American Horror Story often trades in the fantastical: Vampires, ghosts and monsters haunt the FX show. But the series’ sixth season, which premiered on Wednesday night, proves truth can be scarier than fiction. My Roanoke Nightmare recounts the true story of the lost colonists of Roanoke.
In 1587, a group of Englishmen led by Captain John White created a settlement at Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. Captain White returned to England for supplies. When he sailed back to the colony four years later, he found something unsettling. The story, an eerie aside to the history of the United States’ founding, was recounted in TIME in 1930 on the occasion of the birthday of Virginia Dare, White’s granddaughter and the first English baby born in America:
At the time of that anniversary, TIME reported that some inhabitants of Robeson County, N.C., claimed to be descendants of those lost colonists, but there was no proof. And to this day, nobody knows what happened to the over 100 colonists who vanished. Historians have speculated that they were either slaughtered or dispersed, though archeologists recently uncovered English artifacts like flintlocks in nearby Native American sites that suggest the colonists probably assimilated into those tribes.
If this story sounds familiar, it’s because an American Horror Story character relayed it in the first season of the show. In that version, the settlers became ghosts that haunted the island and who were eventually banished with a curse using the word “Croatoan,” the same as the one carved on the tree.
In season six of the show, the story comes full circle: A couple named Shelby and Matt move to the area and find things amiss: Cathy Bates’ character appears in colonial garb, and Shelby (Sarah Paulson) wanders into the forest and finds herself seemingly in the 1500s. This season will likely offer its own interpretation of what happened to Virginia Dare and her fellow colonists.