Even Ryan Murphy couldn't dream up a story this creepy

By Diana Pearl
Updated September 15, 2016 03:00 PM

After last night’s premiere, American Horror Story‘s sixth season is already proving to be just as creepy as the last five – and has a theme that’s got some scary roots in reality.

This season’s subtitle, My Roanoke Nightmare, is connected to the lost colony of Roanoke, a 1500s British settlement whose inhabitants disappeared without explanation. More than 400 years after the fact, there’s still no definitive answer as to what happened.

While Roanoke in the AHS world is still a bit of mystery, we aren’t completely in the dark about its apparently real-life inspiration. Here’s what we know about America’s “lost colony.”

What Was Roanoke Colony?
Before the 13 colonies, there was just one: Roanoke Colony, an island colony off the coast of what is now North Carolina, established by a charter from Queen Elizabeth I. It was first colonized in 1585, 21 years before Jamestown, Virginia, which is widely regarded as the first British successful colony in the United States. Roanoke was abandoned the next year, but there was a second attempt to colonize later in 1587, which would lead to the infamous disappearance.

The colonization was led by Sir William Raleigh (at home in Britain) and an artist, John White. White is the one who made the trek to Roanoke Island in the initial expeditions. He traveled to Roanoke with 115 colonists, including his own family, to settle the island in July 1587.

Why is it the "ghost colony"?
For a pretty good reason: After settling initially, White returned to England to get supplies, and came back to Roanoke in 1590. When he arrived, all 115 were missing, with only one skeleton to be found, transforming the colony into the stuff of legends. The end of the colony was never recorded.

There were, however, a few hints. When the English colonists arrived, the island was already inhabited by the native Secotan and Croatan tribes. When White returned, he saw the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree. White also found a remaining skeleton. The carving led him to believe they moved to the nearby Croatoan Island, but when that area was searched, there was no trace of the settlers.

It wasn’t until 1602 that any further investigation into Roanoke occurred. There was an expedition to the area in 1602 that proved unfruitful due to weather issues that prevented them from reaching Roanoke. Raleigh was then arrested for treason for his alleged involvement in a plot to remove King James I from the throne and was unable to further explore what happened.

What happened to the people who lived there?
There are several theories about what happened to the Roanoke colonists. John Smith, who served as a leader of Jamestown Colony, said that the colonists were killed en masse by Powhatan, a Native American leader. Some historians believe that the colonists were integrated with the local Native American tribes, a theory with some substantial evidence: Archeologists have found English artifacts in areas that were inhabited by Native Americans. New information is still being discovered, even as recently as 2015.

Those theories carry the most weight, but there are others: Some believe a series of stones, supposedly left by White’s daughter Eleanor, tells the story of the lost colonists. Others think the Spanish were responsible. Thanks to a map created by John White, the Virginea Pars Map, some believe they relocated elsewhere in Virginia.

While there’s evidence to back up some of these claims, there’s no definitive answer.

What’s the connection to AHS?
Well, in the official trailer for the season, we see AHS regular Kathy Bates in colonial garb, talking about protecting the colony, which undoubtedly has some sort of Roanoke significance. Plus, the story’s setting – North Carolina – puts them right near Roanoke. And, of course, there’s the title, My Roanoke Nightmare, and the imagery: A tree, which could have a connection to the carved tree White found upon returning. An easy assumption? Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sarah Paulson are being haunted by the ghosts of the lost settlers.

There’s also a connection to a prior season of AHS. In the first season’s 11th episode, a psychic tells a ghost story about an exorcism that happened at Roanoke after the disappearance. During a ritual to rid the island of the ghosts of the colonists, a Native American elder yelled “Croaton!”

Will American Horror Story provide any real answers as to what happened to the lost colonists? Probably not. But it will make an already eerie story even creepier. We can’t wait!

American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare airs Wednesdays (10 p.m. ET) on FX.