The disappearance of the Roanoke colony remains one of the oldest unsolved mysteries in the United States. It all began back in 1587, when Sir Walter Raleigh financed the attempts of John White to establish a colony on Roanoke Island, just off the coast of North Carolina. They landed on July 22, establishing themselves rather quickly, and everything seemed to be going well for the thriving colony of 115 people. In fact, John White’s daughter, Eleanor Dare, gave birth to a daughter while in Roanoke. Little Virginia Dare was born on August 18th and has the title of being the very first English child born in the Americas.
John White set sail back to England to gather fresh supplies, but an attack by the Spanish Armada delayed his return. White finally returned to Roanoke in 1590 after being away from his family for three years, but he arrived to find the entire colony had simply vanished, leaving nothing behind except the word “Croatoan” carved into a post and “Cro” etched into a tree. But what does "Croatoan mean" and where could the colony have gone?
The Colonists Moved Away or Tried to Sail Back to England
Just south of Roanoke was an island named “Croatoan” that was home to a Native American tribe of the same name. Since the settlers had developed a good rapport with the tribe and the name “Croatoan” was found, it was assumed the settlers must have moved to the island of Croatoan and been absorbed into the tribe or simply moved inland. But a DNA analysis of local families that launched in 2007 has so far failed to prove the people of Roanoke thrived or intermingled with anyone in the area.
It has also been theorized that they grew tired of waiting for John White to return and attempted to sail back to England on their own. Unfortunately, there is no ship, shipwreck, or evidence of any kind to support this theory either.
The Colonists at Roanoke Were the Victims of Cannibalism - Or Practiced It Themselves
There were other tribes in the area that weren’t as friendly as the Croatoan tribe. There was a theory that one of these more aggressive groups, who may have been cannibals, attacked and ate the English colonists. The lack of bodies could just mean there was nothing left: many cultures have used bones as ingredients for healing remedies, grinding them into a powder form. It may sound like a time-consuming task, but it took three years for White to find out they were missing. There’s no way to know exactly when the settlers started disappearing – they could have been picked off one by one.
There is no evidence that any tribes in the area practiced cannibalism; there is however, evidence that the colony of Jonestown Virginia committed cannibalism in 1609. It’s quite possible their predecessors over in Roanoke succumbed to eating human flesh as well. After their leader left for supplies and didn’t return for three years, they could have been starving. There was also talk from local tribes that the colonists were having a war within their ranks. The people of Roanoke could have resorted to cannibalism and eaten themselves out of existence.
Or perhaps some of them still exist, taken over by the ancient Native American spirit of the wild, known as a wendigo - it was believed that when a human resorted to cannibalism to survive, they might turn into the terrifying beast.
Edgar Allan Poe Had a Mysterious Connection to the Word "Croatoan"
The whereabouts of the colony aren’t the only remaining mystery: archeologists and historians alike are still scratching their heads trying to figure out why Croatoan was carved into that post in the first place. It clearly wasn’t to point the blame at the tribe, and the colonists didn’t move in with them, so what is the significance of the word? Were they trying to say the Croatoan tribe would know what happened to them? (Giving more weight to the Croatoan’s story about an evil spirit taking over the settlers and the phenomenon with the wildlife.)
The word “Croatoan” has popped up several more times over the last few centuries, each time in connection with mysterious disappearances and nowhere near Roanoke.
The events leading up to the death of Edgar Allan Poe are still a mystery. He disappeared for a spell and when he was seen again he was babbling incoherently in the streets - seemingly drunk, but he wasn’t just drunk, he was delirious. Allegedly, one of the things Poe whispered while on his deathbed in this mysterious state of delirium was the word “Croatoan.”
What illness Poe had and his official cause of death are unknown. All medical records and his death certificate were allegedly lost. Could he have experienced what the lost colony experienced?
The Word Appears at the Site of Many Mysterious Disappearances
This mysterious word was also found scribbled in the journal of Amelia Earhart after her disappearance in 1937. Horror author Ambrose Bierce vanished in Mexico back in 1913. The bed he slept in last had the word "Croatoan" carved in its post. The notorious stagecoach robber Black Bart etched the word into the wall of his prison cell right before his release in 1888 and was never seen again. "Croatoan" was written on the last page of the logbook of the notorious ghost ship Carroll A. Deering back in 1921, when it ran aground on Cape Hatteras (missing its crew), right by what was once known as Croatoan Island.
An Infectious Disease Drove the Colonists Mad
Because of the reports from Native American tribes claiming to have witnessed internal warfare among the Roanoke colonists, archeologists have also theorized that the Roanoke settlers could have contracted a plague. The illness could have caused delirium, paranoia, or even complete madness amongst the infected. Perhaps those not infected wanted to rid themselves of those who were out of fear of contracting the virus themselves. This type of “us-or-them” scenario could have easily escalated into violence, murder, and even cannibalism.
Roanoke Was the Site of a Zombie Apocalypse
Another theory folks like to share on the internet is that Roanoke was ground zero for some kind of zombie apocalypse. This theory combines the disease theory with the cannibalism theory. First, the settlers were infected with a zombie virus that not only gave them an insatiable hunger for human flesh, but hastened the decaying process in their own bodies. Which is why they didn’t find any bodies - everything rotted away as their shambling bodies ate the entire food supply, falling where they stood once nothing was left. The remains would have been long gone, fertilizer for the forest before John White’s ship returned.
The Roanoke Colonists Were Transformed Into Trees
The Croatoan tribe believed the island had a spirit who, if angered, had the ability to absorb the offenders into the woods - as in, literally transform them into animals, trees, stones, or anything else in nature. If this lore were taken at face value, that would mean no one went missing, they just became a part of the land.
The Reptilian Devil of the Woods Possessed the Colonists
The Croatoans believed "greater spirits" manifested themselves in the form of elements, and they reported a strange phenomenon that occurred at the same time as the vanishing of the colonists. Birds fell from the sky and large numbers of wildlife died abruptly in the area where the Native people hunted.
The Croatoans told of an evil spirit, the equivalent the Christian Satan, that took the form of a reptile. They said it was able to attach itself to humans, causing them to demonstrate the demonic traits like violence, rapaciousness, and greed. The Croatoans warned the colonists that the evil reptilian spirit had infested the entire region and once the infighting began, they knew the settlers were infected with the creature’s evil and that’s why they turned on each other.