Historical Mystery Behind ‘American Horror Story’s’ Roanoke Nightmare

Jeremy Fuster
Historical Mystery Behind ‘American Horror Story’s’ Roanoke Nightmare

(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you haven’t watched the season premiere of “American Horror Story 6”)

Befitting a season that has been shrouded in mystery, “American Horror Story 6” didn’t outright reveal what this season’s theme is going to be. Instead, it was revealed through the premiere episode’s show-within-a-show format, which told the story of a North Carolina couple’s haunting experiences as reenacted by the fictional paranormal TV series, “My Roanoke Nightmare.”

This title, which appeared just before each commercial break and at the end of the episode, hints at a famous historical mystery that has gone unsolved for over 400 years: the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

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In the late 16th century, Sir William Raleigh, the explorer after whom the capital of North Carolina would later be named, selected artist John White to lead a group of 115 colonists to start a new colony on Roanoke Island off the coast of what is now Dare County. A previous colony had been established on the island, but had been abandoned after its leaders killed the chief of the Native American tribe that had been its primary trade source. After founding the colony in 1587, White returned to England to get more supplies. He hoped he would only be gone for three months, but England’s war with Spain prevented White from returning as all English ships were seized by the government for the war effort.

It wasn’t until 1590 that White returned, and when he did, every single person in the Roanoke colony had disappeared, including his wife, daughter and granddaughter. The only clue left behind was a word carved in a post: “Croatoan,” the name of a nearby tribe.

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According to a New York Times report from last year, recent archeological finds have led some to believe that at least some of the Roanoke colonists may have assimilated into nearby Native American tribes. English artifacts such as flintlocks and food jars were found at sites populated by Native Americans. Even as recently as this past June, archeologists continue to find new artifacts from the lost colony on Roanoke Island. Still, historians don’t have a clear answer as to what happened to the colony.

The title “My Roanoke Nightmare,” combined with the premiere episode’s setting in North Carolina, are strong clues that the eerie happenings that have surrounded Shelby and Matt are connected to this strange disappearance. It should also be noted that the word “Croatoan” appeared in the very first season of “American Horror Story.” In Episode 11 of that season, a psychic tells a ghost story about an exorcism that happened at Roanoke Colony after all the colonists died. To banish the spirits of the colonists that kept haunting the island, one of the Native American elders performed a ritual that ended with him shouting “Croatoan.” If the Roanoke Colony comes into play in future episodes, don’t be surprised if the first link between “AHS” seasons past and present begins with this legend.

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