to England due to the little food they had left. The land and colony were still there. This is understandable, being a new place and it could be hard to adjust.

Raeligh, who was the one that wanted England to lay a claim on the new world. So when England gave him permission to do so, he sent out a couple of ships with a total of 600 men. During the voyage, these ships ended up scattering and by the time they reached what would become Roanoke, about 108 men remained under the command of Lane (a war vet).

He abandoned Roanoke island due to a bad relationship with neighboring natives, and returned to London to report what the land was like. Based off Lane’s description, the land seemed favorable. And because of this Raleigh supported one more fleet to the new world to establish the colony further.

Roanoke Colony finally

The last fleet sent to build the first colony in the New World was led by John White. He would become the mayor of the colony. The people were trying not to succumb to the violence between natives and the shortage of food. So in 1887, the second voyage was made and it was supposed to be different. It obviously was not supposed to be one of the first American mysteries but that is exactly what happened.

John White

John White was determined to make this new colony work. So, in order to do this, he had the next set of people traveling, with women and children. Altogether, 113 people took part in the journey. White even brought some of his own family. This gave him more motivation to make sure this colony was successful.

There was still tension among the Indians on the land and the people had run out of supplies fast. To put it in perspective, the group left England in May of 1887. They arrived in July and by late 1887 they were running low. The ships they took did not know they would be needing more supplies (bringing women and children were to help the colony be self-sustaining).

White went, leaving the colonists and his family behind. The voyage back was difficult. There were run-ins with pirates, making it take longer than normal (even though traveling by boat takes pretty long anyway.) By 1890, White was able to finally return, but it was not the way he left it.

Mystery of the Roanoke Colony

Three years after the colonization of the Roanoke colony, something strange happened. When its mayor, John White, returned with support from England, the settlers were nowhere to be found.  This became the first mystery in American history and it is very interesting.

History can be very mysterious because primary sources are real and some people are the type that they need to see to believe. So how is it possible that a whole community just vanished into thin air? What John White saw when coming back was almost nothing. A completely barren deserted land. The only thing that was left was the cryptic message they had carved on the tree. “Cro” or “Croatoan”.


So, what is Croatoan?

I have heard croatoan as a sort of battle cry, and used in different contexts. But, it does come from the missing Roanoke colony. Cryptic messages have a very strong aura around them. On August 18th 1890, only the word “croatoan” remained on an outpost. Also “Cro” was spotted carved in a tree. People have been scratching their heads at this for centuries. How could a colony with so many people just vanish?

th discovery of Croatoan
Credit: historic mysteries

White says he has comfort in the fact that he believes the people relocated to a new place to restart the colony. This is not a far-fetched idea. John White needed more supplies and his return was delayed. The colonists needed to do something. So a relocation made the most sense. Before White left for England, the people had mentioned moving if needed. Why was there no traces? And how has it been able to remain a mystery for centuries?

The Missing Colony…found?

Within the past decade there have been more reports on the missing colony. I’m curious why I’m only just now learning about this and why this went right over my head. Scott Dawson wrote a book on the matter and claimed that this is no longer a mystery. He states that what happened was that natives took in the colonists and that was where they spent their days. Like I have said before, this does make the most sense.

Even with the strained relationship between some tribes and the colonists, they were able

Poster for Roanoke season of American Horror Story
Credit: Reddit

to have help with some other tribes.I have also read that during this time a drought was happening, making the people even more desperate for help.  The evidence for this lacks but was always a very strong possibility. Maybe it was that the colonists took to the Natives way of life and that just became who they were. So, while people believe they have an idea of what happened, I guess we really can never know for sure.


This mystery has taken a lot of people’s interest. Croatoan is a well known phrase and is always associated with the Roanoke colony. Not only is this known in history itself, but it is shown in the media today. The lost colony was the center of a season of the popular show “American Horror Story”.

This season of the show was very entertaining, it was a show within a show and the execution of it was amazing. Among my friends who watch it say this is one of their favorite seasons. So, if one wants to learn about the Roanoke colony or start down the rabbit hole, I strongly suggest starting with this.

Moving Forward

The fact that American history started with a colony that vanished without a trace amazes me. Many people have their own beliefs as to what happened and some are more fun than others. Maybe a supernatural entity wiped it out, leaving a message behind. Or maybe the whole colony has become a lost city Atlantis. Which then takes the people who find themselves in the Bermuda triangle. That is just my imagination though. Or maybe next people can try using a Ouija board to get to the bottom of what happened. Some people need answers.

I hope that in the future people will continue to look into this mystery. It seems like the answer is right there, on the tip of the tongue, but there is just no definitive answer. I wish that I could give you one, but at least here was a little history.

CRO tree found at the lost colony
Credit: NCPedia

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