2015 Rewind: June

Published 10:58 am Thursday, December 31, 2015

From RCNH Archives

WINDSOR – Brent Lane, a Board of Directors member of the First Colony Foundation, will quickly tell you there were plenty of ‘lost’ colonies in the New World back in the 16th century.

However, he will just as swiftly add that there is really only one ‘Lost Colony’.

Lane, whose primary job is Director of the UNC Center for Competitive Economies at the Kenan Flagler Business School for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is one of the researchers leading the charge to find out additional information about the possibility of the Lost Colony’s relocation to Bertie County along the western bank of the Albemarle Sound. That was exactly what he, along with a group of his fellow archeologists from First Colony Foundation (FCF), spoke about before a group gathered at the Windsor Community Building in early June.

“What’s been discovered is that some part of the Lost Colony, when they left Roanoke Island (in Dare County), came to Bertie County. We don’t yet know how many, and we don’t know for how long, but the evidence we have now is that a small group of “lost colonists” who, when they stated their purpose was to move from Roanoke Island 50 miles into the mainland, some of them came to Bertie County,” Lane said.

In the late 16th century, Englishman Sir Walter Raleigh sponsored expeditions to settle the Outer Banks and Chesapeake regions of the eastern U.S. An early scouting trip in 1584 had identified Roanoke Island – off North Carolina’s coast – as a suitable place for the first English colony; and in 1585-86 Raleigh sent 108 men to explore the area. In 1587 the “Citte of Raleigh” was established with more than 100 settlers – men, women, and children – living on the island. When a British ship returned to the island three years later to drop off supplies, the settlers were nowhere to be found. All that was left of the settlers on the island was a carving on a tree reading “CROATOAN,” which likely referred to the Croatoan Island 50 miles south in what is modern-day Hatteras.

“There are four main theories of what happened to the settlers,” Lane explains. “One, they met their deaths by disease, starvation, or attacks from either the Indians or the Spaniards who had some up from Florida to wipe out the English colonists; a second option is that the group, in some part, relocated north to the harbors of Chesapeake Bay Virginia where they thought that was a better place for their ships than the Outer Banks.”

Lane says the third theory was that part of the settlers merged with the Lumbee Indians who inhabited the northeastern region of North Carolina before their migration to what is now Robeson County.

The fourth theory, which marked a great portion of his lecture, was a re-settlement on the Albemarle Sound in modern-day Bertie County.

A detailed map drawn by the early explorers has been preserved in the British Museum in London since 1866. In 2011, Lane noticed two paper “patches” where it appears the map had been corrected and made of paper contemporaneous with that of the map. Lane’s inquiry sparked a research investigation of two apparent patches on one map. Museum researchers closely examined the surface of the patch in Bertie County, and used modern scanning technology to look beneath it. Under the patch they found a bright red and blue symbol of what appears to be a fort, and on the surface they found a separate fort symbol in scratch marks, which are thought to be from the quill of a pen writing in invisible ink.

Sources made available after the colonists disappeared from Roanoke reference plans to resettle the mainland, and the fort in Bertie County is now suspected to be the realization of those plans.

Some scholars speculate the area where the colonists relocated is on what is now Salmon Creek, near Avoca Farms, in Merry Hill. The Scotch Hall Preserve golf course community had home sites planned on that site, but it has not fully developed the area in question. Pottery dating to the settlement on Roanoke Island has been unearthed in that area of Bertie County.

Billy Smithwick, Tourism Director for the town of Windsor, who sponsored the lecture, said the new evidence of the Lost Colony findings in Bertie County are a potential windfall.

“It can be a real large economic engine if it’s handled correctly,” Smithwick contended. “Windsor may not get a whole lot as much as the county as a whole would. I envision a Welcome Center that can draw people in to look at this sort of stuff because a lot of people are interested in the subject. Look at what happened with ‘The Lost Colony’ play out on the coast and how that’s grown.”

Lane hopes the excavation along the western shoreline of the Chowan River will continue.