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Welcome to Episode #124 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

In the 1580s, Queen Elizabeth was keen to explore the land that would eventually become the United States in an effort to both be at the forefront of international exploration, as well as to expand the reach and colonies of England. To accomplish these goals, she would send perhaps her most famous explorer (and sometimes called pirate) Sir Walter Raleigh, in the 1580s, to lead not one, but two, expeditions to try and establish the first permanent settlement in North America. What is now Dare County, North Carolina, in the US, was founded in 1585 by the first expedition, and the settlement failed. Their governor, Ralph Lane, travelled with Sir Francis Drake back to England looking for supplies, abandoning his settlement to do so. Two years later, in 1587, John White would become governor of Roanoke colony and it, too, would suffer from a relentless lack of supplies. In August of 1587, White’s granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was born on Roanoke Island less than a month after the colonists had landed at Roanoke to establish this ill fated settlement. Nine days after her birth on August 27, 1587, John White left the colony pledging to return in three months. He returned to England, reported to Raleigh, and requested aid.  However, the Spanish Armada attack in 1588 delayed White’s return to Roanoke. White finally returned three years later on August 18, 1590, Virginia’s third birthday, and he found the colony abandoned. For centuries the fate of the colony has captivated not only modern enthusiasts and history students, but the expeditions were popular current events for England in the 16th to early 17th century, with numerous letters, and indeed reports from the return trips that Governor John White took himself after Virginia Dare was born, were circulated in London to keep the English financiers informed about the progress of these journeys. 

Even if the letters and books being published in London as Shakespeare was writing his plays weren’t enough, there were also first hand accounts from the people living there. Some historians believe Shakespeare based several of his characters in The Tempest on stories related to these journeys to form the new colonies, including one professor who claims the character of Miranda is a fictionalized version of Virginia Dare, imagining what life might have been like growing up in Roanoke Colony. Regardless of whether the characters of Shakespeare’s The Tempest can be directly tied to the Roanoke Colony specifically, it is clear that for William Shakespeare, England’s role in international exploration, as well as the fate of the contemporary English men and women travelling on these expeditions were hot topics for people in London at the time. 

Having been considered lost for centuries, and a huge mystery for historians, our guest today believes he has located the final resting place of the Lost Colony, and indeed, has uncovered artifacts that suggest they were never lost in the first place. Today we welcome Scott Dawson, archaeologist and author of The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island to tell the story of Roanoke Colony that so captured the imagination of Shakespeare’s England in the 1580s, as well as our own imagination into the 21st century, and to tell us about what he has found on Hatteras Island that leads him to believe this colony which once was lost, has now been found.

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Scott Dawson is an author, teacher, and Founder of the Croatoan Archaeological Society.  A native of Hatteras Island, Dawson grew up less than a mile from the Croatoan village site and has always been fascinated in the history of the Island. As a child he often sifted through construction sites to find native American pottery hundreds of years old. His family can trace their roots on Hatteras back to the 1600’s when a Dutchman named Thomas Mueller shipwrecked on the island, was rescued by the Croatoan Indians, and later married a Croatoan woman named Rea. He has made it his life’s mission to locate the final whereabouts of the infamous “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island – America’s oldest mystery since 1587.  Scott's efforts got the attention of Dr. Mark Horton from England's University of Bristol, who has been digging in the area since 2009. Their historic findings are just now coming to light, being published across a documentary film, upcoming BBC documentaries, and perhaps the most comprehensive look at their discoveries are inside Scott’s latest book, The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island 

In this episode, I’ll be asking Scott Dawson about :

  • Were the English colonists expecting to be rescued?
  • Why has no one found them before now?
  • What artifacts did you find to indicate they moved to Hatteras Island?

… and more!

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What news abroad i' the world?
Escalus

Measure for Measure (III.2)

Examples of native pipes found at Hatteras Island by University of Bristol in conjuction with Croatoan Archaeological Society. Dated June 2020. Accessed August 18, 2020. Used for the show notes this week by special permission from the Croatoan Archaeological Society. Source

Croatoans were the English Only Allies

We have records that when Roanoke Colony Governor John White returned to Roanoke Island in 1590 he saw the word “Croatoan” carved into a fence post and that evidence suggests, according to Scott’s book, that he knew exactly where the colonists had gone. So why did no one find them?

Scott shares that the Croatoan nation were the only friends of the English in this part of the New Colonies. Landing at Hatteras Island, and not Roanoke, was often a matter of course for English sailors. Scott says,

The English had been going there regularly, so they knew where it was. They give the exact latitude of the location.

During the voyage to return with supplies for the Roanoke Colonists. a hurricane blew the ship, and Governor John White with it, off course. During this voyage, the crew of the ship which had been selected was a band of pirates. John White apparently had difficulty securing safe passage back to the colony, and had hitchiked with a questionable crew. This proved to be a bad decision, as once the hurriance struck, the Captain and single ally of John White, drowned. Without the captain, anarchy broke out on the ship, and John White was abandoned on Roanoke.

During the interim of awaiting White's return, the colonists are unaware of the Spanish Armada, the hurricane, or the troubles befalling their governor. They are expecting themselves to be resupplied, and do not consider themselves lost. 

When they went to the Croatoans, Scott explains that

Voyages that came before the colony went to war with another tribe on the mainland (murdered, pillages, etc) and the Croatoan supported this action because they didn’t like that tribe. [The Croatoans] are helping the English ambush and murder the chief, etc. When the colony comes in George Howell (sp?) was murdered, after this happened, 25 guys went to Croatoan to find out who killed him (he was alone when he died). [The Croatoans] told the men that it was a native village that hated the English [who had committed the murder]. The English asked if they would go work that out trade forgiveness to let the colony stay. Croatoan didn’t do that, they attacked the tribe, then shared spoils with the English. [At this point,] the Croatoans were the only place [the English] could go. Everyone else wanted to kill them.

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Display case of European artifacts uncovered by the University of Bristol in conjunction with the Croatoan Archaeological Society at Hatteras Island. Used By Permission. Dated June, 2012. Accessed August 18, 2020. Source

They were starving

In 1585, when the English arrived they committed atrocities against the Indians living in the area. As a result, most of the local tribes hate the English and this means the Roanoke Colony is surrounded by people who want to kill them. When you cannot travel far outside your camp to look for food for fear of being ambushed, your options for procuring supplies outside of resupply missions by ship are severely limited. We have records of the English colonies absolutely starving to death at Roanoke, with some records indicating they were eating their own hunting dogs.

At one point, a group of colonists was sent to Hatteras to watch for signs of incoming ships. Once they did find a ship, managed to flag down a ship captained by Sir Francis Drake and bring supplies back to the colony. Ultimately, these feedble attempts at staying alive proved unsustainable. The colony had to relocate, and the only option they had was with the Croatoans.
The archaeological evidence on Hatteras Island corroborates this theory, as well as contemporary accounts that record a mash up of English and Native cultures being witnessed upon return visits of new English colonists to the area.

As Scott shares, their digs produced English (specifically Elizabethan) artifacts:

“Right in the middle of the native village you find very English artifacts. Casting their own bullets, and European technology that would have otherwise been alien to the natives. We see the Natives pick up these technologies and continue this traditions for as long as a century after the colony arrived.”

Local native Indians who spoke both English and Alogonquin helped the colonists when they moved to Croatoan. The discoveries of the Croatoan Archeological Society show copper earrings which have been fashioned into fishhooks and other Elizabethan artifacts of the English being put to primitive, and effective, survival uses. 

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O brave new world, That has such people in't!
Miranda

Tempest (V.1)

A 1529 map depicting “Verazzano's Sea” extending from the North Atlantic to the Outer Banks | Girolamo de Verrazzano, 16thcentury cartographer, brother of Giovanni d Verrazzano, c. 1529 | Girolamo de Verrazzano's 1529 map of his brother Giovanni's 1524 voyage along the East Coast of America. Public Domain. Source

England abandoned the colony entirely

We know that John White never returned to find the lost colonists, citing bad weather as his reason for not returning. The surprising reality is that not one person every tried to find them until an entire century later when John Lawson returned to try and see if any of the English desccendants were still alive. When he arrived on Roanoke Colony, he found blue eyed Indians and recorded other evidence of the original colony having assimilated with the Croatoans. According to Scott, King James hated the investors of Roanoke colony to such a degree, that no one from the Jamestown colony ever tried to interact or engage with the members of the Roanoke group. Political reasons at home in England, namely The AngloSpanish war between England and Spain continued through this time, and Scott suggests James I would have been risking  the peace with Spain to support the Roanoke Colony, so “he hated them.” As further evidence of Roanoke's location having been at Croatoan, when Jamestown interviewed Pocahontas’ uncle to try and find the Roanoke tribe, he pointed them towards Croatoan.

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John White discovers the word “CROATOAN” carved at Roanoke's fort palisade. Unknown author. Public Domain. Source

They never found Virginia Dare

While the little evidence we have does provide enough to piece together the living conditions, diet, and environment where the Roanoke colonists were living, we do not have enough information to piece together what happened to key members of the party, including the final resting place of Virginia Dare. Neither her, nor any evidence of her, were ever found. 

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Books & Resources Scott Dawson Recommends

Download this Stratford Upon Avon Watercolor Print

Completed in pen, pencil, and watercolor by Cassidy Cash, this Stratford Upon Avon print features 8 real life properties located in Stratford Upon Avon, England, from the life of William Shakespeare in one beautiful print. Celebrate your love of Shakespeare by downloading your free copy when you sign up for our email newsletter. The newsletter goes out on Mondays with episode notifications, and as a subscriber you get artwork like this one every month, completely free.

Subscribe now and grab your copy!

This illustration is part of our exclusive members library available when you subscribe to That Shakespeare Life. Subscription helps support the podcast and gives you access to the entire library PLUS you get our exclusive Experience Shakespeare digital history activity kits delivered once a month. Learn more and sign up here.


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