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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Was the Lost Colony really lost? Part 2

While there is no archaeological proof that Virginia Dare was born on Roanoke it is accepted as a fact and is on the welcome sign as you enter the town of Manteo.  The only evidence for this event is John White’s account, which is very credible and almost certainly true.  The same man said the colony went to Croatoan yet that is not accepted without more proof, funny how that works isn’t it.
In the last issue, we discussed the relationships the English had with different tribes in our area prior to the arrival of the 1587 “lost” colony.  The English mainly interacted with two tribes: the Croatoan and the Secotan.  The Croatoan were the first people the English met in the New World and they always got along.  We know Manteo was from Croatoan and that the English had lived on Croatoan (Hatteras) in 1584 and 1585.  We also know that in 1587 the “lost” colony sought help from the Croatoan after the Secotan (mainland Dare County) attacked them.  The Secotan and the English took turns killing each other throughout 1585 and the Secotan had killed Englishmen in 1586 and 1587. The Croatoan and Secotan were also enemies.  This historical context is important to understand. When John White sees the word CROATOAN carved on a palisade to indicate the colony had relocated there it was a well-known place and people and did not surprise White in the least that they had gone there given the situation they were in and the relationships they had with the surrounding tribes.
Sadly, White was unable to get to Croatoan after seeing the message, thanks to a storm and his loss of influence over the crew after the death of Captain Spicer.  We know the oral history as recorded in 1701 (long before it was cool) stated the colony assimilated with the Croatoan.  Also in 1609 Jamestown colonist John Smith asked about the colony and was told by Opechancanough (Powhatan’s brother and future Chief) that the colony was at a place called Ohnaconan, which means great turning of salt water and is simply the old name of Diamond Shoals in Buxton on Hatteras Island ie Croatoan.
Yet no one in Jamestown really looked for the colony.  They were too busy starving to death themselves and probably assumed the colony with no resupply had perished.  Remember the Jamestown colony had help from Indians too and still nearly all died even with constant resupply.  So this explains why they did not look too hard for the colony. Instead, they assumed they must have died. The colony was more abandoned than lost. They gave a clear indication where they went and no one looked.
Well we finally looked at Croatoan, the stated destination of the colony and what we have found is much bigger than figuring out where the colony went (something pretty much already known) what we found was the lasting impact of the colony was greater than anyone expected.
The Croatoan themselves changed.  They stopped using bow and arrow and started to use guns.  The arrowheads cease and are replaced by lead-shot. The architecture of the longhouses changes from saplings to square beams.  The diet changes from mostly fish and turtles with some deer and birds to nearly double the amount of deer and birds once guns are introduced.  Even the tobacco culture changes from ceremonial usage to a daily habit.  The pipes change, the diet changes even the clothes.  We have found sewing needles, buttons, belt buckles and brooches to go along with gun barrels and thousands of lead shot balls. We even found a 16th-century rapier handle (a fancy sword).  Perhaps the coolest discovery is that of a 16h century writing slate and lead pencil proving what Lawson found to be true when he wrote that the tribe had ancestors who could “speak out of a book”.  I personally love seeing how English artifacts are repurposed.  For example, we have a glass arrowhead and a gun barrel that was later used as a tree tapper to get sap.
While some Elizabethan material is found in a 16th-century context much of it is found later in the early 1600s.  This makes perfect sense because these items being so useful and irreplaceable would not have been thrown away for at least a couple decades. So some 16th-century artifacts have also been found in layers from the early and even mid-1600s.  Because of this, some will argue it came from Jamestown and that the Jamestown guys brought over old tools and weapons from the 1500s and then traded them to Indians and they ended up in Hatteras.  Yet Jamestown itself has less 16th century English material found in it than Hatteras Island and the Hatteras digs have covered less than a 100th of the area as the Jamestown digs.
There will always be doubters and those who simply cannot accept the fate of the colony no matter how much evidence is shown.  Take for example the patch found on a John White map that covers up what looks like a fort on the mainland.  Think about that for a second, a John White map, John White the man who created it said the colony went to Croatoan.  Men from Jamestown also visited the Chowan Indians from the area of the patch and were told the colony was “beyond the isle of Roanoke” and the Virginia Indians added they were at a great turning of SALT water, Ohnaconan.  The Hatteras tribe themselves said the colony assimilated there and now 16th century English artifacts are being found there. For a normal person, this is enough evidence but ultimately people believe what they want.  I have heard it said Hatteras could not support all of the colonists.  This is nonsense and we have proven it.  The amount of food, not just fish and deer and other animals but plants, farming equipment and seeds that we have found put that myth to bed easily.
What is really sad is not that the colony was abandoned but that the Elizabeth model for settlement was abandoned.  The people who came in the 16th century wanted to trade with the Indians and live with them not conquer them and take their land.  Before the English ever came to the New World the idea was presented to Queen Elizabeth in a document that laid out all the reasons to go.  In it, they talked about doing the opposite of the Spanish and making friends and allies of the Natives and learning their language.  This is one reason Manteo and Wanchese were brought to England and the scientist Thomas Harriot was attached to the voyages to study the Natives and learn from them.
What became lost was not a colony but a model of settlement and over time the truth became lost.  We are working hard to bring that truth to the surface literally.  Dr. Horton and his colleagues have put thousands of hours into researching everything we find.  They have used an XRF machine to analyze all the copper and glass, they are breaking down the fish and animals by species and mapping out all the post holes of the longhouses we find.  It is an immense amount of work and will all be published soon.  The Croatoan Archaeological Society made it a goal to keep the artifacts on the island and display them for free to the public and we have done so.  The thank you list would be longer than this article as so many on the island have helped as well as from England, Ireland, Norway California, Michigan and even China.
Our digs are an international effort of professionals from a multitude of disciplines.  It is amazing what this has grown into.  When we began I was hoping to salvage some Croatoan artifacts before they were destroyed by development or by floods.  It has blossomed into an international dig and we have very likely found the colony or what is left of them. If you want to be a part of making history by saving history go to cashatteras.com and make a donation.  It goes to a worthy cause and is much appreciated.   


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