An Historic Mystery

Almost everyone knows about the lost colony of Roanoke Island, in North Carolina. For those who have never heard about The Lost Colony the story can be quickly told.

Roanoke Colony

English Colonists were left on Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks in present day North Carolina in 1587 in order to establish the first colony in America. The governor John White left the colony to return to England for supplies. During the absence of the governor war broke out between Spain and England culminating with the lost to Spain of the Armada. It was not until 1590 that the governor could return to Roanoke. Arriving there the governor found the colony was gone, not destroyed, but removed. The only clue was the name Croatan carved into a tree. John White, whose daughter, son-in-law and grandchild were among the colonists began a lifelong quest to find the colonists. Some historians say they perished, but clues and rumors persisted for decades that they did not, that they either were captured by or assimilated into the local native population.

North Carolina is visited from time to time by summers containing hurricanes, and years of drought. It has been shown through the rings in trees dating from that period that at the time the colonist were there that a severe drought besieged the area. Crops do not flourish even today during the recent drought, and a new colony not prepared or even aware that there was a drought would quickly run out of food. Although the sea was at hand, fish from the sea would not produce the necessary nutrients which the colonist could survive on let alone thrive by. It has been postulated that the colony was drawn to assimilate with the local Indian tribes, were captured by local natives, or moved their colony inland and were sold into slavery. I can think of no worse fate than to feel abandoned by ones country without hope of rescue.

The Mystery Deepens.

John Smith and other members of the Jamestown Colony sought information about the fate of the colonists in 1607 almost 20 years from the founding of Raonoke. One report indicated that the Lost Colonists took refuge with friendly Chesapeake Indians, but Chief Powhatan claimed his tribe had attacked the group and killed most of the colonists. Powhatan showed Smith certain artifacts he said had belonged to the colonists, including a musket barrel and a brass mortar. The Jamestown Colony received reports of some survivors of the Lost Colony and sent out search parties, but none were successful.

A historian has postulated that the colonist sought help from the Chowanoc tribe which was attacked by another tribe which is believed to be the Eno. (A river is located near Raleigh NC which that name). The Jamestown colony heard reports of English captives but being unable to rescue them the reports were suppressed. Some captives were sighted in North Carolina under the protection of an Eno branch tribe. These captives supposedly had escaped an attack by the Powhatan, included 4 men, 2 boys and a girl. For 400 hundred years it has been presumed that the girl was Virginia Dare. The Eno were eventually absorbed into the Sakori tribe, a portion of which survives today as the Halawa-Saponi tribe. These tribes decendents live in the area which I now live in.

From the early 1600s to the middle 1700s European colonists reported encounters with gray-eyed American Indians or with Welsh-speaking Indians who claimed descent from the colonists. In 1669 a Welsh churchman named Morgan Jones was taken captive by the Tuscarora. He feared for his life, but a visiting Doeg Indian war captain spoke to him in Welsh (!) and assured him that he would not be killed. The Doeg warrior ransomed Jones and his party and Jones remained with their tribe for months as a preacher. Some present-day American Indian tribes in North Carolina and South Carolina, among them the Coree and the Lumbee tribes, also claim partial descent from surviving Roanoke colonists. (For example Heather Locklear is a Lumbee).

The Dare Stones.

Excerpt, Saturday Evening Post, April 26, 1941:

WRIT ON ROCKE Has America's First Murder Mystery Been Solved?

"...Last fall thirty-four scholars, headed by Dr. Samuel E. Morison, of Harvard, president of the American Antiquarian Society, journeyed to Brenau and after two days' study pronounced that "the preponderance of evidence points to the authenticity of the stones."
The stone diary, if genuine, accounts for seventy-one of the colonists. The fate of the others is conjectural. I give you the painstakingly deciphered story of the seventy-one; and the even more exciting story of a modern archaeological paper chase."

From 1937 until 1941, the so-called "Dare Stones" were in the news. The 48 carved stones were allegedly found in northern Georgia and the Carolinas. The first bore an announcement of the death of Virginia Dare and her father, Ananias Dare, at the hands of "savages" in 1591. Later stones, brought in by various people, told a complicated tale of the fate of the Lost Colony. Later stones, each addressed to John White and signed with the name of Virginia's mother, Eleanor, called for revenge against the "savages" or gave her father the direction taken by the survivors. A stone dated 1592 indicated the survivors had reached a sanctuary in the Nachoochee Valley area and lived there in "primeval splendor." Another stone, dated 1598, indicated that Eleanor had married the "king" of the tribe, while another said she had borne the chief a daughter, the tribe was angry, and asked for White to send the infant girl to England. A stone dated 1599 announced Eleanor Dare's death and said she had left behind a daughter named Agnes.

Professor Haywood Pearce Jr. of Brenau College (now Brenau University) in Gainesville, Georgia, believed in the stones, and his views won over some well-known historians, according to contemporary press accounts. But a 1941 article by journalist Boyden Sparks in The Saturday Evening Post attacked the story, pointing to improbabilities in the stones' account and producing evidence that the "discoverers" were hoaxers. Pearce and the other scholars were not implicated in fraud, and no legal action was ever taken, but all of them renounced belief in the stones. Sparks theorized that the fakery was inspired by the 1937 publicity in North Carolina surrounding the 350th anniversary of the Lost Colony. Today, Brenau keeps the Dare Stones as a sort of 20th-century media curiosity, but generally does not display them or publicize their existence. The stones have a few supporters today, most notably Robert W. White, whose book A Witness For Eleanor Dare insists they were genuine and that criticism of them was false.

What has led the historical community to reach the conclusion that the stones might be frauds? Each of the stones is written in Elizabethan English, while this is correct, the strange thing is that the words 712 total, have words which never vary in the spelling. During this period there was no standard dictionary, and in letters the same word would and often were spelled differently, In addition 3 words, trale, primeval, reconnoitre, were anachronistic. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the earliest known use of “primeval” was in Urquhart’s Rabelais, 1653. This is sixty-six years after the colonists said farewell to Governor White. “ Reconnoitre,” according to the Oxford Dictionary, has not been found earlier than 1707 in English. In 1590 the word “trale” [trail] was used to denote the scent of a quarry rather than a pathway.

So what happened to the colony? In my opinion, gained from living the the heart of the "Indian Country" of central and eastern NC, is that they merged with the local indigenous population, most likely Tutelo for shelter, safety, and food, or captured by the Occaneechi nation, after being attacked by the Powhatan nation. It is a pity that life was so cheap in 1587. If it had been one of my daughters or grandaughters left on this side of the Atlantic I would have found them or perished in the attempt. ...And what of the Governor, White, almost no record exists before or after the colony, in fact the story of the Lost Colony is told by White in a letter sometime after his return to England. ...After that he too is gone from history. (1)


(1) In Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony by Lee Miller she discusses the possiblity that the lost colonist were "seperatist" and they were never really lost as much as they were marooned. She sites several mysteries, some of them being, Why were the colonists dropped of ant the wrong place, at least 2 hundred miles south of where they should have?, Why were the colonists on territory claimed by Spain? Why did it take 3 years to go looking for them, and then only a cursory search conducted? Who were these people, Catholics fleeing England, or Seperatists fleeing England? Why are there no records of them? etc.

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