An entire colony in North America has mysteriously gone missing. Scientists and researchers cannot seem to discover the exact reason that the colonists suddenly disappeared, yet many intriguing and detailed theories have been presented. Many of them contain scientific evidence, but there’s not enough to prove if it’s right or wrong. Some theories, however, are simply just guesses based on the cultures and traditions of the neighboring Native American tribes. The Roanoke Colony was established in August of 1587, and then abandoned by 1590, leaving behind the mystery of the 116 missing colonists. The Governor of the colony, John White, decided to sail back to England that year in order to get more supplies for the colony. When he got back, there was a war going on between England and Spain and John White was unable to get a ship back to Roanoke. He eventually made it back to the colony in 1590. When he got there, it was completely vacant, leaving only the word Croatoan carved into a fence post. Although there are many theories as to what happened to the missing colonists, not all of them have enough evidence to really prove any theory to be true. The most likely cause of the disappearance is a drought that forced them out, much like the drought that was encountered by the Jamestown colonists. The other theories include the colonists absorbing into the Native Tribes, murder, cannablism, and disease.
The most plausible theory is that the colonists experienced a drought that forced them to move out of Roanoke Island. Archeologists studied the Cypress trees around the location of the colony and saw that the colonists experienced a rather large drought. This natural disaster could have forced the colonists to relocate in an effort to find a source of water, explaining why they took their belongings with them. This theory provides actual evidence of the drought, much like the one experienced by the colonists in Jamestown, Virginia. The Jamestown colonists wrote about famine and contaminated water. During the drought, the crops would have failed, leaving them with little food and unable to trade with the various neighboring Native Tribes.
One of the most popular theories is that the colonists were absorbed into the Native Tribes and stayed with the Natives for food and shelter. Francis Nelson, a settler of Jamestown, drew the Zuniga Map, which documents that four men from Roanoke were living with the Iroquois Tribe. The Roanoke settlers could have joined the Croatoan Natives,but their relationship wasn’t always very positive, and there is not much evidence to really know for sure. The colonists could have had a smooth transition and simply joined the Natives for help in the New World, or, their reason for transitioning could have been a rather harsh and cruel one. They could have been captured and taken in as slaves and used by the Natives. This theory makes sense and is easy to understand, however, there is no hard evidence that shows that this is exactly what happened. More evidence would need to be found by historians in order for this theory to really work. With today’s technology, DNA testing is a good resource to find out if the colonists did in fact blend into the tribe, but so far there is no DNA evidence to support this theory.
A rather dark theory that is a possibility is that the colonists of Roanoke were murdered. John Smith attempted to solve the mystery of the missing colonists in 1607 and claimed that Chief Powhatan told him that he killed the colonists. Powhatan is thought to have done this as a way of getting revenge because the colonists were living with a tribe that refused to become allies with him. It is said that Powhatan showed Smith a musket barrel, and a brass mortar and pestle. This story is greatly disputed by many historians because of the lack of hard evidence. There were no bodies left that could support the theory, leaving a rather large hole in the thought process.
The third theory that historians debate about is cannibalism. This theory has two major ideas within it. The first idea is that the colonists themselves were forced to resort to cannibalism, due to the harsh conditions that arose in the colony and it was the only method of survival. The second idea is that the colonists ended up being the victims of cannibals from outside of the colony. Many Native Tribes weren’t fond of having outsiders near their land so it is a possibility that they were in fact cannibals and turned on the colonists. Although no bodies were found, the Natives could have taken the bones and used them for healing remedies or simply disposed of the bodies themselves. However there is no real evidence that shows the Natives were cannibalists.
Another popular theory is that the colonists came in contact with disease. They were in a new territory and had not yet built up their immunity to the various bacteria and viruses that could be found in the area. As a result, they could have easily caught a type of plague or deadly virus that eventually killed them off. Another perspective to take on the disease theory is that the healthy colonists wouldn’t want to come in contact with the sick colonists so they could protect themselves. If this did happen, violence could erupt, causing major conflict between the colony. The healthy settlers could have killed off the unhealthy for self defense. The only problem with this perspective is that it doesn’t explain what happened to the colonists who stayed healthy, making the first perspective sound more accurate. Not much evidence supports this theory since there were no bodies found and no evidence of the colonists livelihood, meaning that they most likely picked up their belongings and moved out. If diseases did kill them off, they most likely would have left remnants of their lives behind. Also, Europe was much more developed than the Americas, causing it to have more complex germs. This means that it would have been much more likely for the Natives to have caught diseases from the colonists, instead of the colonists catching diseases from the Natives.
The theory with the most scientific evidence is that the Roanoke colonists experienced a severe drought, forcing them to move to a location that has more water access. The other theories that are presented make sense, but don’t have the evidence to back them up. There’s no bodies that were left behind and no proof of cannibalism and specific diseases. It makes sense that the colonists joined the Native Tribes due to the carving of the word Croatoan, but there’s not enough hard evidence to back that theory up. The Natives in the area have their own beliefs on what could have happened based on their spiritual beliefs. The Croatoans believe that the Roanoke Island has a spirit that turns humans into nature if it was angered. Some Coratoans believe that the colonists could have made the spirit mad by abusing the land, so it turned them into trees or stones. They also believe in an evil spirit that could have caused the colonists to turn on each other, resulting in violence throughout the colony.Many theories about the Roanoke colonists disappearance exist, it is impossible to know for sure what happened with the amount of evidence we have today, but an educated guess can be made based on the recent findings about the major drought that occured.