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The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke (Hardcover)

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Thirty five years before the Pilgrims rowed ashore at Plymouth... and a little more than 20 years before the ill-fated colony of Jamestown... 115 English men, women and children planted a flag off the Outer Banks of what is now North Carolina to start a new colony on Roanoke Island.  Granted, the English were late to the party.  In the early 1500's Ponce de Leon and other Spanish Conquistadors were tripping all through the Caribbean, onto shores around Mexico and "La Florida".


Back to England, a rather pesky Protestant pastor named Richard Hakluyt pilfered a pile of parchments in France and wrote a book printed in 1582 which stoking verbal fires encouraging his Elizabethan brethren to raise sails and head West.  His clarion call?  With haste, they could colonize and control swatches of New World territories -- and control trade between the East and West.  Damn the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch.  Time was a-wasting!  Sir Walter Raleigh raised dough to launch a "Virginia Colony".  And in 1585, John White, Thomas Harriot and others landed on a pile of sand... befriended a tribe of Carolina Algonquians... in short order ran through all the locals' food... decimated unsuspecting Indians with European diseases... shot one of the natives' "big shots"... and soon were in a heap of trouble.


All the while, back in merrie ole England, Mary, Queen of Scots, lost her head -- and things were basically pretty grim.  So, getting on a boat to get out of town was pretty appealing.  Except something happened.  The colony in Roanoke disappeared.  Poof!  All that was left was "a secret token" etched into a tree -- a sign to be left by the colonists if they had to abandon their settlement.  A few years passed.  Tudors returned.  Footprints still remained.  Buried trunks scattered bits of armor and maps.  While other maps using "invisible ink" to hide locations from enemies -- did little more than perpetuate a 400 year cover up of what really happened.


Fast forward to the 20th Century, a First Colony Foundation was formed.  Academic and amateur archeologists dug enough holes in the ground to impossibly pock-mark sandy areas around a 100-mile radius of Roanoke Island.  A strange large rock was found -- with a rough cross and the word "Ananias" on it.  (Ananias happened to be Virginia Dare's father.  Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the New World.)


Bam!  Tee shirt shops shot out of the ground.  Local theaters re-enacted the story of The Lost Colony.  And to make a long story short, I suppose we'll never figure out the fate of The Lost Colony.  But the story remains compelling.  And it does represent one of the building blocks of our history.  So, read the book.  And the next time you're down around The Outer Banks, bring a shovel.

— Bob Wells


A sweeping account of America's oldest unsolved mystery, the people racing to unearth its answer, and the sobering truths--about race, gender, and immigration--exposed by the Lost Colony of Roanoke

In 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived at Roanoke Island on the coast of North Carolina. Chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, their colony was to establish England's first foothold in the New World. But when the colony's leader, John White, returned to Roanoke from a resupply mission, his settlers were nowhere to be found. They left behind only a single clue--a "secret token" carved into a tree. Neither White nor any other European laid eyes on the colonists again.

What happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke? For four hundred years, that question has consumed historians and amateur sleuths, leading only to dead ends and hoaxes. But after a chance encounter with a British archaeologist, journalist Andrew Lawler discovered that solid answers to the mystery were within reach. He set out to unravel the enigma of the lost settlers, accompanying competing researchers, each hoping to be the first to solve its riddle. In the course of his journey, Lawler encounters a host of characters obsessed with the colonists and their fate, and he determines why the Lost Colony continues to haunt our national consciousness.

Thrilling and absorbing, The Secret Token offers a new understanding not just of the first English settlement in the New World but of how its disappearance continues to define--and divide--America.

About the Author

ANDREW LAWLER is the author of the highly acclaimed Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?. He is a contributing writer for Science, a contributing editor for Archaeology Magazine, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Slate.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780385542012
ISBN-10: 0385542011
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: June 5th, 2018
Pages: 448
Language: English

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