June 13, 2020

What Happened To The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island

In 1584 English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. The plan was to establish a colony in the new world, but soon after arrival, the hardships began to set in, and would become too much for the settlers.

Strong weather battered the settlement, a lack of resources became worrisome, and poor relations with the indigenous people meant the settlement needed to be abandoned.

The settlers didn’t give up on a colony in the new world however, and 3 years later, a second attempt was made. Captain John White who led the group, felt he had no option but to return to England, in order to bring back supplies the settlers so desperately needed.

While Captain John White was away in England, his daughter gave birth to Virginia Dare, thought to have been the first English child born in the new world.

Just 3 years after the colony on Roanoke Island was established, they strangely vanished. All that was left behind were two carvings. The word “Croatoan” was carved into the gatepost, and “Cro” was carved into a tree.

Exactly what happened to the colony of Roanoke Island has remained a mystery for years, but the two main theories are that the colony was wiped out by disease, or local tribes.

Trouble With Tribes

The theory of the settlers been wiped out by the locals is plausible, as a second group of settlers which arrived on Roanoke Island in 1585, didn’t have an easy relationship with the local people.

With the settlers facing hardships due to a lack of resources, local tribes may have been concerned for their own resources – valuable to the survival of their own people. This may have contributed to the settlers either being wiped out, or driven away.

The third group which arrived with Captain John White in 1587, would have been seen as an even bigger threat to local resources by the tribes, as the third group consisted of entire families. In total, there were 17 women, 90 men and 11 Children which arrived on Roanoke Island. These were not just explorers, but permanent settlers which would have required a lot more resources than those who previously tried to establish a new colony.

The other main theory is that the colony of Roanoke Island was wiped out by disease. This may have happened due the colony encountering new microbes unlike anything their bodies had encountered before.

An outbreak of disease may not have killed the entire tribe, but they may have broken away to join or start other smaller settlements.

The Colony of Roanoke Island On The Move

Researchers believe the colony may have headed 50 miles south to Hatteras Island. Back then, it was known as Croatoan Island, as it was home to the Croatoan people. This would undoubtedly explain the word “Croatoan” carved into the gatepost.

Eric Klingelhofer of Mercer University in Georgia, says:

What if they went in another direction? What if some of the colonists traveled west via Albemarle Sound to the mouth of the Chowan River, to a protected inlet occupied by a sympathetic tribe?”

National Geographic

This would also explain the word “Cho” carved into the tree.

Chances are that some of the settlers found their way to a recently discovered settlement called Mettaquem. This settlement probably would have been known as a trading town between colonists and tribes. The town was well placed on trading routes, which either headed north up Chowan river, or west to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Dare Stones

In 1937, a man entered Emory University claiming to have found a mysterious 21-pound stone while driving through the forests of North Carolina. Researchers examined the stone closely, and determined that the stone was inscribed by members of the lost Roanoke colony. This stone became known as the Dare Stone.

It became known as the Dare stone because the inscription on it appeared to have been carved by a woman named Eleanor White Dare.

The message on the stone recounts the fate of the colony of Roanoke Island. Eleanor claims that hostile tribes and illness led to the demise of the colony, including her new born daughter Virginia, and her husband.

The carving read:

“Father Soone After You Goe for England Wee Cam Hither,” the tale begins. The colonists suffered two years of “Onlie Misarie & Warre” that led to the death of more than half the settlers. Tragedy struck when Indian shamans warned that the spirits were angry and all the remaining English, save seven, were abruptly killed. Among the dead were “Mine Childe” and “Ananais to Slaine wth Much Misarie.” The dead were buried four miles east of “This River,” with their names “Writ Al There on Rocke.”

National Geographic

The Authenticity of The Dare Stones

Soon after the finding of the original stone, a Georgia stone cutter also claimed to have discovered more than three dozen stones, which seemed to have also been written by Dare.

The stone has since been classed by many as a hoax. Even those studying the stones originally at Emory University, grew skeptical of their authenticity. That said, a team led by Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison met at Brenau to study the rocks further, and they came to the conclusion that “the preponderance of evidence points to the authenticity of the stones.”

lost colony of roanoke island virginia dare

The research teams credibility took an embarrassing hit, when the tourist who found the first stone couldn’t be located, and a reporter with the Saturday Evening Post uncovered the Georgia stone cutter as a fraud. With academic reputations damaged, the stones were stored away in a college basement and largely forgotten about.

In 2016 the president of Brenau, geologist Ed Schrader, took up the study of the stone once again. He took it to the University of North Carolina at Asheville to be analyzed. After cutting off one end of the stone, Schrader found that the interior was bright white, but the exterior was darker. Some skeptics have claimed that chemicals may have been used to darken the outside of the rock, to give the inscription the appearance of age, but this theory has yet to be proven.

Even though hostilities with some tribes were high, like with the Secotan tribe, other tribes in the area were not as hostile. Despite the threat to the colony of Roanoke, there was also a lot of fighting between the tribes themselves. Though we can’t be completely sure of what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke Island, their story still fascinates researchers to this day.

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