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Monday, November 16, 2020

America's Oldest Unsolved Mystery: Solved?

"The Lost Colony," Sheppard & Linton
 A few months ago I wrote about America's earliest colonial history (including a post about French Huguenot efforts and the conflict with Spain), and I referenced Janet Grunst's post on the Lost Colony. For much of this year I've been awash in research on this particular slice of history, in preparation for my upcoming novel, Elinor, first of a new series titled Daughters of the Lost Colony. What an amazing journey it's been so far!

Shortly after my visit to the Outer Banks, I discovered Scott Dawson, an author native to Hatteras Island, where many believe the Lost Colony settlers removed to after leaving Roanoke Island. Frustrated with Lost Colony myth, much at odds with local history, Dawson embarked upon a quest to prove what so many already suspected: that after John White, governor of the first official English colony on American shores, unhappily returned to England to plead their case to Raleigh and the court of Queen Elizabeth I, the settlers took shelter with their own known allies of the time, the Croatoan tribe. These were the family and people of Manteo, the Native American who accompanied the previous two expeditions between England and the New World, and who later accepted baptism into the Christian faith and the title of "Lord of Roanoke." (See more at the Wiki article on the Roanoke Colony.)

Eventually aided by an archaeological team out of England's University of Bristol, Dawson chose a site and started digging. (He stated in a recent online talk I attended that his grandmother told him where to dig.) In his recent book, The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island, he describes the years-long process, and the layers of artifacts encountered, as well as artifacts and clues from other sources. The main thing he wanted to prove, he says both in the article "The Lost Colony Wasn't Really Lost" from the Outer Banks Voice and the recent talk, is that when John White returned in 1590 and saw the word "CROATOAN" carved head-high on a tree, there was no big mystery on where the colony had gone, at least not in the immediate sense. White had given them very clear instructions on how to leave word, and he knew this referred to both the people and the place of their residence--what is now known as Hatteras Island. There was no trace of any mark that would have indicated distress or trouble. The colonists had known before White's reluctant departure for England that Roanoke Island would not support them, and their best chance for survival lay with the only people who might be sympathetic to them, people who knew well how to fish, hunt, and make a good living from the Outer Banks.

If this seems disappointing and anticlimactic, well, it really isn't. There is still plenty of scope for adventure and mystery. Many historians, Dawson included, discuss the likelihood of division among the settlers, and the possibility of some moving to the mainland. Until very recently (the Dare Stones notwithstanding--more about those later!), there was no solid evidence as to where they might have gone. Just a couple of weeks ago, however, I found the article "Lost Colony Moved Inland," from Coastal Review Online. I am eager to see more on this effort!

In the meantime, take a gander at Scott Dawson's group, the Croatoan Archaeological Society. Fascinating stuff for us early American history geeks!

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