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

Written by Andrew Lawler
Review by Bethany Latham

Sir Walter Raleigh is given a charter by Elizabeth I, and in 1587, 115 English colonists land on Roanoke Island on what is now the Carolina Outer Banks. Led by (of all things) an artist, John White, the colonists face hostile natives and a lack of provisions. White leaves, supposedly to sail back immediately and resupply.

When he finally returned in 1590, the colony had disappeared into thin air.

Lawler examines the political climate and various theories – some plausible, some less so – surrounding the fate of the colonists. He alternates a third-person recounting of the history with first-person narratives about his research and interactions with those still pursuing the mystery, from professionals to locals, taking particular relish in their disagreements and contradictory conclusions. Doubtless, some who granted Lawler interviews will regret it, given his characterization of them (e.g., an unhygienic, posterior-scratching University of Bristol archaeologist). Overall, this is a thorough overview of the fact (what little of it there is), some interesting related rabbit-hole plunges, and the current working theories and archaeological evidence related to this (still unsolved) colonial mystery.