A clue to Raleigh’s lost colony?

In Current Events, Global Perspectives, This Day in History by NM1 Comment

A significant breakthrough has been made in a long running search for the first colony established in North America by British explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, according to London’s Independent Newspaper.

Roanoke map with hidden colony

The map that contains the ‘hidden’ colony.

Raleigh’s 1587 expedition landed a group of around 100 settlers on Roanoke Island in modern day North Carolina, but they experienced serious hardship when supplies ran out, and they had arrived too late to grow crops before winter.

Roanoke Islands Hidden Settlement

Examination reveals a fort symbol hidden in the map.

John White, destined to be the governor of the newly established “Cittie of Raleigh” returned home to bring back supplies, but on his return the whole colony had disappeared without trace. The journey back was delayed significantly by Atlantic Blockades by the Spanish, who were at the time at war with England, and it is not known if the colonists were massacred by local tribes or  Spanish colonials, starved to death or met some other fate.

White created a map of the region, but the actual location of the colony has only now been revealed after tests were carried out on the map. It appears that an ‘invisible ink’ – which could have been lemon juice or even urine, was used to draw the outline of the colony and also the location of a fort. A tiny, almost invisible piece of paper was also added over the fort location – a contemporary way of editing maps.

Historians believe he may have kept the location hidden due to fears of what spies   looking to depose then Queen Elizabeth I may have done with the information.

Research has been carried out by the British Museum – where the map currently resides – at the request of University of North Carolina professor and Director of the First Colony Foundation Brent Lane.

The foundation is looking to excavate at the site shown in the map, in an effort to uncover the original colony and fort following its 400 year disappearance. The location is today the site of a golf course. Explore the early settlements of the United States further with maps and other materials from Maps101. Pull it all together in this excellent lesson plan available to download free as a PDF from this blog – US History: Who claimed your land?


  1. Pingback: hidden ‘inks’, paper patches – cartographic secrecy 1500′s style. « InCarto

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