Last night on The History Channel H2, the new series, America Unearthed, explored the Mystery of Roanoke, The Lost Colony! This could be the oldest ′cold case′ in American history. Founded on July 4, 1584, the Roanoke Colony was the first English settlement in North America, granted under Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Walter Raleigh. But when John White, the governor of the colony, left North Carolina in 1587 to acquire additional supplies in England, something happened. Upon his return the following year, White discovered that all of the 119 colonists were gone without a trace. Few clues were left behind, such as a word carved on the colony’s wooden palisade, CROATOAN. In 1937, a series of rocks bearing inscriptions were found in the Deep South. These 48 rocks are known as the Dare Stones, as the first was inscribed by Anania or Eleanor Dare, daughter of John White. Most of these stones were found near Atlanta, Georgia, raising the speculation that either they are frauds, or perhaps the surviving colonists fled west for some reason. So forensic geologist Scott Wolter has his work cut out for him as he sorts out the Dare Stones, as well as a new piece of the puzzle, the Virginea Pars map.
Scott begins examining the Dare Stones. The first of which was found nearby in what today is Edenton, North Carolina. The large rock is one of quartzite, which he examines creating a 3-D image on his computer. The results show definite signs of weathering, therefore making the inscription very old. Wolter next examines the other stones and finds them to also be sufficiently weathered to discount any hoax theory.
He then visits the actual site of the First Colony in Roanoke, North Carolina. Rob Rollings of the Parks Service gives Scott the grand tour. Wolter is impressed with the colony′s defensive earthworks, which essentially form a diamond-shaped ′star fort′, a practical design in the 16th Century. Star Forts allow for effective use of firepower from cannon and muskets with over-lapping fields of fire. The subject of Indian relations and the colonists leads us to the CROATOAN inscription on the settlement′s wooden fortress walls. Chowanoke was the leader of a local tribe that they were on friendly terms with. Croataon Island, now known as Hatteras Island, is near the Roanoke site and might be where the colonists moved to. The accepted history is that the colonists were captured by hostile Indians, possibly a tribe known as the Saponi, and were either killed or used as slave labor. Later colonists and explorers did come across natives who could speak English. Some artifacts of 16th Century English made goods have been found on Hatteras Island, but are inconclusive as to their origins.
Just as Wolter is ready to quit, his wife emails him a news article about a map discovered in an English museum that may shed some light on the mystery. Known as the Virginea Pars Map, it was made by, or based on information from John White. What is odd is that the map has a ′patch′ on it, where one location is marked to obscure a feature. Scott flies to Salisbury in England to have a look. He meets with historian Dr. Stephanie Pratt who shows him the map and what an X-ray of the patched area is hiding. The feature is that of a diamond-shaped star fort!
Wolter next travels to St. John′s College to meet with Dr. Mark Nichols to learn more about Sir Walter Raleigh. It seems that the main purpose for the Roanoke Colony may have been the cultivation and export of sassafras. While the English were not using it to make root beer yet, sassafras was the main medicine of the time for combating syphilis. Scott flies back to North Carolina to check out the site of the patched location from the Virginea Pars Map. The place is now a golf course, built in 2009. The manager gives Wolter a tour and tells him that no artifacts were found during construction. But, not only is there a lot of sassafras around, right across the river is where the first Dare Stone was discovered!
So were the Dare Stones left as markers for future travelers to follow? Did Eleanor Dare know that her father, John White, would return to where she left the first stone to alert him as to the First Roanoke Colony had moved to? Scott Wolter of America Unearthed thinks that the Mystery of Roanoke may be confirmed by the Dare Stones and the Virginea Pars Map. While some colonists may have went to Croatoan Island to seek shelter from local natives, others went far west, leaving a trail of stone markers behind them. He also concluded that Sir Walter Raleigh hoped to corner the market on sassafras to use for medicine against syphilis.