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Beechland and the Lost Colony

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McMullan, Philip. “Beechland and the Lost Colony.” (Under the direction of Dr. Holly Brewer.)

In a well known story, Sir Walter Ralegh’s attempt to settle ‘Virginia’ in 1587 became ‘The Lost Colony;’ 117 men, women and children simply disappeared. John White, the colony’s governor, described how the colonists were forced to remain on Roanoke Island when their intended destination was Chesapeake Bay. There they were abandoned and became lost to history after the Spanish Armada caused their resupply ships to be diverted.

However significant evidence suggests that they intentionally relocated inland and that Ralegh, at least, kept in touch with them. They continued the alliance they had formed with the Croatan and, for at least ten more years, supplied Ralegh with a valuable commodity–Sassafras. They chose Beechland, a protected sassafras site about 50 into the mainland, in order to prevent the Spaniards (and potential competitors) from finding them. This profitable venture ended when Ralegh lost his patent and his head after the death of Queen Elizabeth. In this scenario, the so called ‘Lost Colonists’ were not lost but were finally abandoned when Ralegh could no longer send ships to them.

Evidence for the colonists’ movement was found in original accounts, native alliances, oral histories, naming patterns, archaeological remnants, and reanalysis of early maps. A thorough archaeological investigation of the site might yield the crucial clues to resolve the longstanding mystery of what became of the majority of the lost colonists.

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