The Mysterious Disappearance of the Roanoke Colony


In this article we take a look at one of the most mysterious disappearances in history – where 115 people appeared to vanish, never to be seen again. This relates to the Roanoke Colony. The disappearance has baffled historians for years. The incident in question took place in 1590, with the mystery still unsolved almost five-hundred years on. A range of theories have been attributed to the disappearance – with many believing they have solved the mystery. Read on for the full story, including a background, theories and more!


This disappearance took place in what is now called North Carolina, in USA.


The story begins in 1587, when a group of around 115 English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island, looking to establish a colony. This was a location just off the mainland of what is now known as North Carolina. The settlers were led by John White, who became the governor of the colony. When resources became scarce, White returned to the United Kingdom via ship, with the intention to return immediately. It was expected that White would be back within a few months, however, this wasn’t the case.




When White returned to the United Kingdom, preparations were underway for the arrival of the fearsome Spanish Armada, as a naval war developed. British Queen Elizabeth I demanded that all ships were to remain in the United Kingdom to stave off the threat of the Armada. By 1590, victory had been declared against the Spanish Armada, and now White was cleared to return to Roanoke. Yet when White returned to Roanoke, the settlers were nowhere to be seen, and there appeared to be very little trace of them left.


All that was left was the word ‘Croatoan’ – carved into a wooden post. This had presumably been left for White. Despite investigations, no one could find any further clues into the disappearance. Croatoan was the name of an island near to Roanoke, which hosted a native American tribe of the same name. This has formed the basis for the majority of the theories regarding this disappearance. Despite searching for remnants of the group, White was unable to find anything.


aerial photography of land at daytime
The Colony had seemingly vanished – though three years is a long time. Photo by Tom Fisk on



  • Croatoan Tribe Murdered the Colony: Most historians reached the conclusion that the Croatoan tribe either killed, abducted, or were joined voluntarily by the Roanoke settlers. If they were to have killed or abducted them, the carving could have been a signature.
  • The Colony Voluntarily Joined the Croatoan Tribe: It is also possible the settlers joined the Croatoan tribe voluntarily – especially if resources had been scarce. Perhaps the carving had been a message for anyone that returned to the Island looking for them. However it’s believed the natural resources would’ve easily been enough to keep the settlers going, which might discredit that particular theory. It should also be remembered that three years is a long time, and without knowing what was happening in the United Kingdom, it is possible that the settlers felt they had been forgotten, and opted to take matter’s into their own hands.
  • Roanoke Colony Set Sale Themselves: If the Roanoke Colony were believing that they had been forgotten, while running low on resources, it is possible they were able to set sail themselves. They could’ve struggled to navigate, potentially leading to them perishing at sea.
  • The Colony Resorted to Cannibalism: There is also the chance, that with resources running low, the group resorted to cannibalism to get by. As a result, numbers would have slowly diminished, before the last few opted to leave the island to try and find more food.
  • Attack by the Spanish: With the Spanish at a naval war with the United Kingdom at the time, there is a chance that they would’ve invaded Roanoke, and to kill the colony as an act of war.
  • Alien Abduction: If there is no other explanation for their disappearance, it is possible the entire colony were abducted by aliens – leading to an uncertain fate.





In the end, no trace has ever been found of the Roanoke settlers, in what has entered folklore as one of the most mysterious disappearances of all time. Efforts in 2007 involving DNA were unable to generate any new leads. It appears as if this will be a mystery that won’t ever be sold. One final point to raise – White left both his wife and daughter behind, which coupled with the Croatoan carving – adds credence to one of the theories revolving around the Croatoan tribe. Frustratingly, it looks like we’ll never know quite what happened.





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