Is it possible that there are 'lost colonists' among us?
Researchers say migration trail of Croatan Indians and colonists leads to local communities

The Roanoke Beacon, Plymouth, NC, December 18, 2002
Written by Brenda Monty, Staff Writer

    Could modern science's common use of DNA testing provide the missing link that will lead researchers to solving the more than 400-year-old mystery of the "Lost Colony"? One researcher believes so.

    "My hypothesis is: If you want to find the Lost Colony, try to find the Croatan Indians today, or at least try to find the migration trail which tells you where they went," said Fred Willard, an archaeologist and independent scholar.

    His research shows the blood lines of the Europeans and Croatan people, as well as that of former slaves, have crossed many times in the last four centuries.

    One group of researchers led by Willard is convinced that descendants of the Croatan Indians who commingled with the missing colonists are alive and well and living in nearby Chocowinity (Beaufort County) and the small communities in Washington and Martin counties of Pinetown, Angetown and Free Union (Piney Woods and Dardens).

    "When I call them Croatan Indians, they are not really Croatan Indians," Willard said. "They are Europeanized Croatan Indians. They married into English or European families and took their name. With that came the cultural understanding of deeds and what they meant in a court of law. So we literally have a paper trail to track these Indians."

Roanoke Island -- the journey begins

    In 1587, English settlers landed quite by happenstance on Roanoke Island and began cleaning up a village built two years earlier by Ralph Lane. The leader of the second expedition, John White, returned to England for supplies within the year.

    According to narratives by White, a "secret token" was agreed upon before he left. It was understood that if they did have to leave the village, they were to write or carve on the trees or door posts where they would be going. The colonists were prepared to move "50 miles into the main" from Roanoke Island, White recorded.

    If they were distressed in any of those locations, they were to carve over the letters or name, a cross (a Maltese cross), as a distress signal.

    In the meantime, all the best English ships were commissioned in the war that had broken out with Spain. It wasn't until 1590 that White finally made it back to where he had left the hungry colonists. He finds, carved on a branch, three Roman letters "CRO," and then on the palisade of the village, he finds not the word "Croatan" (the village of a freindly Indian named Manteo who had befriended the colonists) but "Croatoan." Willard believes this difference in spelling means something more.

Where did they go?

    Most historians believe that the colony likely went to Virginia. Other theories include a failed attempt to sail back to England; an epidemic or massacre; migration by some to the Croatan village and others south to Carteret County; or that the settlement was destroyed by a hurricane.

    History shows that the colonists learned much about farming and survival in their "new world" from the natives. In fact, the Europeans became quite dependent on them. The Roanoke Island chief Wingina had given the colonists the entire island, including crops and cleared land. History shows that when the food ran out, the colonists raided the Indian village and beheaded chief Wingina.

Playing a hunch

    Willard, founder and director of the Lost Colony Center for Science and Research, based at Lake Mattamuskeet Lodge south of Plymouth, hypothesizes that after White left, the hungry and scared colonists logically fled with their friend Manteo.

    He believes "Croatoan" means not the one capital village but the entire region occupied by the Hatteras Indians.

    In 1993, a serious dig was conducted at a Buxton site and hundreds of artifacts and indications that the English had dealings with the natives at that site was unearthed.

Signet Ring

    Among them were a deformed skeleton believed to be a Croatan native and a coin with a hole drilled in the middle of it. Willard explained this was worn around the neck as jewelry. A bonus was the discovery of a gold signet ring that has since been traced to the English Kendell family, known to have been members of the colony.

    According to Willard, Europeans came down from Jamestown, Va. and poured into the inlets, "squeezing" the natives further and further inland.

    Land deeds citing "Croatan lands" owned by "Hatteras Indians" led the trail into the Gum Neck, or Buck Ridge, community of Tyrrell County.

    History shows that the Indians repeatedly gave up their villages to the settlers. The "lost" colonists didn't go out into the wilderness along this trail, Willard stated. Nine times out of ten, he said, they went to another Indian village.

    Not to his surprise is the fact that the Tyrrell County community of Gum Neck is exactly "50 miles into the main" from Roanoke Island. Willard has found land deeds showing that William and Mary Elk, Hatteras Indians, sold Croatan lands.

    Oral histories in and around Gum Neck are filled with stories of Indians living in the swampland. In the mid 1950s, a construction crew building a road through the swamp to the Outer Banks unearthed two coffins with Maltese crosses on top.

     Gum Neck resident and store owner Buddy Brickhouse has related to Willard the Indian tales that were passed on to him from his grandfather; tales of Indian graves, arrowheads and Indians with light-colored eyes.

    "Everybody in that neighborhood," Willard said, "has the same story and are related to the Indians there."

    Brickhouse showed Willard yet another piece of evidence that confirmed that he was indeed on the right track.

    "He handed me a piece of paper. The deed for Buck Ridge, dated March 1, 1777, signed by Samuel Elk. The moment I got that deed, I knew exactly what it was. We already had two deeds for Croatan signed by William and Mary Elk."

    That confirmed that Croatan Indians were living in Buxton and later in Tyrrell County. Since finding Buck Ridge, nearly 500 artifacts from that site have been retrieved and registered.

    The trail continues as more maps and written narratives have led Willard on a hunt for the village noted on at least 50 maps as Panawiki (nearly 20 different spellings of this Croatan village are recorded). Willard feels in his gut that the village lies somewhere in the vicinity of what is known today as Chocowinity, a name he concludes is a possible derivation of the name Panawiki.

    He traveled to Chocowinity and picked up a phone book just to see if he could find any descendants of the Elks.

    "I go down the list and I find an Elk, then I find another one and another one," he said excitedly. "Oh, my, I thought, what have we got here? Maybe nothing. But there were 66 Elks already within three miles of that targeted Indian village."

    He started making phone calls. No one he interviewed had ever heard of any Indian heritage spoken of in their family. But many of them had done genealogies. From those, Willard followed the family tree and found the name Samuel Elk appearing in the Chocowinity Elks lineage just one year after he'd sold the Buck Ridge property.

    "Every son, daughter, cousin, second cousin, fourth cousin, ninth cousin, all are named William, Mary and Elizabeth Elks. All the men are named Samuel or William Elks.

    "Basically, we now have a complete genealogy going back to the person who signed that deed -- all direct descendants of the king and queen of the Croatan Indians."

Another researcher's tracks merge

    While Willard was following the Croatan trail west, another man was tracing his own roots and tracks merged.

    Charles "Sweet Medicine" Shepherd, a black man living in New York at the time and a native to the Piney Woods region, enters the picture while tracing his family line into the Pinetown and Free Union communities. His roots are in the Mattamuskeet-Tuscarora people there.

    Shepherd went on to tell of the migration from the north and commingling of other Indians nations all along the eastern seaboard during the days of whaling.

    The names that appear in Shepherd's research begin with a man named Barber, originally a whaling ship captain from New England, whom he tracked from Massachusetts south to Chowan. The Tuscarora people drew the boundary at the Albemarle Sound, forbiding the crossing into their territories by whites or other tribes.

    Interestingly, Shepherd and Willard have drawn the conclusion that the fact that so many Europeans were pouring into the region, the men outnumbered the women six to one, a powerful motivating factor in violating the boundary lines. Warring between several coalitions of Indian tribes took place, eventually resulting in pushing the last surviving native people in the area into the Lake Mattamuskeet region.

    History shows that Lake Mattamuskeet was given as a refuge to the last of the Tuscarora and Mattamuskeet Indians by the invading colonists.

Family tree branches out

    From Lake Mattamuskeet, the genealogy shows, the family tree branched off into two directions; the lighter-skinned "Indians" went to Chocowinity and the darker-skinned people went to Free Union, Shepherd explained.

    Men named Gibbs, Barber, Pagett, Squires, Long Tom and Mackey were major signers of deeds of land at Mattamuskeet. Among other names that keep showing up are Berry, Pierce, Bright, Archer, Carrow (which may also be transliterated as Barrow, Cahoon, Carowan). Lost Colony researchers now have found nine family lines in Chocowinity, Pinetown, Ange and Free Union that match names of the Roanoke Voyage roster.

    "The trail stops there," he said, "it doesn't go any further west."

Willard comes to Plymouth

    Willard is a retired business executive from Annapolis, Md. who moved to the Outer Banks to finish out his days fishing every day. That's all changed. He's now involved in the undergraduate program for anthropology at East Carolina University, majoring in archaeology with a minor in a multidisciplinary study of the Lost Colony.

    A group of more than 75 people sat spellbound in Plymouth Nov. 21 as Willard and Shepherd took listeners on a fascinating journey.

    "I am shocked at the number of people here," he said as he took the podium. And by the end of the night, he would again remark on how in all the 25 times he's given his lecture, never had he experienced such an enthusiastic and engaging group.

    In his presentation, Willard flashed upon the wall slide after slide of deeds, maps, drawings, newspaper clippings and photos of archaeological excavations.

    "Basically, what I'm going to show is a lot of fact and a lot of hypothesis, but until we get that scientific proof...," he said as he began. He went on to explain that a British film company is desirous of doing a documentary when the research becomes more concrete.

    A Free Union (Piney Woods) resident, Ricky Woolard, came to the seminar looking for answers.

    "My looks and my background don't come together." Woolard said. "I have been trying to figure it out. I never knew until tonight that Woolard was a Croatan name. That's closure for me."

    Other Free Union names connected to Mattamuskeet-Tuscarora people are Keyes, James, Pierce, Boston, Whitaker and others.

    "We have hundreds of people with all the right names." Willard stated. "England plans to fund studies, DNA studies, the name Kendell and six others living today in England, to match this pool of genes to here. Then we'll have scientific proof."

"How did Croatan Indians become black?"

    Shepherd explained that during the days of colonial slavery, Africans as well as people from other countries along trade routes, including native Americans, were taken as slaves by the colonists, many served as galley slaves aboard whaling ships.

    Since both the Africans and Indians were oppressed by the white man, strong alliances were formed and rebellions carried out, Shepherd added.

    He also noted colonial law stated that those who accepted Christianity would no longer be considered "heathens," and in turn, if Christian, the individual would be deemed a free person. He also referred to other laws that stated if only one of an individual's parents was white, the child was considered by law to be a free person. These factors, along with the ratio of men to women, Shepherd and Willard can only guess that these were powerful factors in the eventual mixing of the cultures.

Many people's history of survival

    Carolyn Pierce Smith Rayes of Piney Woods also attended the seminar with great interest. Rayes, who says she is full-blooded Tuscarora, formed the first Machapunga Tuscarora Tribal Association in 1993, which came to include all Mattamuskeet people, she said.

    She spoke up during Willard's presentation to caution Willard and his nearly 100 fellow researchers to be very careful how the history they are digging up is told.

    "It's important that we don't use terminology that causes separation of bloodlines... In doing archaeological, sociological and anthropological documentation, it's going to be important to look beyond the color of skin and look beyond grouping (as black or white or "Indian"), because if not, you won't be able to see the spirit of the people.

    "Indigenous people who are not particularly Europeanized," she continued, "have taken on the ways of the Europeans people for survival. Europeans thought they landed in Africa because they found people here who have dark skin and curly hair. These are indigenous people who came from somewhere thousands of years ago who ended up on this island."

    She added that many of the indigenous people, because of assimilation by one circumstance or another, have been forced to be labeled by race. "Census records don't ask you who you are," she said. "They look at color of skin and give you a label. Some have forced the indigenous people to be called African or black when in fact they were native people."

    "So when doing research, we will have to pull in all this information so that history can be told fairly. It will be the history of not only these European people who have wonderfully survived and are now living in Piney Woods and Angetown and Fairfield (Hyde County), Pinetown and all these places. It is important that we also balance this with the spirit of the people. Because if we don't do that, it will simply be a body of research that is another piece of European history. And we don't want that."

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