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What Happened to the Roanoke Colony?

One of the greatest mysteries in history is the disappearance of 115 English settlers from their newly acquired Roanoke Island. What happened to them, and what have we learned with today’s modern technology?

In 1597, governor John White led a group of 115 middle-class Englishmen to resettle and colonize Roanoke Island. White had to return home to replenish supplies, but it was deserted when he came back to the colony three years later.

The Lost Colony

In August 1587, about 115 middle-class Englishmen traveled to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. These Englishmen decided to move into the New World to avoid the plague and disease and create a colony in the Americas. They were led by John White, appointed governor of the supposed colony by the expedition’s sponsor, Sir Walter Raleigh.

John White soon went back home to replenish the colony’s supplies but was later pulled into the naval war with the Spanish Armada by the Queen herself. White was able to set sail back to the settlement in 1590, three years after he left. When he got to the island, the colony was deserted. There were no signs of death or pillaging. The buildings didn’t seem destroyed by fire.

Before leaving, White instructed the inhabitants to leave a carving on a tree or stone should they decide to move from the original settlement. White found a carving on a fence post CROATOAN when he got back. He assumed that the inhabitants moved to the Croatoan island, 60 miles south of the settlement.

White decided to visit the island but could not do so because of the rough weather, so he decided to spend the winter in the Caribbean and try out his luck finding the inhabitants when the weather improved. He could not do so since his ship got further away from its original course, leading White to decide to return to England. (Source: Discover Magazine)

Theories on the Lost Colony

Many researchers and historians formed theories on what happened to White’s Roanoke colony. In 2012, a group of historians and archaeologists, known as the First Colony Foundation, or FCF, asked the British Museum to examine the paper patches on its manuscript map created by White for Sir Walter Raleigh.

FCF soon discovered that under one patch was a symbol of a Renaissance fort, and on the surface of that patch, they noticed a faint image of a fortified town that was seemingly drawn with invisible ink. The patch was located about 50 miles west of Roanoke Island, in Albemarle Sound.

FCF conducted remote sensing and fieldwork in a 5-mile radius of the location but was only able to theorize that some of the original colony members temporarily settled in the area. (Source: History Extra)

A journalist and author of The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Andrew Lawler offered another theory. In Lawler’s research, he is led to believe that the colonists soon assimilated into the nearby Native American tribes where they settled.

Lawler believes that the Roanoke colonists began to live with the Algonquin tribe and adapted their way of life, as the tribe knew how to survive in the land. (Source: Discover Magazine)

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