If you build it, they will come

Published 8:04 pm Monday, June 8, 2015

Has a 428-year-old mystery finally been solved?

If you listen closely to the words of Brent Lane, a Board of Directors member of the First Colony Foundation, he has a strong inkling of where a portion of the 117 men, women and children who waded ashore and made history on Roanoke Island in July 1587 wound up.

We all know the story of the first permanent settlement of English settlers in what is now the United States of America. It was the summer of 1587 that Governor John White led Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition to the New World. As I’ve noted so many times in previous columns, those ships sailed right past other prime locations and opted to go ashore on perhaps the most beautiful stretch of land known to mankind – what is today’s Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Upon arrival, they built a fort and celebrated the birth of the first American – Virginia Dare, daughter of Eleanor Dare, her husband Ananias Dare (and granddaughter of John White). She took her first breath on Aug. 18, 1587.

Less than two weeks later, John White sailed back to the Mother Land (aka England), promising to return with additional supplies. Three years later (precisely on his granddaughter’s third birthday) White returned to Roanoke Island, but nary a settler was in sight. The only clue he discovered was the “CROATOAN” carved into a tree. He figured that meant the colonists had moved inland to Croatoan, the home of Chief Manteo (one of his staunch allies) whose village then was located in what is now Hatteras Island.

But just as White was putting his resources together to launch a search for his family and the other colonists, a hurricane blew in and damaged nearly all of his ships. Licking his wounds, White sailed back to England and without the funding to make a return trip, he never learned the fate of those comprising the first English settlement.

Citing the work over the years by archeologists and historians, Lane believes a portion of those first colonists made their way westward in the Albemarle Sound and settled in an area known today as Salmon Creek in the Merry Hill area of Bertie County.

Lane noted that he’s unsure just how long those colonists remained at that location. Nor is he sure of how many colonists made the trip inland. What he does believe is that those colonists became absorbed by a local Indian tribe living there at the time.

The clue came by way of a map, one preserved in the BritishMuseum in London since 1866.  In 2011, Lane noticed two paper “patches” where it appears the map had been corrected. One year later, researchers at the museum used modern scanning technology to look beneath the patch. What they found was a bright red and blue symbol of what appears to be a fort. On the surface of the same map they found a separate fort symbol in scratch marks.

Meanwhile, artifacts unearthed during the recent archeological digs in the same area unearthed pottery of the late 1500’s time period. One archeologist noted that pottery was used for food preparation, storage, and serving….but it didn’t belong to the Indians of that period.

Perhaps more archeological digs along the western bank of the Albemarle Sound in BertieCounty may reveal additional clues.

In the meantime, BertieCounty stands to gain from this significant bit of American history. Don’t expect the famed play “The Lost Colony” to relocate from Manteo to Merry Hill, but if Bertie officials play their cards just right, perhaps they can benefit from a piece of the same pie.

It might be more in line with a state historic site and a couple of buildings to house the artifacts and a replica of the famed map.

As it was in the hit movie “Field of Dreams” – “if you build it, they will come.”

 Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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