After decades of work, a researcher has come to the obvious conclusion about America's "Lost Colony" of Roanoke: There was never a mystery to begin with.
In 1587, colonizers from England led by explorer John White landed on Roanoke Island just off the eastern coast of North America, in what is now Dare County, North Carolina.
It was the second attempt to set up a permanent colony, the first having failed two years before. During the first year of the second attempt, it became clear that the English settlers would need more resources and people in order to make a success of the project. Among the problems was a troubled relationship with nearby indigenous tribes, which saw one of the colonists killed within days of arrival while hunting crabs.
White set sail for England once more to request extra help, leaving his family behind on the island. Disaster struck, when the escalating war with Spain meant that he was unable to get himself a ship back.
Three years later he returned to the island, only to find the settlement completely empty. Along with everyone else on the island, his wife, daughter, and granddaughter – Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the "New World", and unfortunately now a source of white nationalist pride – were gone. The crew of White's ship searched for clues of their whereabouts but found only the word "CROATOAN" and the letters "CRO" carved into trees at the border of the colony. There were no graves and no bodies to indicate anything had gone wrong.
With storms brewing, the crew was unable to investigate further and left the island for Plymouth. The colony was never seen again by White or anyone else from England, and the whole episode was largely forgotten for 250 years.
In the 1830s, thanks to some sensationalist writings, Virginia Dare and the lost colony legend resurfaced and has since become an enduring mystery, even being dubbed the "Area 51 of colonial history". Theories about the disappearance range from the colony attempting to return to England on one of the smaller ships left behind on the island, to being attacked by the Spanish or local indigenous tribes, though both of these rely on ignoring the only evidence left behind at the scene.
The mystery has actually been solved since at least 1605 (from the perspective of the colonizers), and earlier by the nearby Native Americans. As local historian Scott Dawson has outlined in his new book The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island, based on years of research: There was never a mystery to begin with.
“They were never lost. It was made up. The mystery is over,” Dawson told The Virginian-Pilot in an interview about his book, which looks at years of archaeological evidence, as well as the question why the "lost colony" became a mystery despite being solved for centuries.
The word "CROATOAN" written on the tree referred to a nearby indigenous group, the Croatans, who still live in Dare County, in coastal North Carolina. When White and his crew found the settlement abandoned, their first thought was that they had gone to live with the nearby indigenous people, who were much more adept at living in the area than the colonizers. In 1701, explorer John Lawson visited the area to find that several of their ancestors were white, suggesting that the early theories were correct, the English settlers had integrated with a local tribe.
“You’re robbing an entire nation of people of their history by pretending Croatoan is a mystery on a tree,” Dawson said. “These were a people that mattered a lot.”
Or, to put it more bluntly: