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Early Exploration

In the early sixteenth century, a few hundred years after Christopher Columbus discovered America; other explorers began sailing the Atlantic Coast of what would become the United States. Giovanni da Verrazano, from Florence, Italy is the first recorded navigator to sail up along the Atlantic Coast between the Carolinas and Maine.

Verrazano was looking for a way to sail through the Americas to the Far East. European vein of thought was that there must be a passage that cut through to the Pacific Ocean. Looking across the Outer Banks barrier islands, he mistakenly believed this to be a narrow isthmus with the Pacific Ocean only a few miles away. Verrazano never did find the strait to the Orient, but he did map the Eastern Seaboard and what we now call the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Many other mariners were also trying to find this Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean, exploring every inlet, estuary, bay, or river mouth on the Atlantic coast. Late in the sixteenth century and early in the seventeenth century, the exploration of the Eastern Seaboard was heightened by new incentives. Still hopeful of finding the Northwest Passage European merchants became interested in the fisheries, furs, and other resources of North America, and in establishing settlements there. Mariners in their employ explored coastal inlets and sailed far up many rivers including those around Cape Hatteras.

Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlow were sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to explore this newly mapped Atlantic Coast and to find a site for a new English settlement. North of Cape Hatteras probably near Kitty Hawk, they found a way into the inlet and sailed the brackish waters to Roanoke Island, a small Island between the mainland and the barrier islands of the Outer Banks. The two captains told Sir Walter Raleigh of the plentiful wildlife and trees and of the positive reception of the Native Americans, and soon English ships began to arrive bringing colonists to settle the area. Little did they know that the attempt to colonize this area would end in failure with the disappearance of one hundred seventeen colonists without a trace, becoming better known as the Lost Colony.


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