The lost colony of Roanoke is one of the oldest unsolved mysteries in American history. The cryptic clues left at the abandoned settlement and the lack of any archaeological evidence make it the focus of wild speculation and theories. Read on to find out what it was about.
The Lost Colony of Roanoke
In the summer of 1585, the initial settlement of the colony was established by English settlers, but a lack of supplies and bad relations with the local Native Americans caused many of its members, including its mayor, John White, to return to England a year later to request resources and manpower. But just as they arrived in England, a major naval war broke out between England and Spain, delaying their return to Roanoke for three long years. On his first attempt to sail back to America, his vessel was captured by French pirates, and he was seriously wounded in the fight. His subsequent efforts were then also frustrated by a royal order to stop all sailing and shipping because of the Spanish Armada.
In August 1590, with fresh supplies and more settlers, White made it back to Roanoke, where he had left his wife, his daughter, his infant granddaughter (the first English child born in the Americas), and the other settlers three years before, but he found the settlement entirely deserted. There was not a single trace of the colony or its 117 inhabitants. All the houses of the settlement had been dismantled and removed. Until now, only a few clues to what might have happened exist. The word CROATOAN and the letters CRO, carved into trees within the colony’s borders, were the only signs pointing to an explanation. A storm approached just as they came upon the desolate settlement, so they were forced to turn around and go back to England.
Croatoan, now Hatteras, was the name of an island south of Roanoke that was home to a Native American tribe of the same name. Perhaps, then, the colonists were killed or abducted by Native Americans. However, no bodies were ever discovered nor any other archaeological evidence. Other hypotheses hold that they tried to sail back to England on their own and got lost at sea then met a bloody death at the hands of Spaniards who reached Florida. Others suppose that the colonists joined a friendly group of Native Americans to overcome their lack of resources.
Since 1998, the Croatoan Archaeological 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, the research teams admit they can’t yet claim to have solved the riddle. Many of their colleagues are skeptical that the artifacts can be definitively tied to the ill-fated colonists, given difficulties in dating them precisely.
Investigations into the fate of the lost colony of Roanoke have continued over the centuries, but no one has come up with a satisfactory answer.