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The Lost Colony of Roanoke - settlement and disappearance

KC‑2.1.I.C (KC)
MIG (Theme)
Unit 2: Learning Objective B
Kim and David continue discussing the Lost Colony of Roanoke. What happened when the English colonists finally settled on the coast of North Carolina? What are the prevailing theories about what happened to the colonists?

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Video transcript

- [Kim] So that takes us to our third and what will be final expedition to the New World. - [Man] And this is where the spooky part comes in. - [Kim] This is where the spooky part comes in. Sir Walter Raleigh and John White realized that a whole group of soldiers was probably not the right group to send to the New World. Instead he thinks, alright, this is what we're gonna do. We're gonna send civilians. - [Man] Okay. - [Kim] We're gonna send families. So they send about 90 men, about 20 women, and maybe about 10 children. And say okay, you are going to start a colony and a settlement in the New World. So it's not just a trading post. - [Man] Yo, but back up, like still on Roanoke Island next to the Native Americans that hate them? (laughing) Is that where they're still putting the colony? - [Kim] Well, they were really hoping since they've discovered that this is a terrible place to sail-- - [Man] Uh huh? - [Kim] That they can actually head up to the Chesapeake Bay and make that their place of operations. - [Man] Why not just make landfall there? - [Kim] Well, they usually started by going from England all the way down to Bahamas. - [Man] Mm hmm. - [Kim] Where they could refuel. So this was an area where they already had power. So instead of going to the unknown land first, they would go down to the West Indies, meet up, - [Man] Get fresh water, get food. - [Kim] Get fresh water and supplies and then come up to Virginia, AKA North Carolina. Unfortunately, as the weather worked out, they couldn't make it farther than Roanoke Island. - [Man] Oh. - [Kim] So they are hanging out with what they hope are their friends, the Secotans, and right after they get there one of the English colonists is murdered by probably a Secotan person, and it's because they say to their translators, we don't have enough food, you're gonna steal more food and we just can't have you here. It's obvious that they brought women and children, they're intending to stay, and the Native Americans have decided that the English are not to be trusted. - [Man] So this is just a whole series of tragic diplomacy by ultimatum movements, right? - [Kim] Yeah, it's really interesting because I think there are a couple of places here where things might have gone very differently. - [Man] You can see the inflection points if both sides decided not to play hardball with each other so much. - [Kim] Yeah, I think there are so many places here where ships get lost or they get grounded on the shoals outside North Carolina so they can't get more supplies. Or later storms will prevent reinforcements. Weather and a silver cup are kind of the things that keep the Roanoke Colony from succeeding. So right away after this new group of colonists arrives, one of them is murdered and so they ask their governor, John White, to go back to England and get them more supplies. - [Man] John White, the illustrator who made these images on the right. - [Kim] And he's now governor. - [Man] Okay. - [Kim] He's the only one of the original Raleigh's 11 who's still part of this venture. So he's now moved up in the ranks. So John White sails back to England, and then he runs into a big problem, the Spanish, basically. He wanted to get supplies. Some of these colonists, including the Dares, are actually John White's children. - [Man] Oh, snap. - [Kim] So this is his actual family that's here that he's trying to protect. So he goes back to England and he says, Sir Walter Raleigh, I need more reinforcements. But all English shipping is cut off because of the threat of the Spanish. The Spanish Armada is coming to England at this time period and so not a single ship can be spared to go try to bail out these colonists in the New World. - [Man] Oh, wow. So they're alone and entirely isolated on this new continent among people that do not like them because of stuff that people before them did. - [Kim] Exactly, yeah, that's about the size of it. So it's like 1588 when John White sails back to England and because of the Spanish Armada it's not until 1590 that he can finally get back and try to find these colonists including his family. - [Man] Right. - [Kim] When he gets there this is all he finds, the word, Croatoan, carved into a tree. - [Man] What do you mean all he found? What happened to their town? - [Kim] It was completely abandoned. - [Man] Whoa. - [Kim] So it looks as if they'd left of their own volition. - Okay. - Because it doesn't look like there was an attack there. And they had agreed beforehand that if they decided to go somewhere else, remember, they already knew that they were in unwelcome territory, so they thought maybe they'd go farther inland, they would leave traces, they would carve something in a tree to say where they had gone. Unfortunately, another storm hit, and so John White was forced to leave and go back to England without ever going to see the Croatoans, this other Native American tribe, along with their town called, Croatoan, to see where the rest of his family and the rest of the colonists were. - [Man] Did he ever return in his lifetime? - [Kim] No he did not. - [Man] Oh, that's heartbreaking. - [Kim] So he never found out what happened to his family, and technically we never found out what happened to the Lost Colony at Roanoke, but there's some pretty good evidence about what might have happened to them. - [Man] Tell it to me, Kim. - [Kim] Alright, so here's what we think may have happened. So there are about 130 people, right? - [Man] Right. - [Kim] Assuming that none of them died from disease. - [Man] That's a charitable assumption. - [Kim] Yeah. Not all of them could have gone to see and live with the Croatoans. - [Man] Okay. - [Kim] Right, because they were a much smaller tribe than that. So they could never have been all supported by these people. What we think happened is that some of them went to live with the Croatoans who are along the coast. So if John White comes back then they can connect up with him again. So that's what we think happened to some of them. We also think that some of them went further inland to a more stable environment around what is maybe called, Merry Hill. So about 15, oh sorry, about 50 miles inland from Roanoke Island. - [Man] Okay. - [Kim] Today Merry Hill, North Carolina. And we think some of them may have gone north. So here's the evidence about these various things. - [Man] How do we know that these colonists went there? - [Kim] So when John White was sailing to Roanoke he saw big fires along the coast where the Croatoans lived. So we think the English may have been there trying to signal them, but he went straight to Roanoke, and then because of his troubles with his ship had to go back to England. So there's strong evidence there. Also, later an Englishman heard a legend from the people who lived in that region that some of their ancestors had been White people, and they had English coins. So I think it's probably safe to say that some of them did actually intermarry with Croatoans and lived there for most of the rest of their lives. The ones who went north we know about because John Smith, the captain of the Jamestown Colony in 1607, met up with some Native Americans who told him that there had been White people living in the area who had lived peacefully among the Native Americans until just recently when they were massacred by the Powhatans. Powhatan was the father of Pocahontas, right? So there's some overlap here. - [Man] So he was trying to get the lay of the land, how the local people felt about the English, and the intelligence that he got was, oh, everyone's cool with the English except for the people that you're living right next to. - [Kim] (laughs) I think it was probably intended, yeah, to be maybe a warning. - [Man] Yeah. - [Kim] We think what might actually have happened was that the people from Roanoke had intermarried with another Native American tribe and had become kind of indistinguishable from them, and then the Powhatans, who were kind of a larger empire, actually attacked them. So they were killed off in a raid against other Native American groups. - [Man] I see. - [Kim] And the last thing that we think that they probably went inland is from a recent archaeological dig which has discovered, it's called English Border ware. - [Man] Okay. - [Kim] In this town near Merry Hill, North Carolina, and it was only made in this time period before these English colonists left. So we know it has to have dated before 1588. - [Man] 90 or so, okay. - [Kim] Yeah, so it's highly likely that at least some of those people had been living in this area because we have an archaeological record of them. - [Man] That's so cool. - [Kim] What I think is really interesting about this is we actually know a lot more about this than I think popular legend says that we do. - [Man] Yeah, I always thought that the Lost Colony at Roanoke was one of those unsolvable secrets of history. - [Kim] I think it tells us a lot about the historical process. In some ways we know a lot about this. In other ways we don't know much at all. There are some things in history that we don't have records about, and perhaps never will. But if I had to say that there's one thing that's really haunting about this Colony at Roanoke is just how different things might have been had they chosen to be friendly about the theft of a silver cup, that may or may not have happened, rather than angry and violent. We could be talking about the Colony of Roanoke as the very first successful English Colony in the New World. - [Man] You and I could have been speaking an Algonquian-English dialect right now. - [Kim] Quite possibly. So it shows us just how important even the smallest events in history can be to the way that things turn out, and how much people's choices really do matter.