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What Really Happened To Roanoke History Essay


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Years before the first major American settlement of Jamestown was established, Sir Walter Raleigh, a European, was sent by Queen Elizabeth I to land on Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina. Upon arriving, Raleigh attempted to befriend the native's in order to be able to set up a colony there. Eventually there was another expedition made with a different group of people who would permanently live on this new land we now call America. Many people know this story, and that it ended in the utter disappearance of a large group of settlers. The only clue that the vanished group left was the word "CROATOAN" carved on a nearby tree (Lois 16). A lot of people think that the settlers all died since no direct ancestry has been traced back to them yet, but most people over look the most plausible possibility; most settlers ended up assimilating to nearby Indian lifestyles and families, leaving their would-be colony behind, and starting new with the native people.

The voyage to Roanoke was the last of two main voyages to settle in America. On this voyage, John White, a man who was already familiar with the land, would be the leader. White put together a group of 110 civilians, different from the group of soldiers Raleigh had brought before (Durant 103). The benefit of having civilians settle for this voyage is that they had motivation for survival. The previous expedition had soldiers who were paid to venture into the new land and settle. This new crowd was completely volunteer; their only payment was acreage promised by the Queen (104). Since the families would have land in America, they would have to learn to survive and be self sufficient in the new world. On April 26, 1587, John White led his expedition to Roanoke to start their new life (Fritz, Talbott).

After arrival at Roanoke, the settlers there developed an established area for them to live in. It could support them, to an extent. A settler named Edward Stafford led a group of 20 people down to visit the Indians who lived on Croatoan Island (Durant 118). Accompanying them was an Indian that was originally brought back to Europe by previous expeditions (Durant 118). The Croatoans befriended White, even though one of their members had been killed by previous skirmishes. John White and his settlers didn't make friends with all the tribes, though. There had been one tribe, the Roanoacs, whom John White planned to murder in revenge of them killing one of Europe's former citizens, George Howe (119). Eventually after being on the island for quite some time, the colonists encouraged White to return to England for provisions. Originally, he argued the idea because he didn't want to abandon his daughter and her newborn child. Eventually he was persuaded and he waited for Fernandez, the pilot of the initial voyage to pick him up aboard the Lion (121). Due to storms, Fernandez' arrival was delayed, but on August 27, 1587 John White left the Island of Roanoke along with its settlers, for Europe (123). Little known to White, this would be the last time he would ever see them again.

White returned in 1590 to the island of Roanoke to find almost nothing left of the colony. It is said that White and his men could see fire burning through the trees, and, "To reassure the colonists that they were a friendly party, they first sounded a trumpet and then spend the night singing English folk tunes and calling out familiar greetings, but no answer came." (Kupperman 130). Karen Kupperman's book titled "Roanoke," says that White told the colonists to carve clues to let them know where they had gone, and the word "CRO" was found on a tree (131). White wasn't surprised because the colonists and him had discussed moving north to a different area by the time he got back. After finding the famed CROATOAN carving, white planned to sail to Croatoan in the spring after spending winter in the West Indies, but storms prevented his return, and White never made it back to find the colonists (133).

Many theories are present to what could have happened to these colonists. The one that most resonates with me is that the colonists assimilated with the natives; and there is much evidence to prove this. First off, the colonists had already befriended the Croatoan, the tribe in which the clue they left was based on. It is not unusual to assume that the starving colony would seek help from the local tribe who had lived there since the existence of their people. Upon settling Jamestown, John Smith had published a book talking about the settlement and the area of what is now Virginia, and in it he reports, "Indians had told him of people like the settlers, whom Smith took to be the lost colonists" (Kupperman 137). Kupperman's book reiterates the legends of colonists intermarrying with the Indians; "Local legends in North Carolina maintain that the lost colonists survived and intermarried with the Indians and that their descendants live in the region today" (141). When we look at it from a more current standpoint, it is easy to see in today's society that mixed race is everywhere. If you look at a Native American descendant of today, you can tell that he is Native American. But when someone is a child of mixed raced parents, some traits can be more dominant than others. Is it not possible that when the white settlers merged with the Indians that their physical traits were more prominent that the whites? This would defend the statement that most of the surviving colonists and their descendants were hard to discover, due to the fact that they merely blended in with the rest of the Indians. By the time America became more settled, the original lost colonists of Roanoke would have been dead.

More evidence of survival of the Roanoke settlers is backed up by James Horn's article titled "Roanoke's Lost Colony Found?" It speaks of a Powhatan named Machumps who traveled to England and told the English of an Indian tribe forming two story houses made of stone, and they did this after being taught by English who survived the slaughter of Roanoke. On a side note, the slaughter on Roanoke was an attack on the village by local Indians, which led people to believe that the colonists had all perished. According to this article, it could very well be possible that some escaped and survived. John White has a recorded journal entry that he wrote, detailing the request that the colonists made, suggesting that he return to England to update Raleigh on their status and get supplies. In the colonists' request they state, "…for the present and speedie supllie of certain our knowen, and apparent lackes, and needs, most requisite and necessarie for the good of us…uncessantly requested John White…in all our behalfes to passé into Englande." (Quinn, The Roanoke Voyages). This journal entry even more stresses the fact that the colonists' supplies were dwindling. Since John White didn't return, the only option for supplies they had was living with the Croatoan. In Lois Miner Huey's book American Archaeology Uncovers the Earliest English Colony, she speaks of "a glass trade bead…and three brass disks." (20). These items, "were no doubt offered as necklaces in exchange for food or other goods" (Huey 20). The English could have probably survived for quite some time on bartering trades with the Natives alone. While clues like this and many others are found, no one will know for sure if they used them to trade for food.

In the end, the Lost Colony of Roanoke will always be a mystery. I do not believe that in my lifetime they will uncover the certain truth. Judging by the facts that I have read, and the references that I have researched, the only plausible idea is that the colonists assimilated with the Croatoan. The colonists left the carving in the tree to signal to John White that, upon his return, he should look for them there. Also, the Indian immigrant Machumps speaking of English existence within the tribes reinforces the idea. Even from the viewpoint of today, when we look around at how intensely diverse our culture is, it is not hard to believe that back then at the beginning of our America, the English could have started mixing with foreign races. Maybe they mixed because that is the only way they would have survived and kept their bloodline going. Roanoke is the Lost Colony, but I believe the distant relatives of the colonists are among us, today.

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