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

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

A sweeping account of a four-hundred-year-old mystery, the archeologists racing to unearth the answer, and what the Lost Colony reveals about America--from colonial days to todayIn 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived on Roanoke, an island off the coast of North Carolina. Chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, their colony was to establish a foothold for England in the New...

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Title:The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke
Author:Andrew Lawler
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The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke Reviews

  • Geoffrey

    (Note: I received an advanced electronic copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley)

    Due to my being born and raised a New Englander, my education on the "founding" of America focused quite heavily on Pilgrims and Puritans. The Roanoke Colony was nothing more than the briefest of mentions in textbooks about Sir Walter Raleigh, a few folks vanishing, and a strange place name carved onto a tree. So to put it bluntly, until now I had absolutely no idea - no idea about the history of the short-lived col

    (Note: I received an advanced electronic copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley)

    Due to my being born and raised a New Englander, my education on the "founding" of America focused quite heavily on Pilgrims and Puritans. The Roanoke Colony was nothing more than the briefest of mentions in textbooks about Sir Walter Raleigh, a few folks vanishing, and a strange place name carved onto a tree. So to put it bluntly, until now I had absolutely no idea - no idea about the history of the short-lived colony, no idea about the obsession that has so fiercely gripped many a person and driven them to strive so hard to try and discover what happened to a particular band of English settlers in the Outer Banks, no idea about the myriad and often directly opposing meanings that the attempted colony has held for people both past and present, just no idea whatsoever.

    Thankfully, Andrew Lawler turned out to be the absolute perfect guide to the Lost Colony and its incredibly rich mix of history, mystery, and controversy. He leaves no stone unturned as goes on a voyage of discovery that is exhaustive in its coverage of all matters of the Lost Colony, but never to the point where it inundates or confuses. Although he travels everywhere from Tudor-era London to a room filled with forged stone carvings and he covers topics ranging from racial identity to early American feminism, his clarity of writing ensures that the reader sticks right by his side from start to finish.

    This is an absolutely captivating read that does its subject matter full justice with a passionate thoroughness. There's little doubt in this reader mind that that author's very own "Lost Colony Syndrome" will infect no small amount of people with a newfound fascination with the missing settlers of Roanoke Island.

  • Susan (the other Susan)

    Fascinating product of determined journalism. The so-called "Lost Colony" is a romantic legend that enabled white supremacists - as early as the mid-1800s - to deny the likelihood that survivors among the abandoned Roanoke colonists intermingled with Native Americans and later with Africans who took refuge among the coastal tribes. They weren't lost; they just chose to survive in a way that was ideologically unacceptable.

  • Amanda Roa

    Looking back at the complex story of The Lost Colony was riveting. I was only vaguely aware of the story until this book. Well written, well researched and thoroughly reviewed from all angles, I would recommend this account of early American history to anyone interested in how those early days shaped our American society. The chapter on Virginia Dare and how various groups have romanticized her and used her as an iconic symbol to represent their particular views was esp

    Looking back at the complex story of The Lost Colony was riveting. I was only vaguely aware of the story until this book. Well written, well researched and thoroughly reviewed from all angles, I would recommend this account of early American history to anyone interested in how those early days shaped our American society. The chapter on Virginia Dare and how various groups have romanticized her and used her as an iconic symbol to represent their particular views was especially insightful.

  • Nancy Oakes

    As much as I enjoyed this book, it needs a home. If you're in the US and you want it, it's yours and I'll pay postage. Just let me know.

    I am fascinated by mystery stories, and they don't have to be fictional to capture my interest. This goes back to my childhood when I would read anything and everything, fiction and nonfiction alike. Fictional mysteries are the heart and soul of my reading life, but "real" mysteries are equally as fascinating-- I'm talkin

    As much as I enjoyed this book, it needs a home. If you're in the US and you want it, it's yours and I'll pay postage. Just let me know.

    I am fascinated by mystery stories, and they don't have to be fictional to capture my interest. This goes back to my childhood when I would read anything and everything, fiction and nonfiction alike. Fictional mysteries are the heart and soul of my reading life, but "real" mysteries are equally as fascinating-- I'm talking about the kind of mysteries that may not be answered in my lifetime but are still embedded somewhere in my brain. For me, the fate of the "lost colony" of Roanoke was another such real mystery stemming from childhood, and I joined the ranks of lost colony obsessives. But while I may be obsessed, I'm still picky about what I read and even more so about what I think is plausible, so when I saw that Andrew Lawler (an author I trust whose work I've read many times in

    ) had published a book about it, I couldn't push that buy button quickly enough. It is an informative, thought provoking and downright captivating book that any Roanoke obsessive must read, unless, of course, you're of the alien abduction or yes, even zombie crowd who thrive on more out-there sort of theories.

    At one point I had to laugh when the author describes how his work had gone "beyond professional diligence and into very obsession" that he'd seen in others. As he says,

    "The real power exerted by the lost Colonists was not in archives or archaeological trenches but in the stories they spawned,"

    so there will continue to be people who, despite the facts presented here, will continue to spin their own ideas or who will further the myths behind one of the most intriguing mysteries in our history.

    Bottom line: it's fascinating stuff and Lawler is the right person to put it all together. Very highly recommended.

  • Matt

    - Andrew Lawler,

    The reason that the tale of the Lost Colony has lasted over centuries is that it is enduringly creepy.

    In July 1587, a group of colonists led by John White landed on Roanoke Island. They were destined for the Chesapeake Bay, but like everything else in this venture, things did not go according to plan. The colonists elected White governor. Soon, though, they implored him to go back to England for help. So, he left the one hundred-plus colonists, including his new granddaughter Virginia Dare, and promised – as in all good horror movies – to be right back.

    Stuff happened, and John White was not able to return until August 1590. When he got back to Roanoke, he discovered that the people were all gone, their village deserted. There was no indication that the colony itself had been attacked, since there were no graves, no bodies moldering beneath the sun. Other than

    carved into a post, which could refer to a geographical place or a local Indian tribe, the colonists left no message to explain their departure. (Add this reticence to the heap of enigmas that blanket the Lost Colony, making study of this otherwise-obscure historical eye-blink both infuriating and impossible to resist).

    It is an image that sticks in your mind. An abandoned village. A cryptic clue. An enfolding wilderness teeming with strange “others.” The imagination conjures any number of outcomes, some of them terrifying.

    (I should add that the outcome envisioned by Ryan Murphy in the hilariously outré

    is unlikely. It cannot, however, be entirely ruled out).

    The question of what happened to the settlers at Roanoke haunts people to this day. Did they move inland, only to be killed by Indians? Were they assimilated into the local tribes? Did they attempt to sail back to England, only to drown in the treacherous waters?

    There is not a lot of evidence to support any conclusion. Numerous archaeological digs have been rather inconclusive. Reports of white people among the Indians are nothing more than dated hearsay. And then you have the so-called Dare Stone, which may provide the most striking answers – or it might be an elaborate forgery.

    Andrew Lawler takers a journey deep into the heart of this spooky mystery involving out-of-their-depth immigrants and the forest primeval.

    is part of a genre I call the Historical Road Trip. It is part history, part journalistic endeavor, and part personal journey into the fascinating world of Roanoke obsessives.

    Lawler divides

    into three sections. The first is mostly a straight historical recounting of the Roanoke Colony, which tells us what is known, and mostly unknown, about this event. The second section delves into the riddles, as generation after generation has attempted to find the elusive key that will unlock the answers as to the fate of John White’s unfortunate band. The final section focuses a bit more on the Lost Colony in popular culture (including the cooption of Virginia Dare’s memory by white supremacists). It is during this part of the book that Lawler covers the engrossing story of the Dare Stones.

    is a fun book. Lawler is an engaging and curious tour director who both explains and questions, reports and critiques. He travels around the world visiting museums and archaeological digs, talking to experts both amateur and professional, and occasionally stirring the pot as he draws well-known scholars into the debate. There are some darker topics here, such as the aforementioned Aryan preoccupation with young Virginia Dare (who likely died as a toddler), but Lawler works with a light touch. This is not heavy, hand-wringing history. It is, instead, a book written by someone with an insatiable, contagious desire to learn.

    The history of the Lost Colony is complex, caught in a vast web of 16th Century European geopolitics, filled with characters about whom little is known, and who speak and write with an ornate indifference that makes it really, really hard to figure out what’s going on. I appreciated Lawler’s deftness with this material. He comments on the weirdness of the historical record, pointing out the gaps, the elisions, and the things that just don’t square:

    The highlight of

    is its recounting of the Dare Stones controversy. In 1937, a tourist named L.E. Hammond (who, of course, is a riddle himself) brought a stone to Emory University that appeared to have been inscribed by Eleanor Dare. Within three years, nearly fifty more stones had been discovered by a local farmer, who apparently knew rubes when he saw them. The stones were like an engraved Dickens serial, in which Eleanor eventually marries an Indian king. A group of historians commissioned by the Smithsonian gave their initial seal of authenticity. Eventually, a reporter from the

    exposed the forgeries of all the stones, except the original.

    The legitimacy of that first stone is still up for debate, and Lawler does a great job of talking to a variety of experts willing to discuss the stone’s word choice and sentence patterns to discern whether or not it is potentially legitimate, or an all-time great hoax.

    I have a soft spot for books like this, filled with unsolvable questions and passionate searchers. The Lost Colony detectives that Lawler introduces us to are captivating in their dogged and single-minded devotion. Each, in his or her own way, is trying to figure out this distant and infinitesimal slice of the universe, and in doing so, perhaps, they gain some understanding of their own.

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