Andy Powell hopes to find funds for DNA tests that might help demonstrate Bideford’s “pivotal” role in the history of modern America. If he can find the proof, the town might find itself at the centre of a tourism boom.
At the centre of the saga is the story of the “lost colony”, a tale better known in the US than in Britain. In 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh organised a colonial expedition of settlers including a governor, John White. Powell said it was thought that the fleet set sail from Bideford on 8 May and reached Roanoke Island, just off the coast of what is now North Carolina, in July.
Friendly relations were established with the Croatoan Native Americans, and the fleet sailed back to England. The following year a new fleet was preparing to return to Roanoke when it was diverted to fight the Spanish armada. When White finally returned in 1590 the settlement was deserted, with no sign of a struggle or battle.
Powell said one clue as to what might have happened to the settlers was the word “Croatoan” carved into a post. He said this suggested the settlers had joined the native Americans. Over the next few years there were stories of blue-eyed Native Americans, fields organised in the British style and a sighting of white men beating copper with the Indians.