Old Map May Give New Clue to Colonists’ Disappearance

The Virginea Pars map, drawn by John White in the 1580s

For more than 400 years, a mystery has puzzled American and English historians alike—what happened to the English colonists of Roanoke Island? Did they leave to find a more hospitable site? Were they killed by the native people? Did they starve to death?

Roanoke Colony was established by Sir Walter Raleigh on an island on the coast of present-day North Carolina. After several previous expeditions to the region, a supply ship reached the site in 1590. War between England and Spain had delayed communication with the Roanoke colonists for three years. The ship’s crew found no trace of the colony’s 90 men, 17 women, and 11 children. Nor were there any signs of violence or calamity. The only clues were the word “Croatoan” carved into a post and “Cro” carved into a tree trunk. These notes must have referred to the Croatans, a local Native American tribe.

Researchers examining an old map in the British Museum think they have found a clue to the colonists’ disappearance. The so-called Virginea Pars map was made between 1585 and 1586 by John White, an artist, mapmaker, and friend of Raleigh’s. The map has a patch over a symbol that appears to be a fort visible only when the map is placed over a light. Could the colonists have headed toward this location with the intention of founding a new colony? The scholars think it is a good possibility.

Why, though, had the map been treated in this way? After all, Raleigh needed  the map to show potential investors in future settlements. It would have been essential, too, for colonists who needed to maneuver their boats in the coastal waters. One possibility is that White hid the fort location to keep the information falling into the wrong hands—namely, Queen Elizabeth I’s enemies. So, perhaps historians have solved one mystery only to create a new one.

Image credit: © North Wind Picture Archives via AP Images

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  1. cbeebe says:

    interesting that we discovered somthing then created another this is a mysterery that i personally think wont ever be solved

  2. joejoe monkey says:


  3. joejoe monkey says:

    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 :0 🙂 ;( 🙂

  4. joejoe monkey says:


  5. joejoe monkey says:


  6. jesse james says:

    i was there

  7. Raleigh says:

    Im glad some one found thy colonists map. Thee friends
    will finally rest in peace.

  8. koel says:

    i think its weird that the colonists went through all the effort and then just….DIED 🙂

  9. Big Boss Chip kyler says:

    i read it !!1!!!!!! lololololollolololol

  10. sinore monke nan people right aperance says:

    i liked it

  11. dex says:

    I want to solve this mystery of the case

  12. cedric says:


  13. cedric vinson says:

    you hit

  14. Nun Ya Buznis O_O says:

    Nice article

  15. Chuck Norris says:


  16. kat milasa says:

    this story only makes me want to figure out this mystery

  17. tyler says:

    this was interesting

  18. ehmoopaw says:

    like to learn about it

  19. Anonymous says:


  20. Sherri says:

    So…in what modern day county and or city was the fort located?