The Lost Colony Of Roanoke

Let Me Remind You… About the lost Colony of Roanoke.

It took two and a half months at sea, cramped in close quarters of a handful of ships, bearing the weather of the Atlantic, but in August of 1587, 115  settlers arrived from England and arrived on the shores of what we now call North Carolina. With the summer sun blaring down on them, they finally saw land with a lush, green tree-line and stable ground.
With Queen Elizabeth’s blessing, they had four main tasks: try to discover a passage to the Pacific through inland waterways, mine for gold and silver, Christianize the natives and annoy the crap out of the Spanish, not limited to the use of privateering. As the ship rolled in the waves, they looked at the wooded shoreline, summer sun beating down on them and decided to settle on the long, thin island that was once called Roanoke. It was also said to be a stopping point between the West Indies and England while the English privateers fought the Spaniards. I’m not sure how, since the colony of Roanoke barely had resources for themselves…

A few years earlier there had been two expeditions to North Carolina to scout the land for settlement; one that established a relationship with the natives that inhabited the area, and one that ruined the relationship through deceit and cold-blooded murder of the chief.
The colonists of 1587 had a lot cut out for them, since many didn’t know how to grow the crops needed for survival in this new land. They had brought provisions, but none that would last forever.
Over time, they were able to fortify enough of a relationship with the natives to supplement their resources, but they soon realized that they needed more provisions and more funding from their investors if they wanted to continue their mission.

The main leader of the settlement was a painter, cartographer and explorer, John White. White had tried to employ some other men to return to England to talk to the investors, but they denied and voted that White go himself. Even though White also had a wife, pregnant daughter, and son-in-law, he relented and took sail. Though not before his daughter gave birth to the first English person born in the new land. Named after the queen, Virginia Dare was baptized in the new settlement.

Before White left, he told the people, if they were to have to leave for any circumstances, to go fifty miles inland, off the island of Roanoke. If they were forced to leave because of distress, to leave a marking of the Maltese cross somewhere in view. Again, John White sailed off and another two and half months bouncing through the Atlantic brought him back to England, where Queen Elizabeth had declared war with the Spanish. It was a war that consumed every bit of her navy and she ordered that any functioning boat be used to help fight. This got John White stuck in England, unable to return to the Americas. I assume this also meant he wasn’t able to send word by letter to the colonies to let them know of his delay. What an uncertain time to be in a new world.

Finally, three years later, in 1590, White returned to the shores of North Carolina. They anchored offshore the night they arrived and celebrated their return by playing music and dancing aboard the ship, hoping the people would hear their celebrations. The next morning he deployed the row boats and they made their way to the island. When he stepped off the boat, he was met with only an eerie silence in the crackle of the trees, the crunch of his boots on the rocks and wind rustling leaves overhead. There was not one person left in the area; not even their bones.

White was obviously suspicious, but also curious because everything was still intact. The houses were built in a way to be easily dissembled and taken with them if they needed to move, but here they stood as if everyone just vanished into thin air. Along with that was a new, log fence that was built in the three-year time span he was gone, suggesting they had needed deterrent or fortification from some outside force.

John and his men took a look around for anything they could find and stumbled upon a tree with the words CRO carved in the trunk. There was no understanding of that until they found the word “Croatoan” on one of the fence posts… But no Maltese cross; no distress, just nothing.

South of Roanoke island was another island inhabited by natives who called themselves Croatoans (Now called Hatteras Island). John thought perhaps they went or were taken there. For some reason he didn’t go check himself, but months later sent an excursion instead. Some speculate it was because there was more funding in lost people versus dead ones and he didn’t want to lose the money to further his future endeavors.

No one from the lost colony has ever been found. Despite extensive searches and archaeological digs up until present day, not much has been found in the way of definitive evidence. There has been much speculation, including from the people of Jamestown, which was established in Virginia, 17 years later. They claimed to have seen “light skinned” children and people among the native tribes.

Some main theories to the vanishing of the colony:
-They were absorbed into a local native tribe. This also includes the possibility of the group being split in two and going with two different tribes.
-Some of the Spaniards that trolled the coast from Florida attacked them.
-They tried to sail back to England but their boat was lost at sea.
-They went inland as John White advised. But the problem is that he didn’t suggest a direction, so there’s at least a fifty-mile radius to explore.

In more recent (20th century) archaeological searches, a 16th Century ring was found on Hatteras island along with a few other things like a slate and pencil, an English-style sword and pottery shards called “border ware”: a very specific type of pottery also found at Jamestown.

There is, however, a very promising site, cleverly named “Site X” in Bertie County, North Carolina. This is the location of a fort that once stood there. Many artifacts have been found, but nothing that would specifically tie the Dare family to that location. There is one thing that connects the two though: A map that White drew himself. As a cartographer and artist, he made a map of the area and X-ray photos of it show a small marking that had been patched over on the spot of Site X. This could suggest that this had previously been a spot of consideration for settlement.

Another huge find happened in 1937, when Louis Hammond and his wife were road-tripping and he stopped to stretch his legs. He happened to stumble over a large rock with weathered words chiseled out of the stone. He threw the heavy rock in the trunk of his car, as you do, and three months later took it to Emory University where it was examined and miraculously read

Ananias Dare &
Virginia went
to Heaven, 1591

Any Englishman show [this rock to]
John White, Governor of Virginia[2]:

Father, soon after you
go for England, we came
here. Only misery and war [for]
two years. Above half dead these two
years, more from sickness, being twenty-four.
[A] Savage with [a] message of [a] ship came to us. [Within a] small
space of time, they [became] frightened of revenge [and] ran
all away. We believe it [was] not you. Soon after,
the savages said spirits [were] angry. Suddenly
[they] murdered all save seven. My child [and]
Ananias, too, [were] slain with much misery.
Buried all near four miles east [of] this river,
upon [a] small hill. Names [were] written all there
on [a] rock. Put this there also. [If a] Savage
shows this to you, we
promised you [would] give [them] great
plenty presents.
EWD. (Eleanor White Dare)

Because of another 47, allegedly fraudulent stones that were provided by another man in 1940 (for a reward, of course), It’s hard to say if this stone is real, but a more recent study from an Emory University professor states that it is more likely that this first stone is real.  The story of the Dare stones is an interesting one, which I would be happy to cover if you’re interested.

For now, all we know is that 115 men, women and children disappeared into thin air leaving us with nothing but curiosity and speculation and some great tales.

Online sources:

Encyclopedia Virginia
How Stuff Works
Mental Floss

Unsolved mysteries podcast

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