Archive for Sunday, April 4, 2010

New theory on fate of Lost Colonists

April 4, 2010


John White was the leader of one of the first English settlements in the New World.

Bankrolled by Sir Walter Raleigh, White directed 118 men, women and children in their voyage across the Atlantic in 1587.

The settlers’ ultimate destination was the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, they landed to the south on Roanoke Island, off the coast of present-day North Carolina.

After a number of unsettling months in which they endured bloody attacks at the hands of Native Americans and ran short on food and other provisions, the colonists urged a reluctant White to return to England to seek aid.

A number of setbacks, including an impending naval war with Spain and difficulties in lining up adequate additional financing, forced White to wait three years before returning with the promised and badly needed assistance.

Upon arrival, White found not a single settler.

The only clue to their fate was the word “CROATOAN” — the name of a Native American tribe — carved on one of the colony’s main gateposts.

In the 400-plus years since the mysterious disappearance of what has become known as the Lost Colony, historians and other interested parties have put forth innumerable theories as to the settlers’ fate.

Into the fray comes James Horn, whose “A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke” (Basic Books, $26) is the latest attempt to find the Lost Colony.

Exhaustively researched, Horn’s book sheds new light on the colony’s purpose and the social backgrounds of the settlers and offers a new theory or two about where they went.

Horn, a historian who lives in Williamsburg, Va., and is the author and editor of five books on colonial and early American history, leaves no stone unturned.

“A Kingdom Strange” is filled with extraordinary detail on the hows, whens, wheres and whys.

What the book is lacking, though, is the wow.

Unfortunately, Horn’s writing style doesn’t match his thorough research. The book mostly is a dry recitation of facts — and lots of them — but without the inherent drama of the story.

After all, we’re talking about a man who returns after a perilous journey across the high seas praying to find his friends and loved ones prospering in their new surroundings, but instead finds emptiness and dread.

Advertised as a “riveting narrative history,” “A Kingdom Strange” isn’t quite the page-turner Horn and his publisher might have been working toward.

Still, it’s worth getting lost in.


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