Do Artifacts Found at Lost Roanoke Colony Solve 400-Year-Old Mystery?
The fate of the mysterious vanishing Roanoke Colony is becoming clearer as archaeologists have continued to find evidence on Hatteras Island. As historical mysteries go, there is perhaps none so famous as the vanishing Roanoke Colony which Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to found as the first permanent English settlement in North America.
Established by governor Ralph Lane in 1585, on Roanoke Island, in what is now Dare County, North Carolina, this attempt to colonize the new world saw around 100 people landing there in 1587. And it was this group of people that have become known as the “Lost Colony,” due to their unexplained disappearance, sparking one of America's oldest unsolved mysteries.
But 400 years after these apparently bizarre happenings, archaeologists found additional evidence that might explain the circumstances surrounding the colony’s disappearance.
Gone Without A Trace, Except For A Single Skeleton
The Roanoke Colony was an attempt by Queen Elizabeth I to establish a permanent British presence in the New World to exploit the area’s natural resources. The colony would also have been an effective naval base from which to launch privateering raids on Spanish ships. Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe landed at Roanoke Island on July 4, 1584 and established relationships with the Secotan and Croatan tribes. Then Barlowe returned to England and told Sir Walter about what they had discovered.
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Ceremony of Secotan warriors in North Carolina. Watercolour painted by English colonist John White in 1585. (John White / Public domain)
James Horn’s 2010 book A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke tells us that in 1585, Sir Walter ordered his distant cousin, Sir Richard Grenville and his friend John White, to chart the coastal region. They left 107 people on Roanoke Island to build a fort. But when Sir Richard returned with supplies, he found the settlement had been abandoned. When another wave of around 150 people arrived in 1587, the only evidence they found of the original group was a single skeleton.
Discovering The Roanoke “Survival Camp”
White had arranged a code with the colonists so that if they ever came under attack and had to flee, the colonists were to carve a Maltese cross into a tree, but no evidence of any such carved cross was ever discovered. However, on two trees, the words “Croatoan” and ‘Cro' had been carved, perhaps by the colony’s attackers, or maybe as a historical indicator saying the colonists had gone with the Croatans to Hatteras Island. However, poor weather forced White to abandon his search for the colonists and he never returned.
In 2020, around 400 years after the colony vanished, Scott Dawson, a native of Hatteras Island and amateur archaeologist, who has spent more than a decade excavating a site on the island, found new evidence offering insights on the colony’s mysterious disappearance. A Wavy News 10 report said the researcher had dug up “Tools, beads and arrow heads of Native American origin,” along with objects belonging to English settlers. Dawson believed he and a team of experts had located a “survivors camp,” where most of the colonist moved and integrated with the Croatoan tribe.
Dare Stone reading: "Virgin Dare Died Here, Captif Powhatan, 1590, Charles R" (Unknown author / Public domain)
Decoding The Dare Stone
A Daily Mail article stated that Dawson has always been intrigued by the history of the vanishing colony and that along with a team of archaeologists from the University of Bristol he published a book entitled “The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island”, highlighting the lives of the Native American cultures who inhabited these landscapes for thousands of years before the first European arrivals of the 16th century.
Dawson told My Fox 8 News that when colonies become abandoned “massive political eruptions and disagreements and people walking out” occurred, and that one group at least, probably the pretty substantial part, came out to Hatteras Island which would have been an ideal camping spot to wait for the vessel returning from England. Dawson believes Hatteras Island was home to the colonists “survivor's camp,” and that these separatist colonists integrated with the local tribe, over time.
The Baptism of Virginia Dare -- A scene in Paul Green's "The Lost Colony" -- Roanoke Island, North Carolina (Boston Public Library / CC 2.0)
Another clue was discovered in 1937 on the North Carolina-Virginia border, the Dare Stones. A total of 48 Dare Stones are catalogued at Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, representing messages - if authentic – from lost colonist Eleanor Dare to her father, the colony's governor John White, who had left for England in 1587, never to return. The stone carvings tell the story of what happened to the settlers when they left their colony on Roanoke. And on the first side, below a cross, the message reads: “Ananias Dare & / Virginia Went Hence / Unto Heaven 1591 / Anye Englishman Shew / John White Govr Via” and the other side details what happened to the colonists after Governor White returned to England in 1587. However, many believe these stones to be a hoax. Dawson said the colonists left Roanoke and suffered “two years of Misarie.”
Top image: Painting by Englishman John White. Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1590 Expedition to Roanoke Island to find the Lost Colony uncovered 'Croatoan' carved on a tree. This may be in reference to the Croatan island or people. Source: John White / Public domain
By Ashley Cowie