What happened to the Lost Colony?

In 1590, John White led an expedition to the New World to resupply the English colony on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. But to his surprise, he found the area deserted. What happened to the Lost Colony?

The Lost Colony of Roanoke?

The disappearance of the 119 colonists (including Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World) is one of the greatest mysteries of all time. Under John White’s helm, they arrived in 1587 in order to establish the “Cittie of Raleigh” but landed on Roanoke Island instead. White sailed back to England for more supplies but his return was delayed by the Anglo-Spanish War. He finally returned in 1590 only to find the site completely deserted. Only two clues remained. The word “CROATOAN” was carved into a fort post. Also, the word “CRO” was carved into a tree.

White didn’t expect foul play. The houses and other structures had been readily dismantled, indicating the settlers had taken their time leaving the colony. Also, he’d instructed the colonists to carve a Maltese cross into a tree if they were forced to leave the colony. There was no cross.

Based on the carvings, White assumed the colonists had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island). However, a storm kept him from conducting a proper search. White would never again return to the New World. It would be another 12 years before Sir Walter Raleigh would mount another expedition to determine the fate of the Lost Colony. However, he was forced to turn back due to bad weather and was subsequently arrested. And thus, the fate of the Lost Colony became a thing of mystery.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Many theories exist purporting to explain the Lost Colony. Some scholars believe the settlers abandoned the colony and assimilated into one of the local native tribes. Others blame warfare with a tribe or perhaps, the Spanish. Still others think the colonists perished during a drought or turned on each other.

Now, experts at the British Museum have shed some new light on the mystery behind the Lost Colony. Using advanced-imaging techniques, they discovered markings hidden under patches on a watercolor map prepared by none other than John White himself (you can also see the map above). The purpose of one patch was to improve the accuracy of the coastline. The second patch is more intriguing. It appears to hide the presence of an inland fort as well as an Indian town near Roanoke Island. Interestingly enough, the original markings may have been made in invisible ink as well.

The outpost was apparently located at the point where the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers emptied into Albemarle Sound. This is in an area explored by the colonists in 1585 and 1586. Thus, its possible the Lost Colony abandoned Roanoke Island at some point and took refuge at the outpost.

“Documentary evidence suggests an early and sustained interest by the English in the Chowan and Roanoke River systems. The discovery of a symbol seemingly representing a fort where the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers meet provides dramatic confirmation of the colonists’ interest in exploring the interior (where riches were to be found) and connecting the two Virginias, Roanoke and Jamestown.” ~ James Horn, A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

Of course, this remains speculation, at least until archaeologists can conduct a proper excavation in the area. However, if it turns out to be true, it begs a whole slew of new questions. Namely, who marked the map? Did that person know the true fate of the Lost Colony? And if so, why did they keep its continued existence a secret?

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