Ossomocomuck and The Lost Colony


Algonquian Tribes in Vicinity of Roanoke Colony, 1584

The Algonquians called the Outer Banks of North Carolina Ossomocomuck. Translation is uncertain but Ossomocomuck means something akin to “the land that we inhabit, the dwelling house, or the house site.” a region that included “the coastal region of the North Carolina mainland, from the Virginia boundary south to today’s Bogue Inlet.” Eastward it included the barrier islands of today’s Outer Banks and several larger islands located on the sounds between the two. Roanoke was the name of a local Indian group and the island they inhabited. According to a report submitted to Sir Walter Ralegh by Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas (informed by Wanchese, a Roanoke Indian and Manteo, a Croatoan,two Algonquians captured on the first voyage and brought back to England to learn English and serve as guides on a subsequent voyage) at least four and maybe as many as five, Indian kingdoms composed Ossomocomuck. The names of the places and tribes of Indians all reflect a land of competing chieftancies — Secotan (Wingina’s Kingdom), “the town at the bend of the river”; Chawanook (Menatonon’s Kingdom), after the Chowan River; Weapemeoc (Okisko’s Kingdom), “where shelter from the wind is sought”; Pamouic (Pimacum’s Kingdom), and Newsiok, on the Neus River. Scattered among these chieftancies were a number of Indian groups, such as the Croatoan (Manteo’s tribe), Roanoke (Wanchese’s tribe), Aguascogoc, Dasamonquepeuc, Wokokon, Pasquenoke, and numerous others whose allegiances no doubt each kingdom sought at different times. Manteo and Wanchese, for example, reported a “war” between Piamacum and the lord of Secotan (presumably not Wingina) and Wingina that resulted in a peace two years before the English arrival. The war also resulted in injuries and deaths that left an immense residue of malice between the Secotans and  Piamacum’s people.


Roanoke Colony was founded in 1587 by Sir Walter Raleigh and was led by Captain John White. White left the colony to return to England for supplies, leaving his wife and daughter, Virginia Dare. When he returned in 1590, the island was deserted and no sign of the colonists could be found. The word “Croatoan” was carved into the fort’s gatepost and the letters “Cro” were found etched into a tree. Their whereabouts are still a matter of speculation.


The first English attempt to establish a colony ended in failure. First, the settlers assumed the indigenous people would welcome and support them. The area was composed of several Indian nations, each competing for survival and dominance. The Indians viewed the arrival of foreigners as invaders. Second, instead of focusing on planting a sustainable colony, colonial leaders Instead, they looked at Roanoke as a base to launch attacks upon Spanish treasure ships. Privateering (a euphemism for piracy) had become a major enterprise. Over a hundred privateers a year were licensed in England between 1585 and 1604. Thus, more resources were devoted to privateering with less attention to founding a permanent settlement. (See Karen Kupperman, Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony).


Wahunsenacah (Powhatan) did not know about the Roanoke Colony settlement.


John Smith reported that Wahunsenacah on several occasions inquired about other invasions. In addition, he also knew about contact with the Roanoke settlers and the Chesapeake Indians. When one of his shaman told him of a vision that a people would rise to threaten his chieftancy, Wahunsenacah attacked and destroyed the Chesapeake tribe.


Lost colony settlers joined or were absorbed by an Indian tribe. The most likely candidate might be the Croatoans who befriended the settlers when they first arrived and aided their settlement.


No hard evidence confirms such a rumor. But one English chronicler (George Percy) reported the following:

“At Port cottage in our Voyage up the River, we saw a Savage Boy about the age of ten yeares, which had a head of haire of perfect yellow and a reasonable white skinne, which is a Miracle amongst all Savages.” [He is referring to the Powhatan Flu, later named the James River].


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