Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Lost Colony - what really happened

Posted August 19, 2010

Thank you for your theories on the mystery of the Lost Colony this week. It’s truly a captivating story. Last night I shared the stage with someone who knows as much about Carolina coastal history as anyone. Kevin Duffus and I were part of an author’s program in Apex at the Eva Perry Library. After I spoke about my book Blue Ridge Reunion, Kevin talked about his groundbreaking research into the final days of Blackbeard and the disappearance of a Cape Hatteras Lighthouse lens. Ever since he was a kid Kevin has been fascinated by pirates, war and shipwrecks along our coast. He is a brilliant and tireless researcher and a wonderful storyteller. Check out his web site if you’re interested. He has a batch of great books and documentaries.

I asked Kevin about his thoughts on the Lost Colony and I thought you would be interested in what he had to say:

I have read most of the original sources, including everything that John White wrote, but I've not done as much research as anthropologist Lee Miller, author of Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony (Arcade, 2001). Miller's theory (to which I wholeheartedly subscribe) is that the Roanoke colony was intentionally betrayed and sabotaged by the queen's secretary of state and Walter Raleigh's political adversary, Sir Francis Walsingham, who secretly arranged for the expedition's pilot, Simon Fernandez, to prevent the colony from reaching their intended destination, the lower Chesapeake. Fernandez forced them to land at Roanoke, a place previously determined to be unsuitable for a permanent colony, mostly due to a lack of a deep water harbor. Where did the colony go from there? John White wrote that they were going to move "fifty miles into the main[land]," which is nearly exactly the distance to the Algonquian village of Weapemeoc near the mouth of the Chowan River. Jamestown search parties later came close to locating the Lost Colonists. And the theory that Chief Powhatan had the colonists murdered is not supported by the writings of Jamestown's John Smith. Miller believes that some of the 116 colonists were eventually captured by other tribes and traded as slaves, eventually being disseminated through the Great Trading Path, a fact that English authorities were keen to keep secret for public relations purposes (it would have been hard to recruit new colonists had it been known). It is likely that a few men had been left at Roanoke Island in hopes that John White would return, and it is these men who may have relocated to Croatoan (Cape Hatteras), which would have provided a better vantage point for observing ships arriving from England. This theory seems to be the most plausible explanation and best adheres to the primary sources.


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  • TheDude abides... Aug 20, 2010

    thelostlight- you're right, but I believe they were Spanish or Portuguese shipwrecks. Fair-skined sailors from the Iberian Peninsula? Seems like an even longer shot.

    Ever heard of the "Melungeon" of West Tenn? The "Louisiana Redbones"? "Atlantic Creoles"? "Haliwa Saponi"? "Lumbee"?

    Regardless of their current location, most can trace their ancestors back to the "light-skinned Indians" of coastal NC,SC,and VA. Even the LA Redbones who live on the Gulf Coast can be traced back to NC...not Gulf shipwrecks.

    We'll probably never know for sure, but legends of whites in the interior of the state are as old a the Native tribes themselves.

    Personally, I like the Stephen King story, "Storm of the Century". Great fictional reference to the Lost Colony!

  • thelostlight Aug 20, 2010

    As for the possibility that members of the Lost Colony were responsible for "blue-eyed" American Indians in southeastern NC, or the "gray-eyed" Indians of Cape Hatteras referenced by John Lawson, they could have been just as likely the offspring of shipwreck survivors who arrived decades before the Raleigh colony. Manteo's tribe had described two "Christian" ships having wrecked in the area of Wococon (Ocracoke) in 1559 and 1564. Iron fittings from second wreck were reported to have been salvaged by the Banks inhabitants, beginning the long tradition of salvaging shipwrecks on the Outer Banks.

  • thefensk Aug 20, 2010

    It is still in the range of no one knows. But this is as good an educated guess as any. There are elements here of just about what everyone said. Like I said, most likely there is no single answer and there would probably be several storylines if groups of the colonists split up or were split up.

  • CowboysFan Aug 20, 2010

    better than what i was taught in school... " no one knows "

  • westoflyra Aug 19, 2010

    I was just at a family reunion in Manteo and visited the grounds where the Elizabeth II is docked. Great place to visit. There was a film about the Native Americans: Manteo, Wanchese, and Skyco and how their friendship nearly disintegrated over the English settlers. Manteo and Wanchese had gone back to England with the English and eventually returned. Manteo sided with the English, Wanchese was against the English, and Skyco became a mediator between the two.

  • bleslie Aug 19, 2010

    Good luck to you as well. My wallet has taken a work out this summer!

  • axepack Aug 19, 2010

    Sounds great Bill, looking forward to that interview! And good luck on that wedding, mine is in 3 weeks as well.

  • bleslie Aug 19, 2010

    Thanks axepack for asking about Matthew, my nomadic nephew. He is finished several weeks early on his cross country trip. He'll be in Raleigh for my daughter's wedding in 3 weeks and we will do an interview with him.

  • TheDude abides... Aug 19, 2010

    Conspiracy? Necessity is more likely. Enter Lumbees and Haliwa-Saponi.

    "Real" indians with blue eyes and blonde hair? Yeah, right. Keep on believing that govt bs. Cherokees dont even believe it!

  • CalvinCat Aug 19, 2010

    I always thought they went out looking for a Bojangles...




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