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Inside the Legend: Croatoan



“Croatoan. Roanoke, Lost Colony… ring a bell?”

In July of 1587, colonist George Howe is found dead. Howe was attacked by members of the neighboring Roanoke nation, whom Governor Lane had harassed in 1585. When describing the bloody scene, Governor John White commented that the Indians had “beat his head to pieces,” shot him with sixteen arrows, and assaulted him with clubs. This attack came as no real surprise to the governor, who was aware that the tactics of his predecessor might have generated a sense of injustice among neighboring Indian nations. Knowing of the peaceful nature of Coatoan people, the governor quickly dispatched representatives. The Croatoan (also referred to as Pamlico) were an Algonquian people who populated the islands on the outer banks of North Carolina—just south of Roanoke. “Roanoke was one of the first English colonies in America. Late 1500s.” The embassy succeeds in renewing “the old love that was between” the tribe and the colonists. White accompianied the Roanoke delegation and promised the Indians that the colonists had no intention of taking over Croatoan territory and did not represent a threat to their existence. Simply put, the governor wanted to let the people of Croatoan know that the colonists wished “to live with them as brethren and friends.”

Governor White left Roanoke in August of 1587, for England, in search of supplies and a possible relief effort should evacuation become a necessity. Before leaving his post, the governor instructed the colonists to leave him a sign should they feel the need to remove themselves from the region under any circumstance. He instructed them to place a cross on a tree as an indicator that they were in distress and their evacuation was necessary for their survival. This would give the governor some intimation as to the colony’s status and assist him in locating them. It would be the last message he would give, and the last time he would see the colonists.

In 1590, Governor White returned to Roanoke Island. There he found that all of the buildings were in disrepair or had been carefully dismantled. There was no sign of fighting. No sign that the colonists were abruptly carried away by natural or unnatural forces. There was no cross. Only 8 simple letters, C-R-O-A-T-O-A-N, that shall forever be a mystery to all who hear it. These letters were found carved into the post of a fort, and C-R-O carved into a nearby tree.

White took the letters to mean that the settlers had moved to Croatoan Island some 50 miles away. But, he was unable to search Croatoan Island because a hurricane hit the outer banks of North Carolina and blew his fleet to sea. After the storm abated, the fleet was low on provisions and decided to return to England. He made a second attempt months later, but that vessel was also turned back due to bad weather. No trace of the settlers was ever found.

In 1597, the English government officially declared the colony of Roanoke… lost.



“There were theories. Indian raid, disease, but nobody knows what really happened. They were all just gone. Wiped out over night.”

The principal theory is that they dispersed and were absorbed by either the local Croatan or Hatteras Indians, or still another Algonquian people. What is well known is that the descendants of the Croatoan tribe, the modern day Lumbee, began to appear some 50 years after the disappearance of the colony. Observers described these people as having European features and speaking English. The Lumbee have remained in North Carolina, even populating the same region as their Croatoan ancestors. It would not be that much of leap to conclude that the people of Croatoan were true to their word and accepted the embattled colonists into their nation. But, it has yet to be established if they did assimilate with one or other of the native populations.

When Captain John Smith and the Jamestown colonists settled in Virginia in 1607, one of their assigned tasks was to locate the Roanoke colonists. Native peoples told Captain Smith of people within fifty miles of Jamestown who dressed and lived as the English. Captain Smith was also told by Powhatan, weroance of the Powhatan Tribe, that he had wiped out the Roanoke colonists just prior to the arrival of the Jamestown settlers because they were living with the Chesapeake, a tribe that refused to join Powhatan's confederacy. Powhatan reportedly produced several English-made iron implements to back his claim.

Others speculate that the colonists simply gave up waiting, tried to return to England on their own, and perished in the attempt. Another claim suggests that, with the region in drought, the colony must have suffered a massive food shortage. And there are those who theorize that the Spanish destroyed the colony; this theory however is unlikely since the Spanish were still looking for the location of England's failed colony as late as 1600, ten years after White discovered that the colony was missing.



In 1998, "The Croatoan Project," an archaeological dig sponsored by East Carolina University, discovered the first material connection between Roanoke and the Croatan.

America's Lost Colony: Can New Dig Solve Mystery?

Search for America's Lost Colony


“I’ve been pouring through Dad’s journal, found something about the Roanoke Colony. Dad always had a theory about Croatoan. He thought it was a demon’s name. Sometimes know as daeva or reshef, the demon of plague and pestilence.”

Reshef is a demon that was first mentioned in the bible (Habukkuk 3:5) “Plague went before him; reshef followed his steps.” In most translations though reshef has come to be translated as ‘pestilence’ due to the parallelism to the line that comes before it.

Inside the Legend by Dean5339


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