Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rewrite the History Books

It's fun finding a piece of history about your family that was lost to current memory. Several years ago I located a reference in an 1893 New Bern, NC newspaper to a distant grandfather being recognized as the first white male born in the Carolinas. I later found the same fact in a book written by the North Carolina Division of Archives. Certainly no one living in my family had ever heard of this.

Another North Carolina family connection to a piece of US history is the location of the Lost Colony settlement. We grew up being taught they started the first colony on the shores of Roanoke Island in the late 1500s. I recently came across folks who are certain the 115 colonist from Sir Walter Raleigh's expedition were actually setting up housekeeping on Cedar Island, located in the northeast corner of Carteret County, NC.   My wife and I drove to Cedar Island when we were visiting the area several years ago, just to see the coastal highway.

I had no idea there was a 400 year old controversy brewing there at the time. One of my distant cousins, who follows this blog, sent me an email about the story a while back and I decided to look into it. Jean Day wrote a book called "Cedar Island Fisher Folk" in 1994 that tells the Lost Colony story that had been passed down in her family for generations.

In fact there have been scholarly reports that proposed the Lost Colony settlement location was really on Cedar Island going back to at least the 1940s. They based this on the journals that survived, measurements and descriptions of the island, the physical layout of the North Carolina Coast and the currents and tidal action around Roanoke Island that would have not allowed the English ships to get close to it but match Cedar Island perfectly. There are also a Spanish explorer's report from 1606 about finding white men in the Cedar Island area.

So how do white settlers stay in an area so close to the later expeditions and remain hidden from view? The local account is they decided to live with the Indians, taking Indian wives and enjoying the land they had found. That is after all what their original purpose was in crossing the Ocean. They raised their families, planted crops, fished and lived out their life, happy to be in a good place. If you want to read all the technical arguments, pick up Day's book or find a copy of "Riddle of the Lost Colony" by Melvin Robinson, or read the many newspaper articles about the Cedar Island connection using Google news. There is also a recent  news flash about an old map supposedly with invisible ink showing the secret location of the Lost Colony, not at Roanoke Island.

For me the interesting part is the strong belief that has carried down over the centuries from those who live on Cedar Island. They have documentation of place names and deeds going back to the 1700s in the names of Berry, Smith and others who were part of the colony and the same names are found there today. Many of these are related to my family via multiple marriage connections. That is what happens when they stay in the same place for centuries.

But for the folks who live on Cedar Island today, there is no question where their ancestors came from. They've always known they were from the Lost Colony settlement! They tell you, their folks were never lost, they always knew where they were, it was the English explorers and financiers back home who were lost.

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