The legend goes that the Lost Colony of Roanoke might have been the first English settlement in North America had its inhabitants not mysteriously vanished. But "they were never lost … it was made up," researcher Scott Dawson tells the Virginian Pilot, concluding the colonists joined their indigenous friends, the Croatoans, at their village on what is now Hatteras Island, where English artifacts have been found. Mayor John White had left Roanoke in its founding year, 1587, to request more supplies of England. When he returned in 1590, he found the word "Croatoan" carved into a fence post. For some, this imparted a mystery. But for White, who was ultimately kept from Hatteras and his family by a storm and near mutiny, this was a clear sign that the colonists had joined their allies. "He knew exactly where [Croatoan] was and why they were there, and he said so" in his writings, Dawson tells the Outer Banks Voice.
The colonists had bonded with the Croatoans over their dislike of the indigenous Secotans, who'd enslaved the Croatoans shortly before the English arrived, per the Pilot. In 1586, the Croatoans had even helped the English ambush the Secotans and their chief, who was shot twice in the back. Dawson, co-founder of the Croatoan Archaeological Society and author of The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island, says a lead tablet with the impression of an Englishman shooting a Native in the back was ultimately found at Hatteras, along with evidence of the colonists' pigs, gun barrels used to tap trees, and copper earrings turned into fishhooks. A flower-shaped clasp was also found; the 1587 expedition had been the first to include English women. Mixed families resulted and endured for generations, Dawson tells the Pilot, adding, "you're robbing an entire nation of people of their history by pretending Croatoan is a mystery on a tree." (Read more Roanoke Island stories.)