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What Happened To Virginia Dare?

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Virginia Dare Birthstone

This 1896 stone commemorates the birth of the first English child born in the New World

courtesy of the National Park Service

As a society, we often exhibit a curious fascination with unsolved mysteries, especially in cases involving the disappearance of people. Unexplained events like the fate of the Mayan civilization, planes lost over the Devil's Triangle, and, strangely enough, even fictional disappearances like the three filmmakers in the movie Blair Witch Project seem to captivate our interest.

One of the most mysterious disappearances in American history was that of "The Lost Colony" of Roanoke. In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh brought over a party of English colonists, who settled on Roanoke Island, off the northeast coast of North Carolina. This first group of colonists abandoned Roanoke in 1586 and returned to England. A second group arrived in 1587 and established the first English settlement in new world. In that year the first white child of English parents was born on American soil. Her name was Virginia Dare. By the time additional supplies were brought from England four years later, the entire group of settlers had disappeared. What happened to Virginia Dare and members of "The Lost Colony" of Roanoke?

The National Park Service's Fort Raleigh National Historic Site commemorates the first English attempts at colonizing the New World, including "The Lost Colony." Established in 1941, the 513-acre park includes the preservation of Native American Culture, the American Civil War, the Freedman's Colony and the activities of radio pioneer, Reginald Fessenden.

The Lost Colony

While the first Roanoke colony was being established, plots to overthrow Elizabeth I and place the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne were uncovered. Within months of Mary's execution in February of 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh's final colony sailed for the new world. Led by Governor John White, 117 men, women and children departed from England on May 8th, 1587. With the ship's pilot concerned with the summer hurricane season, the colonists were forced to disembark at Roanoke Island, instead of traveling farther north to their intended destination on the Chesapeake Bay.

From the outset, the settlers were plagued by a shortage of food and supplies, and had a difficult time coexisting peaceably with the Native Americans. On August 27th of 1587, John White, who had been appointed Roanoke's governor, left the settlement and returned to England for supplies. A secret code had been worked out with the colonists so that if they should leave Roanoke Island, they would carve their new location on a conspicuous tree or post. If the move had to be made because of an attack, either by Indians or Spaniards, they were to carve over the letters or name a distress signal in the form of a Maltese cross.

Before the colony could be resupplied, war had broken out between England and Spain. White was not able to return to Roanoke Island until 1590, at which time he found the settlement abandoned. Two carvings provided the only clues as to the fate of the colonists: “Cro” was carved on one of the trees and “Croatan” was carved on a fence post. Croatan (the Indian name for "Hatteras") was the name of a nearby island, but no trace of the settlers was ever found there or anywhere else. Storms prevented further search, and the small fleet returned to England, leaving behind the mystery of "The Lost Colony."

Shrouded in Mystery

To this day, no one is certain where the lost colony went, or what happened to them. There is general agreement that not enough supplies had been sent to meet the colonists' needs before the settlement could become self-sufficient. Dr. David B. Quinn, one of the recognized authorities on the Lost Colony, believes that the majority of the colonists traveled overland to the southern shores of the Chesapeake, where they were later massacred by the Powhatan Indians.

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