As I've pointed out all too many times in the past, November has always been a tricky month, folklore-wise. One feels absolutely compelled to allude to the Thanksgiving holiday, yet one usually finds oneself when it comes time to come up with something new and interesting to say about the festivities.

As a matter of fact, way back in 1987, I was already stumped - and we'd only been putting out the newsletter for one year! I'd done a brief history of the day in our first November issue (1986), and as of November '87 I simply didn't have enough new material to warrant a second column.

It then occurred to me, out of necessity as much as anything, that the occasion of Thanksgiving could be used as a stepping off point to delve into the folkloric traditions surrounding the Colonial Period in America in general. At that point, I knew exactly what to write - since I was perhaps seven years old I'd been fascinated by the story of the mysterious "lost colony" of Roanoke. It was a fun column to do.

Upon going online, I was able to revisit Thanksgiving Proper and fill it out somewhat. In our first online November issue (1997) I finally continued from where I'd left off back in 1986, and the next year (1998) I came up with a brand new column, a companion piece.

Having done that, I found by '99 that I'd done all I was likely to do on Thanksgiving for a long while.

It was clearly time to return to 1987, and reprint one of my favorite November columns ever . . .

Well, here we are again - how time flies . . .

It seems like only yesterday I was seated with furrowed brow before this keyboard, racking my addled brain in desperation for something halfway original to write about that most written about holiday: Thanksgiving.

Now, here I am - seated with furrowed brow and addled desperation in front of this same keyboard with even less inspiration than last year!

Let's face it - what exactly happened at the First Thanksgiving? I'll tell you: they ate. That's it.

The pilgrims and their currently friendly Native American buddies sat down and ate for three days, and ever since then folklorists have been saddled with the impossible task of trying to say something fresh and original about that most gastronomic of commemorations, and having about as little luck as I am right at this moment.

We have managed to find at least one or two interest things to remark upon concerning the Thanksgiving holiday, but as another November hits it's become clear that there just isn't a whole lot more to be said about the Founding Fathers and their -

Oh, but wait! "Founding Fathers" seems to imply that Plymouth was the first English colony in America, and as we gaze back into those misty days of yore, it almost seems - yes, I'm almost sure I see another colony, a few years further back in time, yet definitely Colonial, definitely English, and very, very, close by . .

Roanoke: The Lost Colony


It was a bit over 400 years ago, in November of 1587, that a battered and bedraggled John White sailed into an English Harbor to plead with Queen Elizabeth for supplies for his colony, the first English colony in America. It had been a scant few years since Sir Walter Raleigh, discoverer of tobacco and Royal Favorite, had sent two ships to the North American coast, and had named the land "Virginia", in honor of Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen.

This new world seemed at the time a veritable paradise, where everything good grew rapidly and in great quantities, the climate was temperate, and the natives friendly. There was a slight problem however - Spain.

Spain had, of course, financed the original Columbus excursions nearly a century before, and had since enjoyed a virtual monopoly on exploiting the minerals and natives of the Western Hemisphere. Officially England and Spain were at peace, but the situation was in fact similar to, say, the current relationship between the U.S. and Iraq.

Which is to say that a lot of covert activities, such as piracy, were taking place, mostly English operations directed at Spain - all publicly decried and privately rewarded by Queen Elizabeth.

Not surprisingly therefore, the first English foothold in North America was in reality a military base, located on Roanoke Island. From June 1585 to June 1586, English soldiers made a series of attacks on Spanish merchant ships from the island, until the hitherto friendly natives finally decided that enough was enough, and began making a few raids of their own on the somewhat perturbed English.

Exit English soldiers, enter John White.

John White (correctly, as it turned out) saw that England's future in America lay in permanent colonies, and persuaded Sir Walter and Queen Elizabeth to allow him to turn the abandoned military garrison at Roanoke into a colonial settlement. On May 8, 1587, over one hundred brave souls set sail across the Atlantic to become England's first American colonists.

Unfortunately, as the Pilgrims were to discover 32 years later, provisions can quickly prove mighty scarce in an unfamiliar region. In a matter of months, the colony was starving. In desperation, the colonists sent John White back to England to plead for much needed supplies.

This is, of course, the point in time when England and Spain finally went to war, with the immediate result that a rescue party was unable to return to Roanoke for nearly two years. When such a party was finally sent off, John White was at its head, and was thus among the first to discover the fate of the colony . . .

They found that all the houses had been dismantled, and smaller artillery taken away. Large cannons remained, as did chests that had been buried and subsequently dug up by local tribes.

Of the colonists themselves, however, not a single trace of them, alive or dead, was ever found.

The mystery has never been solved.