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Mystery of the Lost Colony

Updated on September 28, 2011

The mystery of the “Lost Colony” dates back to when 118 European men, women and children settled on Roanoke Island off the coast of the outer Banks in North Carolina in 1588. An earlier attempt in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh failed. The village was one of the first English colonies in the New World, but not their intended destination. Originally, they had planned on the Chesapeake Bay area, but because of the hurricane season they were forced to stop at Roanoke.

However, in any case, this village fared little better. It lasted less than three years and no one knows for certain what became of the inhabitants. There are many theories, but few facts.

The Governor of this second group was John White and there were difficult obstacles to overcome from the start. There was a severe shortage of food and tools, not to mention the ever present fear of attacks by local Native Indians. Complaints by the colonists escalated until White was forced to return to England for much needed supplies.

White returned after three years to find just a few remnants of what had once been a town. Gone were his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America. There were no houses or people. All that remained were some small cannons, a chest and a fence around the perimeter. The only clue to what might have happened was a single word inscribed on a fence post…“Croatan.” Croatan was the Indian name for "Hatteras,” the name of a nearby island. Before White had left for England he had instructed the settlers to carve a destination on a tree or post if for any reason they had to abandon the village.

When the Jamestown colonists arrived in 1607, Captain John Smith searched for the lost colonists and reportedly learned they had lived among the friendly Chesapeake Indians on the south side of the Bay. Historians believe the group split into two groups, the larger of which headed for the Chesapeake Bay. According to one Indian Chief, his tribe had massacred the second group in an attempt to keep them from stealing their land. As proof, he reportedly showed a few odds and ends which belonged to the ill fated colonists.

Later, in 1709, English explorer John Lawson spent some time among the Hatteras Indians, descendants of the Croatan tribe. According to Lawson, several of their ancestors were white, spoke English and had gray eyes.

Young Lumbee Indian

More interesting clues as to the colonist’s fate came from a North Carolina man named Hamilton MacMillan in the 1880s. MacMillan lived in Robeson County near a settlement of Pembroke Indians, many of whom claimed their ancestors came from "Roanoke in Virginia." Roanoke in Virginia was how Sir Walter Raleigh had referred to Roanoke Island. MacMillan said the Pembroke Indians spoke English and had surnames matching those of many of the lost colonists. And they also had fair eyes, light hair and other European features.

Reports such as these support the theory the colonists assimilated with friendlier local Indian tribes. Over time, intermarriage between the natives and the English would eventually produce other groups. One of these may well be the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina. Family names of some of the Roanoke colonists, like Dial, Hyatt and Taylor, were noted by tribe members as early as 1719. But, even within the Lumbee tribe, the subject of their lineage is still argued.

There’s an old adage, “A photograph says a thousand words.” If so, this photograph says plenty.


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    • jblais1122@aol profile image

      jblais1122@aol 6 years ago from Kansas City, Missouri, USA

      Very interesting, I just learned recently that one of my GGGG Granparents were Pocahantus and John Rolfe. John Rolfe was of the "next" group that came in 1607.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I've read about Roanoke before but I never heard that particular explanation before. Judging by the picture, and the Indian use of English and the Roanoke settler's last names, it seems a valid theory.

      The book I read did say that the settlement appeared to be abandoned very suddenly; some people's personal items were all left behind and intact. That would tell against the assimilation theory, wouldn't it? The book didn't say that the whole outpost was gone and there was nothing left but a fence, a cannon, and a chest.

      Thanks for a very interesting hub.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      dilipchandra12, thanks, I try.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 6 years ago from India

      Very informative and interesting article. And i must say, its a beautiful hub, arranged very well.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Brightwell, I came across your links during my research for this hub. Interesting and well done to say the least.

    • Brightwell profile image

      Brightwell 6 years ago from Madison, Florida

      I saw your hub and it greatly interested me. I am an avid genealogist and researcher and have been for over thirty years. Finding the truth about ancestors is my priority and when I find a source for a fact, I document the source as well as the fact. I just recently published the Lambe/Lamb Family History and traced my ancestry back to the first owner of Ranoake Island; which was a LAMB. I have concurred with other researchers who also agree that the Lamb family mixed with the Lumbee Indian Tribe in North Carolina. The facts, data and sources are related the history. All my research and notes can be found in my recently published Lambe/Lamb Family History. See website:// . There are three pages to my website and the book can be found and obtained there. I strongly feel that the colonists did mix with the Indians for survival. Your hub also reveals that strong possibility. Any way, good hub.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image

      PETER LUMETTA 6 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      A good story and wonerful mystery, someone needs to do some DNA studies to determine the lineage of these folks,


    • Rachelle Williams profile image

      Rachelle Williams 6 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Excellent! I love mysteries, and I always wondered about the colony of Roanoke. Thank yo for creating this hub.

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 6 years ago

      Very interesting hub. The fate of the Roanoke colonists have long been debated. Your thesis certainly has merit and perhaps the solution to the mystery has been "in front of us" all along.