The legend of the Lost Colony of Roanoke has haunted American history for centuries. In July 1587, a British colonist named John White accompanied 117 people to settle a small island sheltered within the barrier islands of what would become North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When conditions proved harsher than anticipated, White agreed to sail back to Britain to shore up the settlement’s supplies—a trip that should have lasted a few months.
When White belatedly returned in 1590, the colonists had vanished—more than 100 men, women, and young children, their shelters and belongings, all gone. According to White’s writings, the only trace they left behind was a structure of tree trunks, with a single word carved into one post: CROATOAN.