The tale of the Roanoke Island is one of those unsolved stories that’s still uttered in hushed tones around history classrooms, because it’s the best kind of mystery — the kind that actually happened.
In 1587, a group of English colonists settled on an island off the coast of what is now the Carolinas. A man named John White served as the colony’s governor, and returned to England shortly after the colony was founded in order to replenish the village’s supplies. The only catch? England was in the thick of the Anglo-Spanish War, and ships were impossible to come by. As a result, it took White three whole years to return to the Roanoke Colony.
When he finally made it back, the town he had left was totally and completely deserted. 117 men, women and children, and it was as though they had never existed.
On one of the fence posts, someone had carved the words “Croatoan,” the name of a local Native American tribe. The letters “CRO” were also carved onto a nearby tree. Other than that, there was no evidence of the former colony or its inhabitants. It was as though they simply vanished into thin air.
This is the sort of historical event that sends chills down your spine, and makes TV producers salivate at the mouth — American Horror Story producers, to be exact.
The current season of American Horror Story makes full use of the spooky Roanoke mystery, dropping its featured characters (played by Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr.) into a house on modern-day Roanoke Island, where strange and paranormal occurrences soon begin to plague the couple.
However, in order to fully appreciate the setting for the latest season of the show, one has to understand the many theories and mysteries surrounding the Roanoke Island locale. Because, as AHS has been keen to point out on multiple occasions, horrific events supposedly “mark” their geographic locations, and the physical locations act as conduits for the restless spirits.
So, the question that we’re currently left to speculate about is: why are these Roanoke spirits (if that is indeed what they are) so restless?
One popular theory about the colonists’ disappearance is that the entire village was slaughtered and disposed of by the Crotoan tribe. This particular explanation is especially grisly, but plausible, as the Crotoans were historically chagrined about a group of white settlers moving in on their territory. It’s possible that the colonists’ rocky relationship with the tribe rapidly deteriorated once John White left for England, causing the Croatoans to wipe out the Roanoke colonists in one fell swoop.
In the world of American Horror Story, such an event would definitely infuse the island with plenty of restless spirits and potentially negative energy. Perhaps this popular theory will feature prominently in the season’s plot?
However, some attribute the Roanoke disappearance to more supernatural causes — which definitely seems more on par with the AHS style. After all, a group of Puritans abducted by aliens or wiped out by witchcraft is pretty amazing fodder for a horror series.
In reality, the explanation for the vanishing colony is probably far more mundane than many conspiracy theorists would prefer. There is considerable archaeological evidence to suggest that portions of the colony simply moved to the western end of Albemarle Sound when supplies became scarce. Some suggest that the colonists even assimilated with a local Native American tribe over the course of those three years. Many scholars seem to believe that the main motivator for any relocation was merely due to the rapidly diminishing supplies.
Basically, John White may have found the world’s creepiest Post-It note upon his return to Roanoke: a “Croatoan” carving, to give an explanation for where everyone had gone. Basically the Puritan equivalent of “We’re leaving forever, BYE.”
But, this more realistic scenario isn’t much fun when it comes to creating a genre TV series.
It is much more likely that the creators of American Horror Story will choose to recreate a more macabre historical event at Roanoke, with some supernatural elements, spiritual unrest and probably a Satanic ritual or two. Whatever happens, it’s sure to keep you up for a few nights, at least!
But, at least you can take comfort in the fact that the most reasonable and palatable explanation is as simple as a bunch of people moving at some point over the course of a three year period, leaving behind some basic directions as to their whereabouts.
After all — if someone is gone for three whole years, isn’t it fairly safe to assume it’s time to move on?