Roanoke: Solving the Mysteries of the Lost Colony

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The second trip in was not so successful. Hoping to establish a more permanent colony, Raleigh sent an all-male group of soldiers and laborers to Roanoke.


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But unfortunately, these newcomers thought the best way of making friends with their neighbors involved attacking villages, taking hostages, and beheading one of their chiefs. Naturally, this didn't sit well with the natives who decided to get revenge. When you couple that with a severe food shortage, you can see why the English decided to give up on the colony and sail back home.

If they'd only waited a little while longer, they would've received a boatload of new supplies. But when reinforcements arrived, they found Roanoke deserted. Not wanting to give up their foothold in the New World, 15 soldiers were left behind to watch the colony, and Sir Walter Raleigh got busy gathering a third expedition, one that would sail across the Atlantic — and never return. After the first two expeditions, Sir Walter Raleigh decided to send one more group in Only this time, the colony would be comprised of men, women, and children — a total of souls striking out for the New World.


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The expedition would be led by Gov. John White, an artist involved in at least one previous expedition. However, the colonists weren't originally going to say on Roanoke. The plan was to drop by, pick up the 15 soldiers left behind, and sail on. But after landing, master pilot Simon Fernandez refused to go any further, forcing the colonists to set up shop on the North Carolina island. Upon arriving on Roanoke, the settlers found the bones of one of the 15 soldiers and not much else. This wasn't a great start for the new colony, but Gov. White was able to patch things up with the Croatoans, a tribe living on the nearby island of, well, Croatoan today known as Hatteras Island.

Unfortunately, things weren't completely cheery, as one colonist was killed by a different band of natives. Making things worse, the Roanoke settlers needed more supplies, so Gov.

Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony (Paperback)

White was chosen to sail back to England and get help from Raleigh. White wasn't particularly thrilled about leaving, especially since his daughter had given birth to his granddaughter, Virginia Dare, just days before. Virginia was the first English child born in America, but as August came to an end, White left his family behind and sailed for Europe. Unfortunately, thanks to England's war with Spain, it was three years before Governor White could return from the British Isles. And when he showed back up on Roanoke, he found the colony abandoned.

He immediately began looking for Maltese crosses, signs the colonists were supposed to leave if they were in trouble, but he only discovered the letters "CRO" etched into a tree and the word " CROATOAN " carved into a post. Bad weather, impatient sailors, and a damaged ship kept him from searching for the missing settlers, and White was forced to return to England, leaving his friends and family behind to whatever mysterious fate had befallen them.

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Well, if you asked College of William and Mary archaeologist Dennis Blanton, he'd probably aim the blame for the colony's disappearance at Mother Nature. In , Blanton co-authored a study published in Science that claimed the "Lost Colony" was hit with one of the worst droughts in North American history. But how does Blanton know this? Well, you see, the truth is all in the trees. These trees live for hundreds of years, and scientists can get a pretty good idea of what the weather used be like by studying the rings inside.

And after looking at their size and shape, Blanton realized the Roanoke settlers were living through the worst American drought in the past years. In fact, things were at their water-sucking worst in , right as the colonists were getting settled in their New World digs. This would've made things incredibly difficult for the colonists, especially since they didn't have any crops. The English expedition kept alive by hunting for food and trading with nearby tribes, and a drought would've had a major impact on both the nearby wildlife and the locals' willingness to hand over their much-needed corn.

So Blanton theorizes the colonists called it quits and headed off to find somewhere with a little more food. It seems like these poor Englishmen were suffering from a case of rotten luck. As historian and Roanoke expert Karen Ordahl Kupperman puts it , this "was the worst possible time to start a colony.

One of the more popular theories about Roanoke says the colonists left their homes and assimilated with friendly native tribes, such as the Croatoans. This is supported by some anecdotal evidence, as Jamestown search parties heard interesting stories as they looked for the missing settlers.

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As pointed out by Brian Dunning of Skeptoid , one Englishman named William Strachey described hearing of an Indian village where there were "howses built with stone walles and one story above another, so taught them by those Englishe who escaped the slaughter at Roanoak. This theory seems to hold water, especially if there wasn't a lot of water on Roanoke at the time. As explained by archaeologist Luke Pecoraro , if there was really a mega-drought going on, joining forces with the locals would've kept the settlers from dying off. The following spring, in , White led a third expedition made up primarily of middle-class Londoners, including his pregnant daughter, Eleanor Dare, as well as 16 other women and nearly a dozen children.

All told, more than a score of oceangoing ships carried hundreds of people across the 16th-century equivalent of interplanetary space. The bold venture dwarfed in size and scope the later—and more renowned—forays to Jamestown and Plymouth, birthed the first corporation in English America, and forged the link between England and the mid-Atlantic coast of North America that seeded both the British Empire and the United States. The archaeologist from the University of Bristol stands on the lip of a rectangular hole shaded by gnarled live oaks.

Just over the wooded dune, Pamlico Sound laps rhythmically against the North Carolina beach. In the s a nearby inlet made this an ideal spot to gather scallops and oysters, and catch turtles and fish. Patches of fertile soil were suitable for growing corn, squash, and beans. When the inlet closed a century or so after White left, this became part of Hatteras Island, a long boomerang of blowing sand and maritime forest angled deep into the Atlantic. A local organization, the Croatoan Archaeological Society , sponsors an annual dig led by Horton.

Since , the team has uncovered a variety of Old World objects mixed in with Native American artifacts in the heart of a village. Horton suspects the slate might have belonged to White, who may have used it to make sketches of the local people. Though nearing retirement age, Horton has the pudgy red cheeks and keen enthusiasm of an English schoolboy.

As we talk, a team member nearby hands a bucket heavy with muck to a volunteer, who pours it into a box with a fine-mesh screen. She hoses down the material and swiftly plucks out a minuscule baby blue bead made in Italy.

Later that day a thin, round object surfaces that was manufactured in Antwerp, Belgium, in to weigh the silver in a Hungarian coin called a ducat. By the mid- to late 17th century the new global economy encompassed even isolated Croatoan Island. He suggests that the older Elizabethan objects may have been kept by the children or grandchildren of abandoned settlers who may have assimilated with the Croatoan. But even some members of the excavation team suspect the material could have arrived through trade with later English settlements.

Lawrence River. Searchers in found a clue that colonists may have moved to Croatoan Island. In Virginia became a royal colony. Why their colony ultimately failed is unknown. On the other hand, animal bones from trash heaps suggest an abrupt dietary switch from fish and turtles to deer and birds—evidence that could hint at indigenous people using European guns early in the contact period, guns the lost colonists may have provided. Among these is a colorful map of eastern North Carolina, gaily decorated with English ships and Indian canoes.

In he became curious about two faint patches on his copy. He persisted. When the curators put the painting on a light table three months later, the star-shaped symbol of a fort appeared under one patch. This is really a solid lead. Archaeologists from the First Colony Foundation , a North Carolina nonprofit devoted to Roanoke-related archaeology, set out to investigate the area indicated on the chart.

They focused on a piece of land beside a cove perfect for hiding a ship from Spanish scouts. In a nod to the cloak-and-dagger nature of the find, they named it Site X. Luccketti, a short, stocky Virginian, is on edge.

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He fears some of the excavation volunteers have tipped off potential looters. Since work began in , the team has retrieved L-shaped bits of metal, possibly used for stretching out a tent or animal skin, as well as an aglet, a tiny tube used to secure the end of a wool lace. A brass buckle and lead seal also could date to Elizabethan times. The archaeologist believes his ace in the hole is a few dozen broken bits of pottery.

How Did A Whole Village Disappear? (The Lost Colony of Roanoke Mystery)

Standing at a plastic table in the middle of the field, he pulls a triangular piece of green pottery from a plastic bag. The outer surface is green and smooth, and the inner side pink and rougher. The ceramic was manufactured on the boundary between Surrey and Hampshire Counties in southern England and is therefore called Border ware.

Luccketti reads my mind.