ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • History & Archaeology»
  • History of the Americas»
  • American History

Lost Roanoke Colony of 1585 is Found: Evidence in Maps, Artifacts and DNA

Updated on December 12, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish offers 25+ years successful experience in Medicine; Health- and I/O Psychology; STEM courses, and Aerospace Education (CAP).

A key word left for the Governor returning from sea was "Croatoan"

A word was carved into a tree at the Roanoke colony's fort palisade.
A word was carved into a tree at the Roanoke colony's fort palisade. | Source

Documented Evidence

I read many sources of information and peer-reviewed research in 2012 to bring you the findings that the Lost Roanoke Colony is no longer lost. In early August, 2015 additional corroborating information was released.

Where is Old Roanoke?

Emery, Theo (8-10-2015). The New York Times. The Roanoke Colonists: Lost, and Found?

My Summary and Comments:

DNA research had already found some links between the lost Roanokers and their present day descendants that also have Indigenous bloodlines and living in North Carolina (see information presented below in DNA sections). That research has become a major project in the 2010s.

Merry Hill, North Carolina or Site X is the "here" in the researcher's discovery declaration that involves about a dozen colonists. This place is on Albemarle Sound and labeled as Site X. A strong supporting x-ray spectrograph analysis by the British Museum of an old map belonging to the original colony leader, John White, lends credence to this second inland site of Roanoke adventures.

Previously, Chocowinity NC, a few miles southwest of Merry Hill, was determined to be a very possible settlement site of removed Roanoke colonists, based on artifacts found there, especially ceramic ware, but more research was required.

Increasing numbers of Border ware ceramic artifacts found are taken as a marker for the presence of the Roanoke colonists. In the future, Mr. Luccketti hopes for 15 acres of additional area be approved for further excavation and confirmation of lost Roanokers' presence.

Several archaeological sites around Albermarle Sound may prove to have been home to the 100 lost Roanoke colonists. The group of 100 or fewer may have spit up in to two or several smaller groups, as have past Native American Nations in the area.

Considering that the colony had only 100 individuals in the beginning, I think that we must consider the likelihood of death of a portion of the group related to diseases, exposure to some cold weather, the rigors of settling and moving, possible attack by non-friendly Indigenous Peoples, and perhaps a lack of food. I would estimate that the researchers and diggers may find evidence for the presence of about half of the colonists, who survived.

We have evidence from this site that strongly indicates that there were Roanoke colonists here.

— Nicholas M. Luccketti of the First Colony Foundation

Albermarle Sound

A markerMerry Hill NC -
Merry Hill, NC 27957, USA
get directions

Important Evidence Was Found By Research Triangle Professionals

Organized research from the renowned Research Triangle Park points to a link between the Roanoke Lost Colonists and the current descendants of early Native American peoples they met in and around the present town of Chocowinity, North Carolina. Evidence is found in maps, archaeological artifacts and DNA markers (Find some names of descendants living today and follow the research at

Most importantly:

  • A one-word code was found carved into a log in a fort wall as a message to Governor John White upon his return from the sea, as the colonists under his authority fled their home. This was done in the prearranged fashion established by White and the single word was Croatoan. It was the key for White to understand where they went. The word refers to the Croatan Band of natives.
  • There is no Maltese Cross carved through or after the word in the log. A cross added would have meant that an attack was underway. Thus, there was no attack and the people moved.
  • The Croatans are not extinct as many reports state. They no longer have an official band, but their descendants live in Northern Carolina today, proved by Research Triangle professionals..
  • Croatan Island on maps used at the time of the colonists' disappearance is today's Hatteras Island, a nearby barrier island that contains Route 12 and is 42 miles long.
  • Per National Geographic (Tanya Basu, December 6, 2013), a large wooden structure surrounded by a palisade fence was found buried on Hatteras island.
  • English artifacts in a sizable number were unearthed on the current Hatteras (formerly Croatan) Island. This means that the likely lived there.
  • The lost colonists most likely joined the Croatan band of natives.

Parts of Hatteras Island, some under water in 2003.
Parts of Hatteras Island, some under water in 2003. | Source

Research Triangle NC

A markerResearch Triangle NC -
Research Triangle Park, Durham, NC, USA
get directions

The Research Triangle Examines Local History

North Carolina is home not only to our nation's remarkable Research Triangle covering eight counties and the site of the Wright Brother's inaugural flight in 1903, but also to mysteries and missing persons. Some of the professional researchers in the Triangle put their skills to interesting use in 2012 in solving a mystery of North Carolina that is over 430 years old.

The colony of Roanoke Island NC disappeared sometime between 1587 and 1590. At least that is what Governor John White believed after he returned to his people with a new shipload of supplies from England. However, he was gone three years and many events might have unseated a new, small colony on an island in the outer banks of a seaboard territory.

Speculation has been wide:

  • A disease, floods (earning the Roanoke River the nickname River of Death among Indigenous People), or fire may have destroyed the colony. However, no fire remains were found in 1860, according to records.
  • The colonists were attacked by Croatan or Roanoke "Indians." No hard evidence proves this notion.
  • The colonists were attacked by the Spanish and killed or kidnapped. No evidence exists of this notion, either.
  • The colonists ran out of supplies, experienced failed crops and drought, and went to live with the Croatan Band of Native Americans. This is a possibility. Some of the settlers were from Wales and a hundred years after the colony was lost, new English settlers found Croatan People on Hatteras island that could speak Welsh and read books.
  • The entire colony moved southward to another island for reasons unknown. This is also a possibility.
  • Some even posit that an alien abduction occurred. That makes for interesting stories.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Roanoke Island today.
Roanoke Island today.
Roanoke Island today. | Source

Unfortunate Mishaps In Roanoke

Approximately 90 men, 17 women, and 11 children sailed by ship sent by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587 to a point north of Roanoke Island to build a fort and a settlement to be called the Cittee of Raleigh.

Those people never arrived, but were put off the ship after a strenuous voyage of mishaps across the Atlantic Ocean.They were to stop or observations by their governor, John White, and then to sail further up to Chesapeake Bay. However, the ship's Captain was Spanish and had other ideas.

The ship's captain was Captain Fernandez. historical records state that this Spaniard put the English off with the excuse of returning south to warmer waters and his privateering business, but anchored off shore, watching, as the stranded people tries to construct a village. It is little wonder that the colony feared attack by the Spanish after this treatment.

A previous attempt in 1556 to colonize Roanoke Island ended badly. The 1587 settlers found a bleached human skeleton on the beach as soon as they were stranded. They found a fort that had been destroyed. They found wildlife eating the garden produce left behind, still on the vines.

The English did their best to repair and build houses, but they had no crop seeds or food and were starving. One of the men went into the waters off shore to gather crabs and was killed and mutilated by some Native Americans, so the colonists came to fear the Indigenous People very early on, as well as the Spanish.

Researchers found through tree-ring analysis in the late 1990s that the most severe drought in eight centuries hit Roanoke Island and surrounding areas between 1587 - 1589. Little crop food could survive. Thus, the colonists of Roanoke fought bad weather, fears of the Spanish, and some real Native Americans, although the Croatan Band was their friend.

Roanoke Island NC Today

A markerRoanoke Island NC -
Roanoke Island, Nags Head, NC 27954, USA
get directions

Hatteras Island Is Croatoan Island on Old Maps

The English had their first baby in America when Virginia Dare was born just a few days after the explorers landed on Roanoke Island in August of 1587.

Governor John White of Roanoke was Virginia Dare's grandfather. He found it necessary to return to England for supplies when the baby was but a month old (September 1587).

Fearing attacks by Native Americans or the Spanish in the area, the Governor developed a code to use in case the colonists fled elsewhere. They were to carve a word into the bark of a tree and the word was to be a key to their new location. The addition of a cross over the word would indicate that an attack had actually taken place.

John White did not land on Roanoke again until three years later. He found the single word Croatoan carved into a tree that had been made into a log in the colonists' fort palisade.

Scientists and historians recently found that the word means a specific location, since that was the plan that Governor White established for the event of a colony relocation - leaving a message as a clue. This new colony site is south of Roanoke Island at the 42-mile long Hatteras Island, now part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

This journey today from Roanoke Island to Hatteras (Croatan) Island is short and Hatteras Island is very long. The colonists and Croatans had plenty of room to hide from an impending attack..

Hatteras Island is marked as Croatoan Island on an old map of the region that gave researchers clues to the fate of the Roanoke Island colony.

The Two Islands Today

show route and directions
A markerRoanoke Island -
Roanoke Island, Nags Head, NC 27954, USA
get directions

B markerHatteras Island is 42 miles long. -
North Carolina 12, NC, USA
get directions

Quote: Hatteras Island DNA Projects

By 1710, the Farrows, O'Neals, Hoopers and Wahabs were reported to be "half Indian and half English".

DNAeXplained Progress

DNAeXplained is searching for any male descendant of the Lumbee Berry line in North Carolina for a DNA test to connect that line up with the Roanoke families that disappeared.


"There are two Berry families who claim descent from the Lost Colonists of Roanoke Island in 1587, Henry and Richard Berry, who are presumed to be related to each other."

Croatan Band of Native Americans and DNA Evidence

Genealogical and genetic professionals are actively examining DNA markers in search of links between the Lost Colonists and the Indigenous descendants of native peoples in the area at the time living in North Carolina today.

The Croatan Band of Native Americans lived all along the Outer Banks of North Carolina before the English settlers landed. These Native Americans likely were related to the Roanoke People that also lived in the area. Today, approximately 250 of these Indigenous peoples' descendants live near Greenville NC.

The Lost Colony Center for Science and Research found many English artifacts on what is now Hatteras Island. In the 2010s, DNA studies are underway to look for European DNA markers among today's descendants of the Croatan Band. European DNA markers found may belong to either Spanish or English groups, requiring further examination to determine which they are.

Probable Migration Of the Lost Colony

show route and directions
A markerRoanoke Island -
Roanoke Island, Nags Head, NC 27954, USA
get directions

B markerAlbemarle Sound -
Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, USA
get directions

C markerChowan River -
Chowan River, 1, Edenton, NC, USA
get directions

The Chowan joins the Roanoke here. A patch on a map made by John White shows a fort in the shape of those built by the Dutch here.

D markerBertie County NC -
Bertie, NC, USA
get directions

English Sightings

Between 1590 and 1610, several sightings were made of whites that explorers claimed must be members of the Lost Colony. One was a white boy with yellow hair living among the Croatan Band. Another might have been a teenaged Virginia Dare.

Officials of the First Colony Foundation and of the British Museum in London UK conferred in early May 2012 about Governor White's map of the Roanoke region of the outer banks and surrounding land in what become North Carolina and Virginia. The Research Triangle's University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is also involved in find the Lost Colony and their descendants.

Two patches on the map are of particular interest. One indicates a corrected error, but the other shows a different sort of fort than than usually built by the English in America, in what is now Bertie County. From this second patch, some of the researchers deduce that the Lost Colony traveled west and north to the intersection of the Roanoke and Chowan Rivers.

To accomplish this move, the colonists needed a ship and perhaps they used the wood from their houses, since Governor White find them demolished in 1590.

Archaeologists might like to excavate in Bertie County, but the area is located under a popular golf course and a housing development, prohibiting a dig. Regardless, the Bertie County migration point does not explain the Welsh-speaking Croatan on Hatteras Island, which is a shorter distance from Roanoke Island than is Bertie County.

Croatan Descendants

A markerChocowinity -
Chocowinity, NC 27817, USA
get directions

Descendants of the Croatans live here today.


  • Reports and Diaries of Governor John White at
  • The Ohio State University Department of Anthropology
  • Tour of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site at 1401 National Park Dr, Manteo NC 27954.

© 2012 Patty Inglish


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • PHILLYDREAMER profile image

      Jose Velasquez 5 years ago from Lodi, New Jersey

      Wow, so Croatoan wasn't a virus unleashed my the minions of Hell to erase humanity after the Apocalypse. Geez when you can't trust TV to give you the answers to these things who can you trust. LOL. It's great that a mystery like this could be solved so many years after.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Interesting, isn't it?

      I just don't quite accept that the settlers tore down their own houses, built a boat and sailed to Bertie County. It was simpler and shorter to join the Croatans to the south and all of them move due west to the Greenville area where they are today.

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      I always learn something new from your interesting hubs! Voted up, interesting, and useful. Also sharing this one. Take care, Kelley

    • Healthy Pursuits profile image

      Karla Iverson 5 years ago from Oregon

      The DNA information will be interesting if they ever sort it out.

      I just love a good mystery - a real one! Thank you for the update. It was a great read.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      I was just looking at the patch on the map that Governor White used, in close up - the fort that the researchers think is different from the first fort built by the English at Roanoke looks exactly like For Orange/Fort Nassau forts in New York circa 1614. They were built by the DUTCH.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Patty - Fascinating mystery. Also, you may want to check a date transposition in the first paragraph under Unfortunate Mishaps.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Thanks very much! I kept wanting to type Civil War years for some reason. lolz

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Very interesting article about a great historical puzzle. Hopefully we will find the answer one day. Can't even imagine what they went through. Voted up and interesting.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Thanks for voting, UnnamedHerald!

      I am thinking now about the difficulties of building a boat or series of smaller vessels and sailing northwest, or even of walking overland from Hatteras Island to the river confluence inland. The settlers were cabinet makers and other craftsmen, so I wonder what sort of boats they'd design? The Native Americans had their own canoes, which would have been faster.

      The people probably did not have horses unless the Spanish had left some in the area, but I think that did not occur. The English would have had to make litters to drag things behind them, with the help of dogs if the Native Americans had them, which is more likely.

      Still, the descendants of the Croatoan Band live even further west of the confluence of rivers and common surnames are found in their ancestry with the settlers of Roanoke. There was definitely intermarriage and working together.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Fascinating hub, Patty ...

      My bet is that the settlers went to live with the Native Americans and that one day the DNA will prove that.

      One thing we can be sure of is that all these early settlers were incredibly brave people ... few of us today either have or perhaps even need that sort of bravery.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      That's probably true, isn't it? How many of us would tear down a house to make a boat - well, perhaps on TV's Survivor.

    • profile image

      Walton Stevens=Charlton 4 years ago

      There was a Thomas Stevens in the 1587 colony attempt.There is a long chance possibility that Nicolas Stevens (a great nephew or cousin ? ) and my antecedent came to the colonies to find family [Thomas ] Nicholas's father and mother were in Jamestown in the early 1600's.Have any Stevens' genes been identified in the studies as yet. My 111 markers with FTDNA are available for comparison . Walton E. Stevens

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      You'd need to access the DNA and family research links in the article and call University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then visit those websites to find out your specific information. The University might have information to give over the phone - look up the general university number and tell them what you want. Much success to you!

    • profile image

      Charles Miller,Jr. 3 years ago

      I am a descendant of Jonathan Miller, Sr. He was my grandfather eight generations back. He was born in 1710 and died in 1779. He purchased a thousand acres of land on which my father was born in 1928. No one could agree what his origins were. He was a Christian and followed English traditions. Could his family have been part of the 1587 colony? His origins are obscure.

    • profile image

      Charles Miller, Jr 3 years ago

      I forgot to mention that my family was from Bertie County, North Carolina not far from Mars Hill Baptist Church.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Hi, Mr. Charles Milleer, Jr. -- It's a possibility, I think. Have you contacted geneological societies in Bertie County? Church records can give us other clues and evidence as well.

    • profile image

      Charles E. Miller,Jr. 3 years ago

      Dear Ms Inglish,

      I wish to thank you for your response. I have been in contact with the State Library in Raleigh. They have been very kind and have found Jonathan Miller, Sr. mentioned many times in the colonial records; however, there is no mention of his ethnic background. My Grandmother Miller's history is easy to trace; however, the Millers are a puzzle. I wish to thank you for your suggestion.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      On my mother's side of the family was a branch of Millers. Their oldest male member was from Germany, if that is any help to you - they settled in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and a few went further south. Keep searching and let me know what you find!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      This is a very well-written and informative hub, Patty. This mystery has interested me for many years and I finally did some deep research and wrote a hub on it. I really enjoyed reading yours. Voted up, UI. Well done!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 2 years ago from North America

      Thanks very much! I hope the DNA research holds well and scientists find more of it.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      Thank you. It is good to know technology and persistence may come up with some solid proof to solve this centuries old mystery.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 23 months ago from North America

      More of Roanoke Colony found -- In August 2015, additional digging in North Carolina returned up evidence of Roanoke Colony individuals having moved inland and possibly having split into smaller groups. DNA matches hold and new matches are being collected. All of the accumulating and final evidence, including that of a new 15-acre dig that researchers hope to begin soon, will be peer reviewed at the Research Triangle in NC. Latest evidence was transported to the RT for review on 8-11-2015.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 23 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

      This is exciting news, Patty. I hope the mystery will finally be cleared up. I am anxious to hear more about it. Thank you for this latest.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 23 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Fascinating and well written, Patty. A few years ago I was doing research on my mother's side of the family and found the first of her relatives arrived in North Carolina in 1699.

      After reading the various records left behind--some legal transactions and wills--I discovered one of my ancestors owned land on Roanoke Island at the time. Needless to say, I was thrilled and excited to find such info and it further interested me into the Roanoke Colony. I now plan to visit the region as some of my relatives still reside in the area.

      Enjoyed and rated up, of course. :)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 23 months ago from North America

      @Phyllis Doyle - I am also excited! Right now, I'm attempting to find all the dig sites and I hope at least some will become National Monuments or National Archeological Sites.

      @Randy Goodwin - You might be related to some of the original colonists as distant or not-so-distant cousins. You must tell us what you find out. What fun! Thanks for reading a voting, btw.

    • profile image

      Thomas Gary Earnest 23 months ago

      My 8th Great Grandfather , John Earnest, is listed as Missing Roanoke Colony Member. My 7th Great Grandfather is William Earnest and shows to have lived and married.

      I would like to know if John lived or died. Does anyone know how to find out. I have had my DNA on Ancestry done but not news about John?

      Gary Earnest , Gun Barrel City, Texas

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 23 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Patty, after my comment here yesterday I researched a bit more and found out my earliest ancestor in the Carolinas --so far--was married to an Indian maiden from the area. Indeed, what fun! :)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 23 months ago from North America

      How wonderful to find all these things in your background! Happy hunting for more :) And you have the proof that some Roanoke settlers intermarried with Native Americans.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 23 months ago from North America

      @Thomas Gary Earnest -- Look at the three links in the article under "The Roanoke DNA Studies." visit those pages and ask about your DNA and matching it up with what they have.

    • profile image

      Dolores J. Rush 5 months ago

      Interesting article. I've been researching my ancestors and I'm descended from three of the surnames mentioned in the article above -- White, O'Neal, and Berry. The Berry's were said to have been Scotch/English, but we do not know where our O'Neal's came from earlier than Nashville, TN. ( 1811) or the White's earlier than Montgomery County, KY. (1802). I have White cousins who live in North Carolina and he has had his DNA tested -- I will be sharing this article with them.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 months ago from North America

      @Dolores J. Rush - How interesting! Those DNA results should be very informative - are you all related to the Roanoke folks? I wonder if records in the UK could help trace the O'Neals?

    • stevarino profile image

      Steve Dowell 7 days ago from East Central Indiana

      So glad to read this. I spent 6 years in my youth in Durham and our family visited many of the historic sites around the state. We ventured to Edenton and that area around Arbermarle Sound back in the 1960s. The theory back then, was that the settlers migrated with friendly natives further inland, since no evidence was found at the original site of the colony on Roanoke Island of their fate, except, of course, for the word "Croatoan" etched on a tree trunk.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 days ago from North America

      stevarino - I bet you had a very good time in all your visits! DNA testing is being performed for more of the likely descendants and then Smithsonian or other history site will probably do a new film about it all. I remember Andy Griffith speaking about his youth, when he went to work in a playhouse in Roanoke that produced an ongoing play about the story. I wonder what their conclusions were back then, probably in the 1940s?

    Click to Rate This Article