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

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    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.


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    So, what does "Croatoan" mean?
    The story of "Croatoan" and "CRO" being carved on the gate post and tree, respectively, is legitimately creepy. Though the claims are unsubstantiated, the word has taken on an eerie legend of its own — outside the American Horror Story universe.

    According to legend, Edgar Allan Poe whispered "Croatoan" on his deathbed. It's also supposedly been found written in Amelia Earhart's journal. (Of course, there's no evidence to support these claims, either.)

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    When else has "Croatoan" appeared on American Horror Story?
    The current season isn't the first time the American mystery of Roanoke has been invoked on the show. In the first season, Murder House, Billie Dean Howard (Paulson) tells Violet (Taissa Farmiga) that saying the word "Croatoan" can banish spirits.

    Billie describes an exorcism at the Roanoke Colony, which involved the use of the word "Croatoan." Violet later tries to use the word to banish some of the murder house's other residents, but her efforts are unsuccessful.

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    How are Matt and Shelby connected to the Roanoke Colony?
    If Matt and Shelby's account is to be believed, they encountered the ghosts of the Roanoke colonists while living in their North Carolina home. Creator Ryan Murphy has hinted, though, that Matt, Shelby, and Lee may not be reliable narrators.

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    Why do Matt and Shelby believe they were haunted by the Roanoke colonists' ghosts?
    If Matt and Shelby aren't telling the truth, this would be a pretty creative lie. Would they fake the story for money? To cover up Mason's murder? Who knows!

    The idea of a modern couple being haunted by colonists from centuries ago, though, is intriguing — and it definitely makes us want to know more about the real history of Roanoke. And with that, we bring you five theories about what may have happened to the lost colonists.