National Historic Site preserves the location of Roanoke Colony, the first English settlement in the present-day United States. The site was preserved for its national significance in relation to the founding of the first English settlement in North America in 1587. The colony, which was promoted and backed by entrepreneurs led by Englishman Sir Walter Raleigh, failed sometime between 1587 and 1590 when supply ships failed to arrive on time. When next visited, the settlement was abandoned with no survivors found. The fate of the "Lost Colony" remains a mystery.
The historic site is off U.S. Highway 64 on the north end of Roanoke Island, North Carolina, about three miles (5 km) north of the town of Manteo
. The visitor center's museum contains exhibits about the history of the English expeditions and colonies, the Roanoke Colony, and the island's Civil War history and Freedmen's Colony (1863-1867).
More than a contraband camp, which was started for slave refugees when the Union Army occupied the island in 1862, the Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony was founded in 1863 to be self-sustaining. Its free residents were allocated plots of land by household, paid by the Army for work, and educated with the help of Northern teachers. By 1864 the colony had more than 2200 freedpeople as residents. It had a sawmill, fisheries and 600 cabins. More than 150 freedmen from the colony were among the nearly 4000 freedmen from North Carolina who served with the United States Colored Troops. The colony is commemorated with a marble monument erected at the fort site in 2001 by Dare County.