Share This Article

Will an Old Clue Lead to the Lost Colony?

X DID NOT MARK THE SPOT— and maybe that’s why it took more than 400 years for someone to check out a small patched area on a 1586 map of Virginia that may show where the legendary Lost Colony of Roanoke Island was relocated around the turn of the 16th century. When the mapmaker and governor of the settlement, John White, left Roanoke Island in 1587 in a hurried attempt to bring back provisions from England, 118 civilians were in place. Three years later, delayed by war between England and Spain, White returned to find nothing—no people, no buildings, no possessions, no clues to the fate of the colonists, who included White’s daughter, son-in-law and a granddaughter born in the New World—and he never learned their fate.

The breakthrough came when a researcher at the First Colony Foundation, dedicated to researching Roanoke, spurred a closer examination of the patched area, which revealed a fort symbol underneath the patch and an almost invisible boxed-in fort symbol on the patch itself. This could mean that colonists decided not to build a simple fort, but a more extensive settlement at the confluence of the Roanoke and Chowan rivers, about 50 miles from Roanoke Island. (Archaeologists will need to dig for artifacts on what is now privately held land to confirm this theory.) “I think it’s one of the most significant discoveries relating to the fate of the Lost Colony for the last 400 years,” says James Horn, vice president of research and historical interpretation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and author of A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. “Short of finding new documents, here we have an old document, one well known to us, that contains these really startling new discoveries.”

Iowa Celebrates a Pugnacious Pup

A HEROIC DOG has gotten a second bite of fame through a Civil War exhibit at Iowa’s State Historical Museum. As the mascot of Company K, 23rd Iowa Infantry, Doc marched with Sherman to the sea and was wounded twice. An 1870 article said that “in every battle he always was found in the front” and that “on a foraging trip he brought many a treasonable swine and chicken to find its way into the camp kettles.”

Controversial Documentary From World War II Restored

DECADES BEFORE the term “post-traumatic stress disorder” became well known, a 1946 documentary by Oscar-winning director John Huston showed candid footage of World War II soldiers being treated for debilitating psychological distress. But the U.S. Army withdrew the movie, Let There Be Light, just before it was to be shown in theaters, and did not make it available to the public until 1980. Now, thanks to a digitally remastered audio track, the film can be fully appreciated. “For the first time we can hear what some of the soldiers, who often mumble or whisper their stories, are saying,” says Scott Simmon, a film historian at the University of California, Davis, who wrote notes for the restored documentary, available for streaming or downloading at The Army produced a second movie on the subject, but with crucial differences. Huston showed actual soldiers—blacks as well as whites— in recovery, but the remake, shot with actors copying some of the scenes in Let There Be Light, depicted only whites. (The armed forces weren’t integrated until 1948.) And the fictionalized film blamed mental illness in society, rather than combat experiences, for the soldiers’ shell-shocked condition.

Jefferson Davis Caught In Drag

On May 10, 1865, as a fugitive in Georgia, Jefferson Davis tried to avoid capture by wearing his wife’s overcoat and shawl. An exhibit at New York City’s International Center of Photography shows how far Northern illustrators went to impugn the manliness of the president of the Confederacy, many of them combining a Mathew Brady studio portrait with images of petticoats and other female garments.


Originally published in the October 2012 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.