The Lost Colony of Roanoke: The Historical Mystery Endures

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In 1587, 100 men, women and children journeyed to the fabled New World under the leadership of Captain John White and settled on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina.  Three years later, after multiple delays while attempting to retrieve supplies from England, White returned to the island to discover that the entire colony had vanished.  The only clues left behind were the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post and “CRO” likewise carved into a tree.

The vanishing of this colony might be one of the greatest mysteries on the North American continent.  Today we know little more than what was found in 1590.  It’s perhaps because of the lack of information that the idea of this lost colony has become ingrained in American culture wavering between historical mystery and campfire ghost story.  Films have been made, books written, archaeological digs performed, academic research of every kind performed and we still know so little.  Most recently, Ryan Murphy and his crew at “American Horror Story” have tackled the subject, making it the theme of their latest season.

So, what did happen?  Theories range from the probable to the paranormal and all stops in between.  In fact, it’s due to the lack of physical evidence that drives many of us to look beyond the “normal” world for answers.  Take a look at some of the theories below and let us know what you think in the comments!

Theory #1:  The Settlers were killed by a Native American tribe

Roanoke

While it may not be the most popular theory, it is one that is highly probable.  The English settlers had moved onto land and claimed it as their own. It is certainly likely that the land on which they built fell within the territory of one of the established tribes.  In fact, Croatoan is believed to have been the name of one of the local native tribes.  This theory suggests that the settlement was raided with the settlers killed and their homes destroyed.  Carving the name into the post may have been a warning from the settlers to future explorers that the local tribes were hostile.

My biggest problem with this particular theory, however, actually lies in the presence of the word there.  If I’m under attack by a group of people intent on killing me, I’m not sure I would have the presence of mind to stop and carve their name onto a fence post, and while the second appearance of just “CRO” might suggest a hurried attempt, the pieces don’t fit together with a perfect cohesion.

Furthermore, what we know of the Croatoan tribe does not suggest a wholly warlike nature.  The leaders of this tribe did not command the people.  Instead, it was their job to convince the people that an action was necessary in order to move the tribe to action.  This suggests a more orderly society, and one has to wonder if the presence of a mere 100 settlers would be enough to convince the Croatoan to wipe them out completely.

The question also lingers over what would have happened to the bodies of all of those people?  With no traces left behind, it is hard to imagine that a great battle could have taken place.

Theory #2:  The Settlers were absorbed into the local Native Tribes

While the first theory suggests that the Natives resented the Settlers enough to make war destroy them, the second and also possible theory suggests that the tribe took the Settlers under their wing, and the further possibility that the Settlers had moved to the nearby Croatoan Island.

Most of the Settlers who arrived in the Roanoke expedition had no idea just how hard the living would be or what it would take to create and maintain a life in the New World.  They were subjected to weather conditions, diseases, and all manner of challenges that they could never have imagined in England.  If they had managed to make peace with the Croatoan, it is possible that they found a place among the people and were taken in to live with the tribe and taught to survive this strange new land.

Once again, however, the questions abound.  If they were made a part of the tribe, why did White find no evidence of them when he returned?  He had left behind his own wife and daughter (the first child born in the new colony).  It is hard to imagine that he would simply assume they were dead and walk away.  If he attempted to contact the Croatoan tribe upon discovering the word carved into the fence post, would they have hidden his own people from him?  Even though, the tribe was broken up in multiple groups, would he have stopped before attempting to track down every single group to look for his own family?  Would he not have made an exhaustive search of Croatoan Island in search for his wife and daughter and their fellow settlers?

Assuming that he did follow all of these leads, this theory simply does not add up.

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