The True American Horror Story in NC


Sarah Swindell
  Staff Writer

Growing up, North Carolina coastal myths and folktales were a large part of my life. I remember for my seventh birthday my family took me to see the famous Lost Colony play in Manteo, North Carolina’s national park area run by the Roanoke Island Historical Association. Much to my surprise, the story I saw acted out as a child has come to light again in the pop-culture-phenomenon television series ‘American Horror Story’.

Pulling a piece from the original season, this twist on the North Carolina mystery says the colonist were slaughtered and then their spirits were banished with the same Native American spell that was used in the very first season’s narrative.

While some historians believe that the colony may have been killed out, whether by warring Spaniards or some Native peoples, it seems more likely due to recent archaeological finds that the colony merely dispersed into the neighboring Native tribes. This is the conclusion that the series adopted.

A play on an old North Carolina ghost story, the latest season of ‘American Horror Story’ has assumed violent endings and lost the true essence of a true American mystery.

To recap a bit of history behind the tale, Sir Walter Raleigh with the approval of Queen Elizabeth sent a group of English men and women to modern day  Dare County, North Carolina. Expanding the colony was difficult as the majority of the nation’s attention had to be

However, while Queen Elizabeth wanted to establish an English colony, growing unease between England and Spain put the expansion plan on hold. Raleigh selected John White to serve as the colony’s governor who made contact with local Native American tribes upon arrival, including the famous Croatoans.

Though tensions between colonists and natives remained, some local leaders like Manteo helped the Europeans survive the seasons on the Eastern coast.

When the colonists begged John White to sail back to their home nation of England to replenish supplies that were nearly gone, White was unable to return due to the war with Spain. Queen Elizabeth II needed every ship in her armada, and therefore John White left behind his family and infant granddaughter, Virginia Dare, in 1587.

As historian David B. Quinn writes, “But White did not come in 1588, and sometime between 1588 and the latter part of 1589 the party moved down to live with Manteo, leaving as a sign the clear carving of CROATOAN, without any suggestion they were in distress, to show White where he would find them.”

It is believed that these over 100 colonists dispersed into local tribes, and were not actually killed. Rolling Stone also points out in their analysis of American Horror Story that Spaniards did not reach the area until around the 1600s, meaning they could not have killed these isolated colonists.

It also does not seem likely that native peoples would have suddenly murdered them all off, as the colonists had become amicable with local peoples. Many historians like Quinn believe that these peoples took in the stray Europeans who had been left to their own devices.

For the television series ‘American Horror Story’, also known as AHS, they decided to resort to the lesser-believed conclusion of this North Carolina story. With many saying the series is attempting to tie in the first season, it seems their choice of avenue with employing the Lost Colony story was more for their own needs than to be historically accurate.

It is not that you can really expect a series with evil clowns, bull demons, and creepy santas to be concerned with historical accuracy. However, when they decide to take on actual American history it seems that the story should be steeped in more truth than self-generated fiction.

Also, from the perspective of a writer, it seems more like a clever way to be lazy. As the first season points out, that spell did not work in that narrative, leaving audience with the very clear image that the spell did not work here either. It was a failure that has come to haunt some modern-day couple who made the mistake of owning haunted real estate.  

‘American Horror Story’ has essentially bastardized a key mystery in American history, where they could have gone much farther into the story itself. Haunted relics, finding bones, creating their own actual conclusion to this North Carolina tale could all have happened in the series.

Instead, the series uses the mystery loosely with a focus on a fictional haunting in a fictional 19th-century home bought in North Carolina. Directed like a real-life docu-series, it creates the illusion these were real events, but so far none of the season seems very real.

The myth the creators claimed they rooted the story in seems like a very warped version, twisted for the needs of Hollywood-style intrigue and horror storytelling that the series in known for after their first five seasons. The only aspect they seem to use is the conclusion they crafted themselves around the writer’s table, leaving the true history in the past.

The idea of their spirits needing to be cast out by native spells and the theory these television series’ creators has crafted just seems a poor choice on such a iconic and historic mystery that captures the attention of scholars and school children to this day.

The Island of Roanoke, where the Croatoan tribe lived and part of this tale takes place, is surely hiding some secrets that could unlock the mystery behind the Lost Colony. If solved, they might have to change the story behind the outdoor play held regularly in Manteo, North Carolina. If actually discovered, this whole season of AHS might be something that never came to light.

For the sake of tourism and commodification of history, it seems better for those colonists to stay lost. However as someone who grew up on tales of lost colonists, mysterious ghost stories, and pirate mythology, it seems ‘American Horror Story’ could have done better than use North Carolina History as a cheap tool for story inspiration and audience ratings.

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