Colony Research Group
Genealogy ~ DNA ~ Archaeology
Edition March 2012
searching for 425 years, one would think the announcement of the discovery
of location of the Lost Colonists after they left Roanoke Island sometime
between 1587 and 1590 would merit fireworks and "we interrupt this
broadcast" type of news coverage. If the discovery were simply one
big, showy item, like Eleanor White Dare's inscribed ring, perhaps it
would merit that type of coverage.
this, like so many advances in history and science is not a matter of the
one big find, the smoking gun, or musket, or cannon, but the result of
cumulative evidence and subsequent analysis.
start with a bit of history.
all know the story of the "Lost Colonists" themselves, how they
were left on Roanoke Island in 1587 awaiting the return of John White with
supplies. He was hoping to return by April of 1588, but alas, the Spanish
Armada rudely interfered with his plans. He was unable to return until the
summer of 1590, ironically on the third birthday of his grandchild,
Virginia Dare, August 18th. What he found was the fort on Roanoke,
strengthened, but deserted, with the houses "taken down" and a
message left by the colonists for him.
message was "Croatoan" and "Cro", carved into a tree
and a gate post. Another unspoken message was given too, by what was
omitted. White had agreed with the colonists that if they were in distress
or under duress, they were to carve a cross - and there were no crosses
found. White, in his own words, was “greatly joyed that I had safely
found a certain token of their safe being at Croatoan which is the place
where Manteo was born”, “the island our friends.” White was not able
to visit Hatteras Island to search for the
colonists, as a hurricane bore down on the Englishmen, literally blowing
them back to England.
with that, we fade to black. The colonists too have faded into history,
their fate, whatever it was, known only to them and the Native people with
or among whom they lived and died.
is a great deal of controversy about the motives of Sir Walter Raleigh,
colonization and piracy versus rescuing the colonists. As with any good
story, there is also a hint of conspiracy and perhaps a villain or two.
However, for our purposes, it suffices to say that several expeditions
over time failed to find or confirm the fate of the colonists, at least
officially, although some scholars suggest that the colonists were found
and intentionally remained to collect sassafras and other medicinal herbs
that sold for a great deal of profit in Europe. In all, there were nine
reported "rescue missions," eight of which were English and one
that was Spanish. There is evidence to suggest several scenarios for what
happened to the colonists. We will look at these in future articles. We
know that the outcome is that the colonists were never rescued, lived
their lives and died on what would one day become American soil.
Lawson, in 1701, recorded that Hatteras Indians had grey eyes and reported
that their ancestors were white and could "talk in a book." It's
important here to note that adult Indians in 1701 would have been born
before 1680 and they did not say their parents or grandparents, with whom
they would have been personally familiar, but their ancestors, further
distant, whom they would not have known personally. Certainly, this
correlates with the last communication from the colonists themselves, that
they were going to Croatoan. But is it true? Did they live with the
Indians on Croatoan? Did they intermarry with them? It certainly looks to
be true from the physical evidence seen by Lawson? Did all or part of them
Powhatan Indians told the men who arrived at Jamestown in 1607 a different
story. They said that the colonists had come to live among an Indian tribe
in the Chesapeake, had lived among them for 20 years, which would track
back to about 1587, and had been "miserably slaughtered" by the
Powhatan just prior to the arrival of the Jamestown settlers. Was this
true or were the Jamestown settlers told this to instill fear? If this is
true, did all of the colonists move to the Chesapeake, or just a portion
of them? There were rumors of survivors of the massacre, living in slavery
among various tribes, but these rumors could never be substantiated, nor
refuted. And then, in the woods, in 1609, within 50 miles of Jamestown,
crosses were found carved into trees, but interpreted to be signs of
"new Christians," Indians having been converted to Christianity.
location of the colonists’ village, if one existed, in the Chesapeake
has never been found.
Hatteras Island is another matter entirely. Hatteras has the benefit of
being the only location that the colonists told us, themselves, that they
were going. They
that anyone returning would find the fort, and find their message, and the
one place they would look assuredly, was Croatoan, their name for Hatteras
Island. So even if the colonists didn't all stay on Hatteras, surely they
would always have assured that a trail could always be found from Hatteras
to wherever it was they might have relocated, if they did. Therefore,
Hatteras is the hub around which the fate and location of the colonists
Island also provides another benefit. It is the only island, moving South
from Roanoke Island where one could both sustain life and could mount a
watch for arriving ships. At that time, just above present day Buxton, an
opening existed. By placing a sentinel on high land at Buxton, on the
northeast end of the island, one could watch both the sea and the sound
for arriving ships, be they English or the dreaded Spanish.
White drew a map of Hatteras Island, shown below, with current locations
place to begin the search for the colonists, indeed, was at Buxton on