3. The Colonists Were Murdered
In 1607, Captain John Smith tried to uncover what happened at Roanoke. He claimed that Chief Powhatan told him that he killed the people of the colony to retaliate against them for living with another tribe that refused to ally with him. Allegedly, Powhatan showed Smith items he took from Roanoke to support his story, including a musket barrel and a brass mortar and pestle. By 1609, this story reached England, and King James and the Royal Council blamed Powhatan for the missing colonists.
William Strachey seemed to back up the story, confirming the slaughter with his investigation in his work The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia. Powhatan claimed that he ordered the killings because there was a prophecy that he would be conquered and overthrown by people from that area. Contemporary historians and anthropologists dispute this story because there were never any bodies or archaeological evidence found to support the claim, but it has persisted for more than four hundred years.
Recently, author and researcher Brandon Fullam has reexamined Smith and Strachey’s sources and has suggested that the Powhatan massacre could have been the 15 settlers left behind from the second expedition, still leaving the mystery of Roanoke unsolved.
Another possible theory is that the Spanish murdered the settlers. England and Spain were in the middle of a war when people of Roanoke disappeared. When the Spanish Armada attacked England in 1588, White was in England trying to organize supplies and find a way back to the colony. All of the country’s available ships were commandeered to fight the Spanish, and the war with Spain delayed White’s return to the colony with supplies for another three years.
At the time that the settlers disappeared, there were Spanish troops present in Florida. One of the issues that Spain and England went to war over was the colonization of the Americas. There is a theory that Spanish troops secretly traveled north and eliminated the English colony. The Spanish were known for being offensive against other European powers who tried to settle in the Americas. They attacked forts located in South Carolina and Florida throughout the sixteenth century. However, a Spanish attack on Roanoke colony is doubtful. No bodies were ever found, and the Spanish were still looking for Roanoke in 1600, ten years after its colonists went missing. Also, the settlement’s fortifications were dismantled when White returned in 1590, indicating an evacuation, not a violent attack.