“American Horror Story” Season 6 has been titled "My Roanoke Nightmare," once again thursting the mysterious word "Croatoan" into the spotlight.

The newest season of the FX series is based off Roanoke Island, the lost colony of North Carolina. The British settlers went missing between 1587 and 1590. Not even their bodies were discovered. 

So what does Croatoan mean? The word itself is not that spooky, but here’s what we know for sure: The Croatoan were a small Native American tribe located in Dare County, North Carolina, in the 16th century. Some claimed the British settlers abandoned their station and set camp closer to the Native Americans, who had a reputation for being friendly. But they were never found. Instead, the only thing left behind was the word "Croatoan" etched into a post outside the fort of the Lost Colony.

In the first season of "American Horror Story, Sarah Paulson’s character Billie Dean recounts the mystery of Roanoke. “In 1590, on the coast of what we now know as North Carolina, the entire colony of Roanoke—all 117 men, women, and children—died inexplicably. It became known as the ghost colony because the spirits remained,” she explained. “They haunted the native tribes living in the surrounding areas. Killing indiscriminately. The elder knew he had to act. He cast a banishment curse. First he collected the personal belongings of all the dead colonists. Then they burned them. The ghosts appeared, summoned by their talismans. But before the spirits could cause them any more harm, the elder completed the curse that would banish the ghosts forever. By uttering a single word. The same word found carved on a post at the abandoned colony. ‘Croatoan.’”

While it seems possible the British settlers, who were led by John White and financed by Sir Walter Raleigh, died from illness, there is a sinister theory about what happened at Roanoke Island. Dare Stones, which were purportedly written by the settlers, told the tale of “savages” killing colony members. 

Here is what one popular etching says, according to History.com:

Father, soon after you left for England, we came here.

Only misery and war for two years. Above half of us are dead. Before two years were over, more had died from sickness, being twenty-four. A savage, with message of the arrival of a ship, came to us. In a short space of time, the other savages, fearful that you had returned to revenge our deaths, all ran away. We now believe the ship was not yours. Soon afterwards, the savages returned, saying that the 'spirits' were angry. Suddenly, they murdered all but seven of us. My own child, and Ananias, were both slain. With much misery, we buried all nearby, four miles east of this river, upon a small hill. The names of the dead are all written there on a rock. Put this stone there also. If a savage shows this message to you, we promised that you will give him a great many presents in return. 

Many historians think the “Dare Stones” are phony, but Croatoan has reportedly had other mysterious appearances throughout history. Here are some quick examples:

  • Croatoan was engraved into the bedpost where horror author Ambrose Bierce slept last before he mysteriously vanished.
  • Famous writer Edgar Allan Poe reportedly whispered the word before he died.
  • Croatoan was jotted down in in the journal of Amelia Earnhart after she disappeared in 1937.
  • Robber Black Bart etched the word into his prison cell before he was released. Upon his dismissal, he subsequently went missing.

Season 6 of “American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare” airs at 10 p.m. EDT Wednesday on FX. 

roanoke Nicknamed "The Lost Colony," members of the group that settled Roanoke Island in North Carolina in the late 16th-century disappeared during the Anglo-Spanish War. The only clue the colony left behind was the word "Croatoan" carved into a wooden post, which may have referred to nearby Croatoan Island. Photo: Creative Commons

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