In 1585, the English had made their first attempt at establishing a colony in America. Under the leadership of Sir Walter Raleigh, the colony had suffered many problems and was abandoned in favour of a new site two years later. Now under the leadership of Sir Francis Drake, he appointed John White as governor and recruited 117 men and women to come and settle at a Roanoke's new site.
In 1587, John White left Roanoke behind and headed to England on a resupply mission. War with the Spanish returned his delay significantly but, when he finally made it back in August 1590, he found the colony abandoned and no trace of its residents. The only clue to their whereabouts was the word, 'CROATOAN', which had been carved into a tree. White believed that this referred to the nearby Croatoan Island but bad weather prevented him from ever making certain.
The fate of the colonists has been subject to intense speculation since then: some believe that the colonists headed to Croatoan Island (present-day Hatteras Island) and were absorbed by the local native tribe, while others believe they may have perished trying to return to England. Another theory is that the colonists were destroyed by the Spanish. Whatever the case, the mystery of the lost colony remains unsolved.