The mystery behind the "lost colony" of Roanoke has finally been answered, and it's honestly kind of disappointing.

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If I’m reading the article correctly, the woo version didn’t come from the early accounts but was added later by people already invested in various forms of woo. White was pretty clear in thinking the colonists had gone off to live with the Croatoans. From what I’ve read, later accounts, in the 19th-century were also based on the idea that the colonists had assimilated into one or the other group of Native Americans.

There have definitely been people who found racial mixing to be hard to accept. But there are many instances or story sets about mixing, like the Melungeons, which were expressed pridefully or from a sort of mystifying romantic attitude.

I don’t think I can make a thesis out of this. In fact, I think the urge to a thesis may well be the problem. But I do know that the history of racial mixing, especially as it pertains to Europeans and Native Americans is weird or even… uncanny. After all, why the heck would white supremacists be so fixated on claiming Cherokee heritage? The easy answer is “civilized tribe something something.”

But I think there’s more to it that, especially when you get to stuff like the Nazi obsession with Old Shatterhands. Then people will say “Romanticism something something.” But that’s getting circular, because at a fundamental level Romanticism is also woo…

woo hoo.


So, the truth fails as far as mini-series fodder, but could work for some inter-racial/cultural sex romp flick.


One theory about claims of Native American (or other exotic) ancestry is that they were cover stories for Black ancestry.


I always thought the various attempts at finding them were either kind of haphazard and/or delayed by years, and it was decades before anyone got around to looking among the Croatoan tribe. Meanwhile there were miscommunications and misunderstandings, and eventually a story of a massacre took hold, despite other evidence that the populations of English and Native simply merged.


It was never really a mystery. Just Europeans being lazy and not wanting to follow up on anything.


This isn’t new info, they covered this in Futility Closet back in 2015 and i presume the information they had gotten has been available for much much longer. It was generally well known since the original events that the people of the colony were essentially stranded/abandoned by the British and they had no choice but to be absorbed with the indigenous folk. Though the mystery there was that they never put effort into finding out what happened, though through hearsay they were either sold off/traded to other tribes or killed


Two possibilities (perhaps a combination of both): 1) Totally non-sensical, idiotic [but acceptable for racists grabbing onto anything] rationale/tactic for somehow diluting arguments and rightful claims by actual Native Americans; 2) same racists clothing themselves in what they think would protect them from being called racists.


Yes, I believe historians who studied this period were aware of this for a while now, but sometimes it takes time for good history to replace the bad (thanks History channel!).


Yeah, that’s certainly true. So many American families explained away their dark skin with an imaginary Native American background, to the point where they forgot their own African ancestry. Which is now being revealed by accessible, online genealogy records and DNA testing.


It’s been awhile, but I recall reading of some pre-Jackie Robinson team owners getting blacks into their clubs by claiming they were “Indians”.


It’s been the default theory all along and the one best supported by the various bits of evidence found over time.

One of the frustrating things about bunk is that it never seems to draw on information from beyond about 1950, loudly insisting there is a mystery if you only look at this narrow slice of information.

This may be a bit more definitive than previous looks at the subject. But the History Channel will still be seeking to solve the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke colony this Thursday at 8pm Eastern at least once a month for eternity.

The common interpretation is that it gives whites a less complicated claim to nativism. A claimed history in North America that doesn’t involve acknowledging the abuses of colonialism, and glosses over any troubling family history.

From what I understand the vast majority of people with these “Cherokee Princess” stories have no ancestry beyond European when actually tested. And quite frequently arrived way after the colonial period.

Stories about Native American, and weirdly Polish ancestry in my own family have turned out to be cover for an unrecorded Irish leg of my mother’s otherwise Acadian French family though. And I recall a number of famous cases of lighter skinned Blacks or mixed Americans “passing” as Native American. So not like it didn’t happen. It just doesn’t appear to be the primary explanation.

The thesis if there is one. Is that psuedo-science and psuedo-history are deeply, deeply rooted in racism. The stock story is all about how non-whites couldn’t have done that.

The lost colony stories are heavily rooted in ideas of White Indians, Lost Hebrew Tribes, and pre-colombian Welsh settlement of the Americas.

Wack ideas of where the settlers of Roanoke went, always without inter marrying with the neighbors are often used to explain how the Mound Builder cultures could not have been indigenous. Others revolved around the brutal natives murdering European women and children.

Divorced of its context it all sounds like good fun. But these claims are nested in a long lived justification for genocide and erasure. That the victims deserved, and they were not actually here first or responsible for any civilization here.


It also wouldn’t be the first time that interesting and worthwhile archeological research (or any other field of science) got inflated into “solving a mystery that has baffled people for hundreds of years”.


Yeah, and also e.g. bringing in (Black) Cuban players and pretending they weren’t Black, but just swarthy Spanish types:

I feel like the real headline here is: “The mystery behind the ‘lost colony’ of Roanoke has finally been answered, disappointingly, by pointing out it wasn’t actually a mystery to begin with.”

Seems like the History channel is doing its best, not just to slow the replacement of bad history with good history, but to actually replace good history with crazy nonsense.


This is commonly offered as a reason, and I don’t doubt that it was often the case. My own suspicion is something like hecep’s #1. I think it was a way of appropriating the traits attributed to Native Americans in the texts which simultaneously elevated them and excused their displacement/genocide. I’m thinking of texts like Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia.

Yet there were many sincere efforts to identify or associate with Native Americans. Henry Timberlake and Roger Williams are good examples of this. These accounts get into almost modern ethnography and seem to be attempts to reconcile oneself with an Other, and to learn about the world. There’s a reason people like Levinas start to sound woo-ful in their attempts to break down our commonsense ethics/subjectivity. On the other hand there were attempts by “good” people who seemed to be telling tales about Native Americans to make a point, like William Bartram Jr’s account of the Muskogee, which squared too neatly with his own Quaker ideas about the merits of the Revolution.

Anyway, the more problematic versions, like Forrest Carter and Clint Eastwood, are clearly aimed more at some idea of an Authentic Other. Where Bartram or someone might paint a pretty picture, in these other versions, the Native American becomes a sock puppet for ideas of virtue. European, white ideas, because that’s where they’re coming from. And this is all the more problematic when you consider Carter’s involvement with the KKK and his links to terrorists like John Kasper.

So I’m saying that something is at work like what we see in The Outlaw Josey Wales. What Dan George’s character did, Clint Eastwood’s character does better. This is a bit muddled. Sorry about that.


The thesis if there is one. Is that psuedo-science and psuedo-history are deeply, deeply rooted in racism. The stock story is all about how non-whites couldn’t have done that.

I hear you. And if you want the occasional deeply passionate response to this, you can check out Sarah Parcak’s Twitter feed.

But I think there’s more to it than simple dismissal. I mean, that’s pretty easy to accomplish. Like the way Rhodesia handled it with Great Zimbabwe, or the way no one much talks until very recently about really old iron production and absolutely ancient pottery in central Mali.

I just posted about creating a myth then appropriating its tropes for yourself. And about some sort of Authentic Being, which is always attractive for fascists and soil/blood purists. But there’s also the thrill of The Secret, the epistemology of paranoia that surfaces again and again in groups conceiving themselves as marginal. It’s really a weird stew of turds swirling in this particular bowl.


Well now the archaeologists have gotten their hands on it we have proof rather than old stories out of books!



I think it’s probably even more nuanced and complicated than that. The Cherokee, being an upland tribe, took in many of the lowland/coastal tribal people displaced by first contact as well as freed Africans both as refugees and enslaved peoples. This happened for generations before Removal, so inevitably there would have been a lot of intermingling and, since records were notoriously scarce (many indigenous peoples and freed/escaped Africans rightly had a wary view of federal enrollment), the precise racial family tree would have been washed away by the ages.

To @GagHalfrunt and @Supercrisp‘s points, I can imagine that this was used as cover for racist descendants as it carries dual benefits for racists: self-victimization and being anything other than African.


It will always be Cthulhu’s fault to me.


Historians have been giving the mundane and evidence-supported version for decades. Only the whackadoodles have come up with the rest.