Why Did the Roanoke Settlement Fail?

Stock Montage/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Roanoke settlement is thought to have failed because it was poorly supplied and the colonists failed to ally with or befriend the Native peoples. Roanoke is referred to as the Lost Colony because of the mysterious disappearance of the settlers and the destruction of its buildings, giving birth to myths and conspiracy stories. However, historians contend that hardships and improved relations drove the colonists to assimilate with the Natives.

Roanoke consisted of three failed attempts at establishing a colony on the shores of North Carolina. Encouraged by positive reports from explorers, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville sent supply ships and colonists to Roanoke Island. Coincidentally, these settlers arrived just after the bubonic plague had swept through the Native Americans, destroying 90 percent of the existing population, and they were unable to muster the forces needed to maintain control of their territories.

Supply ships failed to reach Roanoke, and colonists abandoned the island to return to England, missing the arrival of another supply ship. This ship left several men to wait for the return of the colonists, but they eventually returned to England as well. Another expedition led by John White was founded and saw improvement between the settlers and the local Natives; however, White returned to the colony three years later to find it abandoned.