Foundation To Fund New Search For First Colony
3-Year Project Would Be For 3 Weeks A Year
The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, VA, April 21, 2004
Written by Catherine Kozak, Staff Writer
Before Jamestown, there was the doomed Lost Colony, a group of 117 men, women and children who sailed from England in 1587 to establish a settlement on Roanoke Island and soon disappeared without a trace.
But even before the Lost Colony, there was the First Colony, the 1585 settlement on Roanoke Island of more than 100 Englishmen and soldiers that served as a lesson plan for Jamestown, Va., 22 years later.
The quest to find the elusive first English settlements in the New World is gearing up for another venture under the auspices of some of the most esteemed Early American historians and archaeologists in the country.
The nonprofit First Colony Foundation, established in February, is set to embark on a $100,000 campaign to fund a three-year archaeological project on Roanoke Island, with field work conducted for two weeks every year.
The core research team includes board members Eric Klingelhofer, a professor at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., and Nick Luccketti, the principal archaeologist at the James River Institute for Archaeology in Williamsburg, Va.
Both men were part of the archaeological team that conducted excavations in the mid-1990s at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Led by Ivor NoŽl Hume, former chief archaeologist of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the team discovered the site of a science center that was believed to have been used by two men on the 1585 Roanoke voyage.
That was the last significant find on the north end of Roanoke Island, the area where historians believe both settlements were located. A primary goal of the foundation is to find evidence of a 1585 town or any houses built by members of the 1587 colony, both mentioned in historic documents.
"The Lost Colony is certainly more well known," said Luccketti. "But the First Colony could have had more impact on the history of the country."
In surviving records of the 1585 settlement - it was abandoned in 1586 - the colonists wrote of the value of copper and language in dealings with the Native Americans, among many other things. An exploratory team from the colony was also known to have traveled to the mouth of the James River, and possibly further. Luccketti said they left a very accurate map of the terrain between Roanoke Island and the lower Chesapeake Bay.
"A lot of this knowledge was applied to Jamestown," he said. "And in some respects, it may have contributed to the survival of the colony."
In addition to the pilfering it has been subjected to throughout the centuries, the area that is now Fort Raleigh on the north end of Roanoke Island was explored by archaeologists in the 1940s. But Luccketti said that was "a truly pioneer effort under less than ideal conditions" and may be worth re-exploring.
In the 1990s effort, remote satellite imagery revealed additional spots by Fort Raleigh that may harbor artifacts. Luccketti said that the foundation would like to do additional surveying with remote sensing, in addition to underwater exploration. There has also been some intriguing research involving a Spanish document and Port Ferdinando near Bodie Island that could lead to more clues about the colonies.
"We're interested in any possible leads," he said.
Theories abound as to the fate of the Roanoke settlements and members of the Lost Colony. Historians are still debating whether the 1587 colonists were killed by angry natives, died of starvation or relocated to a friendlier location. Artifacts from the settlements may have been looted or lost to erosion. That's why this time, archaeologists want to look in the Croatan Sound on the north end of the island, and possibly near Shallowbag Bay.
Hume has agreed to act as a consultant to the board, which includes William C. Friday, the retired president of the University of North Carolina, William S. Powell, a retired UNC professor of North Carolina history, Jon Kukla, director of the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation in Brookneal, Va., and Phillip Evans, a Durham attorney and former National Park Service ranger at Fort Raleigh.
Gordon Watts, a retired professor from East Carolina University and director of the International Institute for Maritime Research, will contribute his expertise to the underwater explorations.
"I've always thought that archaeology had the greatest potential to contribute to Fort Raleigh," Evans said. "These are the real top people to do this."