Thursday, May 31, 2012

In Search Of... The Lost Colony

In 1585 an Englishman named John White was part of an expedition supported by Sir Walter Raleigh that traveled to Roanoke Island off the coast of what is today North Carolina. White mapped it before returning to England, leaving others in the group behind. He returned two years later with 150 other colonists, intending to join the men left behind in 1585 and to establish the first English settlement in the New World.  But all those men were dead, and the local Croatoan Indians refused to meet with White.  So, leaving the 116 surviving settlers reluctantly behind (including his daughter and granddaughter), White returned to England to get more supplies. But White was unable to return to Roanoke Colony for three years, until 1590, because his ship was commandeered for use in a war between England and Spain. When he finally returned to Roanoke Island, the entire colony was gone.  The only clue was the word "CROATOAN" carved in a post of the fort, and the word "CRO" carved in a nearby tree, leading historians to conclude that the colonists likely moved about 50 miles away to what is today Hatteras Island, joining the native Americans there, ultimately interbreeding with them.  But the precise fate of the 'lost' colony remains a mystery.

A new look at a map made by White during his first trip in 1585, however, which has been in the British Museum since 1866, may have shed new light on where the 'lost' colonists really went.  According to THIS article, the map was patched in two places.  No one apparently thought to look under the patches until recently. One patch corrected an error.  But the other revealed the location of a planned fort on the mainland, at the confluence of two rivers.  Researchers believe that this spot is where the colonists intended to establish a more permanent settlement, a precursor to Jamestown in 1607.  Today the site lies under a planned Arnold Palmer-designed golf course.

Reading this news today, I found myself vaguely recollecting an episode of the 1970's TV show In Search Of..., titled "The Lost Colony of Roanoke," that I'd seen as a kid. It first aired in October 1979, but you can watch it on You Tube HERE. "The single word 'CROATOAN' that Governor White found would seem to indicate that the lost colony attempted a  move to the nearby island of that name. While the Governor never lived to search there himself, others who did, in colonial and modern times, found no indication that the colonists had ever even been there," asserts narrator Leonard Nimoy.  The show then goes on to profile the so-called "Dare Stones," a set of rocks found between 1937 and 1941 with carvings on them that purport to tell the tragic story of what happened to White's daughter, Eleanor Dare, and her granddaughter, Virginia Dare (i.e. murder and kidnapping by the natives).

Today these stones are widely believed to be obvious fakes.  But they remain in the collection of a small women's college in Georgia. And in 1998, almost 20 years after this TV show first aired, an English signet ring and 16th Century copper farthing were found by archaeologists at the site of the Croatoan capital, seeming to support the original hypothesis that the 'lost colonists' moved to Croatoan island after all, exactly as they had indicated unambiguously by carving the word "CROATOAN" into a post on their fort.

In Search Of... Amelia Earhart

Researchers announced today the discovery of a small glass jar on tiny Nikumororo Island in the south Pacific.  It's believed to be a jar of "Dr. C.H. Berry's Freckle Ointment," an anti-freckle cream popular with women in the 1930s.  This is significant because it may have been owned by missing aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, a redhead, whose plane disappeared in the region on July 2, 1937, during a record breaking attempt to fly around the world.  You can read the MSNBC article HERE.

It's been widely believed for most of the last 75 years that her twin engine Lockheed Electra airplane ran out of fuel and crashed near Howland Island, about 300 miles from Nikumororo's flat coral reef. Could Earhart and her co-pilot Fred Noonan actually have landed the plane successfully on this reef a few hundred miles away and then lived on the tiny island as castaways? According to this article, in 1940, skeletal remains of a man and a woman were found on Nikumororo island, along with parts of a man's shoe and a woman's shoe, a sextant, remains of a fire, and the bones of turtles and birds. These remains have now been lost, unfortunately.

Reading this news today, I found myself vaguely recollecting an episode of the 1970's TV show In Search Of..., titled "Amelia Earhart," that I'd seen as a kid. It first aired in January 1977, but you can watch it on You Tube HERE.  It focuses on the sexier possibility that Earhart survived, perhaps making it to Saipan, was captured by the Japanese (who thought she was an American spy in the run-up to World War II), and later died in captivity.