Tuesday, May 15, 2007

That Other First American Colony

Recently, there's been a lot of media coverage given to the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. Some stories refer to Jamestown as England's "first American colony." This is not technically true, which is why others couch the phrase as "first permanent colony" or "first supported colony."

The reality is that Sir Walter Raleigh established what he believed would be the first permanent American colony in 1587 on Roanoke Island. Thus, twenty years before Jamestown, more than 100 English settlers came to live off the coast of present-day North Carolina.

On August 18, 1587, the colony welcomed Virginia Dare, believed to be the first child born in America to English parents. But the colony was to be short-lived. The outbreak of war between England and Spain meant that it could not be supplied. In 1590, governor John White returned from across the Atlantic to find the settlement abandoned. Now called "The Lost Colony," the fate of its settlers remains unknown.

Few people realize that John Smith, probably the most famous resident of Jamestown, was tasked with gathering information about the fate of the Roanoke colony. Smith collected conflicting stories about the settlers being massacred or assimilated into local native tribes.

Today, visitors to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site can see what remains of the colony's fort. Nearby, the long-running outdoor theatre production of "The Lost Colony" is performed nightly during summer months.

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