US postage stamp issued in 1937, the 350th anniversary of Virginia Dare’s birth. Born August 18, 1587, Roanoke Island, Virginia Colony (present-day North Carolina)
Virginia Dare (born August 18, 1587, date of death unknown) was the first Englishman or Englishwoman born in the British Colonies in the New World. She was born to English parents Ananias Dare and Eleanor White (also spelled Ellinor or Elyonor) and named after the Virginia Colony.
What became of Virginia and the other colonists remains a mystery. The fact of her birth is known because John White, Virginia’s grandfather and the governor of the colony, returned to England in 1587 to seek fresh supplies. When White eventually returned three years later, the colonists were gone.
During the past four hundred years, Virginia Dare has become a prominent figure in American myth and folklore, symbolizing different things to different groups of people. She has been featured as a main character in books, poems, songs, comic books, television programs, and films. Her name has been used to sell different types of goods, from vanilla products to wine and spirits. Many places in North Carolina and elsewhere in the Southern United States have been named in her honor.
Baptism of Virginia Dare, lithograph, 1880
Virginia Dare was born in the Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina in August 1587, the first child of English parents born in the New World. “Elenora, daughter to the governor of the city and wife to Ananias Dare, one of the assistants, was delivered of a daughter in Roanoke.”
Little is known of the lives of either of her parents. Her mother Eleanor was born in London around 1563, and was the daughter of John White, the governor of the ill-fated Roanoke Colony. Eleanor married Ananias Dare (born c. 1560 – ?), a London tiler and bricklayer, at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street in the City of London. He, too, was part of the Roanoke expedition. Virginia Dare was one of two infants born to the colonists in 1587 and the only female child born to the settlers.
St Bride’s Church Fleet Street, where Virginia Dare’s parents were wed.
Nothing else is known of Virginia Dare’s presumably short life, as the Roanoke Colony did not endure. Virginia’s grandfather John White sailed for England for fresh supplies at the end of 1587, having established his colony. He was unable to return to Roanoke until August 18, 1590 due to England’s war with Spain and the pressing need for ships to defend against the Spanish Armada—by which time he found that the settlement had been long deserted. The buildings had collapsed and “the houses were taken down.” Worse, White was unable to find any trace of his daughter or granddaughter, or indeed any of the 80 men, 17 women, and 11 children who made up the “Lost Colony.”
Mystery of the “Lost Colony”
The return of Governor White to the “Lost Colony”
Nothing is known for certain of the fate of Virginia Dare or her fellow colonists. Governor White found no sign of a struggle or battle. The only clue to the colonists’ fate was the word “Croatoan” carved into a post of the fort, and the letters “Cro” carved into a nearby tree. All the houses and fortifications had been dismantled, suggesting that their departure had not been hurried. Before he had left the colony, White had instructed them that, if anything happened to them, they should carve a Maltese cross on a tree nearby, indicating that their disappearance had been forced. There was no cross, and White took this to mean that they had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island), but he was unable to conduct a search.
There are a number of theories regarding the fate of the colonists, the most widely accepted one being that they sought shelter with local Indian tribes, and either intermarried with the natives or were killed. In 1607, John Smith and other members of the successful Jamestown Colony sought information about the fate of the Roanoke colonists. One report indicated that the survivors had taken refuge with friendly Chesapeake Indians, but Chief Powhatan claimed that his tribe had attacked the group and killed most of the colonists. Powhatan showed Smith certain artifacts that he said had belonged to the colonists, including a musket barrel and a brass mortar and pestle. However, no archaeological evidence exists to support this claim. The Jamestown Colony received reports of some survivors of the Lost Colony and sent out search parties, but none was successful. Eventually they determined that they were all dead.
William Strachey, a secretary of the Jamestown Colony, wrote in The History of Travel into Virginia Britannia in 1612 that there were reportedly two-story houses with stone walls at the Indian settlements of Peccarecanick and Ochanahoen. The Indians supposedly learned how to build them from the Roanoke settlers. There were also reported sightings of European captives at various Indian settlements during the same time period. Strachey also wrote that four English men, two boys, and one maid had been sighted at the Eno settlement of Ritanoc, under the protection of a chief called Eyanoco. The captives were forced to beat copper. The captives, he reported, had escaped the attack on the other colonists and fled up the Chaonoke river, the present-day Chowan River in Bertie County, North Carolina.