16 September 2007

DNA: The Lost Colony's Jewish connection

A Rocky Mountain Telegram story on a DNA project tracing Roanoke's Lost Colony was interesting because the 1585-6 colonists' list included the first Jew in America, Prague-born metallurgist Joachim Gans.

A conference held September 7-9 featured Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA, the Lost Colony Center's DNA research director Roberta Estes and others.

Researchers hope genetic testing will connect the dots of a 420-year-old mystery that has lingered since England's first attempt to colonize North America.

In 1587, a group of English colonists on Roanoke Island disappeared, leaving behind a single clue – the word "CROATAN" carved into a tree.

The Croatan were a group of American Indians who lived near Roanoke Island.

The Lost Colony Center for Science and Research, the pre-eminent group investigating the Lost Colony, will hold a symposium the second weekend of September to present recent findings and collect DNA samples officials hope will eventually solve one of America's oldest mysteries.

What happened to the 115 missing people? Some believe they perished; others think they were taken as slaves. The multidisciplinary project is incorporating DNA tracking, geography, geology, history, biology, anthropology and oceanography to track possible descendants of the lost colonists. Family Tree DNA will do the genetic testing.

Read more here.

For more on Estes and the project, click here.

The Lost Colony website offers much information including a list of names of those connected with the Lost Colony and various expeditions (investors, crew, colonists and Native Americans).

Gans returned to England prior to the colony's mysterious disappearance. He was the subject of an online Jewish Magazine article by Gary Carl Grassl. I first learned about Gans in the lead-up to the 26th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (New York, 2006), because he was a metallurgist, the same profession as 2006 conference co-chair Hadassah Lipsius.

The Prague-born Gans was, according to Grassl, "the first Jew in English America and probably the first documented, non-baptized Jew in the New World." Gans was chief technologist at what National Geographic Magazine calls "America's First Science Center." He was a relative of Prague Renaissance genius David Gans.
In 1585, Joachim Gans participated in Sir Walter Raleigh's expedition to establish an English settlement in Virginia.

The article details how he built a furnace from local bricks to test for silver content from copper obtained from the natives. The sole remaining artifacts made by this English settlement are the oven bricks and two copper nuggets smelted by Gans.

For more, click on an earlier Tracing the Tribe posting, with additional links, here.

The Roanoke names include Enrique Lopez, described as a Portuguese merchant. In England at that time, Portuguese was synonymous with Jewish, but I have no further information on him. There are others on the various lists with Spanish and Portuguese names who might have been Sephardic.

Click here for an extensive list of newspaper and magazine articles on the Lost Colony.


  1. Anonymous6:33 PM

    Check us out for breaking news about the Lost Colony:


  2. Thanks for the information on the Lost Colony blog. I met Roberta Estes at the 2006 Family Tree DNA Conference in Houston, and her presentation on her own research was fascinating.