The Real Roanoke

croatoanAmerican Horror Story recently wrapped up its sixth season, My Roanoke Nightmare, which was inspired by the centuries’ old mystery, “The Lost Colony”. In 1587, thirty years before pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, 115 English settlers attempted to establish a colony on Roanoke Island (modern-day Dare County, North Carolina). Soon, the colonists were running low on food and tools. It was decided that John White, governor of the ill-fated colony, would return to England to gather supplies. White left his wife, daughter and newborn grandchild (Virgina Dare, the first English child born in the Americas) behind in the new colony. John White’s journey back to Roanoke was delayed when a war broke out between England and Spain; When he finally returned three years later, the colony and its inhabitants were gone. A tall fence stood around the perimeter of the former site of the Roanoke colony but no structures remained. cro-written-on-a-treeAll that was found on the site were a few small cannons and an open chest. A tree trunk was found to be carved with the letters, “CRO”, and on a fence post, the word “CROATOAN” was inscribed.
After more than 400 years, no evidence has been uncovered that has resulted in any definitive answers about what became of Roanoke and its settlers. Some of the more plausible theories suggest the settlers may have torn down all the homes in Roanoke to build a defensive wall and rafts. The people of Roanoke may have fled the island after repeated attacks by Natives and been lost at sea. Or perhaps believing John White would not return, made a failed attempt to reach England. While it is possible all 115 settlers were massacred by Natives, it is unlikely; No human remains have ever been uncovered at the site. One of the least exciting but arguably most likely theories stems from the most significant clue the lost colonists left behind: Croatoan. Croatoan was an island (modern-day Hatteras Island) inhabited by a small group of Natives by the same name. Colonists may have carved the word “Croatoan” in an attempt to communicate their whereabouts to John White in the case he ever returned to Roanoke. New evidence suggests the group of 115 settlers may have broken up into two, smaller groups to ensure their survival. While tensions were incredibly high between Natives and the English, Native tribes often showed kindness to smaller groups of white settlers who they viewed as unthreatening. It is believed one of these groups comprised of former Roanoke colonists (most likely the group containing members of John White’s family) traveled 50 miles south to Croatoan Island to be assimilated into the Croatoan tribe; There they would have food, shelter, and safety from violent Natives. Although there is speculation as to which direction the second group traveled, it is believed they also went searching for a friendly Native group with which to assimilate. While researchers say it is highly unlikely this 400-year-old mystery will ever be solved, it is not impossible.

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