Saturday, 6 June 2009

Lost Colony Survivor?

In 1607, colonist George Percy wrote, “At Port Cotage in our Voyage up the River, we saw a Saluage (Savage) Boy about the age of ten yeeres, which had a head of haire of a perfect yellow and a reasonable white skinne, which is a Miracle amongst all Saluages." No other record has been uncovered about the boy, and apparently, Percy failed to investigate further. You can imagine my fertile imagination as a writer. Who could the boy have been? Where did he come from?

One of the most popular theories is that he was the son of a "Lost Colonist." The ten year old was found in the area of a native tribe known as the Arrohattec, which is near the fall line of the James River east of modern-day Richmond, Virginia.

For readers unfamiliar with the Lost Colony, it was a failed attempt at colonization by the English in 1587 on Roanoke Island, part of present-day North Carolina. All traces of over 100 colonists vanished when a supply ship returned three years late, except for a cryptic note carved into a tree, "Croatoan." On further examination, the note is less mysterious than has been portrayed in history books, but is beyond the scope of this article.

Over the years, several hypotheses have risen as to what became of the colonists, one of which is they had sought refuge with a "friendly" tribe known as the Chesapeake. The Chesapeake lived in the area of modern-day Virginia Beach but were annihilated in a very unusual move by the Powhatan (again beyond the scope of this article) soon before the arrival of the Jamestown colonists. Of course, the question arises that if the Chesapeake were annihilated, wouldn't any Roanoke survivors have died too?

The answer is "not necessarily." What most historians fail to take into account is that the Powhatan did not kill women and children, even in warfare. So, it's possible that a Roanoke colonist could have survived and been brought to the Arrohattec area, later giving birth to the blond-haired boy Percy spoke of.

Another theory to the boy's existence is a genetic anomaly. The Arrohattec like most of the native people tended to have black hair and brown skin (the "red Indian" references come from their body paint, not actual skin pigment). The theory is entirely plausible and seems to be in keeping with Percy's thinking, but there is another possibility which is often overlooked.

Before colonization, the number of Spanish and English ships that visited Virginia have gone unrecorded. One of these sailors could have also fathered the boy. Too simple? I had fun playing with the theories in my current book. In fact, I changed my mind a couple of times.

Kim Murphy


Anita Davison said...

I do hope the Roanoke story will feature in an article of yours Kim, as I've always found the idea of the lost colony fascinating. I would be intersted to hear your theory.

Kim Murphy said...

If you don't mind a departure from the 17th century, I'd be happy to blog about the Lost Colony sometime.

Julia Smith said...

Great post. Who knows how many lost colonists were already folded into the native population by the time settlements really got underway?

Kim Murphy said...

Currently, there's a DNA project underway to try and find out some answers. The oral histories of some tribes as well archeological evidence suggests many did indeed survive.

History Chasers said...

Kim; I found this article very interesting!

In fact it is in line with our evolving ideas about the Lost Colony and the Native Americans.

The Searching for the Lost Colony DNA Blog: