The Paranormal Disappearance of the Roanoke Colony
A New and Mysterious World
When the settlers from Europe first began coming to the New World, they had no idea what to expect. There were stories that ran rampant about mutant creatures, giant-sized animals, and even unicorns among sailors and merchants. These tall tales frightened and awe-inspired the colonists. Can you imagine leaving your home behind to make a new one somewhere you've never been? Never seen pictures of? Somewhere that barely had a name, much less established towns for you to integrate into?
The early American settlers battled disease, starvation, and environmental hazards on their long journey across the Atlantic to the New World. But they didn't know their hardships would continue. What riches and abundance awaited them on the other side of the vast ocean? What monsters and cannibals lay in waiting? Would they thrive or barely survive?
In 1585, the colony of Roanoke was established in modern day Dare County, NC. Sir Walter Raleigh was commissioned by the Queen to set up a colony in the New World. Raleigh named a friend and confidant, John White, to lead a group of one hundred fifteen colonists to the small island of Roanoke off the coast of North Carolina. Surrounded by new wildlife, water, and natives, the colonists had no idea what they were about to experience.
Roanoke Island Today
The Disappearance of a Colony
After settling and trying to adjust to a world unlike their own, the colonists said goodbye to their fearless leader - John White. White was called out to the seas in 1587 by his colonists, to return to England and ask for help with the colony. They had endured hardships including one of their main men being killed off by a local native. Unfortunately, the Anglo-Spanish war ensued and White made it back to England only to have his ship confiscated to be used in the war. So White was unable to return to Roanoke until 1590, after a few failed attempts. On what would have been John White's granddaughter's third birthday, he landed on Roanoke island to find it completely deserted.
An entire colony had gone missing, including his granddaughter, Virginia Dare. White was shocked. Mortified. And utterly confused as to what had happened to the ninety men, seventeen women, and eleven children he had left at Roanoke. He couldn't find any sign of a battle, and the only hint he found as to what had happened was the word "Croatoan" scratched into a fencepost and the letters C-R-O carved into a tree trunk. White believed the colonists had migrated to Hatteras Island, at the time known as Croatoan island, and couldn't conduct a search at the time due to conflict among his men.
Following the disturbing disappearance of an entire colony, there were several attempts from various English settlers to find out what happened to the Roanoke colonists. In 1607, men from the Jamestown settlement made contact with the Powhatan tribe to hopefully acquire information on the lost Roanoke colony. Powhatan claimed he had killed off the Roanoke colonists after they had adapted to a tribe the Powhatans hated - the Chesepians. Unfortunately, there is no solid evidence of this claim through archaeology or DNA evidence. Because of the lack of evidence, many people believe Powhatan was using this story as a scare tactic towards the Jamestown settlers.
So if the Roanoke colonists couldn't be found living with a local tribe and the Powhatans didn't kill them, where did they go? They couldn't have disappeared into thin air, could they? Did something more sinister or strange happen to them, as legend would have us believe?
Spirits, Witches, and the Woods
As there was no sign of a struggle at the site of the colony, this also points to the idea that the Roanoke colonists left the site peacefully and at will, which goes against the next logical theory that they were killed off by a local tribe. This could seem likely in that a local war-chief Powhatan boasted of this exact event; however, his claims were discredited in numerous ways (no sign of struggle, etc) as mentioned previously. No DNA or archaeological evidence to back up either of these logical theories. So we may assume something supernatural might have happened...
The natives believed that everything in nature had consciousness...everything had a soul. This is the belief of animism. And when things in nature have a soul, sometimes the forest can get a little scary. Beliefs in guardian nature spirits abounded in the untouched, ancient world, and these beliefs carried on through the time of the natives in the New World. An old Croatoan legend told of malevolent spirits living in the trees on Roanoke island, which gives rise to the theory of the Roanoke colonists being either killed off by these spirits or being absorbed into the actual landscape as one of them. Could the carving in the tree and fencepost be pointing to the old Croatoan legend as the demise of the Roanoke colonists?
A particularly haunting tale of the first English child born in the New World backs up the animistic native theory. Virginia Dare, the granddaughter of John White, was born on Roanoke island on August 18, 1587, and was named after the state of Virginia. Three years later, on the exact day of Virginia's birthday, her grandfather would return to the island to find her and all of the colonists missing. The alignment of dates is something to be pondered. Ever since, Virginia's name has been a part of American culture and history, in particular the story of a white doe.
A mysterious white doe was seen on the Roanoke island after the disappearance of the colony, and was thought to have been the ghost of Virginia Dare. Old native stories tell of Virginia being captured by local natives and then being turned into a white doe by an evil witch doctor of whom she had refused her hand in marriage. Hunters in the area have seen a white doe as recent as the last century. Is this white doe the spirit of Virginia Dare, absorbed into the landscape along with the other missing Roanoke colonists? Other legends of white animals describe these elusive creatures as being shapeshifting witches.
© 2017 Nicole Canfield