Hello there and welcome back to another crime/supernatural post. If you haven’t heard of the bizarre story of the Roanoke Colony, first of all where have you been hiding? second of all, please let me fill you in.
The disappearance of the Roanoke Colony is America’s oldest unsolved mystery. It traces back to August 1587 when a group of around 115 English settlers arrived on Roanoke island, off the coast of what is now known as North Carolina. The mystery, you might be wondering, is that of the fact that three years later this entire colony disappeared, leaving no evidence or trace behind of what happened to them, apart from the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved into a post and ‘CRO’ carved into a tree.
Lets start from the beginning.
The ‘Lost Colony’ was the third group of English settlers to come to the island. The first group arrived in 1584, who came to explore and map the land for future groups.
The second group landed in 1585 and was a lot less peaceful than the previous. They were charged with a military and science mission which is ‘where tensions begins [with the local Native American tribes]’ said Clay Swindell. He says that the group was driven out in 1586 by local tribes, angry that the colonists were taking up good land and resources. Rightly so if you ask me.
The third group – the ‘Lost Colony’ – arrived in 1587. This was led by John White (the irony of his surname), who had brought his pregnant daughter and her husband along with him (his daughter would give birth to the first English child born in the Americas, her name was Virginia) It consisted of entire families – 11 children, 17 women and 90 men – meaning that this group had intentions to settle in the New World and was not a military excursion, as this would have only included men. Clearly never heard of equality back then.
Due to the previous groups, as you can imagine, tensions were already high with the Native people having groups of white people coming to take their land no questions asked. These lot were also largely middle-class Londoners (Tories if you ask me) and perhaps were hoping to become land owners. From the moment they arrived, the Croatoan tribe tried to force them out – they killed a member of the colony as he was searching for crab and refused to negotiate a truce with the colony. This resulted in White leading a preemptive strike on the tribe, but because the tribe aren’t stupid (despite what the media tells you), they anticipated this attack and withdrew from the village as they feared reprisal for the murder of the colonist on the beach.
Instead, White attached Croatoan looters. Eventually, they smoothed the whole situation and all seemed fine.
Later that year, John White decided that he would sail back to England to gather a fresh load of supplies. However, just as he arrived, a major naval war broke out between England and Spain (England do love their wars) and Queen Elizabeth 1, called on every available ship to confront the Spanish Armada. This meant John would not make it back to Roanoke island until August 1590, three years later. When they made landfall, they discovered fresh footprints in the sand, but no one had tried to contact them. It was here that they discovered ‘CRO’ carved into a tree.
Upon reaching the site of the colony, they discovered a palisade (a fence of wooden stakes or iron railings making an enclosure) and the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved into one of the posts.
White was certain that the two inscriptions meant that the colonists had peacefully relocated to Croatoan Island, since they had agreed, before he left in 1587, that the colonists would leave a ‘secret token’ indicating their destination.
It didn’t seem as simple as that, as the search parties found houses had been dismantled and anything that could be carried removed. Several large trunks – three belonging to John – had been dug up and looted. Additionally, none of the colony’s boats could be found along the shore. There were no signs of distress, no bodies or graces located nearby, further enforcing the idea that everyone left alive. Most historians today believe that relocation is the most likely scenario and that they simply must’ve integrated with another tribe, leaving the only question remaining – which tribe?
The party planned on returning the next day to Croatoan Island to continue their search, however, as fate would have it, the ships anchor cable snapped leaving the ship with only one working cable and anchor. Not wanting to risk shipwreck, the search mission could not continue as planned. The crew did offer a compromise to John – they would spend the winter in the Caribbean and return in the Spring of 1591. However, this plan also fell trough as the ship was blown off course and was forced to head back to England.
If you’re like me, then you can’t help but think that something or someone, didn’t want John continuing his search for the colony.
Many believed that the colony had simply relocated, but Walter Raleigh wanted to keep the matter in doubt. As long as the settlers couldn’t be proven dead, then he could legally maintain his claim on Virginia. Raleigh used the disappearance of the colony several times as a way of personal gain, for example: in 1595 he used the search as a cover for his search for El Dorado, later claiming that weather prevented him from landing. Bullshit. Then when the price of sassafras (a plant) skyrocketed, he based the potential of the colonists as a way of enforcing his monopoly on Virginia. Do not fear though, as in 1603, good old Walter received his comeuppance when he was arrested for treason against King James (during the Main Plot – King James thought everyone was out to get him), ending his Virginia charter.
Throughout the following years, there were many other attempts to search for the Lost Colony, but still no one found any trace of them.
A positive to come from this, is that the lessons learned may have helped the next group of English settlers who would find their own colony 17 years later, just a short distance to the north, at Jamestown. They were aware of the upset the previous groups had caused to the tribes surrounding Roanoke, so decided they better no try their luck there again. Of course, I don’t agree with colonialism, but I suppose no one dying is a good thing?
To this day, people have not given up in finding what happened to those 115 people all those years ago. There are teams of archaeologists and historians who are trying to solve the mystery and still, there is no definitive answer. There are plenty of theories, but nothing of solid proof. Here a few of those recent findings:
A map drawn by John White, kicked off a reexamination of the colonies fate. White was an artist and employee of the explorers of Walter Raleigh (the scumbag reemerges). On this map were two patches that made Brent Lane of the First Colony Foundation wonder if there may be something hidden underneath. Scientists at the British Museum looked into the patches and discovered a tiny red and blue symbol. Perhaps a secret fort or secret emergency location? Later findings showed there to be tiny pieces of pot to be discovered in this area, suggesting that maybe a small group of people used to live here.
Historian and principal investigation of the project, Eric Klingelhoter of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, says that ‘our best idea is that parts of Raleigh’s exploration in North American were a state secret and the map a ‘cover-up’, and was an effort to keep information from the public and foreign agents’. This can’t be too wrong to assume, because if we know anything about Raleigh it is that he really doesn’t care about anything other than personal gain and he is super shady.
Some researchers think that the colonists likely encountered disease – caused by New World microbes their bodies had never encountered before. This also leads to another theory that the colonists did integrate with a tribe, but they brought with them diseases from Europe and the tribes killed all the colonists as a way of getting rid of the disease, which is why there is no trace of them. Another popular theory is that they encountered violence. The research team believes that when the mysterious crisis occurred – whether that be disease or violence – they all split off into smaller groups and dispersed, which could be plausible due to the previous group in 1585, being told to do this if disaster struck.
In 1937 – 1941, a series of inscribed stones were discovered that were claimed to have been written by Eleanor Dare – the daughter of John White. They told of the travelings of the colonists and their ultimate deaths. Most historians believe they are fraud but some do believe them to be genuine. The first discovered stone, however, is regarded different to the rest based on linguistic and chemical analysis and could possibly be genuine. But again, nothing has come of it.
Another popular theory is that the colony simply tried to sail back to England. This could have ended in many ways – being lost at sea, they ran into the Spaniards who had marched up from Florida and met a bloody end, or their boats, crew and supplies simply weren’t sufficient enough and they were taken by the ocean.
To this day, no one quite knows what happened to the colony or why the word ‘Croatoan’ was carved into that tree, and I don’t think we ever will. I believe it’s just one of those things that will always remain a mystery and let our minds make up our own stories about their fate. Could it have been disease? violence? maybe something supernatural?