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Beechland and The Lost Colony Paperback – April 26, 2014
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About the Author
Philip S. McMullan, Jr., is a native of historic Edenton, North Carolina, and has been immersed in the colonial history of his state since childhood. Despite his early interest in history, he spent much of his career as a research scientist with RTI International in the newly created Research Triangle Park in 1960. After retirement, he researched the history of Beechland and its possible relationship to the abandoned. He prepared this thesis as part of obtaining his Masters of History at North Carolina State University. He has taught World History and American History for the Gateway to College Program at the College of the Albemarle since 2007.
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Many theories of the fate of the colonists abound including a few of which the author is currently actively participating. Beechland and The Lost Colony is the end result of over 30 years of research that has combed both local history as well as the archives of adventurers and historians to make a logical and rational case that many of the English settlers, melding with the local indigenous population, not only survived but thrived for over 400 years here on a swampy peninsula sheltered by vast sounds and indomitable barrier islands rich in aquatic life and game. Using the notes from the early explorers of potential exploitable lands, McMullan makes the case that at least a significant portion of the colonists likely settled at Beechland, one of the few rises of tillable land where evidence of settlement and burial sites have been uncovered. Here among the age old residents of the Outer Banks one finds the family names of Raleigh's colonists who have spawned extensive families and rich personal histories.
For me, this story takes an added personal dimension as I work adjacent to the Beechland settlement. McMullan's revelation of canals and waterways hand carved by these settlers are part of the elaborate irrigation and flood mitigation network that courses around this swampy land where I am employed, adding a dimension of tangibility seldom experienced from historical works. Having myself written about latter day residents of this region, specifically the settlers and pirates of the late 17th and early 18th centuries who made a home of these dark intractable waters, I understand the compelling attractiveness of dwelling in these swampy backwaters.
As well as the historical narrative, McMullan provides an extensive set of appendices which dissects the maps and name places of the region including the little known discovery of sassafras, a lucrative indigenous commodity that was the most sought after and expensive medicinal curatives of the time. It's discovery lends to the theory that, rather than being lost and abandoned, Raleigh and his business partners had instead, crafted an elaborate ruse of a lost colony to mask the existence of an industrious group of harvesters toiling in a secret trade outside the perusal of English competitors and Spanish enemies.
Whether due to the misfortune of conflict with the indigenous population, the machinations of crafty businessmen or the abandonment by a sovereign less concerned about her subjects than conducting war with Spain, the Lost Colony has been one of America's most tantalizing mysteries. McMullan has proposed a plausible and fascinating narrative that deserves further consideration and scientific exploration to validate these claims.