They were the pioneers of a new world, a group of 115 courageous men, women and children who crossed the Atlantic in 1587 to establish the first permanent English colony in America. But when their governor returned from a supply trip to England, he found nothing but an empty settlement and a mysterious clue.
The Lost Colony of Roanoke was a daring venture that was sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, who had obtained a charter from Queen Elizabeth I to colonize the land. He appointed John White as the governor of the colony, and entrusted him with his wife, daughter and granddaughter – Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America – among the other colonists.
White left Roanoke Island, off the coast of present-day North Carolina, later that year to fetch more supplies and settlers from England. But his return was delayed by a naval war between England and Spain, and he could not come back until 1590.
When he finally reached Roanoke Island, he was shocked and heartbroken to discover that the colony had vanished. There was no sign of a struggle or a massacre, nor a cross that he had instructed them to carve if they were in danger. The only clue was the word “Croatoan” carved on a wooden post and the letters “CRO” on a tree.
White guessed that the colonists had moved to Croatoan Island, now known as Hatteras Island, where a friendly Native American tribe lived. But he was unable to search for them because a storm forced him and his crew to abandon their mission and return to England.
The fate of the Roanoke colonists has haunted generations of historians, archaeologists and enthusiasts ever since. What happened to them? Were they killed or captured by hostile natives or Spaniards? Did they try to sail back to England and perish at sea? Did they move inland and mingle with other tribes?
One of the most popular theories is that the colonists joined the Croatoans and intermarried with them. This theory is supported by some archaeological evidence and historical accounts. For example, archaeologists have found a gold ring engraved with a lion or horse, a slate that may have been used as a writing tablet and part of an iron sword at Cape Creek, a major Croatoan town and trading hub.
Another piece of evidence is the so-called Dare Stones, which are carved with messages supposedly written by Eleanor Dare, White’s daughter and Virginia’s mother. The stones claim that most of the colonists died of disease or war, but some survived and moved to different locations. However, most of these stones are considered to be hoaxes and forgeries.
Some historians have also claimed that they found traces of European ancestry or culture among some Native American groups in North Carolina and Virginia. For instance, some members of the Lumbee tribe have light skin, blue eyes and English surnames. They also have legends of being descended from white ancestors who came from Roanoke.
However, none of these clues are conclusive or definitive. The mystery of the Lost Colony remains unsolved and continues to fascinate us today. It is one of the most enduring riddles of American history.