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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Lost Colony - what really happened

Posted August 19, 2010 11:38 a.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2010 11:39 a.m. EDT

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.