The Mysterious Disappearance of Roanoke Colony

(clock tower ringing)
(crows squawking) (thunder booming) (dramatic music) – This week on BuzzFeed Unsolved, we discuss what may be the oldest mystery in the United States, the
lost colony of Roanoke. Do you know anything about this one, no? – Colonial intrigue. – It’s pretty much an entire
island of people vanishing. – Poof. – Without a trace. – They poofed. – Yeah, I guess you could say it that way. – Yeah, we heard about
this in grade school. – You learned about this in grade school? – I went to a very grim grade school. – That explains a lot. Let’s get into it. On May 8th, 1587,
approximately 120 settlers left England and sailed to Roanoke Island, off the coast of what
is now North Carolina, arriving some time in July 1587. The governor of the new
1587 Roanoke settlement was John White, an explorer and artist. There were a few small attacks
(war sounds) from local Native Americans
within the first month, and the colonists reportedly
desperately wanted John White to return
to England and retrieve more supplies for them, such
as food, tools and more people. So on August 25th, 1587,
just a month after arriving, White sailed back to
England to gather supplies, leaving behind 115 colonists. 87 men, 17 women and 11 children, including his own daughter,
Eleanor White Dare, who had just given birth to a daughter, and White’s granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first baby born in North
America to English parents. – [Shane] Whoa. That’s cool. – [Ryan] Yeah, and she’s kind of like, at least the name Dare is kind of etched into all of our history,
like there’s Dare County. – Yeah, I’m familiar with that. It’s such a pain in the ass to have to go back to England all the time. – I’ve done things where I forget something at home when I go to work. I forget my laptop at home
sometimes, I gotta drive back. Could you imagine if you
went out on a voyage, and you realized (snaps
fingers) fuck, forgot. – Food. – (laughing) Well, looks like
I’ll hop back in the boat. See you in three years. – It took three fucking years? – (laughing) Yeah. Unfortunately, White’s timing was poor. England was on the verge
of going to war with Spain, (cannons booming) which had a particularly strong armada, and he was unable to return
to Roanoke for some time. It was not until August of
1590, three years later, that White would finally make
his way back to the island. To his bewilderment, when White arrived, he found that the entire colony had vanished without a trace. The only clue left behind
was the word Croatoan carved into a fence post,
and Cro, carved into a tree. If they had the foresight
to write that clue, why not leave more clues? – [Shane] They didn’t have like a fridge that they could put a
little magnet and a note on. – [Ryan] (laughing) No, I mean– – [Shane] Did they have quills? – [Ryan] They obviously
had a tree and fence posts that they could carve into. Why not carve a little map? – [Shane] They could have just
added like a see you there. – [Ryan] Something like
that, help ’em out. – [Shane] FYI went to Croatoan. – [Ryan] Be back never. – [Shane] TTYL. – [Ryan] (laughing) See you soon. – [Shane] Your fam. – [Ryan] Or not, ’cause we’re dead. – If he’s sailing back to
England to get supplies, and they get surrounded
by Natives who say, hey, you’re coming with us. And they go, oh you think so? Let me grab my knife. Oh, we don’t have the knives yet. (Ryan laughs) I guess, where do you want us to go? What do you want us, oh you
want us to jump in the ocean? You got it. I’m saying, I’m doing
whatever they tell me. – So you think they lined them up and walked themselves into the ocean. – I think they said, get
in a single file line, walk into the ocean. – [Ryan] White then
reportedly made two attempts to sail south about 50 miles
to the nearby Croatoan Island, now known as Hatteras Island,
to search for the colonists. However, according to White, both trips were foiled by storms, and he was forced to turn back each time. Because the boat White was
using was privately owned, he was unable to try
looking for a third time. He returned to Europe
and moved to Ireland, where he passed away in 1593, never knowing what became of his family. – [Shane] What if they hated him? – [Ryan] What? – [Shane] What if they just hated him? – [Ryan] The entire colony hated him and decided we’re just gonna bounce– – [Shane] Yeah. – [Ryan] And leave without
all of the supplies we needed? – [Shane] I mean, they seem
like they were doing fine. – [Ryan] No, because they
sent him to go get supplies, that was the purpose of– – [Shane] Right, I’m saying
that’s their, that’s their like, yeah, you better leave for three years. – [Ryan] Oh, you’re saying
that they faked starvation? – [Shane] Yeah. – [Ryan] You think they
all were doing a bit? – I think they were doing a bit. Good colonial razz. Just like, he’s buying it! He’s going to that other island! (Ryan laughs) – Oh my God. – We got him! He left. They all came back out,
had a little pig roast. – The locals are in on
it too and they’re all snickering behind the bushes. (Ryan snickers) – We got him good. – Look, he’s sailing away! – What an idiot. (spooky music)
– To this day, nobody knows for certain the fate of the lost colony of Roanoke. Even more chilling, despite
115 people disappearing, no bodies or signs of a mass
grave have ever been found. Historians have theorized
on the lost colony in the hundreds of years that have passed and plenty of people online have pointed to supernatural causes. None have been able to
provide conclusive evidence. That being said, let’s
jump into the theories. The first theory is that the settlers were murdered by a local
Native American tribe. In fact, a previous attempt
had been made by the English to colonize Roanoke Island years before between 1585 and 1586, but
they soon returned to England after attacks from some
of the Native Americans they encountered, as well
as a shortage of food. The governor of the first
Roanoke colony, Ralph Lane, was not known for his diplomacy
with the Native Americans. Lane would actually go on to kill the king of the local tribe, Wingina, in an attempt to prevent the Natives from rising up against the colonists. – [Shane] Not the best diplomat. – [Ryan] (laughing) No. – [Shane] Not great negotiation there. – [Ryan] I think this
guy was just a little bit of a situation where it’s sour grapes. He came, he thought he
was going to be welcomed because he’s this English lord. – [Shane] Yeah. – [Ryan] And when someone
doesn’t bend the knee, he gets a little pissed off. – [Shane] Mm hm. If I’m a native, and I got
people trampling around. – [Ryan] Yeah. – And I’m saying, hey, you
guys maybe get out of here? You know, I’m getting
kind of sick of this. You’re bumming me out, also, you don’t own this fucking land. Maybe you could leave. And they’re like hm, no! We’re waiting for our friend! He’s gonna bring us blankets. (Ryan laughs) I’d be like, alright. Let’s kill these dudes. I kill ’em. I wanted ’em out of
there in the first place. So yeah, I’m gonna take a
little broom and a dustpan, mop up their bones,
throw ’em in the ocean! (thunder) – [Ryan] This prompted Sir Francis Drake to come rescue the colonists
and bring them back to England. As you know, a different
set of English colonists would return about a year
later in 1587 and vanish. Though, as mentioned
before, no mass graves or any large scale number of
bodies have ever been found that might support the idea that over 100 people had been murdered. – So there was an attack
the month before he left. – Yes. – I mean, I think we’re done here, right? – Why do you think we’re
done here, there’s no– (Ryan stammers) – There’s a lot of animosity there. – Yeah, but there’s no evidence
to that this ever went down. – Where do you want the evidence to be? It could be anywhere. – I want– – You got a big, wide-open
wilderness there. You can stuff bones anywhere. – I mean, I’m sure they’ve excavated it. They’ve looked for it. – They’ve excavated the whole– – It’s an island, it’s not like it’s big. – They could have moved
them off the island. – Sure, but there still was no signs that there was a mass attack. – Did they drag the ocean? (Ryan laughs)
For bones? – I guess not. – Also, I mean, it’s not like there’s forensic teams back then. – Yeah, I guess– – They’re not like,
we’ve combed the island. – I guess no one’s at their desk– – The year is 1600. – (laughing) We’re out
there dusting for prints. – We combed it as best
as we could, we looked. (Ryan laughs) I got on top of a large hill and did this. (Ryan laughs) Didn’t see bones. They vanished. (spooky music) – [Ryan] The second theory is that the English settlers
joined a nearby friendly Native American tribe and assimilated. One possible Native American ambassador was a man named Manteo, who
traveled to England in 1584, but also made a second
year-long trip after that between the two Roanoke expeditions. In fact, he sailed back
to Roanoke with John White and the new colonists in
1587, spending months together on the journey across the Atlantic. Furthermore, after Manteo was baptized upon his return to Roanoke,
John White declared Manteo to be the chief of the
Roanoke and Croatoan tribes, whom the English called the Croatan. This guy, on the way back
to the island is just like– – You will be chief! (Ryan laughs) I say so. I’m a white man. – Yeah, well if John says
so, then let’s set it up! There’s your crown, there’s your chair! – What a piece of shit. – [Ryan] However, Manteo was
only from the Croatan tribe, not the Roanoke tribe. He could not control
them, and so he ended up going back to Croatoan
Island with his people, possible returning at
some point to Roanoke to take the colonists with
him to Croatoan Island. In 1888, 54 Croatan Native Americans petitioned congress for
aid, describing themselves as a remnant of White’s lost colony. A few months later, the directors
of the Ethnological Bureau responded writing, quote,
it was thought that traces of white blood could be
discovered among the Indians, some among they having gray eyes. It is probable that the greater number of the colonists were
killed, but it was quite in keeping with Indian usages
that a greater or less number, especially women and
children, should have been made captive and subsequently
incorporated into the tribe. End quote. In 2015, archeologists
found a series of objects of European origin on Hatteras Island, where the Croatan tribe resided. This included broken bowls from England, the hilt of an iron rapier sword (sword unsheathing) and a writing tablet made of slate, that may have still had
the letter M printed on it. And aglets. The sword is of a type used
in England in the 16th century and the hilt of it would have belonged to an Englishman of high standing. The writing tablet would have been used by educated, upper-class Europeans. Aglets are small copper tubes used before the 17th century
to secure wool fibers. Therefore, these findings
would seem to point to the presence of colonists of roughly the same time period and class
as the people of Roanoke. However, most of the European
finds on Hatteras Island were among other objects that
date back to the 17th century, about 100 years after the disappearance of the Roanoke colony. Last but not least, this
theory could explain the carving Croatoan that
the settlers left behind, perhaps as a clue to their whereabouts. – So John White didn’t look
for them on this new island? This– – He tried to but then the storm. – He failed. So they could have
chilled there for a while and then eventually were like, well, hey I heard other
people are moving in a couple states over. – I guess. – Near Philly. We’re gonna go check that out. – Possibly.
– Get some cheese steaks. – [Ryan] Which brings
us to our third theory, that the lost colonists
didn’t move to Croatoan but instead, moved inland. If you’ll recall, John White,
the governor of Roanoke, was also an artist. He was also part of the original
failed Roanoke expedition and between 1585 and 1593, he created a detailed watercolor map
titled, quote, La Virginea Pars, end quote, that shows
the North Carolina coast and includes both Roanoke
and Croatoan Island, which are colored red. The cartography of the map is thought to be extremely accurate,
described by museum experts as, quote, the most careful, detailed piece of cartography for any
part of North America to be made in the 16th century. End quote. And, when compared to
modern satellite imagery of the same area, the only
differences in the map are the naturally changing
shapes of the coastline. Yeah this guy wasn’t
looking at Google Earth. – [Shane] No. – [Ryan] He was like, I don’t
know how you even do that. I guess I’m not a–
– How do you do it? – [Ryan] I don’t know
anything about cartography. – You don’t.
– I’m not a cartographer. – You absolutely do not.
– Well neither do you. – [Shane] Well, yeah. – [Ryan] I think if you
told me to make a map of Hollywood right now, I would
have a hard time doing it. – Sometimes, if I’m figuring out how I wanna rearrange furniture,
I’ll make a little map of my room and then, you’re like, oh, I didn’t even include the closet! I forgot there’s a closet here! I can’t even map my apartment! – Wait, you’ve– – You’ve never done that? – You make maps of your room? – I think we had a map off, I would win. – I would be, I’d be devastated. At a glance, this seemed
like nothing more than a map but upon closer inspection,
this map was revealed to perhaps hide secrets that seem straight out of the
film National Treasure. – [Shane] I was gonna say! – [Ryan] I knew you would
like a Nick Cage reference. It’s one of Nick Cage’s best performances. – [Shane] It stinks. – [Ryan] The Declaration of Independence. In 2012, a nonprofit organization called the First Colony Foundation requested that the British Museum reexamine two small patches on the map. Using patches to cover mistakes or damage was a common technique in
16th century map making, because maps took so much
time and work to create that starting over wasn’t a viable option. Using x-ray spectroscopy, infrared light, and other imaging techniques,
the British Museum was able to determine
that the smaller patch was covering a four-pointed
star outlined in blue and filled in with red. According to the British Museum’s report, quote, while the detailed
interpretation of this symbol is beyond the scope of this study and is best left to experts in the field, it seems certain to represent
a fort or fortification. End quote. In other words, the star
may show the location of a fort inland from Roanoke Island, on the western side of Albemarle Sound, where the colonists could have resettled. He covered it up and they
found it by using light, and I’ll, here I’ll demonstrate this. I actually prepared this for you. This is the map, right? – Yeah, I know how light works. – Yeah. That’s the map. – Yeah, you put a light
underneath, you’d see– – Yeah, look how dope this is. Just a little map that
you could see the star! – I know what light looks like– – It’s so cool! – When you shine it
through a piece of paper. – But like, I’m just saying,
it’s freakin’ awesome. – You didn’t prepare enough
to put a star on there? – There’s a– – Oh. I actually couldn’t see it. There you go. – Now you could see the star. Yeah, it’s pretty good, right?
– It’s good. Good work. – [Ryan] Further adding to the mystery, when examined closely, it was discovered that there are actually light markings of this possible fort on
top of the patch as well. The British Museum’s
report posits the markings faded over time, but it
also proposes, quote, one other possible if
rather romantic explanation is that these lines could reflect the use of an invisible ink. An ink that would only be
revealed when treated in some way, usually by applying heat, end quote, as demonstrated in the
film National Treasure. These invisible markings
could be accomplished by using milk or lemon juice. – [Shane] Great. I’m on board. – [Ryan] I will say this. – [Shane] What? – [Ryan] I tend to lean
that it’s invisible ink, mainly because, why did they
cover it up with a patch only to write on top of it
again the same exact thing? – Right. Like, he was like, I’ll put this here. Oh, shit. Maybe I don’t want people
to know about this. Patch it up. Maybe I want some people
to know about this. (clicks tongue) – Yeah.
– Squeeze a lemon. – Then he gets to–
– Milk a cow. Doot doot doot doot. – And then he gets to Nick Cage it. – Yeah. – [Ryan] If this fort was
indeed intended to be hidden, why the secrecy? Some speculate White could have wanted to hide the colony’s location
from the English court, which may have contained spies. Whatever the marks indicate,
they believe this evidence supports the idea that the settlers could have left Roanoke Island
for this inland location. Interestingly, John
White himself reportedly made an oblique reference to a location 50 miles inland from Roanoke
Island in his account of what happened when he returned. Excavations on this site have turned up evidence of Europeans, including Surrey-Hampshire border
ware, a type of ceramics that was discontinued soon
after Jamestown in 1624, and aglets, the aforementioned copper tube used before the early 17th
century to secure wool fibers. This is the best indication
of tying the location to Roanoke colonists,
though these items cannot, without a doubt, be dated
to the same exact timeframe. Even if it’s eventually
confirmed that the colonists moved inland or to Croatoan Island, many possible unanswerable
questions remain, such as why did they leave Roanoke Island? And what happened to them afterward? Since no definitive existence of any of the 115 lost colonists was documented after August 25th, 1587,
these questions have led some to point to supernatural causes. – Oh. No no no no no no. – [Ryan] What’s wrong? – I’m just, I’m bracing
myself for whatever stupid– – [Ryan] Whatever truth comes out here? – Don’t. No. – [Ryan] Is that what you’re scared of? – That’s not what I’m expecting. Look, I mean, once you get through the stuff that makes sense,
you tend to land on aliens. – [Ryan] Which brings
us to our fourth theory. That the colonists’
disappearance was an instance of mass abduction by aliens. Some believe aliens would explain why the colonists’ bodies
were never discovered. And if Croatoan was in fact a
clue to where they were going, then why did the colonists not offer any other substantial clues,
such as a note, or a map? Perhaps, because they
left the island in haste and not on their own volition. And while I’m going off the deep end, let me end this theory
with one last point. What if the hidden symbol on the map is not in fact a fort, but rather, a craft to signify a landing spot? Obviously, if this were
true, it would absolutely be something that would be hidden. – [Shane] It’s mass abduction! Maybe they all lined up in a row and just got in the
tractor beam one at a time. – [Ryan] Yeah. – [Shane] That’s like
when you go to the bank and they, it’s one of those little chutes. Just people lining up to get– – Oh yeah, just go into the–
– In that pneumatic tube. – [Ryan] Just sucked up into the tube. – Thoonk.
– Yeah. – [Shane] Thoonk. Thoonk. – That’s a knowledge bomb right there. – No, that’s not a knowledge bomb. – I just did a airstrike. I did a flyover. You’re down there going, yeah,
they walked into the ocean! And I dropped the bomb right on top of your big, stupid head. – I don’t think that’s– – And now, you’re startled by the truth. You’re dazed. – I think you have altitude sickness. – There’s stars away
from, rounding your eyes. – There’s no stars here. I think you’re insane. – No. Don’t you think that’s pretty cool? That that could in fact be
a sign, like a crop circle? – Yeah, but again, if
you’re already stressed out that these people wrote on a tree something without any context, why is he not gonna write on the map, hey, we saw something weird here, instead of just putting
a strange little symbol. – Because maybe they assimilated
with the alien culture and it’s much better there. – [Shane] No. – They’re on the prairies and
fields of alien landscape, eatin’ little alien berries. Eatin’ alien popcorn with half
alien kids and half human. – You’re hearing yourself
saying these things, right now. You’re committing to this. This is what you want to be known as. – [Ryan] Shockingly, aliens is not the most outlandish theory. – What did, wait. Wait, hang on.
(Ryan laughing) It didn’t even occur, I didn’t even, I didn’t even hear the
words that you were saying when you said, brings
us to our next theory because I thought that was
as dumb as it was gonna get. – I told you, you have no
idea where this is going. And with that, we have our fifth theory, that the lost colony of Roanoke disappeared due to a zombie plague. (Ryan laughing) Hear me out. I got some, I got some,
I got some stuff here. – Read it. – [Ryan] A researcher named Andre Freeman, from the Zombie Research Society, believes zombies would explain
the swift disappearance. Quote, a sudden undead
plague sweeping through the unprepared colony would quickly become a horrific, violent feast, leaving not a single man, woman or child alive. End quote. Roanoke was after all an island, so it would conceivably
contain the infection to the confines of the shoreline. Before you tune out, Harvard
archeologist Lawrence Stager claims he actually discovered evidence that would suggest mass
cannibalism on Roanoke. Granted, Roanoke was experiencing
the most extreme drought in the area in 800 years, so
some would say this evidence points to the fact that
colonists turned to plain old cannibalism rather
than the walking dead. – [Shane] You think
that’s maybe more likely? – [Ryan] Maybe. What if this is the only
case of zombies ever and because it was on an
island, it was contained, so therefore it would never happen again? – What if, it’s not? There’s nothin’. – There is that bath salts thing where someone thought
that guy was a zombie. – He was alive! He had a beating heart. – Yeah, they were poppin’ him with bullets and he was just taking them. – Yeah, ’cause he was on drugs, Ryan. – He was getting peppered. He was like, feed me more bullets! Yeah! In the end, the mystery of
Roanoke continues to baffle. Did they simply relocate, perhaps joining a neighboring tribe? Were they killed due to
tensions with the locals? Or, does the answer lie
beyond our comprehension? The true fate of the legendary
lost colony of Roanoke remains unsolved. (creepy music) – Hey Ryan, I like your shirt. – Thanks, I like yours too. – Thanks. – [Both] Buy it here.

Comments 100

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *