A map of the Roanoke area, by John White
Roanoke Island is an island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. About 12 miles long and 3 miles wide, the island lies between the mainland and the barrier islands, with Albemarle Sound on its north, Roanoke Sound on its east, Pamlico Sound on its south, and Croatan Sound on its west. The island contains the towns of Manteo at the northern end and Wanchese at the southern end.
The Roanoke Colony
The Roanoke Colony was the Second English colony in the New World, after St. John's in Newfoundland. It was founded at Roanoke Island in what was then Virginia (now North Carolina, United States) in two separate settlement groups, one in 1586, and a second group in 1587.
The enterprise was financed and organized by Sir Walter Raleigh, who had received a charter for the colonization of Virginia from Queen Elizabeth I of England.
The first settlers returned to England a year later after killing Winginia, leader of the natives; they had been running out of supplies. A second group of English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island on July 22, 1587 to re-establish the colony. Virginia Dare, granddaughter of Gov. John White of the colony, was born the next month on August 18th, becoming the first English child born in the Americas.
John White returned from a supply-trip to England on his granddaughter's third birthday after being postponed for three years by war, and found his settlement deserted. He organized a search, but his men could not find any trace of the colonists. Some 90 men, 17 women, and 9 children had disappeared; there was no sign of a struggle or battle of any kind, and the people seemed to have left suddenly in the middle of other tasks. The only clue was the word "Croatoan" carved on to a tree. White took this to mean that they had moved to Croatoan Island, but no evidence of them was found there either. What became of them is still a mystery; and Roanoke is often referred to as the Lost Colony. The site of the lost colony on the island is now a major tourist attraction, as is the North Carolina Aquarium.
Battle of Roanoke Island, February 7 and 8, 1862
During the American Civil War the island was first fortified by the Confederacy. The Battle of Roanoke Island was an incident in the North Carolina Expedition of January to July 1862, when Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside landed an amphibious force and took Confederate forts on the island. Afterwards, the three Confederate forts on the island were renamed for the Union generals who had commanded the winning forces: Fort Huger became Fort Reno; Fort Blanchard became Fort Parke; and Fort Bartow became Fort Foster. Roanoke Island remained under Union occupation for the duration of the war. Slaves from the island and the mainland of North Carolina fled to the occupied area in hopes of gaining freedom. By 1863 a substantial number of these former slaves, known as contrabands, were living on the fringe of the Union camp. They had built churches and opened what was most likely the first free school for blacks in North Carolina. Fearing that this freedmen's camp might lead to problems related to sanitation and soldiers' discipline, the Union army established an official freedmen's colony on the island. In addition to its original residents, it was to serve as a refuge for the families of black soldiers who enlisted in the Union Army. The superintendent of the colony, Horace James, had great hopes for the colony, viewing it as a grand social experiment. Northern missionary teachers, mostly women, journeyed to the island to help with the experiment. By the end of the war the population in the colony was approaching 3,500.
- Lost Roanoke Colony (http://www.libraryreference.org/roanoke.html)
- Battle summary: (http://www2.cr.nps.gov/abpp/battles/nc002.htm) Battle of Roanoke Island
- Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony (http://www.roanokefreedmenscolony.com)