Yes, The Roanoke Colony Was Real — Here's The Story Behind AHS' Inspiration

The sixth season of American Horror Story is unique for a variety of reasons — it's told through the framework of a TV show (within AHS) and it's more explicitly inspired by true events than previous installments of Ryan Murphy's series. Specifically, this season recounts the tale of the "Lost Colony" of Roanoke.

Our protagonists are Matt and Shelby Miller (played by Andre Holland and Lily Rabe), the talking heads in the show's faux documentary, My Roanoke Nightmare. Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding, Jr., meanwhile, star in the documentary's dramatic reenactment. That is, until the actors and the real Millers agree to move back into the house for a Big Brother-inspired sequel. Still following? Good.

In My Roanoke Nightmare, the Millers, who move to North Carolina and buy a mysterious old house, are haunted by the ghosts of the original Roanoke colonists.

But the real story behind the Roanoke Colony, and the word "Croatoan," is, in some ways, just as creepy as the fictional show. Colonists from England first established a site on Roanoke Island, in what's now North Carolina's Outer Banks, in 1587. But when John White, the colony's governor, returned in 1590 after a trip to get supplies from England, the colonists — there were more than 100 of them — had vanished. (In case you're wondering, White's trip back wasn't supposed to take three years, but he was delayed because of a war between England and Spain.)

Nothing remained of the original colony other than the word "Croatoan" carved into a fence post, and the letters "CRO" carved into a tree. There were no signs of violent struggles, no bodies found, and the colonists' buildings had been disassembled.

The North Carolina farmhouse Matt and Shelby move into in the show was built in 1792, which is long after the colony's disappearance, but it's still haunted by the colonists' ghosts — at least, according to their testimony.

It's no surprise that FX chose the true story of Roanoke as its inspiration for the show's sixth season.

"It's the greatest mystery in American history," says Eric Klingelhofer, PhD, an emeritus professor of history at Mercer University. Klingelhofer founded the First Colony Foundation and served as the lead investigator on recent research into Site X, an area about 50 miles inland from the original Roanoke Colony.

Ahead, we're diving into the theories about what happened to the Roanoke colonists, and what we do know from archaeologists' and historians' research. (We're focusing on evidence and history, so the more far-reaching theories, like the idea that the colonists were abducted by aliens or turned to cannibalism, won't be included.) And no, it's not connected to Roanoke, Virginia.