Thursday, March 30, 2017

Geek Highways: The Roanoke Colony


Yesterday, Marianne and I went to Roanoke Island, site of the lost Roanoke Colony, the earliest and most enduring mystery of post-Columbian America.

In slapdash short: Sir Walter Raleigh (not in person; Queen Elizabeth wouldn't let him go adventuring in the New World) planted a small colony in what would later be North Carolina. If it succeeded, it would make a swell port which British privateers could raid the Spanish treasure ships. He also had dreams of peacefully colonizing North America by making the American chieftains British lords and their people citizens. The colony, however, was underprovisioned and sent their governor back for more supplies.

Enter the Spanish Armada. It was three years before John White (Virginia Dare's grandfather) was able to acquire a boat (all had been essentially nationalized to fight off the threat) and funding to return. Only to find that the colonists had taken up their weapons and essentials and left. In their absence, the buildings had been torn down and chests they had buried containing possessions they could not take with them had been dug up and their contents scattered about. The word CROATOAN carved into a tree suggested that they had gone to live with friendly Indians at Croatoan. White wanted to go look for them, but a storm came up so they went back to England instead.

Yeah, that last bit makes no sense to me either. In fiction, it would a clue. But maybe things will be clearer to me after I read a book or three.

We visited the site. A great deal has been added and nothing remains. There's an open-air amphitheater with the ocean behind the stage and the wind singing through the light scaffolding. There's a large fantasy of what an Elizabethan garden might have been like with proper funding and Twentieth-Century sensibilities created by the local garden club. There's a slope-shouldered recreation of the small dirt fort that had been built there, based on archaeological measurements.

Of the original colony, there is not a trace. Nothing remains behind but silence. And mystery.

Next up: Monster Trucks!



TheOFloinn said...

I wonder if anyone ever looked for English genes in the local tribes.

Michael Swanwick said...

There were interesting stories many years afterward of Indians who could read and work iron. But many of the East Coast tribes moved as far away from the newcomers as they could shortly after their early encounters. So there was a scattering.

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