The ‘Lost’ Colony and John White’s ‘Virgenia Pars’ Map: An Outer Banks historian provides some much-needed historical context

Editor’s note: As news trickled in late last week and over the weekend regarding the latest discovery beneath the patches on the John White ‘Virgenia Pars’ map, I immediately knew I wanted to speak to Scott Dawson, the most knowledgeable expert on the so-called ‘Lost Colony’ that I know. And let me be very clear — to say Mr. Dawson is the most knowledgeable person I know on the subject is not a claim I make lightly. I have been involved in researching early coastal Carolina history for nearly two decades. I have done research with, and for, more than one ‘group’ promoting itself as focused on the ‘Lost Colony’, and have become disenchanted with the recurrent theme in such groups of having agenda-driven theories that are weakly supported by cobbled-together, cherry-picked pieces of data, attempting to prove a desired historical interpretation, rather than allowing the data to all come in and then forming hypotheses from said data.

In my observations over these last many years, it appears much of the historical hullabaloo relating to the Lost Colony is more about drumming up publicity and headlines, followed by more ‘research dollars.’

Scott Dawson, on the other hand, is a Hatteras island native who, himself, is a descendant of the very Croatoan Indians who figure so prominently into the Lost Colony history. For him, research into the subjects of both indigenous history, as well as Indian-Colonial relations in early North Carolina is a labor of love. He knows the history of Hatteras, Roanoke and the surrounding areas with a level of familiarity and detail that I’ve not found elsewhere. His ability to recall the most minute details of even the lesser-known historical sources is truly impressive. He advocates strongly for investigating and teaching Coastal Carolina Indian history, and has expressed how troubled he is that there appears to be little interest in academia in researching the First People of our coast — unless, of course, the research can somehow be linked to the English settlers of the ‘Lost Colony.’ — S.W.

New Mystery Fort… Lost Colony?

by Scott Dawson

The new discovery on John White’s 1585 map is exciting, but the connection between it and the 1587 ‘lost’ colony is not supported in the primary sources.  The fort is far more likely to be connected with the 1585 voyage, and was possibly never even built.

In archaeology, everything is about context, and in history, the same thing is true.

In the current media, a lot of hype has been made about a cherry-picked phrase from one of John White’s writings stating a possibility of the colony moving “50 miles into the main” from Roanoke Island.

I would like to take this opportunity to explain the context, and then to dispute the recent claims of the press regarding the 1587 colony.

A Modern-Day Example

I am going to start you out with an analogy — one that you can ponder before I present the historical facts from the primary sources.

Imagine you are married with kids.

Your spouse and children are going to meet you at a restaurant that evening for dinner.

You cannot ride with them because you are coming from work to meet them.  Before you left for work earlier that morning, there was some talk of going to Café 12 in Avon.

You have to come home to change clothes first before meeting them for dinner, so you ask your spouse to leave a note of what restaurant they decide on, and you will meet them there.

You come home from work to change clothes and find a note that says, “We’re going to the Shipwreck Grill in Buxton.”

What do you do?

Will you head on over to the Shipwreck Grill, or the Café 12?

The answer is obvious. You’d go to the Shipwreck Grill. It would make no sense to go to one place when your family has left you a note that they’ve gone to another place.

Café 12 has the same context as the now over-hyped phrase “50 miles in to the main” (or Bertie County).  Shipwreck Grill represents Croatoan, or modern day Hatteras Island from Buxton to Hatteras Village.~

I am now going to present to you what is being ignored, and has been ignored for far too long — the actual FACTS and CLUES surrounding the ‘lost’ colony.

1584 – The First Voyage – Barlowe and Amadas

The first 16th century English voyage — and most forgotten voyage — is that of Arthur Barlowe and Phillip Amadas in 1584.

Barlowe wrote about sailing along the “main” looking for an entrance.

The “main” in the 16th century sometimes referred to the coast, not the mainland.

Barlowe sailed in through the inlet of Chacandepeco, which is Algonquian for “that which is deep and becomes shallow.”

The inlet was located between modern day Buxton and Avon on Hatteras Island, just barely north of Buxton.  Barlowe entered this inlet and landed on an island that he described as having a sea to the north and the south, and running from east to west for 20 miles.  This was modern day Buxton to Hatteras, and the island was then called “Croatoan.”

The purpose of the voyage was to find a place to raid Spanish ships as they made their way back to Spain full of gold and silver taken from the southern areas of the New World.

During Amadas and Barlowe’s stay, they spent only one night on Roanoke Island during the entire 1584 voyage.  The rest of the six week stay was at Croatoan.  It was on this voyage that they met Manteo and Wanchese, two natives who were later taken to England.  The trade and the relationship of brotherhood between the Croatoan and the English that began on this voyage is an important context to remember.

1585 – The Second Voyage – Grenville and Lane

The next voyage was in 1585 and lasted 11 months.

In those days, New Year’s Day fell on March 25th, not Jan 1st, so the 1585 settlement actually spilled a few months into 1586.

This second English voyage to the New World was led by Sir Richard Grenville.  This voyage was not the reconnaissance mission of 1584.

With a fleet of seven ships and over 600 men on their way to the New World to establish a military sronghold/settlement to use against the Spanish, this voyage was about war!

This expedition saw the return of Manteo and Wanchese to their native homeland, and took the English fleet to Croatoan.

Some of the fleet arrived at the New World prior to Grenville arriving.  One of the first things Grenville mentions in his writings — the log of his ship, The Tiger — is how 32 men from his fleet had been living on Croatoan for 20 days before his ship arrived.  The Tiger actually ran aground at Wokokon (Ocracoke), and due to this shipwreck, Richard Grenville left with all but 105 men to go raid the Azores and make up for lost goods caused by the unfortunate turn of events.  Grenville took all of the ships with him except a few small boats and a pinnace (medium/small ship), and he left military captain Ralph Lane in charge.

Lane ended up torching a mainland village called Aguscogoc over a supposedly stolen cup.  He started a war with the Secotan tribe and killed their chief, Wingina, under a flag of truce by shooting him in the back twice and then beheading him.

The Secotan were also enemies of the Croatoan.  In 1584, the Croatoan people told Barlowe that their chief, Menatonan, had been wounded fighting against Wingina in 1582.  Manteo, who was Croatoan, and his Croatoan friends helped Lane ambush and kill Wingina.  During this voyage, Lane and his men had also been attacked by a tribe called the Mandoag, who were allies of the Secotan.  The Mandoag lived in or around — guess where! — Bertie County.

After about 10 months, Lane and his men were starving.  Lane sent Captain Edward Stafford and 20 men to live at Croatoan while he stayed at Roanoke Island with the rest of the men.  Lane sent Stafford and his crew to Croatoan with instructions to feed themselves and to be on the lookout for Grenville’s fleet that was supposed to return with supplies.

Lane sent Stafford there, because the Croatoan were their allies/friends.  It was Stafford who spotted Sir Francis Drake with his fleet in June of 1586.  Drake happened to be on his way back to England from raiding the Spanish colonies in Florida.  Drake weighed anchor off of Hatorask, modern day Bodie Island.

When Lane met Drake he asked for guns, men, and sea captains.  Lane stated that he wanted to build a “series of forts along the rivers leading into the maine” to crush his enemies (Remember this!).  Drake agreed to every demand Lane had and loaded up a ship full of supplies and men.  This ship was called the Francis and it sank in a storm before Lane could implement his plans.  After this incident, Lane and his company left for England with Drake.  Lane blamed his failure on Grenville for not returning in time with supplies.

1586 – The Third Voyage

Less than two weeks after Drake and Lane left, Grenville arrived with supplies.  This is considered the 3rd English Voyage of the 16th Century.  Grenville had no clue where Lane was and left 15 men with enough supplies for two years on Roanoke Island to hold the fort, literally.  These poor guys were attacked by the Secotan and two were killed while the rest were chased off.  We know this because the Croatoan, allies/friends to the English, told the story to the next voyage in 1587.

1587 – The Fourth Voyage

The now famous fourth voyage of the ‘lost’ colony headed by John White in 1587, intended to go to the Chesapeake Bay and settle in a deep harbor.  Both Drake and Grenville had already experienced shipwrecks off the Outer Banks and a deep port made much more sense for a colony.

The Outer Banks were a great place to loot ships, but not to build a city.  However, White needed to stop at Roanoke to get the 15 men left by Grenville.

Because the sounds and inlets around Roanoke are so shallow, the ships had to sit offshore while small boats were taken in to Roanoke.  When White reached Roanoke he found the skeleton of one of the 15 men.  Within days of being on Roanoke, one of the 1587 colonists, George Howe, was killed while alone crabbing in the sound.  When this happened, White sent Edward Stafford to Croatoan to find out what was going on. White recorded the following:

“On the 30th of July Master Stafford and 20 of our men passed by water to the island of Croatoan with Manteo who had his mother and many of his kindred dwelling in that island, of whom we hoped to understand some news of our 15 men but especially to learn the disposition of the country towards us, and to renew our old friendship with them.”

Again, we see the brotherhood between the Croatoan and the English.

The primary sources tell us about Stafford’s visit to Croatoan in 1587.

The Croatoan hosted Stafford and his men to a feast and told them what had happened to George Howe and the 15 men from the year before.  The Croatoan told how the 15 men were attacked by the Secotan tribe (not a surprise), and the Secotan killed two of the English and chased off the other 13.

Incidentally, those other 13 men are the real ‘lost colonists’ in this whole story, because their final whereabouts are truly a mystery.

While at Croatoan, the English asked the native Croatoan people to negotiate peace for them with the Secotan.  Instead, the Croatoan raided the Secotan village of Dasamonqupue, modern day Mann’s Harbor, and shared the spoils with the English.

After about two weeks of weighing anchor in the choppy Atlantic waters, the ship pilot Simon Fernando refused to take the colony further on to Chesapeake for fear he would not have enough time to get back to England before hurricane season arrived in the fall.  It was agreed that Governor John White should return to England with Fernando to obtain ships and supplies.

Governor White left behind his son-in-law and daughter (Ananias and Eleanor Dare), and his newly born granddaughter (Virginia Dare).  When Governor White left, he told the colony to carve on a tree the name of the place they go to when they leave Roanoke, because there was never any intent for them to stay at Roanoke.  Before White left, there was also some discussion amongst the colonists about them possibly going ’50 miles in to the main’ which may have meant along the coast (see previous explanation of the word ‘main’).  White also instructed the colonists to place a cross on the tree if they left under duress.

1590 – The Fifth Voyage – Governor John White returns

White finally returned to the New World in 1590, the fifth English voyage.  When White arrived at Roanoke, he found the word CROATOAN carved in to a palisade at the settlement site.

He was unconcerned with his daughter and her family’s whereabouts, as indicated in his own writing:

“I greatly joyed that I had safely found a certain token of their safe being at Croatoan, which is the place where Manteo was born, and the savages of the island our friends.” (John White, 1590)

Upon finding the message of CROATOAN carved on the palisade in 1590, White also wrote:

“The next morning it was agreed by the captain and myself, with the master and others to weigh anchor and go for the place at Croatoan where our planters were for that then the wind was good for that place.”

White tried to go to Croatoan in 1590, however, a storm prevented him from making it to the small island located 50 miles from Roanoke.

No real effort was ever made to reach the colony again.  So it is more a case of abandonment than of them being lost.

Croatoan is 50 miles from Roanoke. Bertie County is 57 miles away.  However, let me now bring you back to my analogy of meeting your family at a restaurant for dinner.  Are you going to drive to Café 12 (Bertie County) to meet them because you discussed that possibility this morning… or are you going to drive to Shipwreck Grill (Croatoan) where the note your wife left you says they went?

What does the recent news regarding the Virgenia Pars map really mean?

This new find on the map made in 1585 probably marks the spot where Ralph Lane wanted to build a fort to control the Chowan, Roanoke and Cashie rivers.  Remember, Lane wanted Drake to resupply him so he could ‘build a series of forts along the rivers in to the main.’  A fort at this location would not only be useful in Lane’s plans to conquer enemy territory, but it was also a good defensive location against the Spanish.

From the primary sources of the 1585 voyage, we know Lane went up the Chowan River until it was no wider than the Thames in London.

There is never any mention in any of the primary sources we have of anyone going to this alleged new fort’s location discovered on the 1585 map, but Lane did sail past it twice and probably recognized the military value of this location.

It is on the map for some reason and covered up for some reason.  Given the context we have from the primary sources, this is probably where Lane wanted to, and may have started to build, a fort, but never completed it and thus it was removed from the map — aka covered up.

Context is everything and what we have now is a sentence fragment “50 miles into the main” being taken out of context to support a new and exciting find that was probably where Ralph Lane wanted to build a fort in 1585.

The Case for the Lost, or Abandoned, Colonists going to Croatoan

Croatoan was Manteo’s home.  Manteo had been to England twice and was a stout ally/friend to the English.

Croatoan was a place the English had lived before, both in 1584 and 1585/86.  The Croatoan people are also who the English asked help of and from whom they received it when George Howe was murdered in 1587.

Again, this is all important context to remember.  Croatoan is also, in no uncertain terms, the stated destination of the ‘lost’ colony.  They carved the word CROATOAN in all capital letters on the palisade as instructed and there was no cross indicating signs of duress.  Fifty miles into the mainland was the heart of enemy territory — right at the crossroads of the Secotan and the Mandoag, who had both already attacked the English.  The choice, therefore, that the colonists faced regarding where to go was easy: Move to Croatoan where the natives are their friends and allies, or move in to the mainland where the natives are their enemies?

Further evidence for Croatoan

The next explorer to visit Hatteras Island was John Lawson in 1701 who published his findings in “A New Voyage to Carolina.”  Lawson wrote that he found gray-eyed Indians wearing English clothes, who said they had white ancestors who could speak out of a book and who came on Sir Walter Raleigh’s ship.

Hmm… sounds like pretty good evidence of assimilation.

In addition, the popular media/news articles have been reporting that…

“It is believed they (the colonists) may have re-located to Croatoan Island (now Hatteras Island), but this has never been proved.”

So, now let’s talk Archaeology…

First of all, 16th century English artifacts have been found on Hatteras Island.  Between 1947-1953, archaeologist J.C. Harrington conducted excavations on Roanoke Island.

During this time, Harrington was given a ‘casting counter’ from a resident of Hatteras Island, reportedly found on Hatteras Island. This casting counter is an exact match of a casting counter found on Roanoke Island which is believed to be from the 16th century.  Unfortunately, this casting counter left Hatteras Island and has never been returned.


“In 1954 & 1955, the Office of Naval Research sponsored an extensive archaeological survey of the Northeastern coastal region of NC, from Currituck Sound to the Neuse River.  This research, under the direction of William Haag, was carried out as part of a program to develop the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park.  Haag was charged with finding sites that depicted the ancient history of the region; he also was directed to find evidence of the whereabouts of members of the “Lost Colony” after they abandoned Fort Raleigh.  The latter goal dictated that Haag’s survey focus on the Cape Hatteras area, where many believed the English Settlers moved after leaving Roanoke Island” (Haag, 1958).  (Cited in Time Before History, Ward & Davis, pg 196, 1999.)

In 1983, Dr. David Phelps from ECU came to Hatteras Island, working under the sponsorship of America’s Four Hundredth Anniversary Committee, and performed the first actual archaeological test ‘excavation’ in the Buxton area (31DR1).  The code 31DR1 is the Smithsonian’s designation for the area of archaeological interest in the Buxton region of Hatteras Island.  The number 31 represents North Carolina’s alphabetical standing on the list of states; DR stands for Dare County; and 1 indicates that the Buxton site was the first listed in the county.

In 1993, Hurricane Emily uncovered a slew of artifacts on the soundside of Buxton in the area of 31DR1. Dr. Phelps returned to Hatteras to survey the area a few times, and then, in 1998, Phelps conducted a full scale archaeological excavation in conjunction with the Lost Colony Center for Science and Research, founded by Fred Willard.

Phelps and Willard worked together with ECU and the local community to uncover archaeology in the area of 31DR1.  This was when the famous gunlock and Kendall Ring were found.

The gunlock is a late 16th century snaphaunce, which may have arrived in Buxton during one of famous 16th century English voyages conducted between 1584-1587.

The Kendall ring may have belonged to Master Kendall, a member of the 1585-1586 expedition.  Another major outcome from Phelps’ dig was the confirmation of the long-held belief that the 31DR1 area was, and is, the capital town of Croatoan.

Unfortunately, all of the artifacts from Phelps’ digs left the island and have not returned.

Current Archaeology on Hatteras Island

A team from the University of Bristol, England under the direct supervision of Professor Mark Horton, has been conducting archaeological excavations on Hatteras Island — most specifically in the area of 31DR1 — since 2009 to the present.  Working in conjunction with the local nonprofit group, the Croatoan Archaeological Society, Inc., the University of Bristol has now conducted four annual excavations on Hatteras/Croatoan.

Their ongoing archaeological research project, the Croatoan Archaeological Project, has uncovered many significant finds, both Native and European. During their last round of digging in Spring 2012, Professor Horton did a digital presentation for the local Hatteras Island community entitled “Archaeology on Hatteras Island:  ‘The Big Reveal’.”  During his presentation, Professor Horton shared his summations and findings from his four years of archaeological research conducted on Hatteras.  The ‘big reveal’ was essentially that:

“…the archaeological evidence suggests that the Native People of Hatteras Island in the 1600s were using European weaponry, iron tools, and wearing pocketwatches.  The archaeological evidence also suggests that the native people of Hatteras Island from the 1600s and well in to the 1700s were either living harmoniously with Europeans or had become assimilated with Europeans.”   (Professor Mark Horton)

This is a huge step forward in the understanding of the history of the native people of Croatoan (modern day Hatteras Island).  What is unique about this finding is the fact that nowhere else in the history of America do we see this extended brotherhood among the Natives and Europeans, except right here at Croatoan.


Works referenced in this article include:

  1. Barlowe, Arthur.  The First Voyage to Roanoke. 1584. — reprinted at Documenting the American South. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Accessed via the web at on 9 May 2012.
  2. Harriot, Thomas.  A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia: the Complete 1590 Theodor De Bry Edition.  Rosenwald Collection Reprint Series. (1972).  Dover Publications:  New York, NY. (Click here for the HTML version of the book on UNC-CH website.
  3. Lane, Ralph. Raleigh’s First Roanoke Colony.  — reprinted at Documenting the American South. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Accessed via the web at on 9 May 2012.
  4. Lawson, John.  A New Voyage to Carolina.  (originally published in 1709).  Reprint by Kessinger Publishing (2004):  Whitefish, MT. (Click here for the HTML version of the book on the UNC-CH website.)
  5. Mathis, Mark A.  & Crow, Jeffery J.  The Prehistory of North Carolina:  An Archaeological Symposium.  (1983).  NC Dept of Cultural Resources Division of Archives and History:  Raleigh, NC. (Click here to purchase from
  6. Quinn, Arthur. A New World. (1995).  Berkley Trade Publishing: New York, NY. (Click here to purchase from
  7. Ward, H. Trawick & Davis, R.P. Stephen.  Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina.  (1999). The University of Chapel Hill Press:  Chapel Hill, NC. (Click here to purchase from