First Colony Foundation Using Archaeology and Historical Research to Find Sir Walter Raleigh's Roanoke Island Colonies
In Search of the First Colony
First Colony Foundation Commences Archaeological Research near the Chowan River in North Carolina
November 11, 2012

Archaeologists Alastair Macdonald (left) and Ray Hayes completing a test unit at site near the Chowan River
Archaeologists Alastair Macdonald (left) and Ray Hayes completing a test unit at site near the Chowan River
First Colony Foundation (FCF) research vice president and archaeologist Nicholas Luccketti and his team of archaeologists and curators continue to implement the foundation's research design to determine if there are physical remains of Elizabethan activities in Bertie County, NC. Earlier this year they began examining collections from previous archaeological surveys in the Chowan-Roanoke River basins. They hope also to view private collections from the area as time and resources permit.

An initial period of archaeological field work began on October 20 and concluded on October 25, 2012. FCF Research Associate Clay Swindell, who provided daily supervision of the site and crew, described the effort as "very successful." Swindell, Luccketti, and others of the First Colony Foundation are now studying the data recovered and formulating plans for continued research. The research design presently calls for Luccketti to return with a crew to conduct a controlled archaeological survey in a nearby area later in late 2012 or early 2013. This work is part of the program of research projects that will include underwater archaeology, remote sensing, and analysis of satellite imagery.

In October 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh was praised for sponsoring the 1586 exploration of the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers. English chronicler Richard Hakluyt commended Raleigh for "the diligent serch of the secretes of those countries" made by Ralph Lane and the first Roanoke colony. Those early explorations generated wonderfully detailed maps attributed to John White and now in London's British Museum of what is now eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, known as Raleigh's "Virginea."

When the English settled Jamestown in 1607 and went searching for Sir Walter Raleigh's "lost colonists," they were told by the Powhatans to look in what is now eastern Bertie County. No one from Jamestown was able to explore there and the mystery of the "lost colony" remains unsolved.

In late 2011 First Colony researchers began a careful study of the John White maps, investigating two apparent paper "patches" on one map. A collaboration with curators at the British Museum in early 2012 revealed that one "patch" had for over 400 years hidden a blue and red symbol that may represent an Elizabethan fort and also an Algonkian town on the Chowan River in Bertie County.

The First Colony Foundation is a not-for-profit organization incorporated in North Carolina and established for the purpose of sponsoring archaeological research, historical research, and public education relating to the early period of American colonial history, and specifically to the colonies attempted on Roanoke Island under a charter from Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh.

For more information about the First Colony Foundation, contact: Phil Evans at or 919-767-1050.

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