Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Venice's 'Lost Colony' Link?

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Venice's 'Lost Colony' Link?

Article excerpt

Local history buff may be related to a group that mysteriously vanished


Larry Berry got the news in March when a historian called to inform him that Berry was a likely descendant of North Carolina's fabled "Lost Colony." The link was a regionally famous, 19th- century gunslinger on his father's side.

Now a man with a lifelong zeal for antiquity is contemplating the notion that his existence suggests there were survivors from the fragile English toehold in the 16th-century New World.

"I haven't gotten over it yet," says the 88-year-old Venice resident. "It's a strange feeling, to think I'm a descendant of the first people to come over here."

An academic consensus on Berry's ties to Sir Walter Raleigh's Roanoke Island colony is unlikely to emerge any time soon. But as Berry's condo attests -- filled with history books and antique cameras and photos of Civil War relatives, Union and Confederate, not to mention a rifle that left more than a dozen men dead across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas -- the past is with him always.

And, like the future, the past can be unpredictable.

Berry is a retired professor of audio-visual arts who belongs to the Genealogical Society of Sarasota. As one of a dozen or so volunteers who staff the genealogy department each week at Venice Public Library, Berry is a history detective who researches the interlocking twigs and branches of family trees.

His latest adventure began seven months ago thanks to Fred Willard, founder and director of private nonprofit Lost Colony Center for Science and Research.

For the last 20 years or so Willard and a team of archaeologists have been sifting through deeds, digs, remote-sensing satellite images, primary maps and family records to solve the 400-year-old mystery of what happened to England's first American colonists.

Solving the mystery

In 1587, Gov. John White planned to return with supplies from England within a year of leaving 116 men, women and children behind to colonize Roanoke Island. A war with Spain derailed that schedule. By the time reinforcements arrived in 1590, the settlement had been abandoned. The only clue was the word "Croatoan" carved into a tree.

The prevailing theory is that the colonists drifted south to join the Croatan tribe near Cape Hatteras. Others argue the English were slaughtered by Native Americans or marauding Spaniards. But lately, Willard has been building an archaeological case for the settlers having migrated 50 miles west of Roanoke, near modern-day Edenton, N.C., and assimilating with the aboriginal population.

Willard has also revisited old or previously overlooked records to inject what he calls a "conspiracy theory" into the mix: Walter Raleigh had a covert mission in the New World to cultivate and export sassafras, believed at the time to be a cure for syphilis.

"The Lost Colony is the most exciting unsolved mystery in North America," says Willard, in Williamston, N.C., "and the evidence we're putting together is almost incontrovertible."

Here is where Larry Berry comes in: The original Lost Colony included two brothers, Henry and Richard Berry, who vanished with everyone else. Fred Willard says he has traced their lineage to, among others, a mixed-blood Lumbee Indian named Henry Berry Lowrie.

Cunning and heavily armed, Lowrie and his crew resolved grievances with North Carolina authorities through gunfire. The "Lowrie Gang" eluded the Confederate Home Guard, federal troops, the Ku Klux Klan and bounty hunters before its founder disappeared without a trace in 1872 at the approximate age of 28. …

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