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The Lost Colony Research Group

Genealogy ~ DNA ~ Archaeology


April  2012

 Missing Colonist Families in England 

One of the enduring mysteries of the Lost Colony, aside of course, from the ever-present question of whether the colonists survived, is the question of why we can't seem to find any, or many, records of the colonists overseas.

We have nearly 120 English people who disappeared. We know their approximate birth dates, given that they were not "old" nor were they children, except for the ones noted as such. They would have been born between about 1547 and 1566, assuming that they were no older than 40 and of legal age, 21. Even if they were age 50, which is approaching the age that they would no longer be considered an asset, they would have been born no earlier than 1537. Given this, and given some of the unusual given and surnames on the colonists list, you'd think we would be able to find birth records and in some cases marriage records. And in some cases, we have, but these are few and far between. Those cases where we have are in London, and unfortunately, London was the land of many churches. So while we find a record here and there, tracking the family in other church records in the same location is not productive.

London was a land of commerce, of immigrants, and of second homes. Anyone who was anyone socially or economically had a home on London that they visited when they were conducting business, but their "real home" was wherever they came from throughout the British empire. As they traveled back and forth, they also took their servants with them. Anything needing religious attention in London received it in a local church, and when they went back home, wherever that was, they attended their own church. This means that in many cases, the London records are fragmentary, at best, but so are their home records. Finding these records, and these families, is exceedingly difficult.

Combine that with a plethora of missing records for reasons spanning fires to wars, records stores in inaccessible locations, records never microfilmed or copied, and illegible records, and multiply this throughout the British Isles, and you can see the scope of the problem. In the states here, we know that all records from the county are at the county seat, and if not at the county seat, or sometimes in addition, they are at the state archives. Not so in England. There is no standardization you can depend on to find records there. In many cases, records are wherever they got to, and finding the location alone can be a huge challenge. Never mind trying to find some to access them who can red old English secretarial script and translate it to something we call "English".

Can you feel the frustration? It's very real.

And then there's the issue of class. For a very long time, I had a poor understanding of gentry, the manorial system, and the peasant class. Thanks to a book that just happened to arrive in a box with other family records from an elderly family member who is "retiring" from genealogy, I read the book, "The Common Stream". What a wonderful gift this was, because I now understand what probably happened with the colonists, and why, and subsequently why we can't find any records surrounding them.

Here's the reader's digest version of this situation. There were three "classes" of people involved with the Roanoke Voyage. There were the financiers who hoped to strike it rich. These people were monied, we know who they were, and they did not travel to Roanoke Island, the new "Citie of Raleigh". These families have coats of arms and were gentry, greater or lesser nobles.

The next group is the upper echelon of the Roanoke voyages themselves. These would be the people like John White and Ananias Dare, both important men and at the "management level". One of the ways they were compensated is that coats of arms were drawn up for these men. In other words, they got a promotion to the corner office with windows. They had not been the gentry level previously, but they were being promoted and given the official "business card", coats of arms.

And the rest, the people we so desperately seek, they were the working class. They were expected to bring along supplies to be able to last a year. So these people would have sole anything they had in order to bring what they needed to begin farming. Unfortunately, much of their food was ruined on the voyage, so they began their adventure not only behind the 8 ball from that perspective, but also in that they were supposed to settle in a location at the Chesapeake. So they would up on an island where they did not expect to be, dangerously low on food and supplies.

These settlers were farmers, workers, not people in "management". These people, when they were determined to be "dead", which appears to be about 7 years later given the John Dare, son of Ananias, lawsuit, no one really cared, financially, because they had sold anything of value before leaving. So there were no wills, no probate, not in any court....and believe me, we've checked, looked high and low.

We can't determine where any of these people were born, and which baptismal records were theirs, if any, because we have nothing to connect these people to their family....nothing at all. When we do find someone born about the right time, in some British location, Nancy in particular, tries very hard to connect the family line together from the church records, and looks for some connection, any connection, to any other colonist surname and/or location....but so far....we're empty handed.

How can this be? How can these people not only disappear here, but their families in England as well? How can these people be so anonymous? Aren't there any British families at all that have stories of their family members who went to America? The answer is, of course, that these stories don't exist simply because their descendants, if there are any, are not in England, but are in the states. The stories of an aunt or uncle who disappeared in the new world weren't very exciting or unusual in the days where infant mortality and death visited constantly. And so, if they existed, they disappeared fairly quickly. Certainly before anyone in contemporary times started looking.

In order to help myself understand what happened in England, why, and how, and how this assuredly affected who came on the voyage and why we can't find them, I've compiled quite a bit of information, some from "The Common Stream", which was the beginning point, but also from other sources. I've also asked Andy Powell and Nancy Frey to review this document and both have had additions and corrections, and for that, I thank both of them. I hope this helps you to understand the social situations surrounding not only the colonists, but any ancestor you had who was from anyplace in the British Isles.


The Common Stream

The book, "The Common Stream," published in 1976 by Rowland Parker (now deceased) is chocked full of history. This book is about the town of Foxton, in Cambridgeshire, East Anglica, shown on the map at right, but it could well have been about any and every village in England.

The book is available both new and used on, and I encourage anyone who wants to understand English history a little better, not to mention enjoying a wonderfully written book, to purchase a copy for themselves. I read the book twice, the second time for details I might have missed the first time. It took Rowland 13 years to research this village using all of the records available, and a few more to write this book.



He lived there, and when he finished, he knew not only who lived in every cottage, but who lived in every cottage, when it was built, when it burnt, when it was rebuilt, by whom, and why things are located within the cottage where they are. I wish I knew half as much about any of my ancestors.

This book is particularly interesting because it combines a lot of history with archaeological finds that are then interpreted in the lives of villagers. You can see your own ancestor in a similar village someplace in England. If you have early Virginia or North Carolina ancestry, then you have English ancestry too. England settled most of the eastern seaboard of America beginning at Jamestown in 1607, if not on Roanoke Island in 1587. So this is the story of your people.

I'm going to extract portions here that relate to specific periods of English history and that are particularly relevant. I'll be interspersing comments and other information as well.

Let's start with what Rowland said in his introduction. His story begins with and is about the common stream - that's the stream that runs through every village or farm anyplace. The giver and sustainer of life.


     "Part of its significance lies in that very fact, that it [the stream] is a symbol of decay. Part lies in the very distant past, long before that story begins, when every spring of water and every stream born of those springs was the object of veneration by groups of primitive men who knew, as surely and instinctively as the birds and beasts still know, though most men have forgotten, that the water of those springs and streams was Life itself. The unfailing flow of that precious commodity, over which man had no control, could only be the bounteous manifestation of a divine power, indeed the very abode of divinity itself. And so the mind of man peopled the springs and streams with spirits, nymphs, goddesses - always female, for the notion of fertility was inevitably linked with the perennial flow of water. Then later, when man ceased to wander, developed the art of living always in one place, that place was determined by one of those springs or streams. Every location in part at least to the proximity of availability of water. Nymphs and sprites faded into the background, only vaguely remembered if at all, and considerations of practical common-sense took their place."


When I attempt to find the location of the house where my ancestors lived, assuming I'm lucky enough to find their land at all, I always look first for the stream, then for the hill. The house and barn will not be far from the stream, and the hill often holds the cemetery. The house, it's always someplace in between.

The first people to live in Foxton were probably either Celts or Anglo Saxons. Rowland can't determine the source of the name of Foxton, but Andy Powell, a British historian, tells me that the suffix, 'ton', is the Anglo-Saxon word for settlement. 'Wick" is the same for a Viking area. Wiki tells us that the name means "farmstead where foxes are seen."


Evidence of a pagan cemetery is found in Foxton. Depending on where you are located in the British Isles, the earliest people could be Pictish (North Scotland), Celtic (England) or Anglo-Saxon (ousted Celts in parts of England). The people themselves likely don't know, but their DNA does, but that is another story. In 1976, when Rowland wrote "The Common Stream", DNA for genealogy wasn't even a gleam in someone's eye.

"For longer than any of them could remember the People had lived by the Brook, and if you had asked them who they were and whence they came it is unlikely that they could have told you. Many years before, their ancestor had lived in the northern part of what we now call Belgium.

They came and settled on the Brook, the common stream. They lived in farms, scattered up and down the Brook. There were no fortifications, because none were needed. But then, new people came and settled across the Brook. These were not "their people", but new people.

"The Brook people, having no alternative, tolerated this violation of their territory. Likewise they were more curious than resentful when the other people used the south side of the river for their burial-ground. What did come near to rousing them to protest was the discovery that the People-Beyond-the-River, instead of burying their dead decently in the chalk like every sensible clan made a practice of burning their dead on a great fire of wood and putting the ashes in pots, which they then buried. This wasteful practice, it seemed, only applied to the richer and more important members of their clan; the richer a man was when alive, the bigger and better the pot in which his remains were buried. The Brook people came to this conclusion after digging up as many of the pots as they could find in the dark. Of course, the People-Beyond-the-River soon discovered what was going on and they put an abrupt stop to the pot-stealing by breaking the pots at the time of burial and placing them inside larger pots, likewise rendered unusable. A rare and attractive Arretine bowl, found fragmented inside of an amphora was reconstructed and is now in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology."

An amphora was a large earthenware vessel used for storage and carriage of oil and wine. Most interestingly, Arretine was a name given to a type of fine pottery made at Arezzo in Italy in the first centuries BC and AD; of pinkish clay coated with dark red slip made in a mold and decorated in low relief. How did it get to Foxton in England?

"Whether the People belonged to the federation of tribes which we call the Iceni or to the Trinovantes, or to some other group, I cannot say.

There is reason to believe from what little is known about the political situation in England before the coming of the Romans that our People of the Brook lived through a period of anxiety as a result of the aggressive expansion of the group of Belgic tribes called Catuvellauni to the south-west of them. The People-Beyond-the-River may have formed part of one of these hostile tribes."

In fact, archaeological evidence found evidence of an early Belgic site at Foxton. The Catuvellauni were known to be ramping up about the time of Christ. Julius Caesar defeated the Belgic chieftan in about 45 or 55 BC.

So well established was the contact with the Roman world that when, in AD 43, a Roman army again invaded Britain, many of the Celtic population in the south-east actually welcomed the invaders, possibly feeling that they had less to fear from them than from their own turbulent neighbors and racial kinsmen. Such opposition as there was, led by Caractacus, one of the sons of old King Cunobelinus, was rapidly overcome, and Colchester became the capital of a Roman province. Within a few months the People of the Brook would be made aware of their new status as subjects of the Emperor. What it meant to them was that from then on they would pay their tribute of corn, hides and wool to the agents of the Roman Governor and their young men would be liable for enlistment in the auxiliary units of the Roman Army. It might also have meant that a quota of their womenfolk was demanded for service as slaves; but if that were so, it was not a Roman innovation. Any memory of their tribal origin and allegiance could now be allowed to lapse, for tribal hostilities were a thing of the past. Having been conquered the People ran no risk of being attacked by anybody, and it seems reasonable to suppose that in the early days of the Province the Roman soldiers aroused more admiration than fear in the native inhabitants.

It was during this time that the construction of the Roman roads in England was begun. Many of those roads are still in existence today.

"Many of the soldiers had completed their 25 years of service and were due for discharge. Rather than return to their homes - if they had any "home" after marching all over Europe for the best part of their lives - many of them chose, or were ordered, to stay in Britannia. Some had no doubt taken British wives; others probably intended or hoped to do so.

The governor, whilst needing every available man in his army, also needed to leave behind in the Province a nucleus of trained men in case further trouble should break out. So he established what was called a colonia, based on and administered from Colchester. To each time-expired veteran was allotted a plot of land in the vicinity of the capital, where the old soldiers could become new farmers. The officers naturally expected something on a grander scale, and their gratuity took the form of quite considerable grants of land, which was obtained by the simple expedient of taking it from the British. The size of these officer's holdings meant that they could not be concentrated near the capital as was the colonia, and that they would be widely scattered over the whole province, even in the remotest parts."

This would have happened about the year 48 AD. However, as determined from archaeology, the Roman soldiers did not build English houses, or huts, they built villas like they built in Italy. Rowland tells us...

"Moreover, I would say that the collaboration was facilitated in no small measure by the novelty of the whole affair. The villagers would be fascinated as they watched the mortar being made, the timbers being cut to shape and fitted together on the solid foundations of flints and cement. The bags of iron nails must have aroused their cupidity and several must have been stolen to be converted into knives. Before their wondering gaze the walls of the villa rose to a height hitherto unconceived for house walls. Then the rafters were fixed into position with those tantalizing nails, and the tiles laid on them."

This villa, terribly displaced in England also included something that was a novelty to the English.

"The villa was at last completed, along with stables, barn and outhouses, including a little shed with a cobbled floor in the garden where the master, once installed, took a bath every day. When the villagers learnt of this strange habit, they no doubt soon did from one of his household staff, it must have confirmed the doubts which had arisen earlier in their minds as to his sanity. True, there was no lack of water in the Brook, but to use it for such a purpose as that was unheard of."

Indeed, at that time in history, the English bathed once or twice a year whether they needed it or not.

Andy tells us that the Romans who remained or had mixed parents, technically called 'Romano-British' are accepted as having become the new tribal leaders. It is widely accepted that "King Arthur" was one of these leaders.

Rowland speculates that these very early Roman villas may have been the foundation for the later manor system. He felt that they would have had a number of slaves in full time service and that the villa owner would have called upon some or all of the villagers for seasonal tasks such as plowing and harvesting.

"Then one day in the early spring in the 7th year of the Emperor Nero's reign, the trouble which for years had been smoldering beneath the surface of affairs broke out into the open. Once again, the point of eruption was in the land of the Iceni.


Weapons which were supposedly handed in 10 years previously were brought out from concealment, [Queen] Boudicca rallied her forces, placed herself at the head of a rebel army and marched on Colchester, which was an easy prey."

I just love this story of the rebel Queen. What Rowland didn't say was that Boudicca's husband left her his kingdom on his death, and when he died, the Roman's treated her and her people as conquered. She was beaten and her daughter's raped, and Queen Boudicca just wasn't taking any more. She eventually did lose to the Roman army, but not before burning three Roman cities, Colchester, London and St. Albans, in which some reported 60,000-70,000 people were killed. She also handily defeated several Roman legions, but she was no match for the entire Roman army when it amassed. The majority of the Roman army had been distracted in Anglesey, busy wiping out the Celtic opposition. Boudicca killed herself or became ill and died before she could be captured. Reports disagree, but regardless, she was never forgotten.

What Rowland does tell us is that the Iceni burned the Roman villa in Foxton, and later, in a shallow grave, archaeologists found two skeletons hastily buried who are believed to be the Roman villa owner and his wife. No evidence of children was ever found at the villa.

Following Boudicca's revolt, the Iceni disappeared forever. The Romans systematically went through the countryside exacting revenge, district by district, under the name of justice.

"The massacre of some 70,000 Romans had to be paid for. All those who had taken any part in the revolt - and many who had not - were to be punished. We don't know the details, but we do know that Paulinus carried out his policy of vengeance with such ruthless ferocity that he earned a rebuke from his own compatriots and was eventually removed from office by the Emperor Nero - an indication perhaps not so much of compassion as of concern for the fiscal revenue."

In Foxton, the villagers had scavenged the remains of the villa, some bricks and tiles, and used them to rebuild their cottages. Some had been burned when the villa was burned. However, when the Romans came looking for the villa and the Roman officer, and discovered that the Iceni had killed them, they extracted their revenge on the villagers who they apparently believed were involved. They burned the village. These misplaced bricks and tiles, along with the burned huts, were subsequently found during archaeology digs.

"The village it would seem, remained deserted for a time. Then it was reoccupied once more; not all of the huts, about a quarter of them, as though a band of stragglers had returned. For maybe two generations, there were people living on the site; not a community, not the People, just some people. When those few died out or moved elsewhere, the site became derelict. The Brook flowed on, placid and unconcerned."

One has to wonder if those stragglers were new people who wandered in one at a time, or as a group, or some part of the original families returned.

"Life too flowed on. The Romans restored the situation to their own liking and reorganized a bigger and better Province on a new structure, the framework of which was a system of roads and towns, a system adapted to military control and commercial exploitation. More villas were built, and rebuilt, both by Romans and by Britons who fitted into the Roman pattern of life. These villas and town provide the only evidence we have of life in Roman Britain. Within the framework of that structure there were innumerable dark areas into which the remnants of the native population, those not subjected to slavery, were allowed to retreat and survive if they could. They did undoubtedly survive, sometimes in quite considerable numbers, yet of their existence hardly any trace at all is to be found. They were utterly cowed, without identity, without organization, without spirit. There was never another revolt; nor the slightest likelihood of it in eastern Britain. That is why, when the Roman shield, the upper crust, was removed, the land was an easy prey for whoever felt inclined to take in."

The next invasion was a silent one, as compared to the Romans.

"The Angles, Saxons and Jutes began their piratical raiding whilst the Roman legions were still in control. There is more than a hint that their presence on this side of the sea was welcomed by some, just as the Romans had been welcomed. Certainly the surviving Britons, those peasants lingering on in the dark areas of the countryside offered no resistance when in the early years of the fifth century, the [Roman] legions having been withdrawn, the Teutonic invasion began in real earnest.

Resistance would have been both impossible and futile, for the invaders had spears, swords, axes strong arms and quick tempers to enforce their claims. The towns they either looted, destroyed or simply ignored. The roads they avoided as much as possible. They had no use whatever for mosaic floors, heating systems, painted walls, paved streets, mains drainage and all that nonsense. They were countrymen, not townsmen. They wanted land, not to enhance their prestige by the possession of it or to exploit it for political reasons, but to use it as it should be used. And here, in Britannia, abandoned Roman province, was land asking to be taken


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