The Mystery of the Vanished Colony of the first English in North America

Marry Bell

Disclaimer: (The information contained in the article is for general information purposes only)

434 years later, an archaeological campaign could solve the mystery of the disappearance of the settlers from Roanoke Island.
Classic Vision / age fotostock

Talking to an American about Roanoke is like talking about the enigma of the Iron Mask in France or the identity of Jack the Ripper in London. A colony of a hundred people that disappears almost without a trace is not trivial, and scholars on the other side of the Atlantic have devoted many books to it without discovering its secret.

  • The courtier and the pirates

In 1584, Protestant England was governed by Queen Elizabeth I. A member of his court, Sir Walter Raleigh, obtains permission to establish a colony in North America.

At the time, it was a territory largely unknown to Europeans: their settlements were mainly in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. To settle further north is to position oneself strategically to thwart Catholic Spain, an enemy of England... and if possible to capture its ships, which return loaded with the riches looted by the Spaniards( People from Spain ).

Sir Walter is then "friends with many English pirates who know the right places to loot", explains Luke Pecoraro, an archaeologist specializing in this period. "The east coast [of the current United States, editor's note] is interesting for the English. They want to establish a base there which can not only allow raids on the Caribbean, but also where they can establish a permanent colony which would allow the goods to be transported. to be transported to England. It is a business intended above all to make money."

  • A military expedition

The choice fell on the shores of present-day North Carolina. The configuration of the islands is favorable. The Outer Banks, barrier islands, provide shelter for friendly vessels but pose a danger to those unfamiliar with the area, and many ships have been wrecked there.

Raleigh sends a first expedition, which will land on Roanoke Island, so named in reference to the indigenous people who lived there. She establishes peaceful contacts with the Indians who live there and returns to make her report to London. The following year, in 1585, a fleet of five vessels brought soldiers to the island. They build a small fort, Fort Raleigh, and even a workshop used by the scientists of the expedition. The English explore the island in search of precious metals and end up falling out with the natives.

Most of the members of the expedition then returned to England, a year after their arrival, leaving only a symbolic presence to demonstrate English sovereignty over these places.

  • Because of the Invincible Armada...

It was in 1587 that the real settlers arrived, those who wanted to settle in the "new world" to stay there. A hundred people, men women and children, are led by John White, cartographer of the previous expedition. Initially, they were to land in the Chesapeake Bay, to found the first city of Virginia, the name given at the time to these territories of North America.

Despite their protests, they landed at Roanoke, the sailors refusing to go any further. But Roanoke isn't as easy to colonize as Chesapeake would have been, and the colonists need more supplies.

Six weeks later, at the end of August 1587, John White returned to England in the hope of returning quickly with reinforcements and provisions. He leaves his daughter on the island, as well as his granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first Englishwoman to be born on American soil.

The plans of White and Raleigh will be thwarted by the war. A formidable fleet assembled by King Philip of Spain sets sail for England, hoping to land there and overthrow Elizabeth 1st. "The invincible armada" will fail, but the conflict slows down Sir Raleigh's plans.

It took three years to charter a new fleet, which finally landed in Roanoke in 1590. The village was deserted, virtually destroyed and overgrown. The settlers have disappeared.

The mysterious inscription and the father of Pocahontas
North Wind Picture Archives

The only clues left by the missing Roanokans are two inscriptions: "Croatoan" on one of the elements of the palisade surrounding the colony, and "Cro" on another.

The word Croatoan could have two meanings: it was the name of one of the native tribes, but also that of one of the neighboring islands, known today as Hatteras.

White is looking around, and he wants to go to the island of Croatoan, but he is prevented from doing so: the captain of his ship fears an approaching storm and wants to leave.

From then on, there are only theories left. Some believe that the settlers were captured and killed by the Voi tribes sins. Others say they've gone to another island, or even to the mainland. Others, finally, believe that they could have been assimilated within a group of friendly natives.

Historical accounts hold that a small group retreated to Croatoan Island probably in late 1587 or early 1588 while the main group went to live with the Chesapeake Indians on the south coast of the Chesapeake Bay,

Details James Horn, of the First Colony Foundation, an association dedicated to research on the Roanoke colony.

Further research has provided a different theory, that the main group moved west over Albemarle Bay to Chowanoc lands. A few may even have moved further west following the Roanoke River and joining the Tuscaroras.

In these scenarios, the settlers would therefore have dispersed to mingle with the tribes.

"I believe the assimilation theory is strong for several reasons,"

Says Luke Pecoraro. “One of them is that when the settlers from Jameston [the next colony, editor’s note] arrived in the area in 1607, part of their instructions was to find out what had happened to the settlers from Fort Raleigh. excerpts from Captain John Smith's journal which suggests that there were 'European-looking people', for lack of a better term, living with the tribe of Native Americans based around what is today' Today Virginia Beach. Smith reports that the principal chief in Virginia has ordered that these individuals be 'suppressed' before the Jameston group can encounter them."

Fearing that the survivors and descendants of Roanoke and the tribes they lived with would ally themselves with the settlers of Jamestown and thus threaten his authority, the high chief of the Powhatan, Wahunsonacock, the father of the famous Pocahontas, is said to have sent a large troop of warriors in the summer of 1607 to eliminate them. But some could have fled and joined the Tuscaroras. Those who had taken refuge on the island of Croatoan would also have survived.

  • Archeology to the rescue?

One could hope to collect data from archaeological excavations, but even the location of the village of the Roanoke settlement has been lost. It was only in the 1990s that we began to discover elements... which are still debated. These excavations made it possible to find traces of the palisades of a small fort as well as the remains of a workshop. This would probably be the workshop of the first Roanoke expedition, where minerals were analyzed in the hope of finding precious metals. As for the fort, which some believed to be Fort Raleigh, specialists believe that it would be later, therefore unrelated to the lost colony.

Elizabethan-era artifacts have also been found at sites that may have hosted Roanoke exiles, including Hatteras Island, but no firm evidence has yet linked the artifacts to the settlers.

Others follow the trail of oral tradition and DNA. So, Roberta Estes gathers genetic data from people who believe their ancestors were members of the colony, hoping one day to obtain DNA from bones to be discovered on Roanoke. No result so far.

New excavations should however begin in September, under the aegis of the First Colony Foundation. Archaeologists will first dig up parts of the workshop, and in October they will dig nearby promontories. Their work should continue in 2019.

Geologists like J.P. Walsh of the University of North Carolina, however, believe that the colony has definitely disappeared. He estimates that the north of the island has lost 750 meters during the previous four centuries, and that sea currents and hurricanes have buried the traces of the colony. But other scholars disagree, arguing that maps from the 1700s are not much different from current maps.

All agree however on the fact that the current rise in the level of water threatens the probable places of establishment of the colony, and that it is urgent to locate the village. So it's a race against time to solve one of the great mysteries of modern American history...

Since 1998, the Croatoan Project has researched and provided archaeological evidence to back up the theory that the colonists moved to be with, or at least interacted with, the Hatteras tribe. Artifacts and objects found within Croatoan villages that only English settlers had owned or had made at the time have solidified the connection between the two groups. But despite this evidence, and many other theories, it is likely that no definitive answer to the mystery of the colonists’ disappearance will ever be found.

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Marry Bell is a dedicated blogger who is particularly interested in writing about what she learned, a great storyteller, ideas to make your life simpler, and how you may achieve your objectives. Her sole passion is to explore the internet in search of outstanding articles that will provide her with new ideas for article writing. She despises being a commoner who squanders her time. she is also on Medium, Forbes, dirt, and many more

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