There are many mysteries that permeate the written and oral traditions of history past.
What happened to the Anasazi in America?
How was the great pyramid at Giza really built?
Who actually discovered America?
What happened to Amelia Earhart?
And then, easily the greatest mystery ever on American shores: What happened to the Roanoke — or “Lost” — Colony?
Now, I’ve lost my keys, I’m always losing reading glasses and tape measures, and on occasion, I’ve nearly lost my mind driving west to east on Garriott, but ... I’ve never lost a colony of people.
Well, America did.
You may or may not remember this great mystery from your school history classes. I don’t remember it being a big part of our early history, because the Pilgrims and people like Capt. John Smith, Chief Powhatan and Myles Standish got into history books for their association with the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Jamestown Colony.
But, while Jamestown was the first successful colony on our shores in spring of 1607, in what now is Virginia, they actually were Johnny-come-lately to the first attempt to establish an English colony on the shores of America’s East Coast.
This, from that old standby, the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the so-called Lost Colony of Roanoke, in the North Carolina county of Dare: In 1587, a small colony was founded on an island off the eastern coast of North America. The settlement would have been the first permanent English colony in the New World, had the settlers not disappeared owing to unknown circumstances.
The lost colony of Roanoke is one of the most-notorious mysteries in American history; the cryptic clues left at the abandoned settlement and the lack of any concrete evidence make it the focus of wild speculation and theories.
In the settlement’s difficult founding year, its mayor, John White, left for England to request resources and manpower. He returned three years later only to find the settlement empty — his wife, child and grandchild — the first English child born in the Americas — having vanished.
The word CROATOAN and the letters CRO, carved into trees within the colony’s borders, were the only signs pointing to an explanation. Despite the clues, the returning crew was unable to search for the missing colonists; a storm approached just as they came upon the desolate settlement, forcing them to turn back for England.
On the basis of the mysterious tree carving, the nearby Croatoan Island, now known as Hatteras Island, is the location to which many believe the colonists moved. At the time of the colony’s founding, the Hatteras Indians occupied the island, and a popular theory supposes that the colonists joined the group of Native Americans to overcome their lack of resources and knowledge of the land.
A supposed piece of evidence for this claim is the existence of carvings in stones that were purportedly made by Eleanor Dare, the daughter of John White. These stones, often called the Dare Stones, contain written stories that tell the fates of the colonists and personal anecdotes from Dare to her father. Though they are largely believed to be a hoax and forgery, there is some academic belief that at least one of the stones may be authentic.
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.
OK, now that is about as strange and cryptic an outcome to a story as there is in any American community today.
A band of what would have been the hardiest immigrants to these shores tried to settle, but disappear — almost without a trace.
It’s stuff that Rod Serling could have written for “The Twilight Zone.”
Yeah, I know — black and white TV days.
Theories abound as to what really happened to the Roanoke Colony.
The most bizarre come from the word CROATOAN, left by the colonists on trees.
Right before he died, Edgar Allen Poe disappeared for a short time. When he was seen again, he was delirious. Before his death, allegedly one of the last words he said was “Croatoan.” Poe’s cause of death is unknown, and his medical records and death certificate are lost, so we will never know what happened to him the night that he died.
The word Croatoan also appeared at several other famous disappearances in the 19th and 20th centuries, and was found in Amelia Earhart’s journal after she mysteriously disappeared in 1937.
Cue up the ghostly music.