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The Lost Colony

Catch a Performance of The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama

If you have any history of theater buffs in your group, no visit to the Outer Banks is complete without experiencing Roanoke Island's The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama. This production has been performed every summer since 1937, making it North Carolina's longest-running outdoor drama. Countless visitors from all over the world have enjoyed this stunning play under the stars that recounts the mysterious tale of the first English settlers who disappeared into thin air.

The theater is one of the numerous attractions in Manteo, which is also home to Fort Raleigh National Historic Park, Elizabethan Gardens, Festival Park, NC Aquarium, and downtown shopping. All of this makes visiting this North Carolina town a great day trip for Hatteras Island vacationers.

The three masted schooner, The Elizabeth II, docked at Festival Park across from downtown Manteo
Dramatically side lit over a dark background, a promo shot of a shirtless native American character in the Lost Colony

Brush Up on Lost Colony Quick Facts

Before seeing the show, take a moment to learn about the production's history and fun facts:

  • The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama on Roanoke Island, NC, was awarded an honorary Tony in 2013 for significant contributions to American theater
  • The capital of North Carolina was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who was mainly responsible for the attempt to establish the first permanent English Settlement in North America on Roanoke Island.
  • Many areas of the Outer Banks feature the name of Virginia Dare, the first English-born child and most famous member of the Lost Colony
  • Andy Griffith performed in the Lost Colony from 1947-1953 and resided in Manteo until his passing in 2012
  • The show got its start with one of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs funding theater during the Great Depression

Learn about History's First Mystery

The Lost Colony has drawn speculation and theories from countless historians. Hundreds of years later, no one can pinpoint exactly what happened to this band of early North Carolina settlers. The story begins with the dawn of colonization in the late 1500s when Queen Elizabeth I of England commissioned Sir Walter Raleigh to set out for the new world and colonize a new settlement.

Encouraged by his initial explorations of Hatteras Island and its friendly local Native Americans, Raleigh appointed Sir Richard Grenville to start a new settlement with 600 people. In 1585, Grenville founded a new settlement on Roanoke Island, close to where Raleigh explored. After six months, Grenville left Fort Raleigh and returned to England. He left 107 men, women, and children behind under the leadership of a former soldier of questionable character.

Ralph Lane was not the most popular colony member, and there is a theory that his leadership played a vital role in the colony's demise. After less than a year of being in charge, Lane abandoned the colony, and when other leaders returned, they discovered everyone else had vanished.

There was only one small clue of what had happened to the abandoned colony, carved onto a tree in the middle of the settlement: the word "Croatan." Croatan was the name of the neighboring Native American tribe, leading historians to believe that the colonists joined or were killed by the local natives, who were no longer friendly after Lane allegedly murdered their chief.

Queen Elizabeth in her full regalia near her thrown, on the set of The Lost Colony at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
The Lost Colony mid-production under the lights at twilight from the back right of the outdoor theater in Manteo

Bringing the Lost Colony Outdoor Drama to Life

This centuries-old mystery is the inspiration for the "The Lost Colony" drama production, which has been performed in an outdoor pavilion called the Waterside Theater every summer since 1937. Tickets for this roughly two-hour play can be purchased online or at the box office.

Over the years, the show has included performances by famous personalities early in their careers, like Andy Griffith, Terrence Mann, and William Ivey Long. This yearly production has entertained over three million people since its debut.

While the fate of the Lost Colony settlers may never be uncovered, the story remains one of the Outer Banks' greatest mysteries and most curious attractions. Watching this piece of history come to life is just one of the top things to do for those planning a summer vacation to the Outer Banks and Hatteras Island. Contact us today at Surf or Sound Realty to learn more about other incredible adventures and to rent one of our Hatteras Island vacation rental homes!