Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Virginia Dare was the first child born in any British colony and part of the first mystery in the “new world.” She was born in 1587, in the Roanoke Colony (located in North Carolina now) and named after the Virginia colony where her parents lived. She was also the grand-daughter of the colony’s governor, John White. The Roanoke Colony was later known as the Lost Colony, one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our country’s history.
Sir Walter Raleigh received the right to set up a colony from the Queen; he wanted the gold and riches the Spanish were getting, while the Queen wanted a base in the area to attack (and plunder) the Spanish ships coming from the new world full of gold. Even though Raleigh himself never visited North American, he sent two representatives to explore the area. They landed on Roanoke Island in 1584 and established good relations with the natives, taking two natives back to England. Raleigh met with the natives and decided to send an expedition, led by Sir Richard Grenville. As the men explored the area, they discovered that a silver cup was missing and accused the natives. They killed the villagers and burned the town—all for a silver cup. Grenville left the colonists to establish a fort and went back to England for more supplies. Surprisingly, the natives no longer viewed the English as friendly, and often attacked the fort. The ship promising to return didn’t come with fresh supplies. Sir Francis Drake stopped by to say hello, and offered to take anyone back to England who wanted to go; some did—they were the lucky ones. A second colony expedition, organized by Raleigh, was led by John White (a friend of Raleigh’s), and were to settle near Chesapeake Bay. Before they unloaded at Chesapeake, they had orders to check on the Roanoke Colony.
This second expedition found no one in the colony. The colonists were forced to stay behind by the fleet’s commander, Simon Fernandez (reasons unknown), while the ship went back to England for reinforcements. Before he sailed away, White tried to re-establish friendly relations with the Native Americans; some tribes were friendly, others still were angry over the previous treatment of their tribesmen. The colonists watched as the ship left them in the new world. White wanted to get back as soon as he could, after all his daughter and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, were at Roanoke. He could find no captain to take him back in the winter months, and then in 1588, the Spanish attacked the English in the grand Armada, which further delayed his return. In 1590, White’s relief ship finally landed on Roanoke Island and found the settlement deserted. No people, no bodies, no signs of struggle. They only found this word carved in a pole: CROATOAN.
As to what happened to the 115 colonists living on Roanoke Island, no one has ever found any clues or remains. Only the word CROATOAN. Was it a clue? What did it mean?
Several ideas have been explored over the centuries. They could have been killed, but where were the bodies? They could have been assimilated into other friendly tribes; there was a Croatoan tribe that was friendly with the colonists. This would have accounted for no bodies and no struggles. But wouldn’t other tribes in the area have given this news to other white men? No one really tried to investigate until Captain John Smith, of Jamestown fame, tried to ask the nearby tribes if they knew what happened. He was told that a friendly tribe took them in. He was also told by Chief Powhatan that he and his tribe had murdered them all. He even showed Smith things he said had belonged to the white colonists. There were wild rumors of two story Native American buildings, possibly erected by the missing colonists.
Virginia Dare’s name has become a way to attract tourists for North Carolina. Many locations are named after her, including Dare County, North Carolina; the Virginia Dare Trail and the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge, which spans the Croatoan Sound. Her birthday is celebrated annually on Roanoke Island. On her 350th birthday in 1937, the community of Roanoke Island launched a play entitled “The Lost Colony.” This drama was supposed to be a one year run, but has become a permanent and popular Outer Banks attraction.
In 2005, PBS aired a Time Team America program: the team traveled to Roanoke Island looking to find the site of Fort Raleigh and any clues as to what happened to the Lost Colony. This was a collaboration of archaeologists and scientists who are given 3 days to dig and study interesting historic sites to see if they can find more information. In an different program, aired on the History Channel in 2015, archaeologists searching around an old settlement area found some intriguing items, including a gold ring, a musket barrel and a slate that may have been used for children to learn their alphabet. Perhaps, someday, we’ll finally find out what happened to the vanished Roanoke colony.
To read about Virginia Dare, we suggest these books:
- Roanoke by Margaret Lawrence (F LAW)
- Roanoke: solving the mystery of the lost colony (975.6 MIL)
- Roanoke: a novel of the lost colony by Sonia Levitin (F LEV)
- The Mysterious disappearance of Roanoke colony in American history (YA 975.6175 KEN)
- A Kingdom strange: the brief and tragic history of the lost colony of Roanoke (975.6175 HOR)
- The Virginia adventure: Roanoke to James Towne: an archaeological and historical odyssey (975.54251 NOE)
- The Lost colony: a symphonic drama in two acts, with music, pantomime and dance (812 GRE)
- Time Team America. Fort Raleigh, NC (DVD 930.109756175 TIM)
- http://www.outerbanks.com/virginia-dare.html (visiting Outer Banks)
- http://elizabethangardens.org/about-the-elizabethan-gardens/history/virginia-dare-statue-history/ picture of a statue
- http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-earliest-american-heroine long article
- http://inquiryunlimited.org/lit/poetry/ghistpoems2.html Benet poem about Virginia Dare
- http://www.pbs.org/video/1098873031/ Time Team America – Roanoke lost colony