Monday, September 1, 2014

The "Lost Colony" -- Other Theories
We know that historian David Beers Quinn believed that sometime in September the vast majority of John White’s 1587 settlers moved from Roanoke Island to a location near the southern shore of Chesapeake Bay, perhaps near the Chesapeake village of Skicoac, situated on the Elizabeth River. According to Quinn, the colonists lived in harmony with the Chesapeakes until late April of 1607, when three English ships transporting colonists entered the Bay. Warned by his priests that his vast Powhatan nation would be destroyed if these people were to establish themselves, Wahunsonacocks, fearful that the settlers would unite with John White’s transplanted colony, had White’s people and their host tribe, the Chesapeakes, massacred. (See my revised blog entry: “John White’s Lost Colony,” August 30, 2014). Maybe a dozen of White’s settlers, escaping, were adopted or enslaved by interior Carolina tribes.

More recently published historians – three that I will discuss -- disagree about where White’s people settled. One of them believes that Wahunsonacocks’s warriors did not kill them.

In "A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke" James Horn postulates that the settlers established themselves on high ground between the mouths of the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers. He agrees with Quinn that the settlers probably opted to send a small group to Croatoan Island to await John White’s return with supplies and additional settlers to be able to direct him to the colony’s new location. “Possibly soon after White left [for England in 1587], several of the colonists’ leaders set out with Manteo and a couple of dozen men in the pinnace to make arrangements with the Chowanocs for establishing a temporary settlement … The Chowanocs had been allies of the English in the summer of 1586, and the settlers’ leaders hoped the Indians would see advantages in trading with the English or would view them as potential allies against hostile Iroquoian peoples to the south and west. The pinnace, probably capable of carrying forty passengers, would have had to have made at least two trips to the negotiated location, “a superb vantage point for keeping watch down the length of Albemarle Sound” (Horn 226).

“Once they had prepared the ground …, the settlers could begin the job of constructing their new living quarters using the timbers and materials brought from Roanoke Island. With the help of the Chowanocs, they could have had the settlement substantially completed by late December …“ (Horn 227).

Unlike Quinn, Horn believes that after it was apparent that White was not returning, some of the settlers migrated to other locations: closer to the Chowanoc capital; along Cashie Creek, a tributary of the Roanoke River; and near the falls of the Roanoke River. “The timing of the settlers’ movements is impossible to determine, but it is likely that most of them had joined Indian communities by the early to mid-1590s” (Horn 230). Horn believes that Wahunsonacocks, for the same reasons Quinn cited, ordered his warriors to “track down as many of White’s colonists as they could find and kill them” (Horn 232). Horn makes no mention of the Chesapeakes. Perhaps ten years after 1607 the Powhatan chief Opechancanough, a brother of Wahunsonacocks, ordered attacks against the Chowanocs and the Tuscaroras, killing many warriors and, presumably, a few more of White’s settlers. Horn’s theory that some of the colonists migrated from their settlement between the mouths of the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers before 1607 accounts for why a few white men and women were rumored to be living along Cashie Creek and near the falls of the Roanoke River during the early years of Jamestown’s existence.

In "The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand: Roanoke’s Forgotten Indians” Michael Leroy Oberg proceeds cautiously in attempting to account for the disappearance of John White’s people. He writes: “Their disappearance was meaningful. It was significant. That these colonists vanished demanded an explanation, and many have since been offered for the colonists’ fate” (Oberg 126). He examines eight theories.

He rejects Quinn’s supposition. “None of the English sources stated clearly that the colonists moved to the Chesapeake. … the Chesapeake Indians did not entirely disappear [after Wahunsonacocks’s 1607 attack]. … Governor John White had said that the colonists intended to move fifty miles into the interior after he left. If they moved west rather than north, and ascended Albemarle Sound rather than Chesapeake Bay, this relocation could have placed them in the territory of the Weapemeocs” (Oberg 137). Oberg discusses the possibility that the Weapeneoc chief Okisco might have sheltered the colonists but determines it unlikely. Although he had pledged loyalty to Queen Elizabeth and Walter Raleigh in 1586, Okisco was not supported by many members of his tribe, many of whom were hostile to the English. He had too many enemies to make plausible the idea that White’s settlers would choose him to provide them protection. “He was a leader with few followers, a deposed weroance who saw in the acceptance of English authority an opportunity, however desperate, to secure protection against the hostility of his own people” (Oberg 138).

Oberg concedes the merit of the theory that most of White’s settlers relocated at the mouth of the Chowan River. “The fifty miles that White estimated the colonists would move could have placed them along the fertile banks of the Chowan River, in the territory of Menatonon, a weroance who had never taken any hostile action against Raleigh’s colonists” (Oberg 142). The Choanoacs had their enemies, which included the Powhatans to the north and the Iroquoian Tuscaroras (identified by some historians as the Mandoag) to the west. “They occupied a critical point in the east-west flow of trade goods. Coastal peoples sent foodstuffs, beads, and European trade goods into the interior, which Choanoac middlemen exchanged with people farther to the west. Trade goods—beads, foodstuff, furs, and copper—moved along a line from the interior to the coast. The English needed protection from these coastal people. Certainly through Manteo they would have told Menatonon that provisions and trade goods were on the way, and that once their governor returned they could provide Menatonon with an ample quantity of presents. The colonists could strengthen the position of the Choanoacs in regional trade networks.” (Oberg 142-143). Over the years, the settlers would have been assimilated into the Choanoac tribe, becoming in the eyes of their host, full members of the community.

“We know that the Powhatan chiefdom and the Choanoacs had contended for control of the interior, particularly with regard to copper, a critical indication of status in Algonquian societies. At times they fought, and at times they traded. But once the English arrived at Jamestown Wahunsonacock [spelling differs from Horn’s] may have viewed the colonists settled in his territory and the white people at Chaonoac as levers Menatonon’s people could use to undermine his power. So in 1607 the Powhatans fell upon White’s colonists and their Choanoac hosts. Most of White’s colonists died, but a few survived …” (Oberg 142), finding shelter in different towns in the interior. “Yet it may not have happened like this at all,” Oberg concludes. What he seems reasonably certain of is that “Wahunsonacock attacked the colonists and their Algonquian hosts [whoever they might have been] … Some of them survived. … The descendants of these few colonists would have been socialized in native village communities in the Eastern Woodland. They became Algonquians and were no longer English men and women” (Oberg 146).

Lee Miller in her book "Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony" also agrees that most of John White’s settlers relocated in Choanoac territory. “It was an ideal region southwest of the Dismal Swamp along the Chowan River. Amazingly rich, well wooded, plentiful. … Survival was the issue. Relocation to the Chowan River, therefore, was the best decision that could have been made. … when John Smith questioned the Powhatan about the Lost Colonists, their advice was to search among the Chowanoc [a different spelling]. Indeed, they seemed so certain that this was where White’s company would be found that Michael Sicklemore” was sent by John Smith in late December 1608 to investigate. He found no colonists. “Instead, the picture the country presented was one of massive depopulation. The land was fertile, yet the people few, the country most overgrown with pines. Villages were gone, old fields reverted to stands of pines, one of the first trees to reestablish” (Miller 229-230).

What had happened? A massacre of the Chowanoc? Miller believes differently. “Disease. Contagion occurred everywhere in the Americas that Europeans made contact. [It decimated Algonquian villages along the shoreline of Pamlico Sound, Thomas Hariot noted, after he and his surveying crew and other Englishmen had made contact with them] … Disease had struck the Powhatan. … The illness may well have spread north from the Chowanoc country. [Roanoke Governor Ralph Lane and a company of soldiers had made aggressive contact with the Chowanoc in 1586] Menatonon traded with the Powhatan. … Suppose the explanation was as follows: the main body of White’s colonists separated and moved inland to the Chowan River. The Powhatan confirmed this, claiming that they had settled at Ohanoac … well within Chowanoc territory. And there it must have happened. A sudden and precipitious population decline would account very well for the situation Michael Sicklemore encountered. Few people, few villages, old fields overgrown with pines” (Miller 230).

The colonists, however, were mostly immune. What became of them? Noting that the Algonquian Secotan (Pamlico Sound villages mostly, including Roanoke), Chowanoc, and Weaponeoc had been allied defensively in 1584 against aggressive non-Algonquian tribes situated in the interior, Miller believes that contagion destroyed the prevailing balance of power in the region. The contagion that spread throughout the tribes of the alliance never reached the fearful enemies to the west, collectively referred to as the Mandoags. “… the question we must ask is this: Did the Chowanoc, the nation closest to the Mandoag frontier, come under attack?” Miller’s conclusion: “Reduced by disease, the Chowanoc had been attacked on the frontier. By a life-long enemy. By the Mandoag. If this indeed happened, the Chowanoc would have lost. White’s colonists would have suffered the same fate’ (Miller 233, 234).

Miller believes the Mandoag attack occurred soon after the colonists’ relocation, not some twenty years later. Events “must have moved rapidly after the colonists’ relocation, after the sudden shift in the balance of power.” It was the custom of Carolina and Virginia natives to spare women and children in battle. They would also spare men who surrendered in battle and men who were leaders or whose labor was valued. “… we might suppose that a rather large number of English men, women, and children were whisked away into the interior, possibly around thirty-five …’ (Miller 236). Evidence of their existence were crosses and letters newly carved in the barks of trees, left for Jamestown residents Nathaniel Powell and Anas Todkill, dispatched into Mandoag territory by John Smith, to discover.

Meanwhile, Jamestown was in desperate straits. “Jamestown has no food. Supply ships come, but they also bring more colonists. Too many planters are unwilling to fend for themselves, despite their own looming mortality. They reach crisis level, then sink even lower. The winter of 1609 is Jamestown’s starving time. … May 23, 1609. Sir Thomas Gates is dispatched to Jamestown with authority to impose martial law, if need be, to reestablish order.” He is instructed by the Virginia Company, the colony’s London group of investors, to wage war on the Powhatan. He is told: “You are to seize into your custody half their corn and harvest and their weroances and all other their known successors at once. Their children are to be taken and reeducated so that their people will easily obey you. Priests are to be imprisoned so that they no longer poison and infect them their minds with religion. … The Virginia Council are adept manipulators. Brainwash the children, remove the religious leaders. Control a people. … War is declared” (Miller 219, 220).

Reports of atrocities reached England. “Jamestown soldiers prodded [Paspahegh Chief] Wowinchopunk’s children into boats, rowed them into the bay, and disposed of them by throwing them overboard and shooting out their brains in the water. Governor De la Warr had their mother arrested as a prisoner of war, then ordered her stabbed. Reports multiply. A Nansemond village was incinerated, temples looted, the royal corpses dragged out onto the sand and robbed of their pearl and copper adornments. … England erupts in massive protest. Critics condemn the theft of Powhatan land, charging that Jamestown is no better than Spain, glossing robbery under cunning and coloured falsehoods” (Miller 220).

The Virginia Company insisted that it had the legal right to take away Powhatan land, citing the precedence of the colony of Roanoke. Protesters were adamant. “It is clear that the only way to get the country behind the war is to turn the Powhatan into villains” (Miller 220). William Strachey, secretary of the Jamestown colony, did so, declaring that Wahunsonacock had murdered White’s settlers. What then of John Smith’s statement written years later, that Wahunsonacock had told him in December 2008 that he had ordered the settlers murdered? “The truth is that Smith never said that Wahunsonacock murdered the colonists. Samuel Purchas [a London compiler of travel narratives, a cleric who believed that the Powhatan were devil-worshippers] said so. “Powhatan confessed that he had been at the murder of that colony, Purchas wrote, and showed to Captain Smith a musket barrel and a brass mortar and certain pieces of iron which had been theirs. Hardly proof – the items could have come in trade from anywhere. … The explanation that the Powhatan murdered the Lost Colonists is too neat and tidy. Were it believed, then Jamestown could justify wiping out the Powhatan. The implications are profound: from the moment war is declared, no further searches are made. Stachey’s story and thirty years of ensuing hostility destroy any information we might have recovered” (Miller 224). The story holds for four centuries, Miller contends. Historians David Beers Quinn, James Horn, and Michael Leroy Oberg have perpetuated it.

Who were the Mandoag? Lee Miller asks. They were not a distinct tribe. The word is a term that means “stealthy” and “treacherous,” that means “enemy,” that means “snakes.” The Mandoag “region is large, the nations many” (Miller 241). They were not the Iroquoian Tuscarora, as some historians maintain. The nation that Miller identifies as the prime culprit is the Siouan-speaking Eno, who controlled access to the copper-producing region in the Carolina Piedmont. Very fierce and powerful, the Eno were mercenaries hired by the small but very wealthy Occaneechi nation to assist in protecting Occaneechi Island, a vital trading center and distribution terminus for products moving up an established trading path from the south. The Eno monitored entry onto the trading path and northern access to distant copper mines approximately 250 miles into the interior. Miller believes that the Eno took the English survivors to the Occaneechi trade mart, where they were separated and disseminated throughout the Piedmont among the Occaneechi trading partners and among Eno towns.

“Deep in the woods, far in the interior of a country called Mandoag, where the tall trees close in the darkness, melted copper runs in rivulets. … Cut off from any communication, dispersed one from the other, four men, two boys, and a young girl work the copper. Men have come looking for them. Englishmen, stumbling through the interior, from faraway Jamestown. Steam rising up from the fires of the melting copper reflects a sudden spark of hope in eyes dulled from drudgery – if only they can speak to the search party, if only they can cry out. ‘We are here! We are here!’ But the Mandoag won’t allow it. Through stinging tears, a man carves a cross on a tree, and another. And another. A forest etched with crosses.

“Power and politics are in Jamestown. No one understands the message. The search for White’s colonists is called off and a story fabricated. All hope is gone” (Miller 262).

Finally, an article, “Map’s Hidden Marks Illuminate and Deepen Mystery of Lost Colony,” printed May 3, 2012, in the New York Times deserves our attention. Here are pertinent excerpts.

The British Museum’s re-examination of a 16th-century coastal map using 21st-century imaging techniques has revealed hidden markings that show an inland fort where the colonists could have resettled after abandoning the coast.

The analysis suggests that the symbol marking the fort was deliberately hidden, perhaps to shield it from espionage in the spy-riddled English court.

The discovery came from a watercolor map in the British Museum’s permanent collection that was drawn by the colony’s governor, John White.

In the past there had been hints as to where the settlers might have gone — White himself made an oblique reference to a destination 50 miles inland — but no solid evidence had surfaced.

Even White’s map, which was included in a 2007 British Museum exhibition, appeared to hold no clues. But two small patches layered atop the map intrigued Brent Lane, a member of the board of the First Colony Foundation who was helping research the site of an American Indian village.

Mapmakers in the era often used the patches, overlaying new paper atop old to correct mistakes and repair damage. Mr. Lane speculated that one of the patches could mask an Indian village.

The British Museum agreed to investigate, and it used infrared light, X-ray spectroscopy and other imaging techniques to look beneath the patches. The larger patch, which was the focus of Mr. Lane’s curiosity, indeed appeared to show a correction to coastal topography.

What lay under the second one stunned Mr. Lane. The patch hid a four-pointed star outlined in blue and filled in red, according to the British Museum’s report. The patch also covered a smaller, enigmatic marking, possibly a second settlement.

To historians, the star where two rivers emptied into Albemarle Sound probably represented a fort or the intended location of one, and its discovery greatly increases the likelihood that the colonists retreated to the spot.

Quoted by The Virginia Gazette, historian James Horn commented: “I couldn’t have scripted it better. I was stunned when I heard the news. That’s exactly where I wrote they had gone.” Archeological excavation could probably prove whether an English settlement had ever existed at that location. Because a privately owned 18-hole golf course presently covers the land, this has not been done.

Works cited:

Emery, Theo. “Map’s Hidden Marks Illuminate and Deepen Mystery of Lost Colony.” New York Times 3 May 2012: A18. The New York Times. Web. 4 May 2012.;

Horn, James. Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Print.

Miller, Lee. Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001. Print.

Oberg, Michael Leroy. The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand: Roanoke’s Forgotten Indians. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Print.