DNA Evidence of a Croatian and Sephardic Jewish Settlement on the North Carolina Coast Dating from the Mid to Late 1500s
For the Sephardic Jews of Spain, the year 1492 saw one door close while another door opened half a world away. (1) It was the year the Spanish Inquisition reached its apex of brutality, while concurrently Cristobal Colon--remembered in American history as Christopher Columbus and purportedly of Sephardic descent--set sail for the New World. (2) The names of his crew suggest that several of them were also Sephards. (3)
By the mid-1500s, Spain had expelled between 100,000 to 200,000 Jews after first seizing their money and possessions. (4) The Spanish Jews fled in all directions: eastward to Italy and the Ottoman Empire, (5) westward to Portugal, northward over the Pyrenees to France, and southward across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar to North Africa. (6) Another 10,000 to 20,000 remained behind, to later be killed by the Inquisitorial Court, (7) while an additional 30,000 converted (often superficially) to Catholicism. (8) If their insincerity was suspected, they too were added to the bonfires of the auto-da-fe. (9)
Following Colon's arrival in the New World, Spain established multiple settlements in North America, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast as far north as Parris Island, South Carolina (the Santa Elena colony 1566 - 1587). (10) Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo led multiple expeditions during the 1540s and 1560s to the interior of what is now the southeastern United States. (11) Concurrently, the French crown financed expeditions and military settlements at Charles Fort on the Virginia coast. (12)
Belatedly, the English queen, Elizabeth, decided to enter the race to establish colonial ventures in this new land. (13) Her favored courtier, Walter Ralegh of Devon and Cornwall, organized a corporation to bring settlers to the Chesapeake Bay area. (14) Initial scouting expeditions for a location suitable for a trading colony were undertaken by Ralegh and his "Portuguese" pilot, Simon Ferndandez, who was very likely of Sephardic descent. (15) They chose the North Carolina Outer Banks area, where Fernandez claimed to have extensive sailing experience from prior voyages "with the Spanish." (16) Merchants and tradespeople from London staffed the initial colony in 1585-1586. (17) They were hardly the sturdy frontiersmen needed for such a venture into the wilderness, but, this paper proposes, they had an urgent reason to seek employment opportunities outside of England.
This article proposes that the reason for their desire to exit England was the threat of Spanish invasion in one or two years' time and their ethnic status as Sephardic Jews. In other words, if one were a converso merchant/tradesman in London, it was a good time to move west. Already many Portuguese and Bristol (England) fishing vessels were visiting the Atlantic Coast regularly for cod fishing, while English privateers such as Drake, Gilbert, and Grenville were preying on Spanish silver galleons in the south Atlantic. (18) Many of the crew members aboard these ships were, in fact, conversos, as the manifests indicate. (19)
Concurrently, these same English voyagers were venturing to the Eastern Mediterranean, including trading in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Italy and Croatia, and even venturing to Morocco, where both Jews and Muslim Moors had fled from Spain. (20) Thus, an anti-Spanish/ pro-Sephardic-Moor maritime network existed stretching from southeastern Europe to North America. (21) This would have made the shores of North America, especially those above Spanish Florida, a very desirable locale for maritime merchants and traders, and also for refugee families. (22)
Other key players in the Roanoke ventures were Phillip Amadas ("beloved" in Spanish) and Arthur Barlowe ("son of Lowe" in Hebrew) who, like Ralegh, were from the Cornwall region near Bristol and who also had extensive trading ties to the Eastern Mediterranean. (23) Additional participants included Arthur and John Faci, whose surnames indicate they were Sephardic Jews from Fez, Morocco (Faci = Fassi, one from Fez/s; www.sephardim.co includes multiple spellings of this surname). Of the original 1585-1586 settlement at Roanoke, fifteen men were left on shore under the administration of a Master Kofar and a man named Chapman, while Ralegh returned to England to obtain additional colonists. (24) The surname "Chapman" means a trader/merchant and is common among the Lumbee tribe whom this paper investigates. These men seem to have gone missing by 1587, when the next set of Roanoke colonists arrived. (25)
By 1587, "London was teeming with foreigners" according to Quinn; (26) many of them were in fear for their lives, running from the Spanish who had just invaded the Netherlands where many Sephards and Moors were living in exile from Spain. (27) The Armada was now rumored to be sailing for England within the year. (28) From among these desperate persons, Ralegh collected his next group of settlers; they included goldsmiths (though no gold had been found along the Virginia Coast), accountants, some attorneys (despite no court system yet existing), a university lecturer, a tile maker, and, happily for the colony's survival, a farmer. (29) They also included White's daughter, and son-in-law, Ananais Dare, whose first name is Hebrew for "Compassion of God."
This unlikely group of 115 men, women, and children were deposited at Roanoke on July 22,
(1587.) They soon made friends with a young Native American man, Manteo, from the nearby Croatoan tribe. (30) The colonists also made arrangements with John White, the colony's leader, to carve the word CROATOAN on their fort palisade, if they decided to move to the village of these "friendly savages," while White returned to England for supplies. A cross was to be carved, as well, if the colonists met with an emergency during his absence. (31) As is well-known, the Spanish Armada's attack on England in 1589 delayed White's return voyage until 1590. (32) When he did return, the Roanoke colonists were gone, the fort was in disrepair, and the word CROATOAN was carved neatly on one of the palisades. (33) There was no cross. White was joyful at this; he presumed that the settlers, which included his daughter, son-in-law, and their child, were in safe hands. However, White was unable to locate them, due to severe storms along the coast, and had to return to England alone. (34)
It is at this point in the narrative that historians differ. Some propose that the colonists were slain either by Chief Powhatan or other native tribes on the coast. (35) Another possibility is that they were somehow located by the Spanish and killed. (36) A third, more hopeful proposition, is that the colonists merged with the Croatoan (now Lumbee) tribe and their descendants are still with us. (37) As Horn states, "Information gathered from local Indian peoples on both sides of the James River between 1607 and 1609 clearly indicated that survivors still lived in the interior of North Carolina." (38)
David Quinn, Karen Kupperman, and James Horn (39) propose that the colonists may have split into two groups. One group continued up the coast toward the Chesapeake Bay, where most were later killed by hostile Native Americans under Powhatan. (40) However, the second group is believed by these same researchers to have remained with the Croatoans. As Quinn states, "We are forced to accept as a fact that they became Indian themselves, and their children and grandchildren wholly so, as the century went on." (41) Similarly, Horn states, "As the months turned into years, most of the settlers had probably resigned themselves to living with the Indians for the rest of their lives. (42) They blended into Indian communities, making their homes and raising families with peoples they had found when the English thought them lost." (43)
The Colony is Founded, 'Lost,' and Now Dwelling in Robeson County, NC
The focus of this study is on the group of Roanoke settlers who may have moved approximately fifty miles inland to live with the Croatoan people, the tribe of friendly Manteo. (44) Usually, the historical narrative at this point focuses on whether the Roanoke colonists staying with the Croatoan tribe survived. However, this article is going to take a sharp departure, while still answering the question, and instead examine the identity of the Croatoan tribe with whom they went to live. While some sources have proposed that the name Croatoan may be Algonquin for "the talking place" and not an actual tribal name, perhaps the truth is much more obvious. In fact, it was literally spelled out on the palisade by the departing colonists: CROATOAN.
This was the term used in the 1500s for Croats, or Croatians. (45) Using DNA evidence, this article suggests that the "tribe of friendly savages" the colonists went to dwell with was composed, at least in part, of Croatian men who had likely shipwrecked off the North Carolina coast some decade(s) before and were likely known to be there by Raleigh, John White, and Simon Fernandez.
Croatia in the 1500s
Most Americans today likely think of Croatia as a small, inconsequential country, relatively poor, unsophisticated and powerless, located somewhere in southeastern Europe. However, during the 1500s, Croatia, also known as Ragusa, was a formidable sea-power, trading throughout the Mediterranean, as well as with England, Scotland, and Ireland, and with several European-founded colonies in South, Central, and North America. (46) In the waters of the Atlantic off the coast of the Southeast and in the Caribbean, Croatian sailors preyed upon Spanish "treasure ships," often collaborating with English privateers engaged in the same activity. (47) The principal Croatian port of Dubrovnik was the center of much of this activity. (48)
By the mid-1500s, Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain had reached the section of...