All the way back in 1590, a total of 115 people appeared to vanish, never to be seen again. This group are known as the Roanoke Colony.
This disappearance has baffled historians for years, and around 500 years later, it still continues to confuse many. Despite many theories having been put forward, no conclusion has ever been reached.
This article reviews this interesting case. There is also a reader’s poll at the end of the article, which we invite you to vote on. This will provide us with an idea of what the consensus is among our readers as to what happened.
The story begins in 1587, when a group of around 115 English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island. Roanoke Island was situated just off of the mainland of what is now known as North Carolina.
The English settlers aimed to establish a colony, which was common in those days. The settlers were led by a man named John White, who became the governor of the colony.
However, when resources became scarce, White returned to the United Kingdom via ship, with the intention of returning immediately. It was expected that White would return within a few months.
Yet various circumstances meant that this wasn’t the case. By the time that White had returned to the United Kingdom, the nation were prepared for the arrival of the Spanish Armada.
Queen Elizabeth I demanded that all ships were to remain in the United Kingdom to stave off the threat of the Armada. It took until 1590 for victory to be declared over the Spanish Armada.
Once the British had declared victory, ships were free to travel once more. This allowed White to return to Roanoke Island. He was able to bring a range of resources with him.
However, once White had reached Roanoke Island, the settlers that he had left behind were nowhere to be seen. In fact, there appeared to be very little trace of them left.
All that was left was the word “Croatoan” – which was carved into a wooden post. Most believe that this message had been left for White.
While searches took place for the settlers, nothing was found. The area looked as if it had been deserted for a long time.
White led the investigation into their disappearance. The term “Croatoan” formed the central part of the investigation.
Croatoan was the name of an island near to Roanoke, which hosted a native American tribe of the same name. Due to rough seas, investigators were unable to ever search the island.
As the months and then years passed, there was very little that investigators could do. In the end, the search was abandoned, with all 115 original settlers believed to have died.
The story of the Roanoke Colony was largely forgotten until 1834. Author George Bancroft published his book “A History of the United States”, with the Roanoke colony mentioned.
The book caused a huge rise in interest. Ever since then, efforts have been made to try and find out just what happened to the colony.
Several TV shows, documentaries, podcasts and other media have looked into the disappearance, and it continues to be discussed to this day. Unfortunately, there have never been any major breakthroughs.
With so many unanswered questions, it is unsurprising that there are many different theories that have been suggested.
We take a look at the evidence for each here:
Theory One: Croatoan Tribe Murdered the Colony
Most historians have reached the conclusion that the Croatoan tribe had a big part to play in the disappearance. The carving is certainly a big part of this case.
A potential theory is that the Croatoan tribe murdered the whole of the Roanoke colony. They may have been threatened by the colony, or believed they would try and invade them soon.
The main issue is that no bodies were ever found. How feasible is it that the Croatoan tribe would move over 100 bodies? But it remains a possibility.
This theory would suggest that the Croatoan tribe carved their name into the settlers camp as a “signature” of sorts, or to warn future occupants of what might happen.
Theory Two: The Colony voluntarily joined the Crotoan Tribe
Another popular theory is that the Roanoke colony decided to voluntarily join the Croatoan tribe. This could have happened if resources became scarce.
The Roanoke colony were expecting White to return relatively quickly with more supplies, but after the months became years, they may have believed they had been abandoned, and sought refuge elsewhere.
One problem with this theory is the question on how receptive the Croatoan tribe would have been to over 100 people joining them. This would have been a big drain on resources.
But if they did join the Croatoan tribe, then the Roanoke colony may have carved in the word “Croatoan” as a way of telling White (if he ever returned), where they could be found.
This theory would suggest that the settlers joined the Croatoan tribe, and lived out the rest of their lives in that particular area.
Theory Three: Roanoke Colony left Roanoke Island themselves
As mentioned above, the Roanoke colony may have felt they had been abandoned by White, and that they would be left on the island alone, without long-term food sources.
As a result, the Roanoke colony may have decided to leave the island on a boat, hoping to make it back to the United Kingdom.
However, where the colony would have got a sea-worthy vessel from remains to be seen. It is also unlikely that the settlers would have believed they could succeed at sea.
If this theory is true, unfortunately the colony would have likely perished at sea. They weren’t ever heard from again, meaning it is unlikely they ever returned to the United Kingdom. Getting back would have been difficult anyway. But this theory is possible.
Theory Four: Attack by a third party, including the Spanish naval forces
There is also a chance that the Roanoke colony were attacked and killed by a third party. There aren’t any clear aggressors, but this is a possibility, given the mass disappearance.
The Spanish naval forces, who were at war with the British, may have invaded Roanoke Island in an act of aggression. However, it isn’t believed that the Spanish were active in this region.
It is possible that some other third party attacked the group. But for over 100 people to have disappeared, it would have taken a sustained and planned attack.
Considering the island was left deserted, if this theory is true, it would’ve taken a very meticulous approach to succeed, making this theory unlikely, albeit a possibility.
With the above theories in mind, we now invite you to cast your vote on the theory that you believe is most likely in the poll below.
In the end, no trace has ever been found of the Roanoke settlers. This disappearance has entered folklore as one of the most mysterious of all time.
It appears that this is another mystery that will never be solved. It seems the Croatoan tribe are linked with the disappearance, but we will never know to what extent.