Skip to main content

Raleigh Colonies


RALEIGH COLONIES. Sir Walter Raleigh and his half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, were authorized to colonize lands, and in 1578they outfitted a fleet of privateering ships and sailed into the West Indies. Raleigh had a large interest in a 1583 Newfoundland voyage, on the return leg of which Gilbert was lost. In 1584, Raleigh planned an expedition, commanded by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe. It arrived off the coast of what is now North Carolina on 13 July 1584; took possession of the area in the name of the queen; explored the inlets, islands, and mainland south of Chesapeake Bay; and returned to England with skins, a pearl necklace, and two young Indian men, Manteo and Wanchese. They were put on show in London and used to help raise support for Raleigh's next expedition. Queen Elizabeth I agreed to the land being named Virginia in her honor, knighted Raleigh on 6 January 1585 as a result of this expedition, and made him lord and governor of Virginia.

Queen Elizabeth would not allow Raleigh to risk hazardous voyages himself, so in 1585 he organized a colonial expedition to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. It was led by Sir Richard Grenville, with Ralph Lane to be the governor. The landing in July was too late in the season and much of the seed brought along was spoiled by salt water. Grenville returned to England, taking further samples of Indian trade goods, leaving Lane in command of 107 men, including Manteo. Sir Francis Drake's 1586 expedition was primarily intended to capture Spanish treasure ships but it visited the Roanoke colony, possibly because the expedition was financed in part by Raleigh. Drake arrived off the coast on 10 June and had supplies sent to the colonists. Lane wanted to accept Drake's offer of further assistance, including food and boats, and move north to Chesapeake Bay. The planned relief ship from England was considerably overdue, and most of the colonists were desperate to leave. When Drake offered to take them home with his fleet, they all left the settlement. Grenville arrived in August 1586 to find nobody at the colony. He left fifteen men with plenty of provisions, but their fate is unknown. In 1587, Raleigh organized a second colony, one including women and children, with John White as governor. Raleigh instructed his captains to settle the colony one hundred miles farther north, at a site on Chesapeake Bay to be named after him. However, one of the captains, Simon Fernandez, over-ruled Raleigh and a colony was established once again at Roanoke Island. When White reluctantly left the colony to return home for supplies, there were eighty-five men, seventeen women, and eleven children. This colony disappeared sometime between White's departure in August 1587 and his return in August 1590. The members of White's relief expedition in 1590 saw smoke near the colony and thought it was a signal. They fired a cannon to indicate that they had arrived. Six of the relief crew, including Captain Edward Spicer, drowned during the landing at the colony; the survivors found nobody there. It had been agreed that the colonists would, if they had to leave, carve a message on the fort's palisade, to say where they had gone. White found a carving of the word "CROATOAN," the name of an island where Manteo had been born and still had friends. White, however, was unable to persuade Captain Abraham Cooke to check Croatoan. In the lost group was White's daughter, Ellinor, the mother of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America. The Lumbee Indians (a mixed Indian-white people) of Robeson County, North Carolina, claim to be the direct descendants of the members of Raleigh's lost colony on what is now called Croatan Island.

Raleigh's last attempt at colonization was in 1603. Bartholomew Gilbert had instructions to establish a new colony in the Chesapeake Bay area. A group landed on 10 May, but Indians killed Gilbert. The rest of the crew were discouraged and went back to England in September. When they returned, Raleigh was in the Tower of London on conspiracy charges and his rights to the New World had reverted to the Crown.


Durant, David N. Raleigh's Lost Colony. New York: Atheneum, 1981.

Quinn, David Beers. Raleigh and the British Empire. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1947.

Quinn, David Beers, ed. The Roanoke Voyages, 1584–1590. 2 vols. Reprint. New York: Dover, 1991.

Winton, John. Sir Walter Raleigh. New York: Coward, McCann, 1975.

Michelle M.Mormul

See alsoExplorations and Expeditions: British ; North Carolina ; South Carolina ; andvol. 9:Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Raleigh Colonies." Dictionary of American History. . 16 Jan. 2019 <>.

"Raleigh Colonies." Dictionary of American History. . (January 16, 2019).

"Raleigh Colonies." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved January 16, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.