A recent Virginia Pilot headline declared “Mystery Solved,” referring to the long unanswered questions about the English attempt at Colonization of the New World in 1587 on what is now the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This so-called “Lost Colony” has been the subject of many archaeological digs, theories, conjecture, a quaint play, and even a horror movie. What happened to those 114 people who sought to compete with Spain, England’s chief rival, in reaping the benefits and resources of the New World? A recent book, The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island, claims to have uncovered the truth of this mystery, debunking the myths surrounding the fate of these late 16th century adventurers. Click here for a 7-minute YouTube video of their October 18, 2019 presentation.
Scott Dawson (above, left) is a Hatteras Island native who has been researching the history of this fascinating time period for most of his life. He is president and founder of the Croatoan Archaeological Society Inc. Dawson engaged archaeologists from the University of Bristol in the UK, under the direction of Dr. Mark Horton (above, right), to uncover the mystery of the “lost” colonists. Their conclusion is that the colonists were not lost at all, but that they assimilated into the Croatoan people, the native inhabitants of present-day Hatteras Island. This theory, while it has been considered and explored for quite some time, has been difficult to prove.
Scott Dawson suggests that the new location of the colonists was clear to the relief party that came back in 1590 under the leadership of Governor John White. White reportedly told the colonists before his departure back to England that they were to leave word of their whereabouts on nearby trees. When White saw the markings of “Croatoan,” Dawson argues that White new exactly what this meant – that the colonists had gone to live amongst the Croatoan people. In stark contrast to the violence between the English and Indigenous peoples of 17th century North America, this would be a shining example of how people of different cultures can unite and live peaceably with one another. It is an appealing narrative.
Many archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians are questioning the validity of the strong claims made by Dawson and Dr. Horton. The evidence that Dawson offers up is a large quantity of material culture that proves contact between the English colonists and the Croatoan people. The issues with the evidence are numerous, chief among them being that the Croatoans could have obtained these material culture items through trade rather than through assimilation and intermarrying.