What is Croatoan Island?

Croatoan Island is now known as Hatteras Island and is located near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The island’s history is linked to Roanoke colonists, the vanguard of English settlers who twice attempted – in 1585 and 1586 – to found an English colony on nearby Roanoke Island. The second attempt was successful for some time, but it is not known what happened to the people who settled there.

Two The work of colonizing

In April 1585, English soldier Sir Walter Raleigh sent his first band of 100 colonists to establish a colony on Roanoke Island, but the expedition was unsuccessful and prompted a further attempt at colonization the next year. Raleigh entrusted the leadership of this other power to his friend John White. White and his squad were successful, but he was soon forced to leave the colony and charged the survivors with instructions to leave some signal behind to move the settlement.

En Clue Left Behind

The period of other colonization efforts coincided with England’s naval battle with the Spanish armada. White found, then, that when he returned to England, all viable sea-feared vessels were requisitioned by the Navy to meet the Spanish. This meant that whites were unable to return to Roanoke Island until 1590, when he found that colonialists were gone and had left some traces of themselves. However, they had left a small but significant clue to their whereabouts: the word “Croatoan” had been carved into a tree in the square.

Three Theories

Given the colony’s friendship with neighboring tribes on Croatoan Island, and especially with a Croatoan named Manteo, many people have deduced that the inscription means that the Roanoke Island colonists fled or moved to the nearby island. This theory is supported by explorer John Lawson’s encounters with the Hatteras Indians in the early 18th century. Hatteras Indians were descendants of the Croatans, and Lawson described them as possessing European features and being able to speak English.

Some people, on the other hand, are dissatisfied with this conclusion, and many competing theories have emerged as attempts to explain the mysterious disappearance of the colony in various conditions. For example, Hamilton MacMillan, a North Carolina resident who lived near Pembroke, North Carolina, claimed that not only could the Pembroke Indians he had met speak English, they also bore the names of the original Roanoke colonists. He therefore concluded that the colony must have moved to the Pembroke region after leaving its original location.

Still others claim that after White’s departure, most of the colonists moved to the place where they originally intended to anchor: Chesapeake Bay. Some colonists were left to inform Whites of the new location on his eventual re-arrival. It has been believed that this reduced number of colonists was invaded and forced to flee to their Croat Allies, to whom they were eventually assimilated.

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