Missing: The Lost Colony of Roanoke

Tessa Grainger – Year 8 Historian

Tessa Grainger (Year 8) has written a short story for the Historical Association Historical Fiction Competition 2019. Historical fiction allows students to use their historical imagination to bring the past to life and to creatively fill some of the many gaps left by the written records that have survived. In Missing, Tessa has creatively engaged with the unsolved mystery of this particular slice of the past, using the surviving artefacts and her historical imagination to re-build the story around these. Mr S Yates


Eleanor Dare was a woman who was part of the lost Roanoke colony that mysteriously disappeared around 1590 and was never found. One clue we have was the word ‘Croatoan’ etched in a tree found on Roanoke island. However, when Eleanor’s father went to Hatteras (the Croatoan tribe’s island), there were no English colonists, nor was there any trace that they had ever been there. Another clue was a stone, supposedly written on by Eleanor, explaining the colony’s dreadful story…

December 30, 1589

Our crops failed for the second year in a row and my father has not yet returned with the promised supplies, so we have no choice but to seek help from the only friendly tribe, the Croatoan tribe on Hatteras island. We have dismantled our houses and are preparing to leave today, only taking essentials with us, but it isn’t like we own many possessions anyway. Mostly spears, weapons and a spare dress for women, or shirt and hose for men. I am quite worried about the health of mine and Ananias’ daughter, Virginia, the first child to be born on Roanoke island, who might not survive the journey to Hatteras. We are to set off in an hour, so my husband Ananias is getting Virginia prepared as best he can.

Everyone is on the one ship our colony owns, and the anchor has been pulled up. I am below deck now while Ananias is trying (and failing) to stop Virginia crying above deck, which is making me more and more anxious about her…

We should arrive at Hatteras island in about an hour, where we are going to rely on the Croatoan tribe’s kindness.

January 3, 1590

The Croatoan tribe are looking after us well, and in turn we are helping them work their land and cook. But they won’t keep us forever because they believe some tribes want us gone and are preparing for war. I hope these are only rumours and not reality, otherwise we have no hope; we will be massively underprepared and will lack skill when it comes to fighting. Some of the tribe make us feel like outsiders – I suppose we are, but I still don’t appreciate the looks exchanged when we walk past. Seems we might not stay as long as we initially thought…

January 14, 1590

We are out at sea again, not sure where to head. The Croatoan tribe has provided us with supplies but they won’t last forever. We can’t go back to Roanoke because of the threat of war – we need to lie low in a place where the angry tribes won’t think to look for us. If we can’t outfight them, we can at least try to outsmart them.

We have decided to head down the river and hope we come to a fork so we can be as distanced from the tribes as we can – they will probably have to travel across water, so they will be in plain sight, which means we can prepare as best we can. I am getting increasingly worried about my daughter, Virginia. I don’t think she’ll last much longer.

January 19, 1590

They are coming through the forest behind our partially-built settlement. We won’t have a chance. There is no point going on the ship, the other tribes will already have captured it. We are surrounded. It’s chaos. Women and children screaming; others weeping; some gathering food and running aimlessly away into the forest – they’ve got no chance of survival; men gathering sharpened stones and a few borrowed swords from the Croatoan tribe. Dread sits in my stomach; there’s no way we’re going to survive this raid – most or all hope is lost…

The men with weapons (including Ananias) have gone in to hold them off but the tribes have a loathsome habit of blending in and pouncing when you least expect it. I’m tired of worrying about my family – we might not even get out of this alive but we can try. I can at least hope that Ananias comes back.

After five hours of hiding (and a little bit of fighting), the men have come back, however the numbers of them have at least halved. Any women with husbands are running out of their shelters to see whether they have returned. One by one, wives weeping with happiness head back with their other half but I wait, and wait, and wait. Virginia is on the verge of crying, probably uncomfortable from being pressed to my hip. I am on the verge of tears too; it’s clear Ananias isn’t coming back. Ever.

January 22, 1590

The tribes arrived last night, ready to draw blood. Weak women and children were killed at sight. Men and a few women were taken into the forest, either to be killed later or taken as slaves.

During the night, I was woken abruptly by the sound of anguished screams and leapt to my feet. In front of me was a tribal man, pointing a spear at me. Slung carelessly on his shoulder was a small girl’s lifeless body. My heart stopped. I dropped to my knees. No… It can’t be… My whole family is dead; the lifeless body belonged to my daughter – she’s gone. The man took advantage of my hesitation and plunged his spear towards me. There was nothing left for me here – I twisted to the side and took off into the darkness.

January 23, 1590

Others melted into the forest the night of the attack. We tried to stick together and retrace our steps when the sun began to rise, casting dappled light through the trees on to us. It was beautiful, apart from the broken arrows and dried blood that we were deliberately ignoring – everyone was ready to run the minute a branch rustled, or a bird called. Cautiously moving towards our camp, we all expected the worst and we weren’t disappointed. Bodies littered the ground and splatters of blood covered the site. No one said a word. No one needed to. It was utterly horrifying.

Her body was dumped thoughtlessly in the dirt. I crumpled. That was my daughter the tribes had left. She was only two years old. I felt a stab of pain, anger and disgust that the tribes would feel compelled to do this to us.

January 31, 1590

We are staying here because we have nowhere else to go. Hopefully, war with the tribes will finish soon and they won’t decide to attack our camp again but we all know we will have to leave eventually. Anyway, this place just continuously reminds me of my losses…

February 20, 1592

We went slightly north when the war finished a couple of weeks ago to set up a new camp because the old one forced us to remember what had happened. The tribes know they have won, they have no reason to take any more lives; we are broken. We can’t fight back. There are only 50 out of around 100 colonists left anyway.

March 7, 1592

The disease came upon us suddenly. Everyone was going about their duties, whether it be tending to the crops, or washing clothing when someone first noticed the red, irritated swelling on one lady’s leg. She died the day after. Because of this, now everyone is constantly checking their skin for the dreaded swelling or steering themselves away from anyone who does as little as a cough. I can blame them though because everyone has been edgy since the war ended, almost waiting for something else dreadful to happen. And it did. I am starting to think our colony has done something wrong to deserve this…

March 16, 1592

In the space of nine days, the disease has struck badly, killing ten people already. The worst and the most scary thing is how suddenly it happens, without warning, so you don’t stand a chance. As soon as you get a swelling, you know you’re going to die.

March 14, 1593

It has been a year and everything has been turned upside down. The disease has taken just over half of the colonists now, leaving 20 of us left. I think my emotions have left me; I am so tired of feeling sad I almost don’t feel it anymore. It is the same for everyone. Most of the time we are burying dead bodies or tending to the fields in order to harvest the crops. What is the point? Everyone has almost gone. The disease is going to wipe everyone out regardless.

March 20, 1594

Another year has passed and, as I expected, almost the whole colony is gone. Only eight are left. Well, there will be tomorrow because one man woke up with a swelling this morning so he will be dead soon. We are talking of leaving today, leave the infected man behind and hopefully the disease too. We are planning to continue north, take few supplies and hopefully find a tribe that will take us in. Although if the news of the war has travelled that far, they won’t want anything to do with us.

March 31, 1594

We have walked, and walked, and walked but we still haven’t found any traces of life. It looks like we left the disease behind though, which I suppose is good, not that it matters anymore. Nothing matters anymore. Not after all the tragedy we have gone through. I almost feel jealous of my family, who didn’t have to endure the pain of the past four years. I should have died next to them. I should have let that man kill me.

As we stopped for the night, I found a suitable rock and started carving:

“Ananias Dare and Virginia went to heaven 1591.”

And on the back, I told my father the devastating story of our colony’s fate.

I haven’t got long left in this world but I owe my family that much and you never know, maybe my father will find it?

Tessa Grainger – Year 8

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