In 1587, on this day one hundred seventeen settlers returned to North America's Roanoke Island where a previous English settlement had been evacuated by invitation of Sir Francis Drake because its relief fleet was late with supplies.
Roanoke Reestablished North John White, who had been with Sir Walter Raleigh on expeditions to America before, led this second group of settlers. As the settlers prepared to land, White looked with an artist's eye at the dark mainland and remembered the native Croatoans. Ralph Lane, the commander of the previous settlement, had attacked them time and again, and White decided re-establishing relations would be too difficult.
Instead, White met with the band of Englishmen who had maintained the island over the past two years and asked about friendlier settling. They recommended north, with the Powhatans. White agreed, and the expedition moved northward to the Chesepiook Bay. Friendlier relations were established with the Powhatans, and a colony was set up on a picturesque river. Other colonists called for a nearby island as much more defensible, but White refused to live in a swamp.
His decision proved wise as Elizabethtown (also nicknamed "New Roanoke") grew self-sufficient with farming while avoiding many mosquitoes and brackish tidal water. White returned to England, leaving behind 115 colonists, one his newborn granddaughter, Virginia Dare (pictured). He meant to sail again for America as soon as possible, but the Spanish Armada blocked his path as every seaworthy vessel was pressed into naval service. White hired smaller vessels to take him, but the captains made greedy and shortsighted attacks on Spanish ships, who overtook them in the battles and plundered the English cargoes. The empty-handed ships sailed back to England.
Finally, in 1590, White was able to return to America. The colonists were thin and desperately poor, having traded away many of their goods to the Indians to survive. Some had even suggested joining the native tribes, but their thin resources were enough to keep them from desperate measures. White resupplied them and set back for England for more. With time, work, and much funding from Raleigh, Elizabethtown eventually took a solid hold in North America. However, it would work only as something of a naval base for several years until, at Raleigh's recommendation, the colony began raising tobacco to supplant the Spanish monopoly. Soon, whole plantations sprang up, and money-seeking businessmen flooded into Virginia.
With a strong economic base, America became a magnet for entrepreneurs as well as those seeking better lives. Pilgrims would follow in 1620 farther north, and numerous settlers fleeing from the violence of the Civil War would find ample chance for improvement in colonizing. Eventually, in 1776, seventeen colonies would break away from the mother land and, in the War of 1812, manage to add Canada to their nation by conquest. The United States of America would continue to be a powerful and ever-growing force for centuries to come.