The following article by Ralph Pool was published in The Virginian-Pilot, Sunday, July 3, 1960:

The Lost Colony never was lost. When Governor John White searched abandoned Fort Raleigh in 1590, his missing settlers were safe, well fed and presumably happy, scarcely a dozen miles away.

This is the theory brought to light last week by Marshall Layton Twiford, 83, of Norfolk, in a story by Victor Meekins in the Coastal Times published in Manteo, N.C.

The theory isn’t Twiford’s. Rather, it is a tradition stemming from the remote past in the East Lake section of Dare County, a region of woodlands and tangled marshes and sluggish creeks, which won wide recognition for the high quality of the corn liquor it produced in prohibition days.

Not many miles from East Lake, and some 10 miles up Milltail Creek from Alligator River, is a wooded area of some 5,000 acres known as Beechland. This land is rich and somewhat higher than the surrounding marshes. For many generations, until about a century ago, it was the abiding place for a thriving community. Then plague struck, many died, and the frightened survivors fled.

Twiford grew up in the river community at East Lake, where his father, M.D. Twiford, a “hard-shell” Baptist preacher, was also a fisherman, farmer, postmaster and merchant. From his father, he learned the story of Beechland’s link with the Lost Colony.

When the English Colonist built Fort Raleigh, the Indians had a settlement at Beechland, with a woodland trail leading to the shore of Croatan Sound opposite Roanoke Island, the tradition says. They made friends with the whites.

John White left Fort Raleigh in August 1587 to bring back needed supplies from England. A year elapsed. With no sign of White, their fears of a Spanish attack from the sea increasing, and supplies doubtless at the vanishing point, the settlers abandoned Fort Raleigh and joined their Indian friends at Beechland, so the story goes.

When White finally returned in the summer of 1590, misfortune dogged him. The weather turned foul, and seven Englishmen drowned when their small boat capsized as they tried to land on Roanoke Island.

Finally reaching shore, White found Fort Raleigh far different from the settlement he had left three years before. He recounts that the houses had been pulled down and a strong enclosure built, with a high palisade of large trees. The place was deserted, but there was no sign of violence or of hurried departure. By agreement, the settlers were to have left crosses marked about the place if threat of danger forced them to abandon the area. There were no crosses. On a tree at the fort’s entrance, he found the word “CROATOAN” carved in “Roman letters”. Also, the letters “CRO” had been carved on a tree on the brow of a nearby cliff.

Croatoan 1870 Etching
Croatoan, 1870 Etching

White believed “Croatoan” to mean an island to the south, possibly the present Ocracoke. He planned to go there to continue his search, but the stormy weather continued and the expedition had to scurry out to the open sea to escape destruction.

White’s next idea was to sail to the West Indies, spend the winter, and return the following spring for further search. But the weather continued bad, the idea was dropped, and the expedition returned to England. There ends the recorded history of the Raleigh

One tradition holds that the John White colony journeyed many miles to the south and finally settled in what is now Robeson County, on the South Carolina border. And now there is Beechland.

According to the legend related by Twiford, the word “Croatoan” actually referred to the mainland district across Croatan Sound from Roanoke Island, now known as Manns Harbor. Marshy islands dotted the sound and it was almost possible to cross from island to mainland on foot until about 150 years ago. Then an inlet at the present Nags Head filled up, the flow of water from Albemarle Sound was diverted, and strong currents washed the islands away.

Croatoan, Twiford said, was named for an Indian woman who lived and died there and who must have been in some way notable, though only her name comes down to us.

Beechland was a fair, fruitful and happy land, the story goes. Its deep, black loam produced a bounty of corn, cotton and other crops. Its orchards yielded abundant fruit, its hives produced plenty of golden honey, its herds grazing in the reedy marshlands supplied hides, meat and milk. The sounds and rivers offered fish and oysters for the taking.

In time, the Indian trail of Croatan faded away and the inhabitants of Beechland came to depend on stout boats of their own making for contact with the outside world. They built up a brisk trade with the West Indies, exchanging drawn cypress shingles and farm produce for sugar, spices, rum, salt and other products.

In this prosperous community, neighbors came to the rescue of anyone whom misfortune struck. None were permitted to go in want; and in time of death, neighbors hewed a coffin out of the rot-resistant cypress, dug the grave and otherwise ministered to the bereaved. There was no thought of taking pay. Graves were marked with rocks from ballast dumped by ships returned from the West Indies. Many of these graves are to be found in Beechland today, and it is possible that archaeological investigation might turn up new evidence of Beechland’s links from the far past.

“I saw one of those coffins opened,” Twiford recalled. “It had been dug up accidentally by a bulldozer. The top and bottom halves had been fitted closely together and fastened with pegs. All I saw inside was a little ashes or dust. It ought to have been examined for buttons or other objects, but it wasn’t. The men reburied it, and the bulldozer crew circled around the graveyard.”

For many generations, Beechland flourished. At long last, tradition says, there came a day when the people paid little heed to spiritual things, refused to listen to the pleadings of a minister in their midst to humble themselves before God. When they failed to build a church and meet for worship, he warned them to expect catastrophe. Not long after, the minister’s warning was fulfilled.

Calamity struck in the form of a plague, likely cholera brought from the West Indies. Scores died. A few packed their belongings in their boats and escaped to Currituck and elsewhere.

Beechland vanished as a settled, prosperous community a few years before the Civil War. In later years, a few families trickled back. Twiford remembers as a small boy accompanying his father to the district, not many miles from East Lake. Three families then lived there, he says, named Smith, Basnight, and Stokes. “After a few years, these families disappeared too,” Twiford added. “I guess they just moved away.”

A check of John White’s roster of the Lost Colony reveals a Thomas Smith, but the link to Beechland is tenuous, to say the least, in view of the multiplicity of Smith’s.

(The Virginian-Pilot – Sunday, July 3, 1960; Section B)


Recently a long-time visitor to Ocracoke sent me an email. She had received an unexpected birthday gift from a friend. It was a vintage card game produced in 1984. According to the enclosed brochure, the game was created by two “world sailors” who, “after rounding Cape Hatteras in a 60′ schooner [LOA 77′]…found refuge from a storm in Silver Lake Harbor on Ocracoke Island.” The game was copyrighted by Tao Lee Stettler. Questions and inquiries were directed to a post office box at Ocracoke, but that box had long since been rented to someone else.

Beachcomber Game
Beachcomber Game

My correspondent was unable to uncover any more information about the game or its creator, and asked me if I could shed any light on the mystery.

I immediately remembered Ralph and Jennifer Stettler, a couple in their mid-30s and mid-20s who, in the 1980s, lived on their schooner that was docked in Silver Lake. The game was only a vague memory, but Ralph and Jennifer were a more vivid memory. I counted them among a group of colorful individuals who found their way to Ocracoke in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to the game’s brochure, during the couple’s stay on Ocracoke “they found the Outer Banks lifestyle so unique that they were inspired to capture that feeling, and the game of BEACHCOMBER came to life.”  “Once you have been to the Outer Banks,” it continued, “it is easy to see how all of the adventures of BEACHCOMBER could happen to you, and will!”

The brochure goes on to explain that “[t]his is a card game in the vein of Mille Bornes. One’s goal is to collect the most shells (similar to mileage cards).

Beachcomber Cards
Beachcomber Cards

“The quantity of shells one can pick up is based on the mode of transportation (foot, bike, 4×4), and there are various problems that can slow you down (soft sand, no reservation, hot sand).

Beachcomber Cards
Beachcomber Cards

You must be on vacation to collect shells (similar to the Go card), and there are things that can frustrate the vacation (hotel bill, food bill, beach gear bill, and gas bill); bills can be addressed with money or ‘super solutions.’”

Beachcomber Cards
Beachcomber Cards

Ralph and Jennifer arrived at Ocracoke, as they recounted, on their 60’ schooner Mistress, a sailing yacht with quite a history. The Mistress was built in 1930 by Eastern Shipbuilding Corporation of Shelbourne, Nova Scotia, for George Emlem Roosevelt (1887-1963). George was a cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt and a prominent banker, philanthropist, railroad financier, and yachtsman. The Mistress was designed by Charles Sherman Hoyt, a “master helmsman, tactician, designer [and] raconteur.”[1]

Ralph Stetler purchased the Mistress sometime after G. E. Roosevelt’s death. After obtaining degrees in Business Administration and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, Ralph worked in real estate in San Diego in the early 1970s. In 1972 he developed a company in San Diego devoted to teaching sailing and matching prospective crew members to sailing vessels that needed crew. The Mistress was the flag ship of the company.

In 1977, when Ralph was 30 years old, he entered his 47-year-old schooner in the Transpacific Yacht Race, a premier blue water yacht race starting from San Pedro, California, and ending off Diamond Head in Hawaii, a distance of around 2,225 nautical miles. The Mistress’s elapsed time was just under thirteen days. Although the Mistress did not place, it must have been a memorable experience. Five other sailboats were dismasted in a single night of stormy weather.

Ralph remained two years in Hawaii where he met Jennifer Lucas. Together they sailed back to California, and then took the Mistress into the waters of Mexico and Central America, eventually passing through the Panama Canal.

In Panama they learned about molas, a traditional textile craft made from layers of bright colored fabric that are stitched and cut using applique techniques to create patterns and pictures. Originally created for blouses and skirts, they were made by the women of the Kuna tribe in the San Blas islands. Later, rectangular mola panels were created primarily for display and sold to tourists. Ralph and Jennifer purchased a number of molas and financed part of their travels by selling them in ports as they sailed into the Caribbean and up the east coast of the United States.


After the storm forced the Mistress into safe harbor in Silver Lake, Ralph and Jennifer discovered that Ocracoke Island life suited them just fine and they settled in for a while. Jennifer secured work in the village. Ralph, a self-described Taoist, hosted open-air philosophical discussions on the dock beside his sailboat. After several months, Ralph and Jennifer were married in a small ceremony in the Island Inn. Their first child, Tao Lee, was born during their two-year sojourn on the island. It was during this time that Ralph and Jennifer created their card game.

A number of islanders have beautiful and colorful molas by which to remember the Stettlers. Many also remember the green pennies that circulated among village shops and stores in the 1980s. Needing ballast for the Mistress, the skipper discovered that pennies were cheaper than lead. As a consequence, many pounds (and many dollars’ worth) of copper pennies were thrown into the bilge. It was a simple matter to scoop up a handful of corroded pennies whenever Ralph and Jennifer needed a little extra change.

Eventually, the Stettlers decided to seek other adventures. With help from experienced sailor and Ocracoke islander, Al Scarborough, they took the Mistress, with a draft of almost ten feet, through the tricky and sometimes treacherous channels of Ocracoke Inlet without incident and up to Solomons Island, Maryland. The boat was by then more than a half century old and in need of some repair, but a bilge pump kept the leaks in check during the journey.  For the next several years the Stettlers operated a waterfront restaurant in Maryland.

In 1987 Ralph sold the Mistress. He and Jennifer moved to Washington state where their second child, Ellen, was born. Jennifer pursued a degree in Spanish and Physical Education while working evenings. Ralph worked as a consultant and operated a small business in both the United States and Canada.

Ralph died in 2006. As mentioned in his obituary, he was passionate about life and knowledgeable in a variety of often complex subjects. He loved chess, a variety of music, traveling, blue water sailing, other hobbies, and above all, his children. It was said that “those who sailed with him as captain” would not forget him, and that “he had a way of doing things that was just somehow different than how anyone else would do it.”

As of this writing Jennifer continues to live in Washington state, but with many fond memories of adventures aboard the schooner Mistress, and of two formative years on Ocracoke Island.

You can read more about the history of the Mistress and its current life at the following web sites:






The following article (author unknown, but with the explanation,“information and photos supplied by George Tichenor”) is copied from Junior Natural History magazine, February, 1956.


Off the coast of North Carolina is Ocracoke Island; a spot rich in history, heroism and legend. It is a sixteen-mile strip of the Carolina Outer Banks. Pamlico Sound separates it from the mainland. The Inland Waterway between New York and Florida down which so many small craft sail makes it an anchorage. A quarter-mile oval of blue water gives it a beautiful harbor.

At the southern end of the island is the village of Ocracoke. Here live some five hundred and fifty healthy ruggedly individualistic people – mostly related, descendants of the original seven families who settled the island. Although closely related through marriage, they produce strong stock and live to ripe old age. Nearly every family has a relative in the home of at least seventy-five! All appear healthy. No doctor lives on the island, only a nurse. The sea provides the main diet – fish.

Ocracoke is not a town of comforts and convenient luxuries as most of us know them. There are no sidewalks. No street lights shine on the sandy lanes. There is only one paved road. It was built by the Navy when they occupied the island [during WW II]. It is a mile long and nine feet wide; just wide enough for one car at a time to travel its length.

The island has its cars. Many people own one; but few bother to register it unless it is taken on the mainland. This isn’t due to lack of money, for no one seems poor.

Life in the village of Ocracoke is quiet and free. It is not controlled by a mayor (there is a civic cub instead). It has no jail, no sheriff, no crime —and no problem children. Even the speech of its people is different – so different a native southerner finds it hard to follow! As Mr. Tichenor described it: “the speaker starts with a drawl seems to think better of it and attempts to swallow his words too late!”

Children on Ocracoke live a wonderful life. Although they share from childhood in the work of the adults, they enjoy everything and have a sense of belonging in the scheme of things. Boys of all sizes ride their domesticated horses bareback. Their steeds come from the band of beautiful wild thoroughbred Arabian horses that roam the sand dunes of the island. Occasionally a sale of captured horses is held. Buyers come over from the mainland for the event. Teenage boys often get up at six in the morning and ride herd until perhaps two-thirty in the afternoon to make the sale worth-while.

Ocracoke, 1956
Ocracoke, 1956

Boys and men seem to be the riders; but everyone dances. They do it often and take it seriously. Several nights a week men, women and children gather in the local school house and solemnly feed quarters to a brilliant, garishly-colored juke box.  Then, without a reel caller, they dance their square dances. No one seems to run the affair; no one collects the money; all enjoy themselves in a solemnly-gay sort of way.

The biggest occasion for all on the island is a three-day Fourth-of-July celebration. There are speeches by the local minister, prizes for the winning bathing beauty, rescue drills by the coast guard, penning and roping of “wild bulls.” There are floats and masquerading and drills by the “only mounted boy scout troop in America!” There is even an “imported’ policeman from the mainland to direct traffic – which goes as it wishes anyway!

A great event of each day is the arrival of two boats from the mainland. The one reaching the northern tip of the island [Frazier Peele’s four-car private ferry] brings passengers, trucks and private cars. Often passengers disembark in six inches or so of sea water and wade to drier sands. They then have sixteen miles of shore line to travel to reach the village. Driving or walking the tide or wet sand can bog them down. Those coming on the mail-and-passenger ferry [the mailboat Aleta] at the southern tip of the island fare better. But they too may be delayed by the tide and condition of the beach. In fact, all events on the island are regulated by the tide. It even put a wedding reception before a wedding!

Ocracoke, 1956, Waiting for the Mailboat
Ocracoke, 1956, Waiting for the Mailboat

Many young [men] go to college on the mainland; many others serve in the armed forces. But practically all of them return to the island to live. They become fishermen or join the coast guard. The sea and its traditions have left its mark everywhere.

The long strip of the Outer Banks upon which the historic village of Ocracoke is located is rich in legend history, and bravery. Its wild, lonely, flat beaches hold hundreds of partially buried hulks and bits of wreckage from ships; victims of storms, accidents or human violence. The famous “ghost” ship, the Carroll A. Deering left its bow on Ocracoke Island. The ship was found stranded on Diamond shoals just off the Cape Hatteras coast guard station in 1921. Food was still in the galley pots; but no living soul was on board, only the ship’s cat. What a tale it could have told! Later on the bow drifted to Ocracoke’s beach.

The ill-fated English settlers of Raleigh’s expedition landed on Ocracoke Island before going to settle on Roanoke Island in 1585. Later, settlers stayed and played an important part in the Revolution, bringing in valuable material to Washington through the blockade. Many ancestors of these brave people became coast guardsmen.

Our National Park Service is helping to preserve for future generations the history and color of the place At Cape Hatteras, within the national seashore recreational area, is a Maritime Museum.

Ocracoke Island and the rest of the strip of the Outer Banks didn’t exist some 20,000 years ago. During the last glacial period the sea level was about fifty feet lower than it is today; the shore line was about twenty-five lower than at present. Pamlico and the other sounds were sand flats. Winds gradually shifted the sand and built up dunes and ridges which started the formation of the Outer Banks. When the huge continental ice sheet melted, the sea came in and flooded the sand levels and made the Sounds. Winds still continue their building-up and tearing-down work with the sand dunes.

At Cape Hatteras the sands underwater are gigantic dunes two hundred feet high. They are so high they almost rise above the waters for twelve miles from Cape Hatteras Point straight out to sea. If you stood on the Point on a stormy day you could see these turbulent waters “come together in an awesome display of savage fury.” Flowing from the Gulf Stream of the Caribbean they cascade into huge foamy sprays. This action continually builds up the underwater dunes of Diamond shoals, the barrier that means death to any ship caught within it.

To the north of Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, supervised by our Fish and Wildlife Service. Here, migrating waterfowl find refuge. Several thousand winter on the island; goose, brant and all species of ducks of the North Carolina coast. Many whistling swans stay for the winter. Loons, grebes, herons, egrets, gulls, terns, vultures, bald eagles, morning doves and others can be seen.

As so often happens, the isolated uniquely independent little village of Ocracoke is about to feel the effects of “civilization.” A road [NC12] connecting it with the mainland, is to be built. With it will come many changes that no amount of historic background and stamina can withstand. What will it do to the free-living, closely knit, picturesque sea dwellers of the island? What will be the fate of the beautiful wild horses that claim this stretch of sand and sea as their own? Only Time will tell.