The Croatoan Mystery

17 Oct

In 1587, the English, led by John White and financed by Sir Walter Raleigh, made their second attempt at setting up a colony on Roanoke Island, which now lies just off the coast of North Carolina in the USA. The colonists disappeared, however, during the Anglo-Spanish War, three years after the last shipment of supplies from England. The settlement is known as “The Lost Colony,” and the fate of the colonists is still unknown.

It all looked so promising in the beginning. The settlers landed on 22 July 1587 and soon established themselves. John White’s daughter Eleanor Dare was pregnant and on 18th August she gave birth to a daughter, Virginia, the first English child born in the Americas. The colonists established friendly relations with one of the local native tribes, the Croatans, who were able to describe to them the politics and geography of the area, but the other indigenous peoples, the Secotans, who had fought against the settlers of the first Roanoake Colony, remained hostile and refused to meet with them. Shortly thereafter, colonist George Howe was killed by natives while searching alone for crabs in Albemarle Sound. Fearing for their lives, the colonists persuaded Governor White to return to England to explain the colony’s desperate situation and ask for help. White duly sailed for England in late 1587, leaving behind about 115 colonists. Unfortunately, the war with Spain and a lack of funds meant that White was only able to return to Roanoke Island three years later. White landed on 18 August 1590, his grand-daughter’s third birthday, but found the settlement deserted. His men could not find any trace of the 90 men, 17 women, and 11 children he had left behind, nor was there any sign of a struggle or battle. The cabins had been taken down, the livestock had vanished and of the people the only traces were two graves and a message: the word “Croatoan” carved into a post of the fort and three letters “Cro” carved into a nearby tree.

White took this to mean that the colonists had gone to live on nearby Croatoan (now called Hatteras) Island with the friendly Croatans but circumstances prevented him from ever investigating this theory. No one ever found out what happened to the settlers and the end of the 1587 colony is unrecorded, leading to it being referred to as the “Lost Colony”. There are multiple hypotheses as to the fate of the colonists, the principal one being that they dispersed and were absorbed by either the local Croatans on Hatteras Island or another native tribe. An investigation of this hypothesis is ongoing in the form of the Lost Colony DNA Project in Houston, Texas, but its findings remain inconclusive. Another theory is that the Croatans turned on the settlers and wiped them out but no bodies were found at the time and no archaeological evidence has been found since then to support this claim. Other possibilities that have been put forward are that the colonists simply gave up waiting, tried to return to England on their own, and perished in the attempt and even that the colony might have been attacked and its members eaten by cannibals (which might explain the lack of bodies but seems somewhat implausible given the complete lack of any evidence of cannibalism being prevalent in the area). Most intriguingly, from 1937 to 1941 a series of stones telling of the travels of the colonists and their ultimate deaths were discovered that claimed to have been written by Eleanor Dare. Most historians believe that the so-called Dare Stones are a fraud, but there are some today that still believe the stones are genuine.

But none of this really explains the significance of the carving of the word “Croatoan” on that post or the fact that the same word has accompanied inexplicable disappearances in North America in the last few centuries, often in places far away from Roanoke Island. A few days before his death, and following a disappearance that remains unexplained to this day, Edgar Allan Poe was brought to his death bed in a state of delirium whispering the word “Croatoan”. The same word was found in other places at other times: scribbled in the journal of Amelia Earhart after her disappearance in 1937, carved into the post of the last bed that the celebrated horror author Ambrose Bierce slept in before he vanished in Mexico in 1913, scratched on the wall of the cell that the notorious stagecoach robber Black Bart inhabited before he was released from prison in 1888 never to be seen again, and, most disturbingly of all, written on the last page of the logbook of the ship Carroll A. Deering when it ran aground with no one aboard on Cape Hatteras in 1921 (not that far from what was once known as Croatoan Island).

What the secret of Croatoan is and in particular what its connection is to those born in the Americas that causes their disappearance even far from home remains a mystery to this day. It would be remiss of me, however, not to mention one more theory, that of the natives who once lived on Roanoke Island all those years ago. The Croatans themselves believed that the island had a spirit and, if angered, this spirit had the power to change those who offended it into the form of animals, trees and rocks. So perhaps this is the explanation – that none of the people affected really disappeared but were simply transformed. If so it is no less bizarre or credible than any of the other theories that have been put forward over the years!

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59 Responses to “The Croatoan Mystery”

  1. The Paranormalist October 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I was unaware that ” the same word has accompanied inexplicable disappearances in North America in the last few centuries”. How very interesting. This was one of those stories that I didn’t find very mysterious … the original carvings and the situation indicated pretty clearly what had happened to the settlers. This new (to me) twist, though, is intriguing. Thank you.

  2. anilbalan October 17, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    Yes, it’s fascinating stuff!

  3. grannyscolorful February 21, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    When my mother was living, she became very fascinated with the Lost Colony. So, are my husband and I. Granny Gee ( http://happycolorsandgrannygee.blogspot.com/)

  4. johnlmalone February 25, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    thank you for subscribing to my blog. I aim to make it worthwhile. Check out the new blog I’m putting up over the next few hours: it’s a little ripper but sdon’t mind thye swearing; if you were the being concerned you would swear too :)

  5. ihaveishoes February 25, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    I love reading about paranormal mysteries! We have no idea what is “out there,” what is possible. Wonderful post! And thank you for liking mine!

    • Mayra December 19, 2013 at 5:31 am #

      I like paranormal stuff to

      • Cherokee Lady July 27, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

        Like what kind of stuff do you like in this subject matter ?

  6. Softly Sarah April 9, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Wow- I had long ago forgotten about this history. Pretty interesting stuff! Thank you for updating us all on it. I am interested that the DNA evidence hasn’t turned anything at all up on this. It would be helpful to know the names of those lost, and if anyone today has the same last names, to trace their genealogy back to see where their families entered the US. Then I would solicit those who run into a dead end somewhere to volunteer to give DNA samples. I imagine in the case of some of the disappearances that the subsequent scribblings of Croatoan could have been done by someone pulling a prank. Maybe not. The empty ship story is compelling. xo

  7. phreedomphan May 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    I find this fascinating, but I’m too occupied with fighting what I can see to start taking on battles with what I can’t see. I will say that I find concepts of spirits, ghosts, life after death and the like no less unbelievable than life before death. The idea that some essentially inert chemicals floating around in a swamp could coalesce and one day crawl out of that swamp and that eventually two of the ancestors of those floating chemicals would call themselves Anil and Rick is totally absurd. If a god created them, what created the god. I can’t understand the finite world in which I live, much less the infinite. BTW, I have first hand experience with spirits of those that passed. My dog Curly, when he died in a freak accident, refused to leave until he saw I was OK.

    You might find some of the things listed under “magic,” “mysticism,” “occult,” or “spiritualist” at this site of interest to you.

    http://www.americandeception.com/index.php?page=home

  8. aromancer July 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Interesting and thought provoking stuff!

  9. pinoyathletics September 2, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Is this the background history they use in Stephen King’s ‘Storm of the Century’?.
    I saw you bookmarked one of my articles. I really like this site as my other interest is History and Geneology. I used to read alot of mystery and ghost books when I was in school. I have added it to my RSS Feed.

  10. mrgoshtythingguy September 4, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    This ways pretty scary and i will enjoy looking at your site! once i’m done with my homework….

  11. Martell September 6, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    I was always told by my Gma that after those three years, the tribe welcomed the colony, and became part of the tribe.. To this day there are people who have croatan blood in them.. When you have no other way of living, you adapt to survive.. Those women in the lost colony were having indian babies.. Those baby grew to have more babies.. But I wouldnt know anything about that, Im just african american puerto rican american secotan & cherokee

    • Ron October 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      Sounds good , I believe its possible that they mostly were integrated into the Lumbee Indian tribe and this mutual respect did allow a town of Indians to survive in the original 13 colonies. Lumberton , its a miracle , the only one town of indians that did not have to run.

  12. killerbob September 14, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    i know it had something to do with native americans but no proof

  13. witchborn September 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    WOW! I remeber hearing something about this and never really knowing what happened. This was awesome!

  14. Kerry October 27, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    This is very interesting and very sad too…am really touched by the story…

  15. Daniel November 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    I’m calling you out. I want your sources for these other instances of the word “Croatoan,” because I’m researching and finding nothing on the matter. In fact, Poe was muttering the word “Reynolds” the night he died, not “Croatoan.”

    • anilbalan November 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

      Hi, a lot of people have asked me this as this seems to be the most popular post I have ever written! My information, alas, comes from old books that I no longer have in my possession (whose names I can’t remember unfortunately), people I’ve met with whom I’m no longer in touch and e-mails I’ve received from accounts which are now defunct and untraceable. I’m not sure that this helps very much but if it inspires you to do some research that means that you uncover these ‘lost sources’ I’d be very interested in your findings…

      • Helen November 16, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1452628/

        This link is to a movie you can look up on IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) titled “Vanishing on 7th Street) made in 2010 and it was watching this movie that I took particular notice of the word “Croatoan” as it was written on walls in Detroit, where this movie was based. It was a horror movie starring Hayden Christensen and Thandie Newton and the premise was that it was the darkness that was coming for people and only took the bodies of the people, integrating them into the darkness so that they would call for their relatives to join them thus adding to this “sentient” darkness. Everywhere in the city were full sets of clothes just laying on the street, where people had been standing. There was talk (by the characters) of some sort of superstition involving the word “croatoan” which made me wonder if there was anything to it or was it just made up for the movie. So I went looking and found your blog. Living in Australia, I’m a little too far away to visit Roanoke but I’m fascinated by the events and thanks to your blog I’m now a little more informed. I’ve bookmarked your blog so will keep coming back to see if anyone has managed to dig up anything and if I find anything as well, I will post again. Love this sort of thing. Thank you :o)

    • Joshua Marshall (@joshua_marshall) April 1, 2013 at 5:12 am #

      Yeah, all those other references to Croatoan are apocryphal.

      I figured, given this site is that of a writer, he was taking some license to create a mystery. I dig the premise of ‘Crotoan’ being found in those mysterious circumstances throughout history, and might make a fun book if it were to capture the OP’s fancy. Still, all the other instances are untrue.

  16. johnny January 25, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    i personally believe—-and i kno im gonna be called crazy for this, but idc persaonally—-that the word croatoan has so me sort of message to it.. perhaps Croatoan is a mystical being, or perhaps the description of what happens to you when you are given immortality, as the fictions i have read seem to indicate.. perhaps even, trhe word is of an ancient origin, so ancient that we cannot even begin to imagine what it means……..if anyone wishes to reply to me personally or to email me directly, then my emails are jonny.hasss@gmail.com and jonny.hass@yahoo.com. yes, the three Hs in the gmail is intended. apparently sumbody already has jonny.hass@gmail.com…lol…so if interested hmu anfd reply. i wish to hear what you have to say. thanks.
    Live Long and Prosper! [[V]]

  17. James G February 1, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    From what I understand about the lost colony, is that the members of the colony befriended the Croatoan natives. Now, when they discovered that the entire city was dismanteled, all they found was the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree. I know there is a kind of legend of a native demonic entity by the name of Croatoan. I could be totally wrong etc. but it could be that these natives managed to hand over the colony as a kind of sacrafice to Croatoan. The story is indeed interesting, but an entire village just doesn’t vanish, and not only that, they wouldn’t dismantle their village, they would just leave it abandoned.

  18. Lady T February 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    The Croatian mystery is also mentioned in the movie “Mindhunter”.

    • Ana February 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      There isn’t any mystery about Croatia hehe , I’m from it :D but you probably meant croatoan mystery. Maybe we, as Croat have some connection to it, Cheers all!

  19. Kat March 25, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    There are many sites covering Poe’s last words, one of them here:

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000590/bio

    His last words were “Lord, help my poor soul.”

  20. Hayley Thorpe April 6, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    I swear, a chill ran down my spine when it mentioned Amelia Earhart. I have read different books about her, but I’ve never heard of that.

  21. Roff April 11, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    They never found a logbook on Carroll A. Deering

  22. Josh Johns May 4, 2013 at 1:29 am #

    I believe Croatian was a demon

  23. Helgy May 22, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    It looks like they may have been massacred by aboriginal Indian tribes, and after they all being deliberately killed, the Indians afraiding damnation masterously hiddden the sight of massacre by burrying the deads somewhere in jungles or exposing them to wild animals, so that no remains were left. In order to put investigators to wrong road, and disguise the crime they commited they carved on the tree’s trunk the word “Croatoan”.

  24. Maggie June 28, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    It’s like the people knew they were going to there death so they left a message.

  25. Klarion Bleak August 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    So this is the history of “the Lost colony”. Funny, last time I checked, we were not lost…..

    • Lily December 19, 2013 at 2:56 am #

      Um, your comment makes no sense…we’re talking about Croatoan mystery, not CROATIA, if you’re talking about that. It is, indeed, lost.

    • Teekl August 1, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

      Meow.

  26. Chad September 17, 2013 at 5:32 am #

    The colonist could have taken down the cabins to use the wood to make a ship just large enough to carry them back to England. The ship could have had an issue with sales or just the hull, either way they could have gotten off course and lost or the ship could have sank. With that conclusion the Croatians could have been cannibals that had planned a way to lead the colonist away in small groups or all at once and attacked them, the Croatians could have eaten the bodies of the colonist explaining why there were no bodies or signs of struggle.

  27. Beatles In My Life Lyrics March 4, 2014 at 3:20 am #

    Thank you for sharing your info. I really appreciate
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  28. tellie689 March 6, 2014 at 5:21 am #

    Reblogged this on tellieVision.

    • stjepan cvitkovic March 6, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

      croatoan su stari hrvatski pomorci, koji su otkriki ameriku

  29. Soda March 7, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    Wow

    • Soda March 7, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

      Croatoan.is. Amazing

  30. googleman March 14, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    Well-known is the story of a missing two Croatian ship in the area of the lost colony.
    Croatoan are old Croatian sailors from Republic of Ragusa who sailed to America in 1540 and has since considered missing. They made friends with the local natives which resulted in an Indian tribe Crotoan.

  31. Gaetana April 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    Very interesting read. I love history. I had no idea that word was connected to so many mysterious deaths and disappearances over the years

  32. Paul Tindell April 12, 2014 at 3:41 am #

    i think it is amazing!!!!!!

  33. Nicholas April 15, 2014 at 11:22 pm #

    I think croatoan means ro a toan if you look at it the c mite be slient

  34. search May 14, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I believe that
    you need to write more on this issue, it might
    not be a taboo matter but usually folks don’t speak about such topics.
    To the next! Cheers!!

  35. yisrael May 29, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    The Croatoan are from the seed of Japhet (Asia) and Ham (Canaan-black), what the Hebrews called Kasar.
    These Kasars came through the ice bridge to the Americas, also winding up on islands, Canada and other areas, becoming so called also Indians, Mexicans, and other.
    The kasar in Europe was mostly a combination of the four major races. What happened to the pilgrims there was also happening in Europe centuries earlier, when we fled Babylone.
    Remember Babylone, of the children of Ham(Canaan) and then Constantine(asia, ham and edom combined) did evil sacrifices to their gods. They would rape the Hebrew(white) women, cut them open dip eggs in the blood as rituals to their gods.
    I could go on and on. My greatbubby came from Israel -went to Europe where they know Black Rus and White Rus and Kasar.
    The stories of the Hebrews, the most prosecuted race has always been told to us, so we know about the Croatoan. These Kasars are here today dwelling among us.

  36. Eli May 29, 2014 at 4:47 am #

    Yisrael is correct they are also known as the Croatians, or Creteians or Cretans (from around Crete), They are really from Asia , around the Mediterranean, from Africa to Asia.
    They would move along around the Greek islands.
    They were like the mud people of Ishmael. So before mixing with the Edomites, they were blackanease , Constanstine was one of them. The wall paintings at Knossos and Phaistos show how they looked liked–just like the native americans. This is the line leading to Gog and Magog in the final end days.

  37. Lacey June 14, 2014 at 2:55 am #

    Is there any resources or articles I could read that included Croatoan related to several disappearances across North America? I can’t find any and think it’d be interesting to read.

  38. Nicole OBX August 6, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this information! The Lost Colony is a very interesting subject.

  39. thomas August 7, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    I’ve got a theory. maybe the colonist ran off with the Indians eventually made it and went into hiding so the others wouldn’t get them. if anyone could find the crotoans they could ask

    • Penny August 18, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      I’m from NC, the Croatoan were a local band of Indians, they shared resources with the “white face people” when whites return didn’t come soon enough, they had to rely on locals, the Croatoans to survive, remember, Aug., Sept, Oct is hurricane season, moving inland up the Albermarle Sound would be safest strategy, the Indians knew this, they likely saved the ppl of England, but having moved inland, they began a society of their own, melded with local Indians and thrived, child bearing, life, death. Looking to deep into what happened to them, look to the obvious..the word Croatoan was carved. If I left a note on my refrigerator for my husband and it said Walmart, he might think I went to Walmart…duh.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Gefährten und Ausgänge « > grotesque - November 30, 2011

    [...] zurückzulassen. Das bezieht sich mit einer gehörigen Portion Galgenhumor auf den Vorfall von Roanoke Island – dem spurlosen Verschwinden einer gesamten britischen Kolonie (über 100 Siedler) im Jahre 1590. [...]

  2. American Horror Story: not impressed « AutumnRain - February 6, 2013

    [...] colonists were expelled by a chieftain who burned the ghosts’ belongings and yelled “Croatoan” three times. Really, American Horror Story? With all the information that is out there, that [...]

  3. America Unearthed | Truth, Justice, and All-American Allergen-Free Apple Pie - February 25, 2013

    [...] Wolter likes to take on subjects that have been debated for hundreds of years and sometimes he’s not very tolerant of differing views, such as in the Croatoan episode. There are parts of the Croatoan mystery that aren’t necessarily going to be proven by science and it’s possible that the lost colony split up to travel in different directions if they survived. I appreciate his work on this topic and yet don’t think this could be neatly resolved in one episode like Law and Order. Ani Balan has a good overview of the Croatoan story on his blog, http://anilbalan.com/2011/10/17/the-croatoan-mystery/. [...]

  4. YellowBrickRoad (2010) | Dawning Creates - February 27, 2013

    [...] what the hell was it all about?  I think this could have been interesting as it had a touch of the Croatoan Mystery but the flick was very slow to start and the music coming from the trees just became annoying. [...]

  5. Wordgrove Post & Review ~ 05.12.13 | Wordgrove Post & Review - May 12, 2013

    […] http://anilbalan.com/2011/10/17/the-croatoan-mystery/ […]

  6. why i’m a north carolina girl. | just be. love all. live life. - May 24, 2013

    […] as you got older you realized how it had all the makings of a badass movie. mystery! intrigue!  cryptic notes carved onto trees! possible cannibalism! vampires! it had it all. plus, it was the first english colony in the new […]

  7. "Supernatural" Returns from Hiatus to Continue Season 9Maryville Pawprint - January 28, 2014

    […] the world and humans are infected with the maddening  Croatoan virus-which is based off the real Croatoan mystery, of course. The veritable Devil states, quite clearly, to Dean: “Whatever you do, you will always […]

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