Lost Colony, early English settlement on Roanoke Island (now in North Carolina, U.S.) that mysteriously disappeared between the time of its founding (1587) and the return of the expedition’s leader (1590). In hopes of securing permanent trading posts for England, Sir Walter Raleigh had initiated explorations of the islands off present-day North Carolina as early as 1584. Because of tensions with local Native Americans, the first Raleigh-sponsored settlement on Roanoke Island lasted only a short period (1585–86). The next year approximately 100 settlers under Gov. John White attempted to colonize the same site. White went back to England to get supplies but was delayed by the Spanish Armada. By the time he returned to the island in August 1590, everyone had vanished. The only trace of the “Lost Colony” was the word CROATOAN carved on a post of the palisade erected by the settlers and the letters CRO on a tree. The group may have been annihilated by hostile Native Americans or may have joined a friendly tribe. In any event, the mystery of the Lost Colony has never been solved.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen.