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Roanoke Puzzle

June 2024
1min read

Karen Ordahl Kupperman replies: The Lumbee Indians, though little known, are the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River. They first appeared in the written record in the early eighteenth century, and there are many theories about their origins. The idea that they are partially descended from the Roanoke colonists was first proposed in print by a local historian named Hamilton McMillan in 1888; it quickly became a popular theory. Historians, who have traditionally acknowledged only the written record, are increasingly coming to respect the oral tradition, which McMillan claimed supported his theory. The problem in this case centers on the gap of over one hundred and fifty years between the abandonment of Roanoke and the emergence of the Lumbee tribe. Those interested in all the theories should look at Karen I. Blu’s The Lumbee Problem: The Making of an American Indian People , Cambridge University Press, 1980.

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