Roanoke Island was the site of the 16th century Roanoke Colony, the first English colony in the New World in what was then called Virginia, in honor of England's ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. There were two major groups of settlers who attempted to establish a permanent settlement at Roanoke Island, and each failed.
The first attempt to establish the Roanoke Colony was run by Ralph Lane after Sir Richard Grenville, who had transported the colonists to Virginia, returned to England for supplies as planned. Unfortunately for the colonists, who were desperately in need of supplies, Grenville's return was delayed. As a result, when Sir Francis Drake put in at Roanoke after attacking the Spanish colony of St. Augustine, the entire population of the colony returned with Drake to England.
In 1587, the English again attempted to settle. John White, father of one of the colonists, and grandfather to the first English child born in the New World, Virginia Dare, left the colony to return to England for supplies that he felt would help the colonists to survive, expecting to return to Roanoke Island within three months. Instead, he found England at war with Spain, and all ships were confiscated for use of the war efforts. His return to Roanoke Island was delayed until 1590. When he finally returned, the colonists had disappeared. The only thing he found was the word "CROATOAN" carved into a nearby tree. Before leaving the colony for England three years earlier, White left instructions with the colonists that if they were forced to abandon their settlement on Roanoke, that they were to carve out a cross on a tree upon the island.
"CROATOAN" was the name of an island to the south (modern-day Hatteras Island), where a friendly native tribe were known to live, and it was thus reasonable to assume that the colonists had left the Roanoke settlement bound for that island. However, foul weather would keep White from venturing south to search on Croatoan for the colonists, and they returned to England. White would never return to the New World. The fate of the colony has never been authoritatively ascertained, and consequently it became known as "The Lost Colony".