Researchers seek Lost Colony descendants

Rocky Mount Telegram, NC, August 26, 2007
Written by Miller Resor

    Researchers hope genetic testing will connect the dots of a 420-year-old mystery that has lingered since England's first attempt to colonize North America.

    In 1587, a group of English colonists on Roanoke Island disappeared, leaving behind a single clue the word "CROATAN" carved into a tree.

    The Croatan were a group of American Indians who lived near Roanoke Island.

    The Lost Colony Center for Science and Research, the pre-eminent group investigating the Lost Colony, will hold a symposium the second weekend of September to present recent findings and collect DNA samples officials hope will eventually solve one of America's oldest mysteries.

    Fred Willard, director of the Lost Colony Center, said current North Carolina history considers all ancestors of the Croatan to be extinct.

    Willard, however, has a different hypothesis.

    He said he believes the English colonists may have joined the Croatan. The Croatan eventually became known as the Hatteras, who by 1729 were reported to be living with the English.

    Willard also said he believes the first colony survived, and he thinks DNA testing may be able to prove it.

    The Lost Colony Center has accumulated a list of 168 names believed to be connected with the Lost Colony.

    Center officials ask anyone with one of the names on the list or with American Indian heritage to attend the symposium and have their DNA tested at the Holiday Inn in Williamston from Sept. 7 to 9.

    To view a list of the names, visit the Lost Colony Center's Web site at

    Genetic testing is the latest in a list of research techniques scientists have used to glean information on the Lost Colony.

    History, archaeology, geography and genealogy are being used in a multidisciplinary approach to determine whether America's first colonists survived.

    Willard said other scientists had researched the topic from a single scientific approach, which uncovered a few clues.

    A multidisciplinary approach, Willard said, has uncovered a lot of clues.

    Still, it won't be easy, said Roberta Estes, director of DNA research for the Lost Colony Center.

    Finding a conclusive match will take identifying Lost Colony ancestors in England and matching their DNA with that of people who are living in the United States today, Estes said.

    She said less conclusive, but still supportive findings, will be visible in patterns.

    The best example of this requires adding another piece of history.

    Shortly before the arrival of the lost colonists composed of about 117 men, women and children there was another expedition of men, who had to be rescued by Sir Francis Drake.

    Drake saved those men but was forced to leave behind 500 Turkish and Moor slaves he had recently stolen from the Spanish.

    The slaves, along with the next batch of colonists, also disappeared.

    If a genetic test finds clusters of DNA that reflects Turkish or Moor genealogies, it could become apparent that these slaves survived and were some of North Carolina's earliest colonists.

    "We can't prove that they died," Estes said. "There is no way we can be certain of that, but by finding genetical connections, we can prove they survived."

    To find out more, call 792-3440.

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