“We found the houses taken down and the place very strongly enclosed with a high palisade of great trees, with curtains and flankers very fortlike, and one of the chief trees or posts at the right side of the entrance had the bark taken off, and five feet from the ground in fair capital letters was graven CROATAN, without any cross or sign of distress. We entered the palisade, where we found many bars of iron, two pigs of lead, four fowlers, iron sacker-shot and such like heavy things, thrown here and there, almost overgrown with grass and weeds.” -- John White, Second Voyage, 1590.
White's report was bolstered by two observations following the settlement of Jamestown. In 1608, Captain John Smith reported in A True Relation that an Indian informant... “What he knew of the dominions he spared not to acquaint me with, as of certain men cloathed at a place called Ocanahonan, cloathed like me.”
Four years later, William Strachey, secretary of the colony, gave credence to a rumor heard from an Indian named Machumps (described by Smith as “one of the two most exact villains in the country:”)
“At Peccarecamek and Ochanahonen, the people have howses built with stone walls, and one story above another, so taught them by those Englishe who escaped the slaughter at Roanoak...and where the people breed up tame turkeis about their houses, and take apes in the mountaines, and, at Ritanoe, the Weroance Eyanoco preserved seven of the English alive – fower men, two boyes and one young mayde (who escaped and fled up the river of Chanoke,) to beat his copper, of which he hath certain mines.”
Smith and Strachey averred that Chief Powhatan had been responsible for the slaughter of the main body of settlers, Smith saying that Powhatan told him as much during his capture. Had the English truly believed this report, it's unlikely that Powhatan would've escaped with his own life, given that on an earlier occasion the theft of a small silver cup was enough cause for burning a thief's village to the ground.
The belief in captive survivors persisted, the “young mayde” beating copper for her captors seen by some as the legendary “Virginia Dare.”
Eighteenth century historian John Lawson laid the foundation for a genetic trail with his note on a group of Hatteras Indians who “tell us that several of their Ancestors were white People, and could talk in a book as we do; the truth of which is confirmed by gray Eyes being found frequently amongst these Indians and no others.”
Another genetic pointer led inland to what is now Robeson County in North Carolina, where the Lumbee Indians claim descendancy from the Croatans and the English colony. – A DNA project is currently underway to investigate this blood line among descendants of these indigenous people.
2. Did the Roanoke Colony fall to the ships of the guarda costas operating out of St. Augustine, Florida? Over two decades preceding the Roanoke settlements, Spanish expeditions had wiped out French Huguenot bridgeheads in Florida and South Carolina:
At Fort Caroline on the St. John's River in 1564, 132 Frenchmen were hanged, their women and children spared; at Matanzas, another 350 “Protestants” were summarily executed.
As late as 1580, Spaniards were hunting down French interlopers around Port Royal, forty of these “corsairs” living with Indian tribes in the interior. Five years later, the first English contingent arrived at Roanoke. Like the French, Raleigh and his assistants had their eyes on a haven for operations against Spain's treasure galleons.
On June 6, 1586, Francis Drake attacked St. Augustine with a fleet of 23 large and 19 small ships and 2,000 men, who looted the town for seven days before torching it. Reoccupying St. Augustine in August and reinforced by soldiers from Havana, the Spaniards prepared an attack against Roanoke the following June unaware that Drake had taken the first group of colonists back to England.
A month after the abortive raid, the second Roanoke colony was established, only to be left to its own devices for three years during the sea war between England and Spain that climaxed with the Armada. No evidence has been found in Spain or Portugal that could confirm an attack against Roanoke – Colonial records of Portugal, then under the Spanish Crown, were destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 – Given the extermination of French interlopers and the destruction of St. Augustine by Drake, the idea that the Roanoke colony was targeted by Governor Guiterrez de Miranda of Florida is not far-fetched. Miranda had been alcalde of the town of Santa Elena and commander of Fort Marcos (Parris Island,) where the French had originally established Port Royal.
3. The fate of the first French colonists at Port Royal suggests another plausible scenario for the “lost colony.”
In 1562, mutiny and starvation drove the twenty-five men and boys at Port Royal to build a twenty-ton sloop in which they crossed the wintry Atlantic, a harrowing voyage in which they resorted to cannibalism to survive. They were picked up by an English ship in sight of the European coast.
The Roanoke settlers may have been driven by similar desperation to attempt a voyage back home only to be lost forever in the depths of the ocean.
John White never got another chance to return to America and died in Ireland three years after his 1590 voyage... “thus committing the relief of my discomfortable company the planters in Virginia, to the merciful help of the Almighty, whom I most humbly beseech to helpe and comfort them, according to his most holy will.” (Letter to Richard Hakluyt, 4 February, 1593)