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Whatever happened to the lost colony?

The statistics are horrifying. One million people go missing in the United States each year. Over eight million children go missing worldwide.

A single person vanishing is disturbing enough. Three people who vanish at once is even harder to understand.

But what about an entire village? It happened back in 1587.

Over one hundred British men and women settled on Roanoke, one of a chain of islands now known as the Outer Banks, located off the coast of North Carolina. The colonists planned to farm and sell wild sassafras, which had significant value back home in England.

John White, the governor of the colony, sailed back to England to pick up supplies for the winter. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, his return was delayed by a war in Spain. When he finally went back four years later, he found everyone had vanished…including his wife and infant daughter.

The only clue was the word ‘Croatan,’ which had been carved into a tree. Croatan was the name of both another nearby island and a local indigenous tribe.

Bad weather hindered the search, and by the time a ship arrived at Croatan, there was no sign of the lost settlers. There wasn’t any evidence or tale of a skirmish between the colonists and the local indigenous people. No graves were found.

White eventually sailed back to England without ever discovering what had happened to his wife and daughter.

One of the most disturbing things about this story was that it had happened before! I’m suspecting White had a terrible case of deja vu, because initially only ten men were left to start a settlement in the same location. When supply ships returned from England, the men had vanished. And yet people still thought it was a good idea to leave another hundred settlers there!

None of the original one hundred and ten were ever found. In spite of countless theories and rumours, the mystery of their disappearance has never been solved.

However, a century later, colonists reported seeing “Indians” with blond hair and grey eyes….

This enduring mystery continues to captivate archaeologists and armchair detectives alike. The History Channel claimed to have some intriguing new information as recently as this past August.

Have you heard of the lost colony of Roanoke? What do you think happened to it? How do so many people disappear every year without a trace?

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28 Comments

  1. That’s a very famous disappearance. I’m close enough, I could go check out both islands. They there was no sign of struggle, which makes you wonder why they went peacefully with the Indians if that’s what really happened. Maybe after four years, they’d given up hope anyone was coming back and were desperate?

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, you should totally go check them out, Alex! If you do, take a picture for me. I believe there are markers there that commemorate where the settlers were living before they disappeared.

      It’s odd that both sets of settlers vanished without a trace. Hopefully they were reunited with each other, at the very least.

      Reply
  2. If there were blonde “Indians” one can assume that some people, maybe the children were brought into the tribe. The adults were likely killed. Who knows where the bodies went? I don’t know the area, but some places are very remote, have caves, thick forests, places like that. Or, they could be cannibals.

    Those are shocking statistics. I’m sure there are many, many reasons that people go missing, and that some go intentionally.

    Another great mystery to ponder.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Mary. I hope they weren’t killed, but who knows? Strange no bodies were ever found, even in later years.

      At the time they went missing, there was only one child in the colony–Virginia Dare–so if the blond “Indians” are indeed the result of the colonists breeding with the native tribe, some of the adults must have survived.

      Reply
  3. The ‘they went with the Indians’ scenario does sound most plausible, whether or not they all ultimately survived that decision. Or they moved to the other island first and then they were led away from there. Maybe the carving was meant as the equivalent of a change of address notice.

    Since the beginning of time, children have been stolen by faeries and trolls or, more commonly, strangers or jealous parents. They can live out their lives without ever knowing that someone was looking for them. Adults have wandered off with no clue of where they are going or why, because their mind was playing tricks on them. Many people have simply died suddenly, accidentally and alone, their bodies never recovered. Some left deliberately to change their name and start over. They never wanted to be found. Some did, but never were.

    Where the settlers of Roanoke forced to move, had they chosen to leave, or was there something else? There are countless possible explanations, both sensible and fantastical, for what happened them, but why stick with the usual suspects when the unusual suspects have so much potential? What about an unknown party or force that even the Croatoans feared?

    Imagine all the things that could be hiding in a wilderness without leaving a trace that humans would recognise. And today’s lack of forests in urban areas doesn’t make our world less of a wilderness. It is. Now imagine that those things are still out there, too…

    Thank you for inviting us to ponder this. My muse is perched on my shoulder, already grinning like a banshee while wringing her hands with glee 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Chris, and thanks for leaving such an awesome comment! My hope for these posts, other than sharing some wicked true stories, is that they will inspire people to tell their own. So I’m glad I’ve awakened your muse!

      There’s a lot of potential for an amazing story here. Something about people vanishing strikes a chord of terror in all of us – perhaps because we can imagine it happening to us.

      Reply
  4. I don’t know this story but it’s strange indeed. Maybe there was a storm/cyclone and they were tossed into the sea?

    Reply
    • JH

      It is strange, Susan. If they were thrown out to sea, though, I expect at least some remains would have washed up on shore eventually. 110 people are a significant group to just vanish.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  5. I remember learning about this waaaaay back when I was in elementary school, and it’s frightened me and intrigued me ever since.

    I could actually believe the initial ten men disappearing – maybe they decided to call it quits, go off somewhere else, etc. but whole families? Women and children? Imagine what John White and the others on his ship must’ve felt upon their return – surprise, confusion, grief, terror….

    Reply
    • JH

      I can’t even imagine, Madeline. That must have been the most terrifying, heart-wrenching experience. Think of when he was in England, delayed by the war with the Spanish. It must have been so frustrating to not be able to return for so long.

      I’m sure that in some ways he blamed himself.

      Reply
  6. I like reading this mystery. It’s interesting. There was an episode of a TV show I watched that talked about it and investigated.

    Reply
    • JH

      Anything interesting come of it, Patricia? The History Channel article was interesting, but I’m not sure if they did a show on it or not.

      Reply
  7. I live near the OBX and so I’ve grown up hearing about this. Know one really know, but most of us assume that assimilation into the native tribe was probably it. Even with that as answer it does still leave many questions as to why there were no traces of them among the natives and so on.

    Reply
    • JH

      Exactly…or why they weren’t at Croaton when John White went looking for them. Have you ever been to the actual site, Toi?

      Reply
  8. I remember reading about this when I was a kid. Initially the native Indians were friendly and , since the new people had no idea what to look for in the way of food etc… I could see them take up with the Indians and slowly integrate with them. They would take some of the important items but leave the rest. 4 years is a long time to survive in a new land

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree Birgit – it seems the most likely explanation. I still don’t why they weren’t at the Indian settlement when John White came looking for them, though.

      Reply
  9. 8 million children worldwide? That is a horrifying statistic. The first time I heard of Croaton was while watching Storm of the Century. So this must be the story that inspired Stephen King.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oooh…I haven’t seen that one, Chrys. I’ll have to check it out.

      So can I say great minds think alike? 😉

      Reply
  10. I agree with Mary. The blond, blue-eyed children lead me to believe the colonists were killed by the Croatan Indians. And if that tribe indulged in cannibalism that would explain the lack of bodies.

    The 8 million missing children worldwide might sadly be the result of the many child sex rings operating worldwide. Sigh. No need to look under the bed for monsters — just look in the mirror. 🙁

    Reply
    • JH

      True enough, Roland. These are some ugly, ugly times. But I’m sure the same has been said by someone at every point in human history.

      I always thought the blond Indians with grey eyes meant the settlers had…um, *cough*…RELATIONS with the native tribe, not that they were slaughtered.

      Reply
  11. I was researching this not long ago for the “L” in my A to Z Challenge next year. (Yes, I’ve already mapped out all my topics!) I had never heard of it before about two weeks ago!

    Reply
    • JH

      Are you doing spooky things for the month too?

      Reply
    • JH

      Wow, that is beautiful! I had no idea someone wrote a poem about it. Thanks so much for sharing, Emma, and welcome to my blog. 🙂

      Reply
  12. I love this creepy story. What could possibly have happened to them?? I think Crouch did a pretty good job with the same theme in Abandon, and I’ve always loved Koontz’s take on it in Phantoms. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      I think I read Phantoms a million years ago, but damned if I can remember it!

      Reply
  13. Sadly, I did not get a good view of the sign before it was taken down and relpaced with Progressive Field Ugh. I think Peter B Lewis simply wants progressive to be associated with a winner in 2008.

    Reply
  14. if the settlers went to live with the indians, most probably men were killed and canibalized and woman became captives. There are many stories of women captured by indians that assimilate so well they don t want to return, or they feel ashamed of their lost honor that they don’t want to return to ¨civilazation¨.Anyway its still a mystery that nobody found any evidence, that everyone just vanished.

    Reply

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