The Secret Token
In 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived at Roanoke Island on the coast of North Carolina to establish the first English colony in the New World. But when its leader returned to Roanoke from a resupply mission, the settlers had vanished, leaving behind only a single clue—a “secret token” etched into a tree.
What happened to the colonists? That question has consumed historians, archeologists, and amateur sleuths ever since. In The Secret Token, Andrew Lawler sets out on a quest to determine the fate of the settlers, finding fresh leads as he encounters a host of characters obsessed with resolving the enigma. In the course of his journey, Lawler also discovers how the Lost Colony came to haunt our national consciousness.
Incisive and absorbing, The Secret Token offers a new understanding not just of the Lost Colony and its fate, but of how its absence continues to define—and divide—America.
Praise for “The Secret Token”
“The ‘Lost Colony’ of Roanoke is one of this country’s most enduring mysteries. Andrew Lawler turns Roanoke into one of our history’s best stories, recounting not only the fascinating, little-known history of the colony itself but that of the incredible swirl of historians, archaeologists, hoaxers, actors, priests, Native Americans, and experts on arcane subjects who have been caught up in the quest to find it. A tale of cock-eyed historical obsession, The Secret Token is also a serious look at America’s confused ideas about itself.”
—Charles Mann, New York Times bestselling author of The Wizard and the Prophet and 1491
“Riveting and carefully researched…. Lawler takes us inside one of the oldest and most intoxicating mysteries in American history.”
—Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author of Hero of the Empire
“Plumbing the depths of the lost colony at Roanoke, the most enduring riddle of American history, reveals more about who we are today than the actual fate of the doomed expedition of 1587. Andrew Lawler’s exhaustively researched and amusing narrative asks the question, ‘What is history?’ He deftly shows that the drama of burrowing down rabbit holes and chasing false leads is not simply entertaining, but deeply informative about our past.”
—Rinker Buck, New York Times bestselling author of The Oregon Trail and Flight of Passage
“The Secret Token dives deep into the mysteries of the Lost Colony, chasing clues across ages, isles, oceans and archives and yielding a beguiling narrative of America’s first English colony. This seminal tale of loss and longing helps explain who we are today.”
—Dean King, New York Times bestselling author of Skeletons on the Zahara and The Feud
“A fascinating account of one of our country’s great historical mysteries. Fast-paced and wonderfully written, with plenty of surprising turns along the way, The Secret Token is a delight.”
—Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times bestselling author of Valiant Ambition