Greenville left 15 men to guard the remains of the colony and sailed back to England. Not one to give up, Sir Walter Raleigh dispatched another group of colonists in 1587. This time, it would be in the more forgiving Chesapeake Bay area. But first, they needed to stop and pick up the 15 men Greenville had left behind. The colonists landed at Roanoke in July, only to be greeted by an eerie silence. Once again, the people left at Roanoke had vanished.
The only sign of what happened was a single skeleton, but no one was sure that it had actually belonged to one of the men. The colonists decided that it would be best to get off of the island as soon as possible. But the captain of the ships refused to let them back on, demanding that they stay and found the colony at Roanoke. The decision to stay there had probably already been made back in England without informing the colonists. The colonists, led by John White, decided to make the most of it. And over the next few months, they began planting crops and building houses.
Deciding that hostile relations with the natives weren’t helping the prospect of long-term survival, now-Governor White organized a peaceful meeting with the local Croatan tribe. But many of the other tribes in the area refused to meet White. And a few weeks after arriving, one of the colonists was killed by Native Americans when he was hunting for food along the shore. Over the next few months, the situation rapidly grew worse. The colonists struggled constantly with hunger and disease. The one bright spot was the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child ever born in America.
By winter, the colonists decided that White should sail back to England and ask for help. The voyage was risky, especially in winter, but White knew that without help, the colonists would die. White made it back, but the same year, England and Spain went to war. The war meant that it would be three years before White could make the return to Roanoke. He set foot again in the New World on August 18, 1590. It was Virginia Dare’s third birthday. But if White hoped for a joyful reunion, he was immediately disappointed. Once again, the colony was completely silent.
White searched through the decaying buildings and overgrown fields, but there was no sign of any of the more than 90 people he had left behind three years earlier. There was no evidence of a struggle. None of the buildings had been burned. There were no sun-bleached skeletons lying in the overgrowth. It was as though the colony had simply vanished. Before he left, White had told the colonists that if anything happened to them, they should carve a cross on a tree. Now, he searched for crosses. There were none. Only a cryptic message carved into the wood of a nearby tree: Croatoan. But what did it mean? And what happened to the people of Roanoke?