The Roanoke Colony () refers to two attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh to found the first permanent English settlement in North America. The first colony was established by governor Ralph Lane in 1585 on Roanoke Island in what is now Dare County, North Carolina, United States. Following the failure of the 1585 settlement, a second colony led by John White landed on the same island in 1587, and became known as the Lost Colony due to the unexplained disappearance of its population.
Lane's colony was troubled by a lack of supplies and bad relations with the local Native Americans. While awaiting a delayed resupply mission by Richard Grenville, Lane decided to abandon the colony and return to England with Francis Drake in 1586. Grenville arrived two weeks later and left a small detachment to protect Raleigh's claim. In 1587 Raleigh sent White on an expedition to establish the Cittie of Raleigh in Chesapeake Bay. However, during a stop to check in on Grenville's men, the flagship's pilot Simon Fernandes insisted that White's colonists remain on Roanoke.
White returned to England with Fernandes, intending to bring more supplies back to his colony in 1588. Instead, the Anglo-Spanish War delayed his return to Roanoke until 1590. Upon his arrival, he found the settlement fortified but abandoned. The word "CROATOAN" was found carved into the palisade, which White interpreted to mean the colonists had relocated to Croatoan Island. Before he could follow this lead, rough seas forced the rescue mission to return to England.
The fate of the 1587 colonists remains unknown. Speculation that they may have assimilated with nearby Native American communities appears as early as 1605. Investigations by the Jamestown colonists produced reports that the Roanoke settlers were massacred, as well as stories of people with European features in Native American villages, but no hard evidence. Interest in the matter fell into decline until 1834, when George Bancroft published his account of the events in A History of the United States. Bancroft's description of the colonists, particularly White's infant granddaughter Virginia Dare, cast them as foundational figures in American culture and captured the public imagination. Despite this renewed interest, modern research still has not produced the archaeological evidence necessary to solve the mystery.