History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e04 Episode Script

The Lost Colony of Roanoke

Tonight, one of America's
oldest mysteries.
They're gone.
The entire colony
is just gone.
A group of English settlers
vanish without a trace,
leaving behind
only cryptic clues.
The houses had been
dismantled, taken down
And the letters C-R-O
carved into a tree.
Now, we'll reveal
the top theories
behind their potential fate.
He admits that he had
a group of English colonists
killed many years ago.
They could've perished
on the small boat.
The colonists survive
and they're in Georgia,
taken in by natives.
Can advanced technology
finally provide answers?
Something was covered up here.
A small detail that may be
hiding a big secret.
What really happened
to the Lost Colony of Roanoke?
July 25th, 1587
just off the coast
of present-day North Carolina,
three ships
carrying English settlers
land on Roanoke Island.
About 115 men, women,
and children,
along with John White,
the governor,
arrived off the coast
of North Carolina.
Their goal was to create
the first permanent
English settlement
in the New World.
Two years earlier,
the English sent
a group of mostly soldiers
to try and colonize Roanoke.
But it ends in disaster.
With severe food shortages,
attacks from the hostile
Native American
population there,
many die, and they barely escape
just getting back to England.
Governor White is determined
to do better this time,
and he has more than
just his life on the line.
On this expedition was
John White's
very pregnant daughter Eleanor
and her husband Ananias Dare,
among other colonists
who are there who are
also ready to start
their families and settle
in the New World.
On August 18th, 1587,
Eleanor Dare gives birth
to her daughter, Virginia.
The first English child born
in North America.
there's no time to celebrate,
because the colony is
running dangerously low
on supplies.
You'd think they would've
learned from their last
expedition, but as they start
to take inventory,
they realize they're not
gonna have enough provisions
- to last through the winter.
- The plan had been:
start growing their own crops
and farming livestock,
but there's just
not enough time.
So, someone has to go
back to England
and secure more provisions.
On August 27th,
barely a week after
his granddaughter is born,
White volunteers to make
the transatlantic
crossing himself.
It was quite a journey,
took him two and a half months
to get back.
When they finally arrived
back on English soil,
it was November.
Governor White quickly loads
five ships with supplies.
They are pretty much
ready to sail.
But the problem with this is,
there is a stay of all shipping
commanded by Queen Elizabeth I,
because the Spanish Armada
are making
the most untimely arrival.
England is on the brink
of war with Spain.
That means that
Queen Elizabeth's hands
are tied and her money is
more focused on war efforts
than a failing colony.
White has no choice
but to stay in England
Meanwhile, at the colony,
they expect White
to return in six months,
and, of course,
they don't know
about the war news,
but you can imagine
their sinking feeling
as six months go by
and then a year
and then two years.
Ultimately, it takes White
three full years
to return to the coast
of North Carolina.
When he does,
it's August 18th, 1590,
the third birthday
of his granddaughter,
Virginia Dare.
But Governor White doesn't
return to his family.
He returns to a mystery.
They're gone.
The entire colony
is just gone.
At some point
in the previous three years,
everything and everyone
had just disappeared.
There's no evidence
that there was
any kind of battle,
there's no evidence
of bones or bodies
that might indicate
an altercation
between the colonists
and the indigenous people.
What's weird is that there's
basically nothing left behind,
and the town isn't
so much abandoned,
it's been dismantled.
All of the buildings have
been carefully taken apart.
The tools, the boats,
the provisions,
it's all been taken away.
The big mystery is
where did they all go?
White and a few men spend hours
searching the site.
They turn up only two clues.
Carved into a fencepost,
White and the English see
this word, "Croatoan."
And then carved into a tree,
three letters, C-R-O.
When White sees
the word "Croatoan,"
he was actually quite jubilant.
He knows exactly
where the colonists have gone.
The Croatoans are
a tribe located
just directly south of Roanoke.
John White assumes
this was a full-scale
relocation by the colonists
to live with the tribe.
Now, you might think,
based on those carvings,
that there's another option.
That the colonists were
attacked by the Croatoans.
But John White doesn't think so.
First of all,
there's the careful
dismantling of the town,
and you don't do that
if you're under attack,
and secondly,
White and the colonists have
a plan for what to do
if they are under attack.
Prior to leaving,
John White gave
explicit instructions
to the colony.
If they were in distress
or if they were in danger,
to carve a Maltese cross
on a tree.
But there's no Maltese cross.
White returns to his ships,
intending to sail south,
to Croatoan.
White has come with two boats,
the Moonlight and the Hopewell.
But the crews are very antsy,
and they don't wanna spend
any more time in this hostile
territory than they have to.
Imagine it
from their perspective.
These are people who'd signed up
on a resupply ship
to come over to a place
that they thought was
going to be safe.
These people had not been hired
to go in search
of Lost Colonists
who, as far as they knew,
might've been held captive,
might've been
in the midst of a war,
so they had much less enthusiasm
than John White.
At first, they're
willing to give White
another day or two.
They plan to head to Croatoan
the next morning, August 19th.
But they run into problems.
The Hopewell's
anchor cable breaks,
and there's no way
that they can risk
going out into
the treacherous waters
of the North Carolina
inner banks.
The waters are very shallow.
The ship could be shipwrecked
and cause an extreme danger
for the crew
and others on board the ship.
A desperate White
appeals to the crew
of the Moonlight.
The crew of the second ship,
the Moonlight,
are not willing
to risk their lives
in order to find
the Lost Colonists.
They don't have as much invested
in this as John White does.
Certainly he's thinking
of his family.
They're just thinking about
making it back to England safely
before the brutal
Atlantic winter sets in.
So the Moonlight goes
back to England,
but White is able to get
a small team to agree
to repair the Hopewell,
sail to the Caribbean
for the winter and then return
to North Carolina in the spring
to resume the search.
But it's as if
this guy was cursed.
After White and the crew
repair the Hopewell,
they set sail for the Caribbean,
but then a freak storm comes up,
they get blown way off course,
and they're forced
to return to England.
White attempts
to raise the funds
for another search
and rescue mission but fails.
One can imagine how devastated
John White must've felt.
He's so close
to finding his family.
He's only 40 miles away,
but he can't make it to them,
and after three years,
he passes away,
never to return,
and never to know the fate
of what happened to the colony.
News of the Lost Colony spreads
throughout Europe,
and while White is never able
to find out what happened,
ships begin to visit
the area again
some seven years
after his death.
other European ships
visit the outer banks
during the 1600s.
But once we reach the 1700s,
it's a pretty
heavily-traveled area.
And no one ever actually sees
the missing colonists.
But they do find evidence
that perhaps
they have blended in
with the local tribes,
just as White believed.
One expedition reports
Native tribespeople
with European features.
Fair complexions,
light-colored hair and eyes,
and some even claimed
to have European relatives.
Additional proof can be found
in architecture.
One expedition reports
a Native village
with timber houses built
in the English style.
It seems likely
that these tribes had
English settlers living
amongst them,
working together, inter-
marrying, having offspring.
Now, all of this is hearsay,
but it is potential evidence
that the Lost Colony moved in
with the Croatoans.
The Croatoan
Archaeological Society,
led by historian Scott Dawson,
has been excavating the area
since 2009.
So, the archaeologists
who have dug
on what is now
Hatteras Island have found
fascinating artifacts
that definitely are made
in the time
of the Lost Colonists.
They found the hilt
of a rapier that is
a kind of sword that was used
during Elizabethan times.
They found fragments
of pottery and dishes,
a copper ring, a brass gun,
and European coins.
But can we say
that's absolute proof
that the colonists moved in
with the local
indigenous people?
Genealogist Roberta Estes
thinks it's possible
and is using
cutting-edge technology
to try and prove it.
What she's doing is tracing
Y-chromosome DNA,
analyzing people
in the area of Hatteras Island
who may have mixed
Native / European ancestry.
And who share surnames
with the Roanoke colonists.
Estes has turned up a number
of intriguing candidates.
These people may just have
the right background
to be descended
from the Lost Colony,
living proof that
the colonists survived
and mixed with the Croatoans.
But the problem with this is
that an absolute match would
have to identify
a matching family
back in England.
If Estes can find a match
a confirmed descendant
of a Lost Colonist
and a Croatoan native,
that'll be it.
It won't be
the Lost Colony anymore.
But for now
it remains just a theory.
When 115 colonists go missing
from Roanoke Island in 1590,
the English are eager
to re-establish
a presence in the New World,
but it takes them
nearly 20 years to try again.
In 1607,
England finally manages
to establish a settlement
on the James River
in Virginia.
They call it Jamestown.
Like its predecessor,
Jamestown is also plagued
by misfortune.
The English can't seem
to catch a break.
Once again, they don't have
enough to eat early on.
They arrive too late in the year
to plant crops.
The English are starving.
Food shortages get worse
and worse and worse.
The English resort
to some fairly
terrible behavior.
First they slaughter
and kill their own animals.
This is not a very good
strategy for long term,
since they need
those animals to survive.
And when those run out,
they turn to eating
rats, mice, and snakes.
Then they boil and eat
their shoe leather
for sustenance.
There is even some evidence
they may have resorted
to cannibalism to survive.
Within three years,
only 60 of the original
214 Jamestown settlers
are still alive,
including a well-known figure
in American history,
Captain John Smith.
John Smith was
such a fascinating guy.
He served as a mercenary,
he was captured by the Turks,
sold into slavery,
and then eventually
made his way to England
by way of Russia.
Then he ends up in the New World
and becomes the leader
of the new colony at Jamestown.
He is the first English explorer
to map the Chesapeake Bay.
He then explores
the coast of New England
and gives the region its name.
His books and maps aid
English colonization efforts
for decades to come.
While he's struggling
to keep his colony afloat
in Virginia, he's also got
a burning curiosity
to solve the mystery
of the Roanoke colonists.
And it doesn't hurt
that England's King James has
issued an order to launch
an investigation.
Smith works with the Jamestown
colony's secretary,
William Strachey.
In his journals, we can see
William Strachey's research
into the case.
Operating on the assumption
that Native American tribes
might be the only people left
who know what happened,
Strachey dives deep
into a nearby
local indigenous population
called the Powhatan.
The Powhatan are led by a man
named Wahunsenacawh,
more commonly known
as Chief Powhatan.
Chief Powhatan has
a love-hate relationship
with the English.
On one hand,
he views them as a threat
to his people
and their way of life.
But he also thinks
the English would be
useful allies
in the ongoing conflict
between himself
and the other tribes.
Today, Chief Powhatan is
best remembered
as the father of Pocahontas.
As the legend goes,
Powhatan's men
capture John Smith
and order him put to death.
But the quite
extraordinary thing
about Pocahontas was
she does seem to have been
quite smitten with John Smith,
and she actually pleads
with Powhatan
to spare his life.
And so consequently he did.
But Chief Powhatan may not have
always been so lenient.
Because, according to Smith
and Strachey's investigation,
he might be responsible
for the destruction
of the Roanoke colony.
Chief Powhatan speaks
to William Strachey,
and he admits that he had
a group of English
colonists killed
many years ago.
According to him,
instead of migrating south
to live with the Croatoan,
the Roanoke colonists
head north,
and they stay
with a different tribe
called the Chesapeake.
The Chesapeake are rivals
with the Powhatan,
because they refuse
to bend the knee
to Chief Powhatan's authority
and join the Confederation.
So, when he gets word
that the colonists
are possibly allying
with the Chesapeake,
he claims that this fulfills
a prophecy he's received.
He's been warned that
a great nation from the East
is coming to overthrow
his empire.
Unless he kills them first.
So that's exactly what he does.
After John Smith hears
Chief Powhatan's confession,
he digs deeper.
Smith asks Chief Powhatan
to prove his bold claim,
to essentially,
"Show me where the bodies are."
But Chief Powhatan can't.
Powhatan couldn't show him
where the bodies were.
But what he did do is
show him items
from previous colonies.
And he showed them
a mortar and pestle,
and a couple of other objects,
but again, these could
not be confirmed
as coming directly
from the Lost Colony.
But when Smith sends back
his report to King James,
the evidence is enough
to convince him
that this is what happened,
and if that's
what the king believes,
then case closed, right?
The Powhatan theory becomes
the official version of events
for the next 200-plus years,
but today's historians
question its accuracy.
Some argue that the settlers
that Chief Powhatan
boasts of killing aren't
the Roanoke colonists at all.
Instead, he's referring
to a different set of people,
and the confusion happens
because of the language barrier.
Smith was specifically
talking about the colony
of the 115
the last Roanoke colony
that was established.
But Powhatan could've
easily been talking about
the previous colonies
that had come
a couple of years earlier.
Remember, there was
a 1584 expedition too.
Just male soldiers, 15 of whom
were left behind
when that expedition failed,
and that might be
who Powhatan killed.
It's certainly true that
a lot of blood was spilled
in this particular chapter
of history,
both Native American
and English.
But despite
Chief Powhatan's account,
we still can't prove
that any of it belonged
to the Roanoke colonists.
North Carolina's
island-dotted coast
is now an idyllic
and popular tourist destination.
But 400 years ago,
it was largely inhospitable,
as Roanoke's colonists discover.
When John White leaves in 1587,
conditions among
the colony were dire.
Food was limited,
and the farming was
not taking hold
as they had hoped.
There was a famine going on.
There was clearly a great deal
of bad weather, and they're
struggling with skirmishes
with Native American Indians.
We know they're not there
when White returns
three years later.
So pretty much every theory
about what happened to them
starts with a relocation;
they have to go somewhere else.
But Roanoke is an island.
So, if they want to flee,
they'll have to cross
a body of water.
Luckily, while they don't have
enough food to eat,
they do have a boat.
The colonists originally arrive
with three ships.
One returns to England
One is taken by John White,
and one still remains.
The boat they have left is
called a pinnace,
which is a small, nimble,
flat-bottomed boat,
mostly used for short trips
and errands.
You use it
when your main vessel is
too cumbersome,
or the water's too shallow.
When White finally
arrives in 1590,
in addition to finding
the community dismantled,
the pinnace is gone.
He presumably would've thought
the colonists had gotten on it
and went somewhere.
Where, he wouldn't've known.
The point of them
having this boat is
for fishing or island-hopping.
Foraging or small-scale
It's not meant to be
a long-haul ship.
But in a dire emergency,
with no other options,
this has to be their Plan A.
It's either get on the boat,
or die.
And this is where the theorists
really start speculating,
about where they may have gone
on this small boat,
but this fails
to take into account
one other possibility,
that I think is
definitely an option,
that they could've perished on
this small boat.
This is very noteworthy.
So far, throughout
history, really,
all 400-plus years,
searching for the Lost Colonists
has been largely
limited to land.
But I think it's just as likely
that the answers are
in the water.
Unfortunately, this theory makes
finding evidence
almost impossible.
First of all,
you're not gonna see
any trace of what happened,
unless somebody's
randomly diving
or scanning the bottom
of some body of water,
and lucks into
a one-in-a-billion discovery.
It's complicated
to even know where to begin
to look for wreckage
for the colonists.
We don't know
where they left from.
We don't know
how far they sailed out.
We don't even know
where they're going.
If the colonists had decided
that it was time
to sail somewhere,
the most logical place
to go would be
to sail back to England.
They could've taken a short trip
to some other spot
in the New World,
but the New World isn't
working out for them,
so they valiantly try
to go home.
Think about it.
You are stranded with no food
and no hope in a violent,
strange new land.
What do you do?
You try to make it back home,
to a place you're familiar with.
Even if it means risking death.
They had survived
the crossing one way.
Maybe they had what it took
to make it the other way.
Another European colony also
famously made the voyage home,
against even worse odds.
The Roanoke colonists
might've been aware
of a very well-known story
published in Europe
25 years prior.
There was a group
of marooned French colonists
that shares many similarities
to the Roanoke adventure.
It's the kind of story
that would've gone viral today,
but even back then, it managed
to spread far and wide.
In 1562, the French set out
to establish
the Charlesfort settlement,
in what would become
South Carolina,
but by the following year,
these colonists also
run out of supplies.
Their leader,
Admiral Jean Ribault,
sails home for more provisions,
leaving two dozen people behind.
upon returning to Europe,
Ribault is
unexpectedly detained,
leaving the settlers
to fend for themselves
in a strange land.
Just like Roanoke.
But unlike Roanoke,
this colony has
a much bigger obstacle.
These French settlers don't
have access to a boat.
So, in 1563,
the Frenchmen build
their own boat.
And against all odds,
logic, and reason,
they make it back to Europe.
Just barely,
but they do make it.
The colonists are
probably thinking,
"If the French can make it
on a boat they built themselves,
then surely we can make it with
a boat that we have on hand."
But the problem may lie
in their numbers.
The population of the colony
starts off
with just over 100 people.
And because
the pinnace was so small,
it's unlikely
that all the colonists
were onboard that ship.
But depending
on when the colonists flee,
some months have passed
without supplies.
Between starvation, disease,
and native attacks,
there may be far less
than 100 survivors
to board the boat.
Capacity might not have
been an issue.
But stability is.
For any crew crossing
the Atlantic,
it was challenging at best.
These colonists didn't
have instruments,
they were facing rough waters,
and they also were facing
challenging weather.
In addition to that,
this is not a seafaring boat,
this is a shoreline boat,
and with rough seas
and the complications
of the water surrounding
the outer banks,
it would've proved to be
very difficult and very hard.
If they made it back,
surely they would've
returned to their families.
There would've been
some evidence,
but there's nothing to say
that they made it home.
Could the remains
of the Lost Colony be
buried underwater?
So far, no such shipwreck
has been found.
But some researchers
remain optimistic.
To date, scientists have
only been able
to explore about 35%
of the U.S. coastal sea floor.
So there's a lot to go.
Maybe someday,
with advances in technology,
we'll find the remains
of the Lost Colonists
who make it off the island
but don't survive
the journey home.
For centuries the search for the
lost colony of Roanoke
turns up nothing
but tantalizing clues
and dead ends.
Then, in the late 1930s,
a treasure trove
of new evidence is unearthed,
and, if authentic,
it could rewrite history.
By the 20th century,
the leading theories
as to what happened
to the colonists were that,
number one, they joined
with the Croatoans to the south,
and number two, they had
gone north to the Chesapeake,
where they were murdered
by Powhatan's people.
Another possibility is
quite simple.
That they tried
to sail back to England.
There is just
so little evidence.
There's almost nothing
that has survived,
and we haven't even located
the site of the colony.
Roanoke Island is
about the size of Manhattan,
and we don't even know
where they lived on that island.
The primary surviving
written source
for the bulk of the information
that we have on the colony
is from John White's diary,
and, of course, he wasn't there
for the disappearance.
But in 1937,
a new written account is found,
and it's a bombshell.
November of 1937,
near Edenton, North Carolina,
about 60 miles
west of Roanoke Island,
a man named Louis Hammond
is hunting for hickory nuts
along the Chowan River,
when he finds a large rock
that's covered
in strange inscriptions
that appear to be Old English.
Hammond brings the rock
to Emory University
in Atlanta
to have a history professor
named Haywood J. Pearce
help him decipher what it says.
Pearce takes one look,
and he can't believe his eyes.
The carved stone purports
to be a message
from Eleanor Dare,
John White's daughter.
On one side of the stone,
Dare reports the sad fate
of her husband,
Ananias Dare,
and their four-year-old
daughter, Virginia.
They apparently both die
in the year 1591.
Below that, Dare instructs
whoever finds the stone
to bring it to Governor White.
She wants her father to know
what happened to her family,
and making the stone carving
is the best way she knows
how to do that.
On the reverse side,
there's an even longer message.
Eleanor describes
the initial departure
from Roanoke
and the route
they've taken so far.
They travel west,
about 50 miles,
and end up close to the spot
where the stone is found.
Next, she writes that,
after a miserable period
of illness,
starvation, and violent attacks
from local tribes,
the population of the colony,
which starts off
with just over 100 people,
dwindles down
to just seven souls.
I've looked at this stone
in great detail.
It makes for a great story,
it makes for
a very plausible story.
The problem is,
is there's no record
of where they went.
But she does provide
a hint of a clue.
After the seven colonists bury
the remains of their peers,
Dare writes that
she's inscribed their names
on a grave marker somewhere,
along with further details
of recent events.
In other words, there may be
a second hand-carved message
with more answers.
After reviewing it,
Haywood J. Pearce,
the history professor,
knows exactly
how important this rock is,
so he buys it from Louis Hammond
and launches
this obsessive search
for the second stone.
Pearce believes finding
the second stone
will authenticate
the first stone,
effectively solving
the Roanoke mystery
and earning himself
a permanent spot
in the history books as well.
Professor Pearce offers
a $500 reward
to anyone who can find
the second Dare stone.
By today's inflation,
that's $10,000.
During that time,
the country was still
in the Great Depression,
so we know the hunt was on.
Soon enough,
Pearce's plan works.
The next stone is found
by Bill Eberhardt,
a backwoodsman
from northern Georgia.
He brings a 21-pound rock
to Emory University
that he claim he found
in South Carolina.
Sure enough, it has
the names of the dead
that Eleanor Dare mentioned
that she carved into it.
But Eberhardt's find
doesn't end there.
In total,
within less than a year,
Eberhardt finds
several dozen more stones.
Taken together, they finally
paint a clear picture
of what happened
to the Roanoke survivors.
It's an incredible tale.
They eventually make it
to safety,
after a 500-mile journey
to Georgia.
Together, this evidence
has become known
as the Dare Stones.
According to the Dare Stones,
the colonists survive
and they're in Georgia,
taken in by natives, and
Eleanor's husband passes away.
Eventually Eleanor Dare
is married
to a Native American man
in 1593.
Together, they have
a daughter named Agnes,
and Eleanor dies in 1599.
After Eleanor's death,
Griffen Jones
and Agnes Dare
leave behind obituaries
for the other survivors
as they die off,
but nobody knows what happens
to Agnes or Griffin.
And it's easy to say
Professor Pearce was
very excited
about these findings.
He hosts a scientific conference
in October of 1940,
inviting 34 academic experts
to examine the stones.
A panel of these experts
issues a press release
the stone's authenticity.
Pearce submits an article
of his findings
to the Saturday Evening Post.
When the article comes out
on April 26th, 1941,
it's quite shocking,
but not for the reason
Pearce expected, because,
according to the article,
the fact-checkers find all kinds
of problems with the story.
The Dare Stones are a hoax.
After examining the stones,
a linguist finds several flaws.
They used words which were
not in the English language
at the time, like "trail"
and "reconnoiter."
One of these stones even
purports to list
names of people,
but those names don't appear
on the ship's manifest.
They seem to be
just fabrications.
Then there's the handwriting.
The 47 stones found by Eberhardt
don't match the handwriting
on the initial stone
found by Hammond.
And they're carved
into a different kind of rock.
It doesn't make
a whole lot of sense.
The timing of the 1937 find
is also suspicious.
In 1937,
it's the 350-year anniversary
of the Lost Colony.
There's a lot of fanfare
built up around this anniversary
and the celebration.
It's also an interesting time
because the country
is in the middle
of the Great Depression,
so it's a wonderful way
to lift the spirits
- of the population.
- In modern terms,
Roanoke could be described
as having a moment.
So, if somebody were
trying to make money
off some bogus artifacts,
this would be the time.
Is it possible that
Eberhardt faked the Dare Stones?
This never occurs
to Haywood Pearce.
Eberhardt to him is
just some manual laborer
with a third-grade education.
There's no way he could produce
such authentic forgeries.
Come to find out,
Eberhardt has a history
of forging and selling
fake Native American artifacts.
While the 47 Dare Stones
forged by Eberhardt
have been officially
declared fraudulent,
some still believe
the original is genuine.
There's still a chance
that the original stone
brought in by Louis Hammond
could be the 400-year-old work
of Eleanor Dare.
Then again, Hammond may have
just been looking
to make a quick buck
and earn 15 minutes of fame
through a scam of his own,
which Eberhardt then took
to an extreme.
Either way, apart from
the Dare Stones themselves,
there's no evidence
that the Lost Colonists
ever ended up in Georgia.
Across four centuries the
of Governor John White are
the only clue
as to the final destination
of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.
John White leaves behind
a journal that's very extensive,
but just like the rest of us,
he's in the dark
about what happened to
the colonists after they leave.
Although he was governor
of the colony,
he was first and foremost
a painter by trade,
and it's because of his drawings
and his incredible paintings
that he produced
during his time
on Roanoke Island,
that we know a great deal about
what life was like amongst
the Native American
Indian population.
White also leaves behind
one other potential piece
of evidence.
A hand-drawn map.
The Virginea Pars map is
arguably the finest piece
of 16th-century
North American cartography
there is.
There were three expeditions
to Roanoke.
White made this map
during the 1585-6
Sir Walter Raleigh expedition
a few years
before the Lost Colonists.
The map shows Roanoke Island,
the colonists' eventual
landing spot
and its surrounding areas
in great detail.
It's incredibly accurate.
You can still look
at that map today,
over 400 years later,
and define
all of the key estuaries,
the lakes, the islands,
it's a remarkable map.
In 2012, a research group
called the First Colony
examines White's map
for new clues.
The First Colony Foundation,
they don't even start
by actually looking
at the original.
They go over a high-quality
reproduction of the map,
and something jumps out at them.
A small detail that
may be hiding a big secret.
They see a faint brown shadow,
which seems to have
been overlooked.
This could just be
a topographical outline,
but the team thinks
it might instead be a patch.
Something was covered up here.
Maybe a spot where John White
accidentally spills
a blob of paint,
makes an error,
and it's just covered up
with a piece of parchment.
Or maybe it's something more.
There's only one way
to find out.
They notify the British Museum,
which takes the original copy
of the Virginea Pars map
and scans it
using advanced
imaging technology.
And sure enough,
under the patch is not
an errant paint blob
but what appears to be
a large X symbol.
On maps of the era,
an X is often used to mark
the location of a fort.
The question is, what does
this image of a fort mean?
Was it, in fact,
something that was built
on a previous expedition?
Or maybe it was an idea
that simply never
came to fruition.
- We don't know.
- But obviously John White
knows about it, and, in theory,
when he comes back
with his Roanoke colony,
as their governor,
he might've told
the colonists about the fort.
Could this be where they head
when things turn ugly
on Roanoke Island?
The X is about 50 miles
west of Roanoke inland,
along the Albemarle Sound.
This goes right along
with the passage
in John White's journal
where he instructs the colonists
to go west,
in case of an emergency.
Did the colonists follow
White's instructions?
A team is quickly sent
to excavate the area.
The dig site gets
one of the coolest names
you'll ever find in archaeology.
They call it Site X.
A reference
to the pop culture idea
of buried pirate treasure.
And it's not long
before Site X unveils
a treasure trove of new clues.
There are pottery shards
and pieces of weapons
dating back to the Tudor era,
the exact period
when this mystery begins.
English artifacts
from the period
of the Roanoke colonists
definitely exist at this site.
The problem is,
which English group
did these artifacts belong to?
They can't be dated
precisely enough to tell.
They could be
from the Lost Colony
or the Walter Raleigh expedition
or various other smaller teams
that have visited
the area before.
Archaeologists expand
their search
to a second location nearby.
They name it Site Y.
At Site Y,
there have also been finds
of European artifacts,
but, again, the trouble is
trying to tell
whether they belong
to the Lost Colonists
or to later English settlers.
They're not yet definitive.
We need more evidence.
The First Colony Foundation
continues their hunt
through annual digs,
led by historians,
scientists, and archaeologists.
And whatever they find is
fully analyzed
in a nearby laboratory.
They're confident they know
where the Lost Colony
of Roanoke ended up,
and it's right here.
Now they just have to prove it
with that one elusive artifact
that can establish the link.
We will know that we have
a location for the Lost Colony
when we find something
that is irrefutably
a personal effect
of one of the Lost Colonists.
It has to be a necklace
or a ring that might have
a name or note or something
that positively identifies it
as a Lost Colonist's.
But until we find more evidence,
more hard evidence,
we're essentially
looking for a needle
in a haystack.
A strange word
found in a strange place,
carved into a tree
near the abandoned
Roanoke colony in 1590.
But it may not be the only time
this word is tied to tragedy.
Believe it or not,
there's a theory out there
that the word
"Croatoan" turns up
in several desperate places
in history.
Not just with the Lost Colony.
Not by a long shot.
The theory speculates that,
when the colonists
carve that word,
it's not a simple message
of their whereabouts;
it's a cry of fear.
Because, in this case,
according to the theory,
Croatoan doesn't mean
the friendly native tribe
or the name of an island.
It refers to some kind of
supernatural force
that is out for blood.
John White assumes
that the carvings "Croatoan"
and "C-R-O" means
"we've gone 40 miles south
to live with
our indigenous friends."
He goes home devastated,
unable to find his daughter
or granddaughter,
but we can assume
that he has some degree of hope
that maybe they were
able to survive
and perhaps even thrive
with some help of the locals.
But John White might be
very troubled to learn
what allegedly unfolds
over the years,
because, according
to some reports,
the next time "Croatoan"
shows up in history,
it appears to be a dire warning.
The word seems
to resurface in 1849.
Shortly before his death,
the great author
Edgar Allan Poe goes missing.
He eventually shows up
in a state of total delirium,
and what happened to Poe
remains another great
historical mystery,
but something at that time
causes him incredible distress
that may have even
driven him mad
or may have contributed
to his death.
Allegedly, one of the last
coherent things he says
is the word "Croatoan."
There's another story
about the word
tied to an alleged incident
in 1888.
The old west outlaw Black Bart
is a notorious
stagecoach robber,
and he's eventually
brought to justice
and serves four years.
But before he gets out,
it's rumored that he carves
the word "Croatoan"
into the wall of his cell,
and after his release
in early 1888,
he's never seen
or heard from again.
Is this word somehow
killing people?
Making them disappear?
What's going on?
The parallels don't end there.
In 1921, a ship called
the Carroll A. Deering
crashes off the coast
of North Carolina.
The entire crew goes missing.
Not found dead.
Just totally missing.
The ship was found abandoned,
and the word "Croatoan"
was apparently
written in the logbook.
Ambrose Bierce is
a famous horror author
who disappears in 1913 or 1914,
on his way to Mexico.
But one rumor has it
that the last bed
he was known to have slept in
had the word "Croatoan"
carved into one of its posts.
And this is a doozy.
Amelia Earhart
famously disappears during
an ill-fated flight
over the Pacific Ocean
in 1937.
But the Croatoan theorists
believe that she leaves behind
a journal with the word
scribbled in it.
It's unclear how
or when this rumor started,
but it continues to be
widely reported.
could there be an ominous link
between these incidents?
In the mythology
of the colonists'
Native American neighbors,
"Croatoan" is the name
of a vengeful spirit
that inhabits their island
and punishes those
who displease him.
He can transform them
into animals, trees, or rocks,
or just kill them.
Is this what those other
historical references mean?
Is there some vengeful spirit
called Croatoan
that has been out there
transforming and killing people
over these past 400 years?
Of course, the idea
of an evil spirit
associated with
the word "Croatoan,"
causing all these problems,
is regrettably still a legend.
Besides, if the spirit
did transform
the Lost Colonists,
why did it then bother
to dismantle their houses?
Much more likely the colonists
flee on their own.
But what happens to them next
is still anyone's guess.
It's the oldest
missing persons case in America,
and yet today,
there are more people
dedicated to solving it
than ever before.
They're searching land, sea,
and even DNA
to find the answer.
Perhaps one day soon,
the lost colony of Roanoke
will finally be found.
I'm Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
"History's Greatest Mysteries."
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