New Clue about Fate of Lost Colony

May 8th, 2012
in econ_news

lost-colony-theaterSMALLEconintersect:  “Croatan” has been the only clue for more than 400 years regarding the fate of the lost colony established in 1587 on Roanoke Island, North Carolina near the present day town of Manteo.  The word, which was the name that the colonists had given to what is now known as Hatteras Island (or to the Indians who lived in the area?), was found carved on a tree when the colony founder returned from England in 1590.  The colony expedition leader, John White, had left to get more supplies the year of the founding of the colony by 116 settlers.  After being delayed by a war between England and Spain, he eventually returned to find the colony abandoned in 1590Click picture for larger image from Lost Colony Theater production.

Follow up:

The new clue is 425 years old.  And it has been known (or at least the location of the clue known) for all of that time.  The clue resides on a map drawn by White 1585-87 and, after the lost colony experience, passed on to Walter Raleigh who used it as a show-and-tell in soliciting support for another colony, eventually culminating in the founding of the 1609 settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, nearly 100 miles northwest of Manteo, as the crow flies.

The White map eventually came into the possession of the British Museum in 1866.  The map has three distinguishing features:

It is an extremely accurate map of the complicated shoreline and estuaries of the area.

It contains a patch verified to be of the same material as the map which covers an original drawing and allows a corrected shoreline for area near the Pamlico River to be overlain.

It contains a second patch (again same material) which has been unexplained until now.

The second patch occurs inland to cover an area at the head of Albemarle Sound in Bertie County, NC east of the present day town of Merry Hill, between the points at which the Roanoke River (to the south) and the Chowan River (to the north) flow into the Albemarle estuary.  This patch has been assumed for years to cover some unknown imperfection in the map.  That was until recently a researcher placed the map over a light box and discovered the outline of what appears to be a fort underneath.  Further examination by UV light located what appears to be the faint sketch of a different fort on the surface of the patch.


These discoveries have convinced researchers that the direction the Lost Colony moved was most likely west, which would have been according to the plan at the time White returned to England in 1587.  However, this is not the beginning of the idea that was where the colonists went.  There have been scientific investigations for many years that focused on the move west rather than southeast to Hatteras.

A manuscript finished (apparently) about 2000 by Philip S. McMullan, documents some of that research.  One of the things learned from McMullan’s work is that the Croatan Indians apparently were cohabitants with the Roanoke Indians of the interior land in that area of North Carolina.  The Roanoke Indians were hostile, having been attacked and their chief killed by a prior English exploratory party in 1585.  The Croatans, who had an off-and-on-again war with the Roanokes, could well have been more friendly to the colonists and even considered allies.

The word “Croatan” carved on a tree was not accompanied by the cross symbol agreed upon as a distress signal.  The word may simply have indicated the colonists were moving to an area in which Croatans were situated and where they felt they might have the support of an ally against the Roanokes.  Again this has been a research hypothesis for some time as documented in a thesis by Fred Willard.

Research on that idea has been going on for some time.  Now there may be increased fervor in following that idea.

The image below made available by the British Museum has been annotated by EconontersectClick (twice) on map for larger image.


Click map for larger image.

John Lounsbury


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