August 14, 2015

England’s Lost Colonists ‘Went Native’ In America


In spring 1584, the dashing Elizabethan courtier Walter Raleigh, above, was granted a royal patent by the Queen to explore and colonise the “remote and barbarous lands” of North America. 
After a reconnaissance ­mission and an aborted military expedition, more than 100 ­settlers arrived in the New World in 1587 and established a colony on Roanoke Island, off North Carolina. There, a baby named Virginia Dare came into the world — the first child born to English parents in America.

Three years later, when an expedition led by Virginia’s grandfather, John White, came with supplies, the settlers had vanished. Their fort was flattened and their homes overgrown. On a tree near the shore someone had scratched the letters “Cro”. A longer word was carved on a gatepost: “Croatian.”

White never found the settlers, and neither did expeditions early in the next century.

Roanoke became America’s “lost colony” — a mystery that remained unsolved. Now two teams of British and US archeologists believe they have found evidence of what happened to the colonists.

University of Bristol archeologist Mark Horton has announced the discovery of Elizabethan artefacts on Hatteras Island, 110km south of Roanoke, suggesting some of the colonists settled there and joined a Native American tribe. It was once called Croatoan Island. “It was where the Croatoan tribe were,” he said.

If this appears to have been the obvious place to look, given the inscriptions the colonists left behind, Professor Horton believes that White very nearly found them. He had left the colonists as supplies dwindled, but upon return to England found he could not immediately start a fresh voyage. The Armada was coming, and the war with Spain prevented any return until 1590.

“He sailed past Croatoan Island on his way to Roanoke,” he said. White had told the settlers to leave a message if they left and to inscribe a cross above it if they left in distress. There was no cross, suggesting their departure was comfortable.

“He found the message, but bad weather came in and he had quite a stupid captain. If he had got back to Croatoan, I believe he would have found them,” he said.

He and his students have been working on the site since 2010. “We were working discretely,” he said, fearful that publicity might worry landowners whose property they were excavating.

Some have suggested their discoveries, mingled with later Native American artefacts, could have been looted from an abandoned settlement. Professor Horton argues they may have been “curated” by the Native American community the settlers joined. “The fact is that we have an Elizabethan rapier, a musket mechanism from the 1580s,” he said. The positions of these finds suggest they were kept as ­precious objects.

Meanwhile, on the far side of the Albemarle Sound, a US team has found fragments of pots and containers — Surrey-Hampshire Border ware, which was no longer taken to the New World after the Virginia Company was dissolved in 1624. The team is working to a map that belonged to White and was recently examined by the British Museum, which found an X marked on it.

“These objects were for food preparation, consumption and storage. They represent artefacts that were used by people who were living there,” said Nicholas Luccketti, an archeologist with the First Colony Foundation.

Both groups stress their work is not mutually exclusive and suggest the settlers may have split up. There was a severe drought in the late 16th and early 17th century. “Local populations were struggling to feed themselves. If a hundred English people showed up, they would not have been welcomed,” Mr Luccketti said.

Members of the colony established at James Fort, later Jamestown, in 1607 searched for the lost colonists and heard conflicting reports — that they had been killed, or were living inland. There were other hints: explorer John Lawson, passing Hatteras Island in 1702, noted an Indian tribe among whose members were some with fair hair and grey eyes. They also told stories of ­Raleigh’s ghost ship. Professor Horton said: “Clearly, on the ­island, there were memories of the settlers as late as 1700.”

By Will Pavia

With many thanks to The Australian 


Above: Picture credit: NatGeo

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