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Josh Biography
The Lost Colony of Roanoke

In 1587, over 100 settlers landed in the New World to establish England's first permanent colony. Three years later, they had vanished... Josh Bernstein is on the trail of America's oldest missing-persons case. He flies high above Roanoke Island in a powered para-glider; climbs and cores a cypress tree to study the climate conditions the settlers faced; participates in an American-Indian powwow; and learns to cook as the local 16th-century natives once did. Finally, Josh travels back to England to trace the roots of a family that could be descendants of the Roanoke colony. Using DNA science, he makes a groundbreaking discovery--and, amazingly, it suggests that one of the 1587 lost colonists may have survived.

Josh's Journal

The Lost Colony of Roanoake

Journal 5The Lost Colony : "When I was a kid, I learned about the early attempts for colonization in the Americas. Places like Jamestown and Williamsburg were well discussed—I even made a trip to Colonial Williamsburg to see how people lived in the 17th Century. But I don't recall much about the Lost Colony of Roanoke. I'm sure I learned about it, but I just don't remember this mystery, which really is fascinating. How do 117 (or so) men, women and children disappear without a trace in just a few years? Why couldn't anyone find survivors on future expeditions? Is there any way to use modern science or archaeology to solve these mysteries? Let's see... But first, we need to set the stage."

The Battle for Colonization: "It's the late 16th century, around 1580. Over 90 years have passed since Christopher Columbus "discovered" America and the Spanish focus has remained primarily in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. But their colonization efforts are now expanding north and England's Queen Elizabeth I doesn't want to miss on the untold riches and resources this New World has to offer. She decides to send her own colonization efforts to the Americas and to help her do that, she relies on a man named Sir Walter Raleigh."

Sir Walter Raleigh: "Sir Walter Raleigh was, by most accounts, a true Renaissance Man, and it seems fitting given his diverse accomplishments. He was an adventurer, courtier, writer, historian, poet, and a soldier. It was his good looks and grace in politics which gained him favor with Queen Elizabeth I and he was charged with establishing England's colonies in America. As a result of his expeditions, Raleigh introduced tobacco and the potato to England. (He planted Europe's first potato at his estate in Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork, Ireland. Who knew?). But the colonization efforts failed and after many attempts at other adventures—and several years in imprisoned

in the Tower of London—Sir Water Raleigh was beheaded at the behest of King James I on October 29, 1618. But it was his entrepreneurship in the late 1580's which brings us to Sir Raleigh and that's probably where we should focus."

The Third Expedition: "It's 1587. Two previous expeditions commissioned by Sir Walter Raleigh to Roanoke Island have left very little to show for themselves. There's a fort on the island and some basic provisions, but that's it. The natives in the region have proven to be hostile and deadly--not surprising since the previous expeditions killed their chief and took their land. But this new expedition charged with colonizing the "Cittie of Raleigh" is led by Governor John White. Again, hopes are high that England will establish a foothold in the New World. Will White succeed where others have failed?"

Bad Timing: "It's a long and complicated story involving an opportunistic ship's captain, the potential for booty in the Caribbean, and bad weather, but the colonists get to Roanoke at simply the wrong time. It's July, 1587, and they've missed the growing season completely. Now they're dependent on their food stores to get through the harsh winter. Rough, huh? Governor John White is basically forced to leave his family and return to England for emergency provisions--only he gets sucked into the fight with the Spanish Armada and doesn't return for THREE YEARS. He never sees his family or any of the other colonists again. All he finds is "Croatoan" carved into a palisade post--and this is where the mystery begins."

Jamestown: "Twenty years pass before anyone English comes back to the New World. Now the year is 1607 and England is trying once again to stay alive and create a place in the Americas. This time, it's Jamestown and the 207 people who settled just a few miles north of Roanoke began by building a fort wall called a Palisade."

Palisade Wall: "Palisades are hard work. I know this not just from my time chopping wood and auguring holes with Dr. Bill Kelso and his team at Historic Jamestown, but from the records of history itself. Seems that the 19 days of Palisade construction left the settlers pretty beaten and sore. I did only 4 or so posts and was pretty sore the next day--they did over 1500!"

Bubba Peters and the PPGs: "So if you haven't figured it out, anytime I can get ABOVE a site on a PPG, I call in my boys Bob "Bubba" Peters and Eric Dufour. It doesn't happen as much as I'd like, but Roanoke was a good opportunity for some additional flight time. And this time, we had PLENTY of wind for taking off...The view itself is spectacular--the landscape is truly covered in water, with many, many options for travel to and from Roanoke. The colonists could have taken refuge in any number of channels and inlets..."

Into the Swamp!: "How wet was it during the fall of 1587? How much water would the colonists have had for drinking and growing crops? Well, Dennis Blanton is able to tell me about the climate of 1587 by studying tree rings in the region. I did some dendrochronology at Chaco Canyon, but this time, I'm going into a swamp to climb a cypress tree."

Pain, Pain and More Pain: "Normally, when one is climbing a tree using boot spikes, it takes about 5 minutes. Because of the needs of filming, Dennis and I are up there for about 30. We both agree that this is perhaps the most painful thing we've ever done--the sheer agony in our shins has us both shaking in pain and self-control. Agh!! But the act of climbing up the tree "telephone-pole style" is pretty cool and the core sample is a great way to learn about the past. Turns out the colonists picked the WRONG year to come over--the driest winter in the past 800 years. Bad timing, huh?"

Pow-Wow & the Lumbee: "I really like Native American Fry Bread. ("Hey Victor....") I don't eat it a lot, but when I can get away with it, there's nothing like some fry bread with a little honey. So, with honey and bread on board, I'm off to chat with David LaVere at the Lumbee pow-wow. The Lumbee--not to be confused with South African Hebrew descendants called the "Lemba" (season 1)--are the largest native population east of the Mississippi and man is it a party! I think they have 18 drums going (that's a lot)! The drummers are drumming, the Fancy dancers are dancing, and the place is alive with energy. As the announcer says, 'Today, it's a good day to be native.'"

Steve Watts: "Steve is an old friend of mine, and I was so happy we could get him in this show. In my industry (wilderness/primitive survival), Steve is about as good as it gets and working with him is always a pleasure. He's here to show me how much the natives could offer the colonists in times of need. They were, after all, masters of their environment and would know how to survive a drought. The consensus is that in a particularly dry year, the colonists could have turned to fishing--harvesting from the sea what they couldn't harvest from the soil. So Steve and I set up a wilderness grill and cook up some fish and shrimp. Not bad..."

DNA and the Colonists: "Almost 420 years have passed since the Lost Colony disappeared. We don't know what happened--they may have all been killed. But suppose some did live. Suppose they eventually married into the native groups and had children. Could DNA testing confirm/test this possibility? This is our goal. Ideally, we'd swab every single Lumbee native, then compare those with English surnames with those without and see if any DNA markers prove distinct. But this is not economically feasible. Nor would it prove conclusive, since any European DNA introduced later (say in the 1700's or 1800's) would throw off the data. What we need are two families which claim a direct line back to the original colonists. One family on the Eastern side of the Atlantic in the UK, another on the Western side in the US. If these two families have a match, a strong case can be made for the survival of the Lost Colony. Enter the Payne family."

The Paynes: "The Payne Family DNA Project has one goal: 'To conduct a simple and painless DNA test on as many male Paynes as possible, particularly those known to descend from one of our early American 17th-century lines and those currently living in England. However, any male Payne (in a direct male line of descent) is encouraged to participate.' This database is extensive and we at DFTT thought perhaps we could find some Paynes near the Outer Banks to help us on our quest. Hard to believe this, but we actually reached a few Paynes NOT in the database and, therefore, brought some interesting and possibly groundbreaking new data to this mystery."

The Found Colony?: Proper DNA testing requires several double-blind studies for follow up. However, DFT's attempt to use DNA to help solve the mystery of the Lost Colony seems to have had beginner's luck. It looks like Henry Payne--a member of the 1587 expedition--may have a genetic relative on BOTH sides of the Atlantic. It's not 100% conclusive--YET--but it does raise the distinct possibility that some of the Roanoke colonists may have survived. Yes, it is also possible that some Payne crossed the Atlantic at a later date in the 16th or early 17th centuries, but the family records don't mention this. So the data strongly supports the theory that some of the colonists survived Raleigh's Third Expedition and the Lost Colony is no longer lost."

created by diggingforthetruth.net 2007
Journal taken from The History Channel DFT site. Photos taken from The History Channel DFT site and video.
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