Part VI LDS and the Sephardic Connection: Braving the New World: The Lost Colony of Roanoke

During the years 1585–1604,  two mighty world empires, Spain and England,  engaged in a conflict  which was never formally declared as war.   During this conflict, England gained the upper hand and went on  to defeat the great Spanish Armada.  England then strengthened her navy and sought to secure the safety of the Atlantic passage to the Americas.  In 1604, England and Spain negotiated a treaty. England renounced it’s high seas piracy, and both empires agreed to cease military campaigns in France, Spanish Netherlands, and Ireland.   The price of war was heavy as the treasuries of both countries were severely weakened.

With the threat of Spain conquering England; the Sephardic Jews, Conversos and Crypto-Jews in the Netherlands and England  panicked. Taking a similar path of those who were trapped in Spain and Portugal then fleeing to South America;  some English and Dutch Sephardic Jews sought to evade possible  Spanish rule, by  escaping  to North America and a small number to then Dutch controlled Brazil. Over the next 400 years thousands of  openly practicing Sepharidic Jews, Converso/ Crypto Jews, and Moriscoes (Moors)  migrated to Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico and what would later become the US and Canada.

Confident after conquering South America, the Spanish attempted to take a hold of North America. Spanish Explorer Hernando DeSoto traveled as far as Tennessee in 1540. Other Spanish explorers established missions in the Chesapeake Bay area. In 1561 a colony was founded by Captain Juan Pardo in South Carolina called Santa Elena.  Pardo also established a colony at St. Augustine, Florida.  Pardo and DeSoto blazed a road from the St. Augustine colony to the Santa Elena colony. A series of forts were planned along the route in Northern Georgia and Eastern Tennessee.  Details are sketchy, but the DeSoto and Pardo expedition was a failure.  Spain was not able to sustain any of her  colonies. The Santa Elena and Saint Augustine populations were subsequently  lost. It is theorized the surviving Spanish colonists were absorbed into the Cherokee, Creek and Catawba Native American tribes.  It is unknown to me, if any of the Sephardim were intermingled with DeSoto’s and Pardo’s colonists; but the colonists were from Galicia and Asturias (northwest Spain), and Northern Portugal. These regions of Iberia were heavily populated with Converso and Crypto Jews desperately seeking a way to escape the oppression of the Inquisition.


Sir Walter Raleigh

In 1584, with war looming on the horizon with Spain, the English began to explore the North American coast for Sir Walter Raleigh.  The English desired the riches being taken from the New World by the Spanish and then subsequently plundered (sanctioned by England) by English Pirates. The English sought to establish their own colonies. Beginning in 1585  several groups attempted to colonize Roanoke in now Dare County, North Carolina.  The first settlement was abandoned. It is estimated that  75 men plus a possible additional 100 Moorish slaves disappeared, and were probably  absorbed in the native populations.   In 1587  the final party of 117, including women and children, was sent led by Governor John White.

Elizabeth C. Hirschman in Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America makes a few interesting observations. Perhaps these colonist were not all Anglo Saxon, but  a mix of English, Converso/Crypto Sephardic Jews, Moors, and French Huguenots, who had immigrated to England, to escape religious persecutions in their homeland. It was generally feared  that Spain would arrive on the shores of England within a year. Terrorized by the threat of the Spanish Inquisition (which had indeed spread to Portugal, Italy, and France); the Sephardim weighed the cost of remaining in England and the Netherlands, or fleeing to the New World.  Hirschman theorizes these brave souls deemed it necessary to leave the  relative comforts of England or Holland to brave the unknown terrors in the New World.

Hirschman has observed that Sephardic Jewish and Mediterranean names are represented among the Roanoke colonists.  One of the financiers of the Roanoke expeditions was Joachim Ganz, a metallurgist from Prague, Poland. With his background and name, Ganz was likely a Sephardic Jew. Also the navigator of the expedition was Simon Fernandez ( Fernandez a Sephardic surname and Simon a Jewish given name), a Portuguese navigator.

Here is a list of Hirschman’s suspected Sephardic Jews:

Philip (Greek) Amadas (Spanish Sephardic),

Annanias (Sephardic) Dare,

Dyonis (Greek) Harvie,

William Lucas (Greek variant of Luke),

Thomas Topan (Jewish surname),

Ambroses (Greek) Vicceares

Roger Pratt (Spanish DePratto or Prado)

Anthony (Greek) Cage,

Morris (French for Moses) Allen (English Jewish name possible Moorish Ali)

George Martyn (Spanish Martine)

Thomas Harris ( Moorish Haris)

Richard and Henry Berrye  (prominent and widely recognized Sephardic Jewish surname)

Their onboard supplies were also  Mediterranean: rice, honey, currants, raisins, prunes, olives, beans,peas, salad oil, vinegar, turnips, onions, garlic, thyme, mustard, fennel, anise in addition to the English salted pork, beef, oatmeal, butter and cheese.

On Roanoke, a small settlement was built. Unlike the previous settlers of Roanoke, White’s colony sought friendship with the local Indian tribes. Governor White’s daughter Eleanor, married to Annanias Dare, gave birth to the first European child in North America. Her parents named her Virginia after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth of England.  Supplies began to run low, consequently the ship, carrying a reluctant Governor White, returned to England. Before he left the colony, White instructed the colonists to carve a Maltese Cross on a tree, indicating capture.

After numerous failed attempts becuase of  war with Spain, bad weather,  human greed and folly,  White finally returned to Roanoke in 1590. White found the houses and fortifications dismantled, indicating the colonists departure had not been in haste. No sign of a struggle and no Maltese Cross. The only clue was a tree with the the letters CRO engraved upon it. On another tree, they found CROATOAN carved five feet off the ground. White took these signs to mean the colonists had left with the friendly Croatoan Indians.  White was frustrated in his attempt to conduct a search. A massive storm threatened the ship. The crew, fearful of being stranded, refused to continue the search.

The next day, brokenhearted  over the loss of his daughter and her family, Governor White and the crew left. The Roanoke colonists which became immortalized as The Lost Colony of ninety men, seventeen women, and eleven children, was lost forever. It is theorized the Roanoke colonists, like the earlier Spanish colonists, were absorbed  into the friendly neighboring Native American tribes; in this case probably the Croatoan tribe on a nearby island.

For more information see:  part I part II part  III part IV part V

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About JA Benson

Joanna entered the world as a BYU baby. Continuing family tradition, she graduated BYU with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for several years. Growing up in Salt Lake County, her favorite childhood hobbies were visiting cemeteries and eavesdropping on adult conversations. Her ancestral DNA is multi-ethnic and she is Mormon pioneer stock on every familial line. Joanna resides in the Southeastern USA with her five children ranging in age from 8 to 24. Her husband passed away in 2009. She is an avid reader and a student of history. Her current intellectual obsession is Sephardic Jewish history, influence and genealogy. She served as a board member for her local chapter of Families with Children from China. She is the author of “DNA Mormons?” Summer Sunstone 2007 and “Becoming Hong Mei`s Mother” in the Winter Sunstone 2009

19 thoughts on “Part VI LDS and the Sephardic Connection: Braving the New World: The Lost Colony of Roanoke

  1. Are you positing the mixing of the tribes of Judah and Laman (who was descended from Lehi, who was descended from Joseph, meaning the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh?) 🙂

  2. Geoff- That could be a point yes, if you believe all/most/some of the native peoples in the Americas were decended from Lehi. Another point is we are a mix of peoples and the most obvious point to this post is, The Sephardim were strongly represented among the early settlers of North America.

  3. This is a great series!

    FWIW, I’m not aware of any connection to the Roger Pratt, but my ancestor and his brother came to New England in the early 17th century (their names are on the Founders Monument in Hartford). Though Puritans instead of crypto-Jews, they likewise left England seeking religious freedom.

  4. Thank you Ben. Oh from Hartford, I have several ancestors from the Hartford area i.e. Messengers, Alfords and Barbers. According to Val Rust, LDS historian, Hartford was a bed of radicals. Consider DePratto. Remember the Sephardic Jews were leaving Spain before 1492 and after. They bounced around for a hundred years, or not, and some landed in England. They may have been Converso or Crypto by this point. In order to assimilate in English society, they converted the name to Pratt. Most genealogy lines start in the 1500’s-1700’s. The Converso or Crypto populations were in England at that point. When we get to the naming part of the series pay close attention and check out your lines and see if you see a pattern.

    Remember the Protestants would have Conversos or their descendants in their denominations. The Puritans would be no different. See my next installment on the Separatists.

    Our pioneer names and DNA. THe rest of the posts explain how this happened
    part 1-

    What happened in Spain
    part 2-

    Some went to Turkey
    part 3-

    Some went to Western Europe
    part 4-

    Sephardic Influences
    part 5-

    England and Spain were at war. The Western Europe Converso and Crypto Jews fled even farther west in fear of Spain
    part 6-
    part 7-

    Some Sephardic Jews were part of the tri-isolate communities in America
    part 8-

    Sephardic descendants preferred to be out on the wilderness
    part 9-

    Sephardim altered or adapted their surnames, but often kept a few Sephardic given names
    part 10-

    Sephardic Jews had unique illnesses:

    Evidence of Orson Hyde’s Jewish ancestry using the Hirschman model

    We are all gathered

  5. This is really intersting, I had no idea that any of these types of connections exisited.

  6. Dear Joanna and Ben,
    To follow up on the name Pratt: I was left a piece of paper from the Mead side of my Georgia family. Alice Mead Gray was my father’s grandmother It says that our Meads were formerly known as de Prato before they came to England, and once there, they changed their last name. My DNA is mainly Spanish/ Majorcan/ Portuguese; I grew up thinking I was ONLY Scotch Irish on my Southern side, but DNA highly suggests I am 25% Native American! It’s also pretty clear to me now that I have a crypto-Jewish heritage that my people wanted to forget. That’s why I didn’t know about it. Marylee

  7. Looks like you have succeeded in one of your goals and helped someone look outside of the box when it comes to genealogy.

  8. Thanks, Marylee and Joanna! I really liked Rust’s book when I read it. It just goes to show that the Pratts have been raising a ruckus for a long time!

    To wit: William and John Pratt came from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where their father was the Reverend William Pratt. Before his studies at Cambridge, he had grown up in nearby Baldock, which originally was founded near an old Roman crossroads by the Knights Templar. A video on these three Pratts at the Jared Pratt Family Association website suggests that Orson Pratt found some Pratts among Templar leaders in the Holy Land in the 10th and 11th centuries. I have a book called Baldock’s Middle Ages, which includes the extant parish records up until about 1492. Unfortunately, there is no appearance of Pratt or a similar name, but that could mean either they weren’t there or they were poor and obscure.

    About seven years ago I sent in a cheek swab to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogical Foundation. Okay, I just found my actual set of 36 Y-chromosome marker values, but I’m not sure that the STR markers can tell me anything about likely ethnic origin.

  9. Ok Ben. We have not covered this part yet. Tell me what you think.

    The Hassidic and Sephardic Jews were followers of Kabbalah. Kabbalists say Kabbalah was oral tradition handed down from Adam. In fact it was the Sephardic Jews in Northern Spain, Portugal, Egypt, and France who were the great Kabbalist teachers. It was the Sephardim who wrote the commentaries all down and later got the commentaries printed. Some of the Knights Templars were Converso Jews (naturally) who introduced the Kabbalah to the other Christians and then later evolved into the whole Scottish and Masonic rites.

    Let us know about your DNA test. Is it the paternal test? If so, will it tell you about your Pratts? If I am correct, your test will tell you about specific relations. My test covered maternal and Paternal markers of where they have been, but not specific relation.

  10. I impatiently await the next installment, Joanna!

    Yes, the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation focuses on using DNA for genealogical purposes, thus for example it indicates Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor for me and other Pratts in the database. However it purposefully doesn’t spit out haplogroup information.

    However, in a Pratt forum related to a DNA-testing company I found a Pratt from New Zealand whose paternal line goes back to William and John’s brother who stayed in England, which is astonishing (indeed, I worked out that there is a 50% probability that our TMRCA is no more than 1830 years). There is also another Pratt there who is descended from Orson Pratt. Both of them are classified there as haplogroup R1b1b, which is prevalent in Western Europe. But that’s only the paternal line. I would indeed like to do a broader analysis like you and Mike did, to get the bigger picture of all my ancestors rather than the one line.

    Marylee, it’s interesting to note that both “Pratt” and “Mead” may come from words meaning meadow, from Latin and Old English, respectively. So Mead would have been a natural choice if coming from the continent to England as a de Prato! Who wrote on the paper you have?

  11. I have Pratt ancestors, but I understand that would be essentially impossible to establish via genetic testing because they are not on my male line, which goes back into Ireland somewhere.

  12. Mark, that’s true for Y-chromosome testing (which I had done), at least. I don’t know about other tests.

    It’s good to know that about you, cousin!

  13. Ben, that’s very interesting that the words Pratt and Mead may be close as nouns. I’ve been thinking about de prato 2 ways. As I understand it there’s a part of the coast of Portugal referred to as de Preto, and I thought it was probably where a lot of Portuguese Jews embarked for their next stage of the diaspora. I’m pretty sure some of my ancestors stayed in Sicily for generations, one reason being that my great grandfather was a member of some sort of fraternity that opened their meetings with two songs, one of them Sicilian and the other some sort of patriotic American song. I have also read that it was easier to be crypto-Jewish in Sicily than many other places for a long time. Also, I picked up a note somewhere that the word “preto” was loosely used to refer to people with darker rather than lighter skin like the Portuguese who, as far as I can tell, were all shades, but Mediterranean-looking in general. I don’t know what it was like in Portugal generations ago, but I went to Portugal a few years ago, and there is obviously mixed blood that no one thinks anything about. I might have concluded that my positive test for up to 7% African was just mixed into my Hispanic ancestors who came in the 1500s, but I really don’t think that covers it because Guiana (sp?) and other places were relevant on the test. I’m thinking slavery plays a part in me being me, and that my direct ancestors have been working hard to look white for quite awhile!

  14. Oh, Ben, you asked where I got the sheet of paper that mentions the name change? Either from my grandmother Daniel whose mother-in-law was a Mead, or from some Mead cousins. The original was yellowed and mimeographed, but I made some copies. Would you like me to try and find one of them for you? I got it in the days when I had no clue it would one day be helpful ….that was the day DNA told me I was mostly Hispanic. What a shock. But that paper set me on my way of believing it. marylee

  15. Marylee, that’s great stuff. I was just curious about the provenance of the paper, since it sounds like it might have been made when someone decided to write down an oral tradition that had been passed down the family. If so, I wonder if it might have originally been “de prado,” which would be the Spanish or Portugese spelling, whereas “de prato” would be Italian, for example. They all (likely) come from the Latin for “meadow.”

    Though only one letter different, “preto” is a whole different animal. It is indeed a Portuguese word for the color black. According to, which cites the Dicionário Eletrônico Houaiss, the Portuguese word “preto” comes from a Latin word indicating “dense” or “thick.” The Portuguese wikipedia entry indicates the word is attested from the 10th century to describe people of subsaharan African descent, until the word “negro” replaced it with the introduction of slavery in about the 15th century, but I can’t verify this (and I’ve tried).

  16. Ben and Joanna,
    We are in the middle of building on to our house, and I can’t spare the time to go through all my unorganized research, alas. I’d love to concentrate only on that! But Joanna and I gave papers at Sunstone summer before last, and I recorded the de Prato on the tape, which I know was accurately taken from my old paper. It is completely possible that I said de Prado. But because that’s the name of a museum in Madrid, the Prado, I don’t think I did record it as such. One of the problems of searching out ancestors is that after a few generations, even, there are so many lines. I think some of my lines did come through Italy, eg. the Laniers who may have “been” Italian before they were French.
    I can feel in my gut after seeing so many Bassano/ Lanier lines with photos, that I am related to them. I fervently hope so! I find them to be so cool: dark, beautiful, artistic, musical. There’s an ongoing “fight” about their crypto-JUDAISM I’m a Bassano wanna-be. I do know for sure I’m a Lanier, but it’s tricky bec there are a ton of Mary Laniers. Life it too short! marylee

  17. Pingback: » Part VIII Sephardic Jews and the LDS Connection: What the Heck is a Melungeon? The Millennial Star

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