Stranded

Roanoke Colony vanishes forever

IN 1587, a group of 117 English colonists sailed to North America to establish a city on Chesapeake Bay but ended up on Roanoke, a small island near the Outer Banks of present-day North Carolina, stranded at the end of the summer with few supplies. Their governor, John White, returned to England with the ships that had brought them, promising to be back by spring. It took him three years.

When White finally returned, he found little trace of the former inhabitants except for a few abandoned cabins and the word CROATOAN carved into a tree. None of the colonists was ever seen again. The most plausible explanation is that some of the settlers traveled to a more hospitable island 50 miles south, while others crossed over to the mainland. Residents of Jamestown, established in 1607, heard tales of white people that had been massacred by Indians, or held by inland tribes as slaves; others reported seeing wild, blue-eyed children in the woods. But relentless research (four books on the mystery have been published recently) hasn't turned up anything conclusive. Four hundred years later, America's original missing-persons case is still its most mysterious.

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