Before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock and before the meeting of John Smith and Pocahontas, there was the lost colony of Roanoke. Founded in 1587 on an island near the shores of present-day North Carolina, Roanoke was the first English colony in North America. With things going really badly in general, Governor John White decided to head back to England to get some more supplies. Unfortunately, this happened to be in 1588, the year the Spanish Armada sailed against England, and no ships could be spared for Roanoke. Governor White finally managed to make it back in 1590, only to find that Roanoke had been abandoned. The only clue left behind was the word "Croatoan" carved into a fence. White took this to mean that the colony had moved, or at least attempted to move, to nearby Croatoan Island (present-day Hatteras Island), but he was unable to conduct a search at the time.
So, what did happen to the Roanoke colonists? That's one of the Stock Unsolved Mysteries. The overwhelmingly most accepted explanation is that they went native and assimilated into a local Indian tribe. This theory is supported by a great deal of circumstantial evidence. Croatoan Island was home to a group of Native Americans who are known to have been friendly to the English and various reports over the following decades made reference to Indians with European features, such as gray eyes, living in the area. Other theories suggest that the colonists were wiped out by disease, famine, hostile natives, or rival Spanish colonists. And, of course, there's the usual grab bag of out-there theories involving aliens, Time Travel, supernatural forces, and so forth.
One particular member of the lost colony, Virginia Dare, tends to receive a disproportionate amount of attention. She was not only Governor White's granddaughter, but also the first white child born in North America since Snorri Thorfinnson in the early 11th century. Her fate is as unknown as that of the other lost colonists, but fiction and folklore have very much decided that she lived to adulthood and became a Jungle Princess of some kind. This is the premise behind a famous statue of Virginia Dare, carved by Louisa Lander in 1859, which now stands in the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island itself. One particularly persistent piece of folklore claims that Virginia was once engaged to an Indian brave, but a jealous medicine man turned her into a deer, and she was then unwittingly killed by her own would-be husband. Fiction about Virginia Dare likes to allude to this story by giving her a deer motif.
The Lost Colony of Roanoke in fiction:
- 100 Bullets has the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony be the work of The Trust, as the colonists refused to cede to the Trust's plans of pulling the strings of the American experiment.
- A Crossover between Batman and Spawn uses this as the backstory of the Big Bad, a demon called Croatoan who intends to circumscribe Gotham with a massive pentagram pattern like he did the Roanoke colony (which nobody noticed because nobody flew a weather balloon up there) and condemn all its souls to Hell.
- The Roanoke Colony features in Marvel 1602, and Virginia Dare is a significant character.
- Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers features the present-day descendants of the colony living in an underground town. The reason for their disappearance: an immortal, dethroned, time-traveling king from a future Earth mated with their women and got them to hide underground, so that his former wife (the current monarch of the future Earth) wouldn't notice them, and that their descendants would one day help him overthrow her. Also, the underground town is inexplicably located close to a New York City Subway tunnel.
- A Jeepers Creepers miniseries published by Dynamite Entertainment reveals that the Creeper wiped out the colony during one of its feeding cycles.
- A side-story of Infinity Train: Seeker of Crocus, Rey Mysterio vs. the Cosmos, reveals that the colonists got sent onto the Infinity Train, presumably thinking that it would take them to the nearby Croaton Island. Marchosias and Titus don't have anything flattering to say about them.
- The first story in the Kith And Kin Series, "Wendigo", claims the North American cryptid was responsible for the colony's disappearance after being summoned by Native tribes seeking to push the white men back to the sea. That's also the birthplace for the current personification of the United States, as the first attempt of settlement by white people.
- The adventures Virginia Dare might have had after the fall of Roanoke was the subject of various popular novels in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The trend was started by Cornelia Tuthill's Virginia Dare, or the Colony of Roanoke in 1840. In 1901, Sallie Southall Cotten wrote The White Doe: The Fate of Virginia Dare, which was based on the legend about Virginia being turned into a deer. Mary Virginia Wall's 1908 novel The Daughter of Virginia Dare posited that Virginia Dare was the mother of Pocahontas, quite a feat considering it would require Virginia to have given birth at the age of eight.
- Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter reveals Roanoke's fate to be the result of a vampire attack. The sequel, The Last American Vampire, goes into more detail, since protagonist Henry Sturges is one of three survivors of that attack, the other two being Virginia Dare and the vampire who wiped out the colony and turned Henry. Both of these play a significant role in the plot.
- The Doctor Who Missing Adventures novel The Empire of Glass offers an alien-abduction explanation.
- The short story "Ezekiel" by Desmond Warzel explains where they went, and why.
- Old Virginia, a Cthulhu Mythos short story by Laird Barron, had the colony fall victim to an Eldritch Abomination.
- Phantoms posits that the town was devoured by an huge, ancient, shape-shifting monster.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Rachel Griffin series, the island was magically moved and is in fact in New York State now, and the site of the magical school, and Virginia Dare was a powerful magician; the Wise (those who know about magic) hid this from the Unwary (those who don't). As best we know. Though that piece of history has not been doubted in series, it has been established that just as the Unwary's history has been rewritten for them by the Wise, someone has been likewise hiding things from the Wise.
- In the Blue Bloods novels by Melissa de la Cruz, the Roanoke colonists (all Blue Bloods, fallen angels who live on earth as vampires) were killed by the Silver Bloods (former Blue Bloods who rejected the Code and now feed on the remaining Blue Bloods).
- The Web Serial Novel Heretical Edge (which features a fully grown and immortal Virginia Dare as a supporting character) eventually reveals that the colonists moved further inland to protect Virginia from the Croatoans, who believed that the first English child born on American soil would eventually be used by a "Great Evil" to destroy the world. After the move, the Great Evil in question found and gradually wiped them out until Virginia was the only survivor.
- Tales of the Slayer, a short-story anthology involving famous historical vampire slayers features "The White Doe" in which Roanoke was attacked by vampires and Virginia Dare was the Slayer of her generation.
- Dare, a novel by Philip José Farmer, takes place on a planet where multiple groups of humans, including the Roanoke colony, were relocated by aliens.
- Cityverse offers no new explanation for the disappearance of the colonists, but identifies "Croatoan" as the name of an Eldritch Abomination that had taken an interest in the colony. The famous etching was done by the personification of the colony, whom the entity had chosen as its servant, as an invocation and prayer for help.
- The subject of an In Search of... episode, of course.
- The Roanoke Colony mystery was a significant part of the Myth Arc of the TV series Freakylinks.
- Andre Linoge, the Big Bad of Stephen King's Storm of the Century, claims to have caused the disappearance and death of the Roanoke Colony by forcing all its citizens to drown themselves in the sea when they would not "give him what he wants", and intends to repeat the tragedy on Little Tall Island. The word "Croatoan" is invoked by a later Driven to Suicide member of the town, but is never fully explained.
- Supernatural attributes it to a demonic-originated Hate Plague.
- Sleepy Hollow posits that the village was magically displaced, and exists in a sort of pocket dimension in New York State.
- In American Horror Story: Roanoke, the colonists simply moved inland to survive the harsh winter... and a while later they were all sacrificed by their leader, who was possessed by a pagan witch, and became ghosts.
- On the island of Roanoake itself, every summer there is an outdoor play, titled The Lost Colony, that has run every year since the 1930s, shot down only for World War II (there were U-Boats literally right offshore only miles from the theater) andthe Pandemic in 2020. It usually covers all the more likely possibilities of what happened. It was the starting point of Andy Griffith's career among others.
- The Universal Studios Orlando haunted house Roanoke: Cannibal Colony reimagines the Lost Colony as a hunting ground for cannibals.
- Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony reimagines the Colonial Period on Mars rather than in America, including the eponymous Lost Colony of Roanoke which has been destroyed by the local wildlife Brainwashed and Crazy. Sir Walter even finds Virginia Dare among ruins!
- The Darkness II explains the disappearance of the Roanoke as the result of the ongoing war between the Darkness and the Angelus. According to Johnny, the Angelus manipulated a Croatoan maiden into killing all of the colonists, hoping to destroy the Darkness. Unfortunately, the Darkness's host, John White, had been away at the time, and when he returned, the Angelus had already left, so he slaughtered the maiden's tribe in retaliation.
- The Trinity Desk Project: The Other Oppenheimer states that the true cause of the colony of Roanoke being completely abandoned was a natural nuclear reactor somewhere beneath its soil irradiating the colonists and turning them completely invisible. "Croatoan" ended up being the only identifier of a related invisible entity, Robert Oppenheimer's Criminal Doppelgänger.