Roanoke Colony

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Roanoke Colony
Colony of England
1585–c. 1590
Location of Roanoke
Virginea Pars map, drawn by John White during his initial visit in 1585. Roanoke is the small pink island in the middle right of the map.
History
 •  Established 1585
 •  Birth of Virginia Dare August 18, 1587
 •  Abandoned Before August c. 1590
 •  Found abandoned August 18, 1590
Population
 •  1587 116 
Today part of  United States

The Roanoke Colony (/ˈrəˌnk/) refers to two attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh to found the first permanent English settlement in North America. The first colony was established by governor Ralph Lane in 1585 on Roanoke Island in what is now Dare County, North Carolina, United States.[1]:45, 54-59 Following the failure of the 1585 settlement, a second colony led by John White landed on the same island in 1587, and became known as the Lost Colony due to the unexplained disappearance of its population.[1]:xx,89,276

Lane's colony was troubled by a lack of supplies and bad relations with the local Native Americans. While awaiting a delayed resupply mission by Richard Grenville, Lane decided to abandon the colony and return to England with Francis Drake in 1586. Grenville arrived two weeks later and left a small detachment to protect Raleigh's claim.[1]:70-77 In 1587 Raleigh sent White on an expedition to establish the Cittie of Raleigh in Chesapeake Bay. However, during a stop to check in on Grenville's men, the flagship's pilot Simon Fernandes insisted that White's colonists remain on Roanoke.[1]:81-82, 89

White returned to England with Fernandes, intending to bring more supplies back to his colony in 1588.[1]:93-94 Instead, the Anglo-Spanish War delayed his return to Roanoke until 1590.[1]:94, 97 Upon his arrival, he found the settlement fortified but abandoned. The word "CROATOAN" was found carved into the palisade, which White interpreted to mean the colonists had relocated to Croatoan Island. Before he could follow this lead, rough seas forced the rescue mission to return to England.[1]:100-103

The fate of the 1587 colonists remains unknown. Speculation that they may have assimilated with nearby Native American communities appears as early as 1605.[1]:113-114 Investigations by the Jamestown colonists produced reports that the Roanoke settlers were massacred, as well as stories of people with European features in Native American villages, but no hard evidence.[1]:116-125 Interest in the matter fell into decline until 1834, when George Bancroft published his account of the events in A History of the United States. Bancroft's description of the colonists, particularly White's infant granddaughter Virginia Dare, cast them as foundational figures in American culture and captured the public imagination.[1]:128-130 Despite this renewed interest, modern research still has not produced the archaeological evidence necessary to solve the mystery.[1]:270

Background[edit]

A 1529 map depicting "Verazzano's Sea" extending from the North Pacific to the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks were explored in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, who mistook Pamlico Sound for the Pacific Ocean, and concluded that the barrier islands were an isthmus. Recognizing this as a potential shortcut to China, he presented his findings to King Francis I of France and King Henry VIII of England, neither of which pursued the matter.[1]:17-19

In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to Sir Humphrey Gilbert to explore the New World and colonize territories unclaimed by Christian kingdoms.[1]:27-28. Following Gilbert's death in 1583[1]:30, the queen divided the charter between his brother Adrian Gilbert and his half-brother Walter Raleigh. Adrian's charter gave him the patent on Newfoundland and all points north, where geographers expected to eventually find a long-sought Northwest Passage to Asia. Raleigh was awarded the lands to the south, though much of it was already claimed by Spain.[1]:33 However, Richard Hakluyt had by this time taken notice of Verazzano's "isthmus," located within Raleigh's claim, and was campaigning for England to capitalize on the opportunity.[1]:31-33

Raleigh's charter, issued on March 25, 1984, specified that he needed to establish a colony by 1591, or lose his right to colonization.[2]:9 He was to "discover, search, find out, and view such remote heathen and barbarous Lands, Countries, and territories ... to have, hold, occupy, and enjoy".[3] It was expected that Raleigh would establish a base from which to send privateers on raids against the treasure fleets of Spain.[4]:135 The purpose of these raids was to tell Spain that England was ready for war.[5]

Despite the broad powers granted to Raleigh, he was forbidden to leave the queen's side. Instead of personally leading voyages to the Americas, he delegated the missions to his associates and oversaw operations from London.[1]:30,34 On April 27, 1584, Raleigh dispatched an expedition led by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to explore the Outer Banks. They established contact with the Secotan, who controlled the mainland and Roanoke Island, and the Croatan, who lived on Croatoan Island. Amadas and Barlowe were impressed with the tribes' hospitality and the strategic location of Roanoke. They returned with a Croatan, Manteo, and a Secotan, Wanchese, who were able to describe the politics and geography of the area to Raleigh.[2]:44–45

Queen Elizabeth was impressed with the results of Raleigh's expedition. In 1585, during a ceremony to knight Raleigh, she proclaimed the land granted to him "Virginia" and proclaimed him "Knight Lord and Governor of Virginia." Sir Walter Raleigh proceeded to seek investors to fund a colony.[1]:45

The Lane colony[edit]

Watercolor of a Secotan village, by John White (1585)

Raleigh assigned Sir Richard Grenville to lead the next expedition, and Ralph Lane to serve as governor of the new colony.[1]:45,48 The fleet departed Plymouth on April 9, 1585, with seven ships: The Tiger (Grenville's flagship, with Simon Fernandes as pilot), the Roebuck (a flyboat, captained by John Clarke), the Red Lion (under the command of George Raymond), the Elizabeth (captained by Thomas Cavendish), and three full-rigged pinnaces (including Raleigh's own ship the Dorothy).[6] Among the colonists were metallurgist Joachim Gans, scientist Thomas Harriot, and artist John White. Manteo and Wanchese, returning home from their visit to England, also accompanied the fleet. No women or children were included in the mission.[1]:45-49

A severe storm off the coast of Portugal separated the Tiger from the rest of the fleet.[2]:57 The captains had a contingency plan if they were separated, which was to meet up again in Puerto Rico, and the Tiger arrived in Guayanilla Bay on May 11.[7]

While waiting for the other ships, Grenville established relations with the resident Spanish while simultaneously engaging in some privateering against them.[2]:62 He also built a fort. The Elizabeth arrived soon after the fort's construction.[8]:91 Grenville eventually tired of waiting for the remaining ships and departed on June 7. The fort was abandoned, and its location remains unknown.

The Tiger sailed through Ocracoke Inlet on June 26, but it struck a shoal, ruining most of the food supplies.[2]:63 The expedition succeeded in repairing the ship and, in early July, reunited with the Roebuck and the Dorothy, which had arrived in the Outer Banks with the Red Lion some weeks previous. The Red Lion had dropped off its passengers and left for Newfoundland for privateering.[2]:64

During the initial exploration of the mainland coast and the native settlements, the Europeans blamed the natives of the village of Aquascogoc for stealing a silver cup. As retaliation, the settlers sacked and burned the village.[2]:72 English writer and courtier Richard Hakluyt's contemporaneous reports also describe this incident. (Hakluyt's reports of the first voyage to Roanoke were compiled from accounts by various financial backers, including Sir Walter Raleigh. Hakluyt himself never traveled to the New World.)[9]

Manteo arranged a meeting between Granganimeo (brother of the Secotan leader Wingina) and Grenville and Lane, to provide land for the English settlement on Roanoke Island. Both sides agreed that the island was strategically located for access to the ocean and to avoid detection from Spanish patrols. Lane began construction of a fort on the north side of the island. [1]:58-59 There are no surviving renderings of the Roanoke fort, but it was likely similar in structure to the one in Guayanilla Bay.

Watercolor of a Secotan warrior, by John White (1585)

Harriot and White both conducted detailed studies of the Roanoke area, with Harriot compiling his samples and notes into several notebooks that did not survive the colony's 1586 evacuation. Harriot also wrote descriptions of the surrounding flora and fauna of the area, which survive in his work A Brief and True Report of the New Founde Land of Virginia, written as a report on the colony's progress to the English government on the request of Raleigh. Viewed by modern historians as propaganda for the colony, this work has become vastly important to Roanoke's history due to Harriot's observations on wildlife as well as his depictions of Indian activities.[10]

Food shortages[edit]

Only 107 men would remain with Lane at the colony, due to the lack of supplies. The Tiger departed for England on August 17, 1585, promising to return in April 1586 with more men and fresh supplies.[11] Grenville in the Tiger on only his seventh day of sail captured (after a three-day battle) a rich Spanish galleon, Santa Maria de San Vicente off Bermuda which he took with him as a prize back to England.[12] The last of the fleet left on September, 8, 1585.[1]:60

Harriot and Gans explored the Virginia territory, meeting Native American tribes and taking stock of natural resources. Although 16th century science could not explain the phenomenon, Harriot noticed that each town they visited quickly suffered a deadly epidemic, which may have been influenza. When Wingina fell sick, his own people could not treat him, but he recovered after requesting prayers from the English. Impressed, Wingina asked the colonists to share this power with other stricken communities, which only hastened the spread of disease. The epidemic likely had a severe impact on the fall harvest, at a time when Lane's colony would be heavily dependent on its neighbors to supplement its limited food supply.[1]:63-65

Food shortages during the winter strained relations between the Secotan and the colony. In March 1586, Lane led a mission to the Chowanoke capital, beyond Wingina's control, in search of provisions. To discourage Lane from forming an alliance with a powerful rival, Wingina warned Lane of plans to ambush his party. Lane's resulting hostility to the Chowanoke leader, Menatonon, provoked the sort of ambush he had been warned of. Meanwhile, Wanchese, whose time among the English had convinced him that they were a threat, had risen to become a senior advisor of Wingina. This, along with the death of Granganimeo, further alienated the colony. Wingina changed his name to "Pemisapan" ("one who watches"), and evacuated the Secotan from Roanoke, effectively depriving the colonists of their only remaining source of food. There was no sign of Grenville's relief fleet.[1]:66-69

When Lane learned that Wingina was amassing an Algonquian alliance to attack the colony, he planned a preemptive attack. On the night of May 31, Englishman captured canoes to storm the mainland. The following morning, Lane entered the Secotan village asking to parley, only to signal for his men to open fire with their pistols. Wingina was killed, and his severed head was impaled outside the colony's fort.[1]:69-70

Evacuation[edit]

In June, the colonists made contact with the fleet of Sir Francis Drake, on his way back to England from successful campaigns in Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and St. Augustine.[1]:70-71 During these raids, Drake had acquired refugees, slaves, and hardware with the intent of delivering them to Raleigh's colony. Upon learning of the colony's misfortunes, Drake agreed to leave behind four months of supplies and one of his ships, the Francis. However, a hurricane hit the Outer Banks, apparently sweeping the Francis out to sea.[6][1]:73-74

After the storm, Lane persuaded his men to evacuate the colony, and Drake agreed to take them back to England. Manteo and an associate, Towaye, joined them. Three of Lane's colonists were left behind and never heard from again. Because the colony was abandoned, it is unclear what became of the slaves and refugees Drake had meant to place there. There is no record of them arriving in England with the fleet, and it is possible Drake left them on Roanoke with the some of the goods he had previously set aside for Lane.[1]:74-75 On this return voyage, the Roanoke colonists introduced tobacco, maize, and potatoes to England.[13]:5 Drake's fleet, along with Lane's colonists, reached England in July 1586.[1]:77

Harriot's reports suggested that relations between the Roanoke Indians and the English settlers were mutually calm and prosperous, contradicting other historical evidence that catalogs the bloody struggles between the Roanoke Indians and the Lane colony. He recounted little to none of these accounts in his report to England and did not mention the disorderly state of the Lane colony, correctly assuming these facts would prevent Roanoke from gaining more settlers. Harriot's text did not reach the English press, until 1588, after John White founded the second colony.[10]

Grenville's detachment[edit]

A single supply ship, sent by Raleigh, arrived at Roanoke just days after Drake evacuated the colony. The crew could not find any trace of the colonists and left. Two weeks later, Grenville's relief fleet finally arrived with a year's worth of supplies and reinforcements of 400 men. Grenville conducted an extensive search and interrogated three natives, but apparently learned nothing about the evacuation.[1]:75-76 The fleet returned to England, leaving behind a small detachment of fifteen men both to maintain an English presence and to protect Raleigh's claim to Roanoke Island.[14]:127

According to the Croatan, this contingent was attacked by an alliance of mainland tribes, shortly after Grenville's fleet left. Four of the English were away gathering oysters when two of the attackers, appearing unarmed, approached the encampment and asked to meet with two Englishmen peacefully. One of the Native Americans concealed a wooden sword, which he used to kill an Englishman. Another 28 attackers revealed themselves, but the other Englishman escaped to warn his unit. The natives attacked with flaming arrows, setting fire to the house where the English kept their food stores, and forcing the men to take up whatever arms were handy. A second Englishman was killed; the remaining nine retreated to the shore, and fled the island on their boat. They found their four compatriots returning from the creek, picked them up, and continued into Port Ferdinando. The thirteen survivors were never seen again.[15]:12-13

Lost Colony[edit]

Reverse of a commemorative 1937 US half dollar coin, depicting Eleanor and Virginia Dare

Despite the desertion of the Lane colony, Raleigh was persuaded to make another attempt by Richard Hakluyt, Thomas Harriot, and John White.[1]:81 However, Roanoke Island would no longer be safe for English settlers, following the hostilities between Lane's men and the Secotan, and the death of Wingina.[1]:90 Hakluyt recommended Chesapeake Bay as the site for a new colony, in part because he believed the Pacific coast lay just beyond the explored areas of the Virginia territory. On January 7, 1587, Raleigh approved a corporate charter to found "the Cittie of Raleigh" with White as governor and 12 assistants.[1]:81-82, 202 Approximately 115 people agreed to join the colony, including White's pregnant daughter Eleanor and her husband Ananias Dare. The colonists were largely middle-class Londoners, perhaps seeking to become landed gentry.[1]:84-85 Manteo and Towaye, who had left the Lane colony with Drake's fleet, were also brought along.[1]:88 This time, the party included women and children, but no organized military force.[1]:85

The expedition consisted of three ships: The flagship Lion, captained by White with Simon Fernandes as master and pilot, along with a flyboat (under the command of Edward Spicer) and a pinnace (commanded by Edward Stafford).[6] The fleet departed on May 8.[1]:88

On July 22, the flagship and pinnace anchored at Hatteras Island. White planned to take forty men aboard the pinnace to Roanoke, where he would consult with the fifteen men stationed there by Richard Grenville, before continuing on to Chesapeake Bay. Once he boarded the pinnace however, a "gentleman" on the flagship representing Fernandes ordered the sailors to leave the colonists on Roanoke.[1]:89[8]:215[16]

The following morning, White's party located the site of Lane's colony. The fort had been dismantled, while the houses stood vacant and overgrown with melons. There was no sign that Grenville's men had ever been there except for human bones that White believed were the remains of one of them, killed by Native Americans.[1]:90[9]

Following the arrival of the flyboat on July 25, all of the colonists disembarked.[1]:90 Shortly thereafter, colonist George Howe was killed by a native while searching alone for crabs in Albemarle Sound.[17]:120–23

Baptism of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America. Lithograph, 1880

White dispatched Stafford to re-establish relations with the Croatan, with the help of Manteo. The Croatan described how a coalition of mainland tribes, led by Wanchese, had attacked Grenville's detachment.[1]:90-92 The colonists attempted to negotiate a truce through the Croatan, but received no response.[1]:91[17]:120–23 On August 9, White led a pre-emptive strike on Dasamongueponke, but the enemy (fearing reprisal for the murder of Howe) had withdrawn from the village, and the English accidentally attacked Croatan looters. Manteo again smoothed relations between the colonists and the Croatan.[1]:92 For his service to the colony, Manteo was baptized and named "Lord of Roanoke and Dasamongueponke".[1]:93

On August 18, 1587, Eleanor Dare gave birth to a daughter, christened "Virginia" in honor of being "the first Christian born in Virginia." Records indicate Margery Harvye gave birth shortly thereafter, although nothing else is known about her child.[1]:94

By the time the fleet was preparing to return to England, the colonists had decided to relocate fifty miles up Albemarle Sound.[15]:16 The colonists persuaded Governor White to return to England to explain the colony's desperate situation and ask for help.[17]:120–23 White reluctantly agreed, and departed with the fleet on August 27, 1587.[15]:17 Left behind were 117 colonists, after the death of Howe, the departure of White, and the birth of two babies.[14]:19

1588 relief mission[edit]

Launch of English fireships against the Spanish Armada, 7 August 1588.

After a difficult journey, White returned to England on November 5, 1587.[15]:19 By this time reports of the Spanish Armada mobilizing for an attack had reached London, and Queen Elizabeth had prohibited any able ship from leaving England, so that they might participate in the coming battle.[4]:125–26[1]:94

During the winter, Richard Grenville was granted a waiver to lead a fleet into the Caribbean to attack the Spanish, and White was permitted to accompany him in a resupply ship. The fleet was set to launch in March 1588, but unfavorable winds kept them in port until Grenville received new orders to stay and defend England. Two of the smaller ships in Grenville's fleet, the Brave and the Roe[6], were deemed unsuitable for combat, and White was permitted to take them to Roanoke. The ships departed on April 22, but the captains of the ships attempted to capture several Spanish ships on the outward-bound voyage (in order to improve their profits).[4]:125–26 On May 6 they were attacked by French pirates near Morocco. Nearly two dozen of the crew were killed, and the supplies bound for Roanoke were looted, leaving the ships to return to England.[1]:94-95

Following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in August, England maintained the ban on shipping in order to focus efforts on a organizing a Counter Armada to attack Spain in 1589. White would not gain permission to make another resupply attempt until 1590.[1]:97

Spanish reconnaissance[edit]

The Spanish Empire had been gathering intelligence on the Roanoke colonies since Grenville's capture of the Santa Maria de San Vicente in 1585. They feared that the English had established a haven for piracy in North America, but were unable to locate such a base.[1]:60 They had no cause to assume Lane's colony had been abandoned, or that White's would be placed in the same location.[1]:88 Indeed, the Spanish greatly overestimated the success of the English in Virginia; rumors suggested the English had discovered a mountain made of diamonds and a route to the Pacific Ocean.[1]:95

Following a failed reconnaissance mission in 1587, King Philip II of Spain ordered Vicente González to search Chesapeake Bay in 1588. González failed to find anything in Chesapeake, but on the way back he chanced to discover Port Ferdinando along the Outer Banks. The port appeared abandoned, and there were no signs of activity on Roanoke Island. González left without conducting a thorough investigation. Although the Spanish believed González had located the secret English base, the defeat of the Spanish Armada prevented Phillip from immediately ordering an attack upon it. In 1590, a plan was made to destroy the Roanoke colony and set up a Spanish colony in Chesapeake Bay, but this was merely disinformation designed to misdirect English intelligence.[1]:95-98

1590 relief mission[edit]

The discovery of the word "Croatoan" carved onto a stockade board

Eventually, Walter Raleigh arranged passage for White on a privateering expedition organised by John Watts. The fleet of six ships would spend the summer of 1590 raiding Spanish outposts in the Caribbean, but the flagship Hopewell and the Moonlight would split off to take White to his colony.[1]:97 At the same time, however, Raleigh was in the process of turning the venture over to new investors.[1]:98

The Hopewell and Moonlight anchored at Croatoan Island on August 12, but there is no indication that White used the time to contact the Croatan for information. On the evening of August 15, while anchored at the north end of Hatteras Island, the crews sighted plumes of smoke on Roanoke Island; the following morning, they investigated another column of smoke on the southern end of Hatteras, but found nothing.[1]:98 White's landing party spent the next two days attempting to cross Pamlico Sound with considerable difficulty and loss of life. On August 17 they sighted a fire on the north end of Roanoke Island and rowed towards it, but they reached the island after nightfall and decided not to risk coming ashore. The men spent the night in their anchored boats, singing English songs in hopes that the colonists would hear.[1]:xvii-xix

Recreation of the tree inscribed with "CRO", from a production of The Lost Colony

White and the others made landfall on the morning of August 18 (his granddaughter's third birthday). The party found fresh tracks in the sand, but were not contacted by anyone. They also discovered the letters "CRO" carved into a tree. Upon reaching the site of the colony, White noted the area had been fortified with a palisade. Near the entrance of the fencing, the word "CROATOAN" was carved in one of the posts.[1]:xix White was certain these two inscriptions meant that the colonists had peacefully relocated to Croatoan Island, since they had agreed in 1587 that the colonists would leave a "secret token" indicating their destination, or a cross pattée as a duress code.[18]:17[4]:130–33

Within the palisade, the search party found that houses had been dismantled, and anything that could be carried had been removed. Several large trunks (including three belonging to White, containing the belongings he left behind in 1587) had been dug up and looted. None of the colony's boats could be found along the shore.[1]:101

The party returned to the Hopewell that evening, and plans were made to return to Croatoan the following day. However, the Hopewell's anchor cable snapped, leaving the ship with only one working cable and anchor. The search mission could not continue given the considerable risk of shipwreck. The Moonlight set off for England, but the crew of the Hopewell offered a compromise with White, in which they would winter in the Caribbean and return to the Outer Banks in the spring of 1591. This plan fell through, though, when the Hopewell was blown off course, forcing them to stop for supplies in the Azores. When the winds prevented landfall there, the ship was again forced to change course for England, arriving on October 24, 1590.[1]:102-103

Investigations into Roanoke[edit]

Reconstructed fortifications at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Walter Raleigh[edit]

Although John White failed to locate his colonists in 1590, his report suggested they had simply relocated and might yet be found alive. However, it served Walter Raleigh's purposes to keep the matter in doubt; so long as the settlers could not be proven dead, he could legally maintain his claim on Virginia.[1]:111 Nevertheless, in 1595 a London court declared Ananias Dare legally dead, so that his son John could inherit his estate.[1]:112

During Raleigh's first transatlantic voyage in 1595, he claimed to be in search of his lost colonists, although he would admit this was disinformation to cover his search for El Dorado. On the return voyage, he sailed past the Outer Banks, and later claimed that weather prevented him from landing.[1]:111

Raleigh later sought to enforce his monopoly on Virginia--based on the potential survival of the Roanoke colonists--when the price of sassafras skyrocketed. He funded a 1602 mission to the Outer Banks, with the stated goal of resuming the search.[1]:112-113 Led by Samuel Mace, this expedition differed from previous voyages in that Raleigh bought his own ship and guaranteed the sailors' wages so that they would not be distracted by privateering.[4]:134–35 However, the ship's itinerary and manifest indicate that Raleigh's top priority was harvesting sassafras far south of Croatoan Island. By the time Mace approached Hatteras, bad weather prevented them from lingering in the area.[1]:113. In 1603, Raleigh was implicated in the Main Plot and arrested for treason against King James, effectively ending his Virginia charter.[4]:134–35

Bartholomew Gilbert[edit]

There was one final expedition in 1603 led by Bartholomew Gilbert with the intention of finding Roanoke colonists. Their intended destination was Chesapeake Bay, but bad weather forced them to land in an unspecified location near there. The landing team, including Gilbert himself, was killed by a group of Native Americans for unknown reasons on July 29. The remaining crew were forced to return to England empty-handed.[19]

John Smith[edit]

The Francis Nelson (or Zuniga) map, c. 1607

Once the Jamestown settlement was established in 1607, efforts were undertaken by the English to acquire information from the Powhatan tribe about Roanoke.

In December 1607, John Smith was captured by the Powhatan and brought before Wahunsenacawh (often referred to as "Chief Powhatan"). Wahunsenacawh described a place called Ocanahonan, where men wore European-style clothing; Anone, where the people build walled houses; and Panawicke, which also featured European dress. Smith was unable to locate any of these places.[1]:117

Smith drew a crude map of the places described by Wahunsenacawh, which was delivered to England in 1608 by Francis Nelson. Pedro de Zúñiga, the Spanish ambassador to England, secured a copy and passed it on to Philip III of Spain. The original is now lost, but the "Zuniga Map" was rediscovered in 1890.[1]:118[20]:112.

William Strachey[edit]

Chief Powhatan, detail of map published by John Smith (1612)

William Strachey arrived in Jamestown in May 1610, along with the new acting governor, Thomas Gates. Gates revealed new orders from London to relocate the colony to a town called "Ohonoahorn" or "Oconahoen." This new setting would be conveniently located near "the rich copper mines of Ritanoc" and "Peccareamicke," which harbored members of Raleigh's colony who survived an alleged massacre by Wahunsenacawh. The Jamestown colonists apparently disregarded these orders.[1]:120-122

However, Strachey's The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia (1612) is consistent with the message delivered by Gates, and provides additional allegations.[1]:122 According to Strachey, the colonists had been living peacefully among a group of natives beyond Powhatan territory for more than twenty years when they were massacred. Furthermore, Wahunsenacawh himself seemed to have directed the slaughter because of prophecies by his priests that he would be overthrown by people from that area,[21]:101 and he reportedly produced several English-made iron implements to back his claim.[22] Strachey claimed that four English men, two boys and one woman had been sighted at the Eno settlement of Ritanoc, under the protection of a chief called Eyanoco. Strachey reported that the captives were forced to beat copper and that they had escaped the attack on the other colonists and fled up what is now called the Chowan River.[14]:242[23]:222[24] He went on to say that when King James learned of these events, he decided to spare Wahunsenacawh but demanded the deaths of the priests who directed the massacre.[1]:122

The London Company did not publish The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia, which remained unpublished for nearly 200 years. There is no indication that any actions were taken against Wahunsenacawh or his priests based on Strachey's accusations.[1]:123

Samuel Purchas[edit]

In 1625, Samuel Purchas argued that Native Americans had massacred both Grenville's 1586 detachment and the 1587 colonists. He asserted that Wahunsenacawh confessed of the massacres to John Smith, and presented to Smith the evidence described in Strachey's allegations. However, Smith's own writings make no reference to any such confession. Even so, the allegations of a Powhatan massacre have persisted into the 21st century. [1]:124-125

John Lawson[edit]

Traffic through Roanoke Island fell into decline in the 17th century, owing to the dangerous waters of the Outer Banks. However, in 1701 John Lawson passed through the area.[1]:126-127 In 1709 he reported that the Native Americans living on Hatteras Island claimed to have once lived on Roanoke Island and that they had white ancestors:

A farther Confirmation of this we have from the Hatteras Indians, who either then lived on Ronoak-Island, or much frequented it. These tell us, that several of their Ancestors were white People, and could talk in a Book, as we do; the Truth of which is confirm'd by gray Eyes being found frequently amongst these Indians, and no others. They value themselves extremely for their Affinity to the English, and are ready to do them all friendly Offices. It is probable, that this Settlement miscarry'd for want of timely Supplies from England; or thro' the Treachery of the Natives, for we may reasonably suppose that the English were forced to cohabit with them, for Relief and Conversation; and that in process of Time, they conform'd themselves to the Manners of their Indian Relations.[25]

Lawson also reported finding the remains of a fort. He took note of English coins, firearms, and a powder horn.[1]:138

Modern research[edit]

Research into the disappearance of the 1587 colonists largely ended with Lawson's 1701 investigation. Renewed interest in the Lost Colony during the 19th century eventually led to a wide range of scholarly analysis.

Archaeological evidence[edit]

A watercolor by John White of the fort in Guayanilla Bay in Puerto Rico, which is likely similar to the fort constructed on Roanoke.

Although the ruined fort that Lawson encountered was still known in the 19th century (and visited by President James Monroe in 1819), archaeological research on Roanoke Island only began when Talcott Williams discovered a Native American burial site in 1887. He returned in 1895 to excavate the fort, but found nothing of significance. The site was gradually obscured by modern development until J. C. Harrington championed serious preservation efforts in the 1930s. Ivor Noel Hume would later make several compelling finds in the 1990s, but none that could be positively linked to the 1587 colony, as opposed to the 1585 outpost.[1]:138-142

In 1993, Hurricane Emily caused numerous relics to appear, and David Phelps of East Carolina University later began digging in the area and found evidence the settlers lived with the native people.[26]

In 1998, East Carolina University organized "The Croatoan Project", an archaeological investigation into the events at Roanoke. The excavation team sent to Hatteras Island, led by Phelps, uncovered what they believed to be a 16th-century gold English signet ring, gun flints, and two copper farthings (produced sometime in the 1670s) at the site of the ancient Croatan capital.[27][28][29][30] However, Phelps neglected to have the ring properly tested. Charles Ewen, who continued Phelps' work after Phelps retired, announced in April 2017 that tests revealed the ring to be composed of brass, not gold. Mark Horton of the University of Bristol said he was not convinced that this news proved the ring did not date to the 16th century.[31] Because of the cheaper material, though, the artifact is less likely to be connected to a specific family associated with the Lost Colony.[1]:199-205

A significant challenge for archaeologists seeking signs of the 1587 colonists is that many common artifacts could plausibly originate from the 1585 colony, or from Native Americans that traded with other European settlements in the same era. Andrew Lawler suggests that an example of a conclusive find would be female remains (since the 1585 colony was exclusively male) buried according to Christian tradition (supine, in an east-west orientation) which can be dated to before 1650 (by which point Europeans would have spread throughout the region).[1]:182 However, few human remains of any kind have been discovered at sites related to the Lost Colony.[1]:313

One possible explanation for the extreme deficiency in archaeological evidence is shoreline erosion. Since all that was found was a rustic looking fort on the north shore, and this location is well-documented and backed up, it is believed that the settlement must have been nearby. The northern shore, between 1851 and 1970, lost 928 feet (283 m) because of erosion. Extrapolating from this trend back to the 1580s, it is likely the site of the dwellings is underwater, along with any artifacts or signs of life.[32] Archaeological investigations continue to find tantalizing clues and funding is being sought to continue recent excavations.[33]

Site X[edit]

In May 2011, Brent Lane of the First Colony Foundation was studying the Virginia Pars Map, which was made by John White during his 1585 visit to Roanoke Island, and noticed two patches where the map had been corrected. The patches are made of paper contemporaneous with that of the map. Lane asked researchers at the British Museum in London, where the map has been kept since 1866, what might be under the patches, sparking an investigation. On May 3, 2012, members of the Foundation and representatives of the museum announced the discovery of "a large, square-shaped symbol with oddly shaped corners."

The symbol, presumed to represent a fort, is visible when the map is viewed on a light box.[34] As the symbol is not to scale, it represents thousands of acres of land in Bertie County, North Carolina, at the confluence of the Chowan and Roanoke rivers. In 2012, when a team prepared to excavate where the symbol indicated, archaeologist Nicholas Luccketti suggested they name the location "Site X," as in "X marks the spot."[1]:176-177

Although the Site X has yielded artifacts suggesting a 16th century English presence, by 2017 both Lane and Lucketti expressed discouragement with the progress of the dig.[1]:179-182

Climate factors[edit]

In 1998, a team led by climatologist David W. Stahle, of the University of Arkansas and archaeologist Dennis B. Blanton of the College of William and Mary used tree ring cores from 800-year-old bald cypresses taken from the Roanoke Island area of North Carolina and the Jamestown area of Virginia to reconstruct precipitation and temperature chronologies.[citation needed]

The researchers concluded that the settlers of the Lost Colony landed at Roanoke Island in the summer of the worst growing-season drought in 800 years. "This drought persisted for 3 years, from 1587 to 1589, and is the driest 3-year episode in the entire 800-year reconstruction," the team reported in the journal Science. A map shows that "the Lost Colony drought affected the entire southeastern United States but was particularly severe in the Tidewater region near Roanoke [Island]." The authors suggested that the Croatan who were shot and killed by the colonists may have been scavenging the abandoned village for food as a result of the drought.[35][36]

Genetic analysis[edit]

The Lost Colony of Roanoke DNA Project was founded in 2007 by a group led by Roberta Estes, who owns a private DNA-testing company, in order to solve the mystery of the Lost Colony using historical records, migration patterns, oral histories and DNA testing. The project used Y chromosome, Mitochondrial DNA and Autosomal DNA.[37] The main challenge of this work is to obtain a genetic point of comparison, either from the remains of a Lost Colonist or one of their descendants. Although it is conceivable to sequence DNA from 430-year-old bones, there are as yet no bones from the Lost Colony to work with. As of 2018, the project has yet to identify any living descendants either.[1]:313-314

Hypotheses about the disappearance[edit]

Without evidence of the Lost Colony's relocation or destruction, speculation about their fate has endured since the 1590s.[1]:110 The matter has developed a reputation among academics for attracting obsession and sensationalism with little scholastic benefit.[1]:8,263,270-271,321-324

Conjecture about the Lost Colonists typically begins with the known facts about the case. When White returned to the colony in 1590, there was no sign of battle or withdrawal under duress, although the site was fortified. There were no human remains or graves reported in the area, suggesting everyone left alive. The "CROATOAN" message is consistent with the agreement with White to indicate where to look for them, suggesting they expected White to look for them and wanted to be found.[1]:324-326

Integration with local tribes[edit]

People have considered the possibility that the missing colonists could have assimilated into nearby Native American tribes since at least 1605.[1]:113 If this integration was successful, the assimilated colonists would gradually exhaust their European supplies (ammunition, clothing) and discard European culture (language, style of dress, agriculture) as Algonquian lifestyle became more convenient.[1]:328 Colonial era Europeans observed that people removed from European society by Native Americans--even if captured or enslaved--were reluctant to return; the reverse was seldom true. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that, at some point, the assimilated colonists or their descendants would resist efforts at recovery.[1]:328

Most historians today believe this is the most likely scenario for the colonists' survival.[1]:329 However, this leaves open the question of which tribe, or tribes, the colonists assimilated with.

Chesepian[edit]

As per Strachey's reports, David Beers Quinn theorized that the colonists moved north to integrate with the Chesepians that Wahunsenacawh supposedly killed. To make the journey northward, Quinn believed that they used the pinnace and other small boats to transport themselves and their belongings. Naturally, if that were the mode of transportation, the colonists could have gone to live in other locations as well.[38]

Chowanoke[edit]

In her 2000 book Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony, historian Lee Miller postulated that some of the Lost Colony survivors sought shelter with the Chowanoke, who were attacked by another tribe, identified by the Jamestown Colony as the "Mandoag" (an Algonquian name commonly given to enemy nations). The Mandoag are believed to be either the Tuscarora, an Iroquois-speaking tribe,[39]:45 or the Eno, also known as the Wainoke.[14]:255–56

Tuscarora[edit]

From the early 17th century to the middle 18th century, European colonists reported encounters with gray-eyed American Indians who claimed descent from the colonists[14]:257, 263 (although at least one, a story of a Welsh priest who met a Doeg warrior who spoke the Welsh language, is likely to be a hoax).[40]:76 Records from French Huguenots who settled along the Tar River in 1696 tell of meeting Tuscaroras with blond hair and blue eyes not long after their arrival. As Jamestown was the nearest English settlement, and they had no record of being attacked by Tuscarora, the likelihood that the origin of those fair-skinned natives was the Lost Colony is high.[39]:28

Croatan[edit]

Fred Willard and Phillip MacMullan believe that the colonists along with the Croatans relocated to villages along the Alligator River in an area known as "Beechland", slightly inland from Roanoke Island. Archeological remains of settlements have been discovered in the area, including coffins with Christian markings on them where there had been no previous record of a grave site, but their hypothesis is mostly based on oral histories and also lacks any definitive evidence.[38]

Lumbee[edit]

In the late 1880s, North Carolina state legislator Hamilton McMillan discovered that his "redbones" (those of Indian blood) neighbors in Robeson County claimed to have been descended from the Roanoke settlers. He also noticed that many of the words in their language had striking similarities to obsolete English words. Furthermore, many of the family names were identical to those listed in Hakluyt's account of the colony. Thus on February 10, 1885, convinced that these were the descendants of the Lost Colony, he helped to pass the "Croatan bill", that officially designated the population around Robeson county as Croatan.[23]:231–33 Two days later on February 12, 1885, the Fayetteville Observer published an article regarding the Robeson people's origins. This article states:

They say that their traditions say that the people we call the Croatan Indians (though they do not recognize that name as that of a tribe, but only a village, and that they were Tuscaroras), were always friendly to the whites; and finding them destitute and despairing of ever receiving aid from England, persuaded them to leave [Roanoke Island], and go to the mainland... They gradually drifted away from their original seats, and at length settled in Robeson, about the center of the county...[41]

The tribe petitioned to be renamed in 1911, eventually settling on the name Lumbee in 1956.[1]:307

Other tribes[edit]

Other tribes claiming partial descent from surviving Roanoke colonists include the Catawba (who absorbed the Shakori and Eno people), and the Coree. Samuel A'Court Ashe was convinced that the colonists had relocated westward to the banks of the Chowan River in Bertie County, and Conway Whittle Sams claimed that after being attacked by Wanchese and Wahunsenacawh, the colonists scattered to multiple locations: the Chowan River, and south to the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers.[23]:233

Spanish attack[edit]

Another theory is that the Spanish destroyed the colony. Earlier in the century, the Spanish did destroy evidence of the French colony of Fort Charles in coastal South Carolina and then massacred the inhabitants of Fort Caroline, a French colony near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. However, a Spanish attack is unlikely, as the Spanish were still looking for the location of England's failed colony as late as 1600, ten years after White discovered that the colony was missing.[4]:137

Dare Stones[edit]

From 1937 to 1941, a series of inscribed stones was discovered that were claimed to have been written by Eleanor Dare, mother of Virginia Dare. They told of the travelings of the colonists and their ultimate deaths. Most historians believe that they are a fraud, but there are some today who still believe at least one of the stones to be genuine.[42] The very first one is sometimes regarded to be different from the rest, based on a linguistic and chemical analysis, and could possibly be genuine.[43]

In popular culture[edit]

Raleigh was publicly criticized for his apparent indifference to the fate of the 1587 colony, most notably by Sir Francis Bacon.[1]:111 "It is the sinfullest thing in the world," Bacon wrote in 1597, "to forsake or destitute a plantation once in forwardness; for besides the dishonor, it is the guiltiness of blood of many commiserable persons."[44] The 1605 comedy Eastward Hoe features characters bound for Virginia, who are assured that the lost colonists have by that time intermarried with Native Americans to give rise to "a whole country of English."[45]

United States historians largely overlooked or minimized the importance of the Roanoke settlements until 1834, when George Bancroft lionized the 1587 colonists in A History of the United States.[1]:127-128 Bancroft emphasized the nobility of Walter Raleigh, the treachery of Simon Fernandes, the threat of the Secotan, the courage of the colonists, and the uncanny tragedy of their loss.[1]:128-129[46]:117-123 He was the first since John White to write about Virginia Dare, calling attention to her status as the first English child born on what would become US soil, and the pioneering spirit exhibited by her name.[1]:129[46]:122 The account captivated the American public. As Andrew Lawler puts it, "The country was hungry for an origin story more enchanting than the spoiled fops of Jamestown or the straitlaced Puritans of Plymouth... Roanoke, with it's knights and villains and its brave but onumbered few facing an alien culture, provided all the elements for a national myth."[1]:129

The first known use of the phrase "The Lost Colony" to describe the 1587 Roanoke settlement was by Eliza Lanesford Cushing in an 1837 historical romance, "Virginia Dare; or, the Lost Colony."[1]:276 [47] Cushing also appears to be the first to cast White's grandaughter being reared by Native Americans following the massacre of the other colonists, and to focus on her adventures as a beautiful young woman.[1]:277 In 1840, Cornelia Tuthill employed a similar premise, introducing the conceit of Virginia wearing the skin of a white doe.[1]:278[48] An 1861 Raleigh Register serial by Mary Mason employs the premise of Virginia being magically transformed into a white doe.[1]:280[49] The same concept was used more famously in The White Doe, a 1901 poem by Sallie Southall Cotten.[1]:283-284[50]

The popularity of the Lost Colony and Virginia Dare in the 19th and early 20th centuries coincided with American controversies about rising numbers of Catholic and non-British immigrants, as well as the treatment of African Americans and Native Americans.[1]:276 Both the colony and the adult Virginia character were embraced as symbols of white nationalism.[1]:281 Even when Virginia Dare was invoked in the name of women's suffrage in the 1920s, it was to persuade North Carolina legislators that granting white women the vote would assure white supremacy.[1]:281 By the 1930s this racist connotation apparently subsided, although the VDARE organization, founded in 1999, has been denounced for promoting white supremacists.[1]:290-291

Celebrations of the Lost Colony, on Virginia Dare's birthday, have been organized on Roanoke Island since the 1880s.[1]:294 To expand the tourist attraction, Paul Green's play The Lost Colony opened in 1937, and remains in production today. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the play on August 18, 1937--Virginia Dare's 350th birthday.[1]:141,347

Bereft of its full context, the colonists' sparse message of "CROATOAN" has taken on a paranormal quality in Harlan Ellison's 1975 short story "Croatoan," Stephen King's 1999 television miniseries Storm of the Century, and the 2005 television series Supernatural.[1]:185[51] In the 2015 novel The Last American Vampire, the colonists are the victims of a vampire named Crowley; the inscription "CRO" was thus an incomplete attempt to implicate him.[51]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Hariot, Thomas, John White and John Lawson (1999). A Vocabulary of Roanoke. Evolution Publishing: Merchantville, NJ. ISBN 1-889758-81-7.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) This volume contains practically everything known about the Croatan language spoken on Roanoke Island.
  • Miller, Lee, Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony Retrieved April 2011
  • Giles Milton (2000). Big Chief Elizabeth. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-26501-1. Critically acclaimed account, based on contemporary travel accounts from 1497–1611, of attempts to establish a colony in the Roanoke area. Milton is also the author of the 2013 children's fictional work, Children of the Wild, which tells the story of the colony through the eyes of four English children.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°55′42″N 75°42′15″W / 35.928259°N 75.704098°W / 35.928259; -75.704098