CONTEXT

July 22, 2010

Lost

Roanoke Island today. Photo, CooperativeConservation.org.

On July 22, 1587, 117 colonists were dropped off on an island off what is now North Carolina. They were led by an artist and adventurer named John White, who had brought his family with him.  A month after landing, his daughter, Elizabeth Dare, gave birth to a girl who was named Virginia.

White returned to England almost immediately, promising to bring back more colonists and more supplies for the fledgling colony.

What with one thing and another, he didn’t get back to the island until 1590. What he found was an empty settlement. There was no sign of the 114 people who had been there three years earlier.  There were no signs of violence or signs of hurried departure.  The buildings had been dismantled. There was only the word “CROATAN” carved on a post.

The mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island has fascinated both professionals and amateurs for centuries now.  What did the cryptic sign mean?  Where had the colonists gone?  Did the sign mean they’d gone to Croatan Island?

There still is no answer.  But here’s a bit of back story:  Queen Elizabeth had granted Virginia to Sir Francis Drake, with the proviso that he establish a permanent colony within ten years.  He sent a group in 1584 to survey the area; they selected Roanoke Island as a likely place.  The next spring, another group, led by Sir Robert Grenville  and also expeditionary, landed and began to explore further.  They encountered the local Algonquians, called the Croatan.  At some point, a group of Native Americans were accused of stealing a silver cup, so Grenville ordered their village sacked and burned, and the village chief was executed.

Enter the new group.  My theory is that once the ship left, the Algonquians – having learned an important lesson about Europeans – kept a watchful eye on the colonists and when the right time came, did them all in, got rid of the bodies and removed every sign of the colony’s existence. Just a theory.

* * *

Surveyor Moses Cleaveland, traveling and mapping the shores of Lake Erie in 1796, reached the mouth of the Cuyahoga River on this date and decided it would make a good city.  Four hardy souls agreed to settle there and that was the total population of Cleveland in its first year.

And on July 22, 1994, O.J. Simpson entered a plea of not guilty to the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goodman.

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