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.

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