The Freedmen's Colony of Roanoke Island
— National Underground Railroad - Network To Freedom —
:]First Light of Freedom
Former slaves give thanks by the creek's edge
at the sight of the island - "If you can cross the
creek to Roanoke Island, you will find afe haven'."
[rendering of Edwin Forbes' "The Sanctuary"]
:]The Freedmen's Colony of Roanoke Island
A year after the Civil War began, Roanoke Island fell to Union Forces. Word spread throughout North Carolina that slaves could find "safe haven" on the Island. By the end of 1862, over a thousand runaway slaves, freed men, women and children found sanctuary here. This colony, precursor to the Freedmen's Bureau, was to serve as a model for other colonies throughout the South. Once again this small island, site of the first English attempt at permanent settlement in the New World, became a land of historic beginnings.
The Freedmen's Colony encompassed unoccupied, unimproved lands from Manteo to the north and west shores, including some of the land today known as Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. A sawmill, hospital, a school for black female teachers, and homes were established. Able-bodied men were offered rations and employment to build a new fort. They also enlisted to form the First and Second North Carolina Regiments. The colony could not remain self-supporting without men and became a refuge for three thousand women, children, aged and infirmed.
Upon the war's end, the federal government discontinued rations and supplies to colonists and returned land to original owners. Reminiscent of early English efforts, the Roanoke Island Freedmen's colony was abandoned in 1867. Many freed people remained and their descendants would become respected local residents. Others settled in communities throughout the region and would become an integral part of eastern North Carolina culture.