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Saturday, December 21, 2019

Decemystery (2019) 21: The Missing Roanoke Colony

A drawing of a ship sailing to the undersized colony.
A very quick preface: this entry won’t cover the full history of the Roanoke Colonies due to time constraints. Sorry!

This was a suggestion from a friend of mine. Thank you, dear friend.

This story is legendary in the realm of American history and with good reason. It’s one of the earliest historical mysteries—if not the earliest. Known as the Lost Roanoke Colony, this story has baffled people for centuries. Let’s see if we can lay it to rest finally.

Missing in the New World: The Mystery of the Roanoke Colony

Today: we’re going to Wikipedia for information. Hooray for Wikipedia!

First up: a bit of background. There were actually two Roanoke colonies. This one, naturally, centers on the second one—which is called the Lost Roanoke Colony. The first one is called the Lane Colony and was governed by a man named Ralph Lane (who had been picked by a man named Phillip Amadas) in 1585 on Roanoke Island (which is modern day Dare County, located in North Carolina).

Although it’s referred to the Lane Colony, the reality of this trip was primarily a military operation. The central focuses were exploration and the evaluation of the location’s natural resources. The initial trip to the location was comprised of approximately 600 men, though only half—or around half—were intended to stay. A second wave of colonists later arrived. Although the colony was founded, it eventually succumbed to a severe lack of supplies and an ever souring relationship with the Native Americans. As such, Lane eventually abandoned the colony and boarded a ship with Francis Drake in 1586 to return to England.

Although Lane had deserted the colony, a man by the name of Sir Walter Raleigh, who was tasked by Queen Elizabeth I to found a colony in the New World by 1591 (or he’d lose ownership of said colony), was persuaded by three men to try again. Those men were Richard Hakluyt, Thomas Harriot, and John White. As such, the four men decided to found a second colony in Chesapeake Bay (this was proposed by Hakluyt because he believed that the Pacific coast was right near the explored areas of what was then the Virginia territory). They ultimately agreed with this idea and, on January 7th of 1587, Raleigh approved a corporate charter to found what was then known as “the Cittie of Raleigh” with John White as the governor along with 12 assistants.

On May 8th of that year, the voyage. It consisted of three ships: the flag ship, the Lion, was captained by White with Simon Fernandes as master and pilot, a flyboat (commanded by Edward Spicer) and a pinnace (commanded by Edward Stafford. The colony was set to be comprised of 115 people, including White’s daughter Eleanor and her husband, a man by the name of Ananias Dare. Unlike the previous attempt at a colony, this group of settlers had both women and children. Also unlike last time, it lacked an organized military force. Whether or not the latter of those two differences played any part in this colony eventually going missing is unknown.

A few months later, on July 22nd, the Lion and the pinnace anchored at Hatteras Island. Initially, White had planned to take forty of the men that were aboard the pinnace to Roanoke. It was on this island that White would consult the fifteen men that were stationed there by a man named Richard Grenville. However, upon boarding the pinnace, White was greeted by a gentleman who said he represented Fernandes. This supposed gentleman subsequently ordered the sailors to leave the colonists on Roanoke. White obliged and the next morning, he and his party found the location of Lane’s old colony. The fort was dismantled and the houses were vacant and had become overgrown with watermelons. There were also no signs that Grenville’s men had ever stepped foot in the settlement, though there were human bones, which White believed may have belonged to one of them. He also suspected that the man was killed by Native Americans.

Two days after arriving, the flyboat arrived and the colonists began their lives at the colony. Not long after, a colonist by the name of George Howe was killed by a Native American as he was searching for crabs in the Albemarle Sound.

White later sent Stafford out in hopes of reestablishing relations with the Croatan tribe. WIth assistance from a member by the name of Manteo (who had been recruited by Lane when he founded his colony), relations were eventually restored. Manteo was later baptized and given the title, “Lord of Roanoke and Dasamongueponke.”

A few weeks later, on August 18, 1587, Eleanor White-Dare gave birth to a daughter, who was named “Virginia.” This was due to her being “the first Christian born in Virginia.” There are also records that state a woman by the name of Margery Harvye gave birth to a child shortly after Eleanor. However, beyond that little bit of information, nothing else is known about the child.

Life in the colony quickly went the way of Lane’s colony. As such, when the fleet was planning on going back to England, the colonists had opted to move fifty miles up Albemarle Sound. At this point, they’d also managed to persuade White to go with the fleet to request additional supplies. Reluctantly, White agreed and on August 27th, 1587, he left with the fleet, leaving behind his wife, child, and grandchild.

Upon arriving back in England however  White would be faced with a major conundrum. A naval war had broken out between his home country and Spain. As such, Queen Elizabeth I requested that every ship engage the Spanish Armada. It wouldn’t be until August 18, 1590 (the day of his granddaughter’s third birthday) that White would finally return to his colony with two ships, the Hopewell and the Moonwell, only to be met with a tragic sight.

The colony was empty.

A search party was formed and fresh tracks discovered in the sand along with a tree that had the letters “CRO” carved into it. As for the site of the colony itself, it was discovered that it had been fortified with a palisade. Nearby the colony’s entrance fencing, the word “CROATOAN” had been carved into one of the posts. This, to the returning settlers, was a sign that they had relocated to the Croatoan Island. This was due to the colonists having stated that they would leave a “secret token” as to where they’d relocate should it ever come to that.

Meanwhile, within the palisade: the houses that once made up the colony had been dismantled. Whatever carriable items were removed; several trunks (three of them belonging to White) were dug up and had been looted. Topping things off: the boats that belonged to the colony were all gone. This led to the men returning to the Hopewell and to make an attempt to go to Croatoan at sunrise the next day.

Misfortune was the name of the game for them though: the Hopewell’s anchor cable ended up snapping. This left the vessel with only one functioning cable and anchor. As such, any effort to go ahead and search for the colonists was put off due to the risk of the ship wrecking. The crew of the Moonwell, meanwhile, set off for England, but not before the crew of the Hopewell decided to make a compromise with White. Said compromise was that they would spend the winter in the Caribbean and return to the Outer Banks the following spring, to which White presumably agreed.

Ultimately, this plan failed. The Hopewell ended up being blown off course, which forced them to dock for supplies in the Azores. Once more, misfortune was the name of the game, and the harsh winds prevented them from doing that too. As such, the crew was forced to change course and returned to England, where they arrived on October 24, 1590.

This string of bad luck and misfortune meant that no venture was ever taken to the island and the mystery of the colony remains unsolved to this day. That isn’t to say there weren’t any attempts at discovering what happened to the colonists though. In fact, there were a fair few throughout the centuries—and there are still efforts made to this day. Due to time constraints, here are but three of the ones that Wikipedia lists.

#1: Sir Walter Raleigh

The man who appointed John White as the governor of the colony, Raleigh’s life is one worthy of its own television series. Though that’s a story for another time.

While John White may have not been able to locate his colonists upon his return to the New World, the report he submitted stated that he was of the opinion they merely went elsewhere and were potentially still alive. In the eyes of Raleigh though, it was better to keep this matter shadowed by doubt. So long as those that White governored over couldn’t be proven dead, he had grounds to maintain that Virginia was his and his alone. Alas, four years later, a petition was brought up to declare Ananias Dare legally deceased. As such, her son, John Dare, inherited the estate. Three years after being brought up, the petition was granted.

Prior to being granted that though, in 1595, Raleigh went on a transatlantic voyage—a first for him. When asked why he did this, he claimed he was in search for the colonists. This wasn’t true though. He was actually searching for the legendary City of Gold, though most people know it as El Dorado. He also stated that, on his return voyage, he sailed by the Outer Banks, only to state that the weather was wouldn’t allow for a safe sanding.

While Raleigh went on another voyage to the Outer Banks (only to be subverted by the weather yet again), and he desired to enforce his monopoly on Virginia, it all went south for him. In 1603, he was implicated in the Main Plot and was charged with treason against King James. As such, this ended his Virginia charter. This won’t be the last we’ll ever see of Raleigh on this blog though. Not by a long shot.

#2: Bartholomew Gilbert

In 1603, Bartholomew Gilbert set out on an expedition. His plan: to discover what happened to the Roanoke settlers. His destination was Chesapeake Bay, though that plan was thrown out the window when he encountered hazardous weather. As such, he landed at an unknown location near the bay. Upon arriving at said location on July 29th, Gilbert and his landing crew were killed by a group of Native Americans. The cause for this hostility is unknown, though the crew that remained on board quickly sailed back to England.

#3: Modern Day Efforts

Most efforts to discover what happened died after John Lawson’s efforts. It wasn’t until the 19th century that were resurrected—and have continued in some capacity to figure out what happened to the colony.

“Modern day” research into the Lost Colony began in 1887 when a man named Talcott Williams discovered a Native American burial site on Roanoke Island. It wouldn’t be until 1895 that he’d actually begin digging however. He returned to excavate the fort located there, but ultimate found nothing.

Going by Wikipedia, we fast forward a century—or just under—to the 1990s and briefly center on a man named Ivor Noël Hume. He discovered “several compelling finds”, but due to them not being positively linked to the Lost Colony (as opposed to Lane’s), they remain in limbo.

That same decade, Hurricane Emily would uncover several Native American artifacts along Cape Creek in Buxton. A man named David Sutton Phelps Jr. went on to organize an excavation effort in 1995. Ultimately, he discovered a gold signet ring three years after he began his effort. Initially believed to bear the heraldry of a Kendall family member from the 16th century, the discovery was widely celebrated, with some referring to it as a “landmark discovery.” However, Phelps never bothered to publish a paper on his findings and he didn’t bother to have the ring tested. Almost twenty years later, in 2017, X-ray analysis was performed, which revealed the ring was brass, not gold. As for the Kendall heraldry, that was inconclusive. As such, due to the “low value” of the ring, coupled with the anonymity of it, there’s no way to prove if this ring was associated with anyone from the Roanoke colonies, or if it was merely brought here by someone who made a trek to the New World at some unknown period in time.

Site X

First Colony Foundation is a team that’s comprised of archaeologists and historians with the goal of discovering the secrets related to Raleigh’s colonies. In November of 2011, they noticed that there were two patches on a map from 1585 that belonged to John White. The map, named La Virginea Pars, was in possession of the British Museum and the researchers were granted access to the original. After placing it under a light table, it was discovered that one of the patches at the confluence of the Roanoke and Chowan rivers covered a symbol that represented a fort. Although the symbol was not to scale, it did encompass an area on the map that represented “thousands of acres” in Bertie County. This specific area, however, is supposedly in, or near, the 16th Weapemeoc village of Mettaquem.

Nevertheless, in 2012, a team prepared to excavate the location the symbol supposedly indicated. An archaeologist by the name of Nicholas Luccketti proposed that the name of the location be “Site X,” as a reference to the famous saying “X marks the spot.”

Five years later, in October of 2017, the First Colony Foundation stated that they’d found fragments of Tudor pottery and weapons at Site X. They also stated that these fragments indicate that a small group of colonists had at one point been peacefully living in the area. Some have argued that these fragments may have actually been brought there in the 1650s after Nathaniel Batts opened a trading port at the location. I cannot find any information on if this was the case or not.

Finally, in 2019, the Foundation announced that they would be expanding their research efforts into land that had been donated by the state of North Carolina; the Salmon Creek State Natural Area to be exact.


Climatologist David W. Stahle of the University of Arkansas, along with archaeologist Dennis B. Blanton of the College of William and Mary, led a team in 1998 with the goal to see what the climate was like where the Lost Colony had been located. They discovered that in Tidewater, between 1587 and 1589, there had been an extremely devastating drought; the worst in an 800-year period (1185 to 1984). As such, this led them to conclude that their findings were consistent with the concerns that the Croatan tribe had with their food supply at the time.

Genetic analysis

In 2005, a computer scientist by the name of Roberta Estes founded—and has since founded even more—numerous organizations dedicated to DNA analysis and genealogical research. One of her greatest passions has been to discover a living member of the colonists who lived in the Lost Colony. However, due to the lack of any bones from the colonists, there’s been no luck in identifying any descendants.

With that, the story of the Lost Colony comes to a close. Now we move onto the theories.


“It's the Area 51 of colonial history,” —  Adrian Masters (historian, University of Texas)

1. Bigfoot attacked and took the women

Let’s start off with something really strange, albeit not too outlandish when it comes to the theories associated with this colony. The idea is that a type of Bigfoot attacked the colony, took the women, and mated with the women of the colony. This, in turn, led to the “creation” of local Sasquatch/Bigfoot. Through the hybridization of homosapien genes and Bigfoot genes, the offspring were extremely tall, muscular, and are covered in very thick body hair.

The idea of creatures like Bigfoot mating with humans is strangely not a new one. There have been claims of Bigfoot-like creatures raping women; one famous story being from China with the “Hyrbid Man.” That said, this hinders on your belief of Bigfoot among a plethora of other things.

2. Ghosts

Since every creepy mystery apparently needs the paranormal involved, this theory states that the spirits of the land drove the colonists out. Whether they killed them or merely scared them off is up for debate, but it’d make for a great movie.

3. The colonists left and went on to found their own colony

Our third theory is that the colonists threw their hands up into the air and decided that if John White wasn’t returning, they’d go ahead and found their own colony. Given that there were claims from Native Americans that there were colonies with “walled houses” and they’d claimed to have seen men wearing European-style clothing, it’s not too far-fetched to believe that the colonists gave up hope and went to make their own colony in a place where food was more plentiful.

4. Skinwalkers

Although they’re a part of Navajo culture (with the Navajo tribe being located in the southwestern United States), there’s a theory that Skinwalkers slaughtered the colonists.

I saw this theory on 4chan and figured I’d include it. To the credit of those who proposed it (whether they’re serious or not), monsters like Skinwalkers aren’t unique to the infamous Navajo legend. As one example: I covered the Goatman, a creature that in some stories has very similar powers to the Skinwalker. So, in the eyes of some, either a Skinwalker was directly responsible for the deaths of the colonists or a group of them slaughtered them all.

How plausible this theory is depends on where your belief of the creature falls. To some, the legend of the Skinwalker is one that’s rooted in folklore. To others, it’s a very real creature that wishes to do nothing but damage to those it lays eyes on. Should it be real and should one or more have seen the colonists, it’s far more than likely that they saw enough food to last them for a very long time.

5. Aliens abducted the colony

Just as one can count on me to inexplicably go missing when it isn’t December for periods of time and one can expect the President of the United States to be hated by Oscar the Grouch, so too can one count on a Decemystery entry to almost always contain a theory that involves aliens. For this particular instance, we can entrust our intergalactic friends with whisking away everyone who stayed in the Roanoke colony for purposes unknown to us (but they almost definitely involved rectal probing and gazing into the abyssal eyes of the Greys). 

Joking aside: this theory stems from the fact that the colonists vanished without a trace, were never found, and no trace of them has ever been found—even through genealogy. Of course, there’s no evidence to back this up, merely the speculation of those that believe that aliens either live among us or are responsible for many other enigmatic disappearances (such as Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, or MH370 as it’s normally called). The exact purpose for these mass abductions varies heavily and while I think I’ve given examples as to why they’ve been done in the past, I’ll list a few here for those who’ve only now come across this blog and are curious as to why people believe this particular theory.

The first reason is simple: the aliens want as many test subjects as possible. Aliens are portrayed in an array of manners when it comes to those who are really into UFOlogy and the other studies related to aliens. Seriously, if you ever want to see how deep it goes: I’m planning on writing about the various types of aliens for Valentine’s Day next year (no promises though). Greys, Draconians, Reptilians, Venusians, Mantids, and others. There are a lot of species of aliens that supposedly exist. My guess is that the aliens that would’ve abducted the colonists would’ve been Greys; the traditional type most are familiar with. Greys are often believed to be malevolent, but that isn’t always the case. Given that the colonists were never found though, one can believe they were experimented on and subsequently died from said experiments.

Should that not have been the case, the Greys may have brought them back to their home world or they were later dropped off elsewhere (alien abduction victims tend to be placed near, but not exactly at, the location they were taken), and from there: they either made a new colony, joined up with the Natives of the land, or were killed by said Natives or the wildlife/elements.

The second reason is that the aliens wanted to create hybrids with the colonists or wanted to mutate them. Indeed, there’s a belief that aliens like to mate with humans for reasons I cannot explain. I gave an example of this back when I discussed Alan Godfrey and I promise I will expand upon it, but there was a man who allegedly mated with a Venusian quite often before he broke it off. Since love makes people crazy, the Venusian tried to kill him as he showered (Hitchcock should’ve sued).

The third and final reason I’ll give is that the aliens just wanted to see what humans were like. Must in the same way that humans have an innate curiosity about wildlife and the world as a whole, aliens—of any species (presumably)—have an innate curiosity about humanity. As such, like a colony of ants, they abducted the colonists and studied them before either dropping them off elsewhere or they kept them (again, like a colony of ants) until they died.

Why I haven’t given this example in other write-ups I do when I mention aliens, I don’t know, but  I figured now would be the right time. As is the case with all other times I mention aliens in a theories section regarding a disappearance, your belief of this rests extremely heavily on your belief in alien abductions, let alone the concept of intelligent life existing elsewhere in this universe. However, this is generally where the belief stems from. No more, no less.

6. A Native American tribe slaughtered the men and took the women as trophies

Easily the most morbid theory of the bunch, this one states the local Natives raided the village and killed all of the men and kidnapped the women to keep as either sex slaves or merely as trophies. I have no idea if this fits the historical accounts of what Native Americans generally did, but it’s certainly a grim one if it’s accurate.

7. The colonists attempted to return to England

There’s a decently popular theory that the colonists attempted to save themselves by trying to sail to England after the pinnace departed in 1587. However, whether they got lost at sea, were overcome by a powerful storm, or were raided is unknown. Nonetheless, the ultimate outcome is all the same: they were taken to a watery grave.

8. Dare Stones

Claimed to have belonged to Eleanor Dare-White and discovered between 1937 and 1941, the “Dare Stones” are a series of stones that have inscriptions on them that allegedly tell of the colonists travels and eventual deaths. Although there are those that believe the stones to be legitimate the general consensus is that they’re fraudulent. However, through both linguistic and chemical analysis, it's been claimed the first of these stones was “different” than the others. As such, some claim that at least the first may be genuine.

9. The colonists willingly went to an island to live with the Natives

Probably the most popular theory, the idea here is that the colonists went to live with the nearby Native American tribes once supplies began to run dangerously low. There were reports from around 1607 from various tribes of people with white skin and blonde hair, though some claim this was merely albinism.

10. They fled to France to avoid the Confederacy

This theory comes from a 4chan post that was so hysterical, not sharing it would be a crime against humanity. In a thread about what happened to the colony, a user stated the following:

I saw a history channel special that said they probably knew the Union was about to flank them (Confederates) and that the name is possibly a place in France they went to.

I just needed to share this. I don’t know if they’re joking or not (though it is 4chan), but this got me to laugh so much. Hopefully it got a laugh out of you too. Now then, that’s all for the theories.

My Take

I personally think that they went to Croatoan Island. To me, that seems like a no brainer. John White and the others knew of the island, they couldn’t reach it due to hazards among other reasons and as such, they abandoned their efforts to find them. Odds are, the colonists lived out their lives until they died from either natural causes, disease, or were murdered.


The truth behind the Roanoke colonists fate is likely to be one day solved. Of that: I am certain. When that day will come, I cannot possibly guess. When it does come, it’ll be one of the oldest historical mysteries laid to rest. I eagerly await it though.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I'd have to say them going to Croatoan seems most likely, given the message left behind. Why else would they leave it, if not as an indicator of where they were going?

    Now, if they reached the island is another matter really...