The Croatan group comes of age after the discovery of the Croatan Indian Site, and has evolved as a 501c3 non-profit foundation called "The Lost Colony Center for Science and Research," with education being one of the most important goals of this new-found group. Their first major symposium was held with the College of Albemarle, March 31st 2001. The theme of the presentation was groundbreaking research of the discovery of 200 documents indicating that the Croatan, Hatteras, and Matamuskeet Indians have been absorbed into the existing English populations of Coastal North Carolina. Prior to this discovery, all North Carolina history books were replete in stating that none of these Historic Indians survived: 'they are all gone, they do not exist, they are extinct.' This research has achieved three prestigious academic awards on local, regional, and national levels.
New hints to Lost Colonists found
The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, VA, March 31, 2001
Written by Catherine Kozak, Staff Writer
Featured in the 2001 Souvenir Program of The Lost Colony Symphonic Drama
as The Search Continues: New Clues to America's Oldest Mystery
The mystery comes with tantalizing clues. A twisted skeleton. A gold ring. Shadows under the earth.
Another page is turning in the story of the fate of the lost colony and the native population it depended on.
Independent scholar and archaeologist Fred Willard, director of the Lost Colony Center for Science and Research, says residents of at least two communities in northeastern North Carolina may be descendants of the Croatan Indians, a tribe lost to history more then two centuries ago.
New information, he says, supports his hypothesis that Sir Walter Raleigh's famous lost colonists could have relocated with the Croatan into the swamplands to seek protection from enemies.
Multispectral imaging - ground-penetrating radar from satellites - has taken archaeological investigations into the 21st century, helping researchers locate possible Indian village sites.
"This is the first time we've done a systematic, scientific search," Willard said.
Piecing together primary sources - maps, deeds, historical narrative, newly discovered documents - with genealogy, oral history, multispectral imaging and common sense, Willard believes he knows where the lost colonists settled with the Croatans.
No trace of the first English colony in the New World - 117 men, women and children - was ever seen definitively after 1587, when a ship left Roanoke Island to get supplies from England.
War with Spain prevented English ships from returning until 1590, when the colony's governor, John White, sailed back to the Outer Banks. White was the father of colonist Eleanor Dare, and grandfather of Virginia Dare, the first English baby born in the New World.
When he returned, White found no people and no bones. But carved on a tree were the letters CRO. On a post closer to the dwelling site was written CROATOAN. Because he had instructed the colonists to let him know if they left for Croatan, the capital of the friendly Croatan kingdom near what is now Buxton, White assumed the settlers had fled there. But weather and other complexities prevented him from searching Hatteras Island.
Archaeologists working in the 1990s at Croatan found numerous Indian artifacts and indications that the English commingled there with natives. In 1997, a deformed skeleton of what is believed to be a Croatan who suffered from a New World disease was unearthed near the dig site by construction equipment. And the next year, the team led by veteran East Carolina University archaeologist David Phelps found a 16th-century gold signet ring that was traced to one of two Kendalls who participated in the 1584-1587 Roanoke Voyages.
It is here where recorded history on the colony ends and speculation begins.
Based on accounts from Jamestown, founded near the Chesapeake Bay in 1607, most historians believe the colony likely went to Virginia, where they were later killed by Powhatan, Pocahontas' father.
There are other theories, most lacking a shred of evidence: They tried to sail back to England, and the ship sank; they were all killed by disease or Indians; some went to Croatan and lived with the natives, others went south to Carteret County; the settlement was destroyed by a hurricane and everyone drowned.
Willard hypothesizes that after White departed, the Colonists, hungry and fearful of the increasingly hostile Roanoke Indians, realized they needed to relocate. So logically, he said, they fled with Manteo, a friendly Croatan. At that time, Croatan lands covered all of what is now mainland Dare and the eastern tips of Hyde and Tyrrell counties. "Where else would be safe but smack dab in the middle?" Willard asked. "What's there? Beechland."
Workers in the area reportedly dug up for or five coffins in the 1950s, but reburied them, and Beechland has never since been seriously investigated. West of Beechland, an area near Gum Neck called Buck Ridge may have been a significant Croatan village, according to Willard. He said land records show that a William and Mary Elk, Hatteras Indians, sold Buck Ridge in 1777.
John White had written before the colonists' disappearance that the group had decided to build a fortification "50 miles into the maine." Buck Ridge is almost exactly 50 miles inland from Roanoke Island, Willard said.
Buddy Brickhouse, 61, said he used to hear the old-timers talk about the natives on Buck Ridge when he was growing up in the small community.
"They've always known Indians were here," Brickhouse said. Tales were told about the mounds in the earth that indicated Indian graves, finding tomahawks and unearthing arrowheads. About Indians with light eyes.
When he was young, Brickhouse said, he asked his grandfather where the Indians went.
"He always said they left. Went over this way and went up country," he said, pointing west.
That would be, more accurately, upriver, Willard said. After scouring maps and reading historical narratives, he hypothesized that they went to Chocowinity, a community near the purported location of the village of Panawicky - the place where 10 sources, seven of them from Jamestown, say four survivors of the lost colony were last seen.
According to a stament by William Strachey in History of Travell into Virginia Britanica, written in 1612, it was reported that the colonists had lived peacefully for 20 years with the Chesepian Indians in what is now Norfolk. To discourage colonization, Powhatan had the English and the Chesepian slaughtered at Ritanoe shortly before the Jamestown colonists arrived in Virginia.
But Strachey also heard that seven colonists had escaped - four men, two boys, and a young maid.
When he recently opened the telephone book in Chocowinity, Willard was surprised - and thrilled - to see the name of Elk listed dozens of times. So far, he said, 66 Elks have been found within a 3.5 mile radius of Panawicky.
Emily Elk, an honor student at South Side High School in Chocowinity, traces her family's ancestry directly to the signers of the deed to Croatan on Hatteras Island, William and Mary Elk. The Elks hope to use DNA evidence from the Croatan skeleton to prove the biological connection, Willard said.
"We haven't proven anything," Willard said. "Genealogy isn't science, but boy, it comes close."
While tracing Croatan lineage, the same Anglicized names keep cropping up: Carawan, Gibbs, Jennette, Payne, Wahab, Barber, Brooke, Berry, Buck, Pierce, Sawyer, Cahoon, Collins and, of course, Elk.
Some names are also on the roster of the lost colony - Payne, Berry (Berrye), Brooke and Gibbs (Gibbes).
"I think most of the things that Fred's pulled out all have interesting possibilities, but they need to be fleshed out," said E. Thomson Shields, Jr., Director of the Roanoke Colonies Research Office and an associate professor of English at East Carolina University.
If researchers believed all they heard, they'd think a Roanoke colonist had been to every single town in the region, Shields said. English names were very common and could have come from numerous sources, he explained.
Shields recounted one researcher who says that in his travels to towns in northeastern North Carolina, an old-timer invariably will pull him aside and whisper, "I know where the lost colony went."
"The problem we always have with the lost colony," Shields said, "is there is always a moment when we have to take a leap of faith in some way."