New Clues for Lost Colonists

(Excerpted from Concluding Statement, pp. 64-66, of FCF’s December 2020 report, North Salmon Creek Survey and Testing at First Colony Foundation Site Y (31BR49) Bertie County, North Carolina.)

There is not and probably will never be a Lost Colony “smoking gun.” And it is true that any one of the Roanoke Colony Period Ceramics types found at Site Y could be found on historic sites dating to the mid-17th century; indeed, Surrey-Hampshire Border ware has been found on a couple of sites in Virginia that date to the second quarter of the 17th century.

Roanoke Colony Period Surrey-Hampshire Border Ware Provides Evidence

But FCF research, which examined the occurrence of Surrey-Hampshire Border ware on twenty Virginia sites dating to the first half of the 17th-century shows that it declined precipitously after about 1630, and therefore almost certainly does not date to the time of the earliest English settlement in the region in 1655 by Nathaniel Batts.

Since an artifact distribution map reveals that the Surrey-Hampshire Border ware and the remaining Roanoke Colony Period Ceramics were clustered together, it is likely that they represent a discrete occupation event at Site Y well before 1655. Furthermore, the white ball clay tobacco pipe stem data from the site show conclusively that there was no English occupation/settlement at Site Y in the first half of the 17th century (this is also true at Site X).

Correlations Between Gov. Ralph Lanes Investigation & the Virginea Pars Map

In addition, the documentary record must count for something. Lane’s 1585 explorations and the Virginea Pars map demonstrate the Roanoke colonists’ interest in the Albemarle-Chowan-Salmon Creek area which is consistent with White’s statements in 1587 and 1590 that the Roanoke colonists were planning to move 50 miles into the main.

Indeed, it seems that Sir Walter Raleigh did not accept that the only place to look for the 1587 colonists was Croatoan despite what White said and what was published in 1600. In 1602, Raleigh sent Captain Samuel Mace to search for survivors of the 1587 colony and according to John Brereton, Mace checked “… both in the islands and upon the main, in diverse appointed places, they did it not, pretending [claiming] that the extremity of weather, and loss of some principal ground-tackle, forced and feared them from searching the Port of Hatarask [modern Oregon Inlet area], to which they were sent.”

Corroborations From the 1608 Zuniga Map

The dispersal of the colonists inland is further corroborated by notations on the 1608 Zuniga map indicating the presence of Europeans in the vicinity of Sites X and Y. The historical record is quite clear that there was no post-Roanoke Colony English settlement in the Albemarle-Chowan-Salmon Creek area until 1655 and that Batts’s house was located more than two miles from Site Y. The farm where Site Y is located was part of Thomas Pollock’s plantation established in the 1670s and the later occupation on the site is very likely a slave quarter dating to the early 1700s.

Consequently, the combined weight of the evidence — the historical record, cartographic record, ball clay tobacco pipe stem data, and Surrey-Hampshire Border ware distribution research — indicate that there was no English activity or settlement at Site Y during the period ca. 1607-1700 and that the Roanoke Colony Period Ceramics cannot be attributed to an occupation at Site Y during this time. The most plausible interpretation of the Roanoke Colony Period Ceramics therefore is that they are due to the presence of Roanoke colonists who had a documented interest in the area which was in a safe Chowan region. No other interpretation of the Roanoke Colony Period Ceramics at Site Y can be supported by precedent or documentation of any kind.

Summary of Findings at North Salmon Creek Survey and Testing at First Colony Foundation Site Y in Bertie County

  1. There are now not one, but two similar sites, Site X and Site Y on or near Salmon Creek in Bertie County, and this cannot be a coincidence.
  2. Both sites are where the 1587 colonists told John White they were heading.
  3. Both sites are located on the Smith/Zuniga map where Jamestown authorities had been told by neighboring natives that Roanoke colonists could be found.
  4. Both sites are located under the patch on the Virginea Pars map at the British Museum that bears two drawn fort or town symbols.
  5. The documentary and cartographic evidence definitively corroborate the archaeological findings.

The Significance of Site Y

Site Y is the second discovery of Elizabethan artifacts in FCF’s target area in Bertie County. High School science class taught us that an observation must be repeated to be valid. Thus, the Elizabethan presence in Bertie County is now validated. Site Y has substantiated the FCF’s suspicion that the patch on the British Museum’s Virginea Pars map indicates an unsuspected goal in Sir Walter Raleigh’s plans.

But Site Y does not solve the Lost Colony mystery. It answers the old question: Where did the settlers go? But the new question is: What happened to them there? Their stay appears to have been brief. What happened to change their situation? Disease, famine, or enemies? If the last, it cannot have been the Spanish, the Roanokes, or even the Secotans. Possibly internal conflict broke out among the Choanokes, but a far more likely suspect is their ethnic enemies – the Mangoacs — Iroquoian speakers from the west who would later be known as the powerful Tuscarora nation.

Even partially excavated, Site Y creates a more nuanced picture of Elizabethans on the Chowan River. Site X suggested a family of refugees protected by the warriors of an adjacent village. Site Y has no such native settlement nor any evidence of their presence.

Menatonon and the Lost Colony

We must conclude that Menatonon, the Choanoke king and Governor Ralph Lane’s ally, permitted Raleigh’s colonists to settle on designated lands where they could provide for themselves. If so, the other farming families would have also been given sites for planting and probably surrounding areas for hunting and fishing.

The vision now is one of contact and cooperation, not the old story of conflict and failure on Roanoke Island. The 1587 families settled where they intended, fifty miles inland. They lived not in the Cittie of Ralegh – a city of dreams – but among the Choanoke people in scattered settlements on the ‘goodly high land’ that Ralph Lane had seen on the Chowan’s west bank.