(3) Exploration and Contact

English exploration and settlement of North America were slow. Despite a few early voyages, it wasn’t until the 1580s that English financiers truly pursued profit here. Several times between 1584 and 1587, ships were sent by Sir Walter Raleigh across the Atlantic. The purpose of these early Roanoke Voyages was to learn about and settle the region now known as North Carolina. Raleigh’s first colony consisted of 108 soldiers, scientists, and metallurgists. In 1585 these men constructed a fort and town on modern day Roanoke Island, North Carolina. In addition to exploring the land, observations, and experiments to identify profitable natural resources were conducted by scientist Thomas Hariot. One of the most significant legacies of Raleigh’s expeditions was a collection of paintings by artist John White documenting the people, plants, and animals of the region. A few of these images showing the daily lives of these people can be seen here. When Indian relations deteriorated and resupply seemed unlikely, leaders of the first colony abandoned the settlement. 


In 1587 Raleigh dispatched a small band of men, women and children to lay the roots of English settlement at Roanoke Island. When they arrived they found the fort and town in ruin. Facing dwindling supplies and hostile Indians, Governor John White left his family and returned to England. Unable to get back until 1590, he found the settlement abandoned with no sign of the colonists. Despite several attempts to locate them, they were never found and became the legendary Lost Colony. Although England’s attempt to establish a colony failed, the Roanoke Voyages and the lessons learned there established the foundation for the success of Jamestown and later settlement in the region.