Could DNA Analysis Help Solve Mystery of the “Lost Colony”?

I suppose just about everyone has heard of the famed “Lost Colony,” which was one of the first attempts by the English to settle the New World.

Located just off North Carolina’s coast on Roanoke Island, the story of the colony began in 1587 when the famous mariner Sir Walter Raleigh, who had received a charter from the Crown to establish a colony in North America, organized an expedition to be led by a friend of his named John White.  It is believed the colonists embarked for their future home in North America from Bideford, Devonshire, located on England’s southern coast.

The Roanoke Island settlers (perhaps 150 in number) got off to a good start, but by the end of the year they were running into trouble with Native Americans in the region, and White left for England to get help.  Delayed by war with Spain — 1588 was the year of the ill-fated Spanish Armada — White was unable to return until 1590, and when he at last did, he found the colonists had mysteriously vanished.  The only clue to their fate was the name of the tribe “Croatan,” carved near their abandoned fort.

To this day no one knows what happened to the colonists.  But one theory is that they were assimilated into one or more of the local Native American tribes.     

So, check out this neat story about how the current Mayor of Bideford, Devonshire, wants to try to use DNA analysis to link descendants of the colonists from his town, as well as elsewhere in England, with possible descendants in the United States.

If you’d like to read more about the Lost Colony, Greensboro Public Library may have some books for you.  Our more recent items include:  A Kingdom Strange:  The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke by James Horn (this book was published just this year, by the way); A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World by Tony Horwitz; Roanoke:  Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony by Lee Miller; and Lost Colony of Roanoke (History Channel video).

We also have lots of juveniles on this topic, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the play on the legend of the Lost Colony by famous North Carolina playwright Paul Green, which of course is still performed at Manteo each summer and remains our state’s most popular outdoor drama.  Opening night is later this month, by the way.


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