First English Colonists in North America
The 4th of July 1584 AD
Sir Walter Raleigh may never have set foot on the northern American continent , limiting his trans-Atlantic travels to South America, but it was he who presided over the attempt to establish a settlement in what became the colony of Virginia.
In March 1584 Raleigh was granted seven years to achieve that feat, but hastened by the dreamt of riches of that new land his first exploratory party left Plymouth the following month. Conveniently coincidentally for historians they made landfall on July 4 at what was subsequently named Roanoke Island, now part of North Carolina. Having made initial peaceful contact with the local tribes and gathered intelligence about the local situation, the party returned to England with two of the native Americans who provided further details to Raleigh.
An English settlement was established in 1585, though not without considerable difficulty during the ocean crossing, and with one of the five ships deciding to embark on the planned privateering even before a base had been created. The second expedition’s leader, Raleigh’s cousin Sir Richard Grenville, returned to recruit further settlers and obtain more finance, but when Drake by chance arrived at the colony he offered the putative settlers transport home, which they took – bringing with them tobacco and potatoes.
A third colony was established, soon reinforced by a fourth expedition. Mysteriously all the settlers were found to have quit the place when eventually a supply and relief convoy came to check on them. The houses had been dismantled rather than destroyed, and few artefacts were left behind. This abiding mystery has been explained by many writers with a variety of theories: hunger forced them to join native tribes; they were wiped out by cannibals; they freely decided to seek better ground; or they were enslaved. The full answer may never be known, but research into the DNA of descendents of the local tribes may yield some clues if the traces of English bloodlines are discovered.
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