The Mystery of Roanoke

The Croatan are a small Native American group residing in the coastal areas of what is now North Carolina. Croatan Island (sometimes called Croatoan Island and now known as Hatteras Island) is located on the banks of the Staunton (pronounced Stanton) River and, in 1587, the Croatan got some new neighbors. They were English settlers, numbering somewhere between 115-120, led by Gov. John White.

White was to be the guiding hand and to aid in the development of a new colony. Sir Walter Raleigh had intended for the colony to be established in the Chesapeake Bay area, but the Captain of the ship they sailed upon dropped them on Roanoke Island instead, a site that had hosted a colony of settlers previously. The previous attempt had been a glorious failure.

The new settlers began setting up shop, building structures, and working toward creating some sense of home in their new surroundings, picture an even shittier version of Oregon Trail, but it wasn’t long before the group began to run out of supplies. White set sail for England to procure more stores for his settlers on August 27, 1587 and arrived in November of that year, just as England was about to go to war with Spain. Queen Elizabeth I ordered that all available ships to confront the Spanish Armada, preventing White from returning to Roanoke for a period of three years.

When White did return, he found the colony abandoned and all of the settlers missing. Although he searched endlessly for them, he found no clue as to there whereabouts nor did he find any human remains to indicate they had been killed. His daughter, Ellinor White Dare, son in law, Ananias Dare, and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, had vanished. A single word was carved into a wooden post, the only clue as to where the settlers may have gone or what had happened at Roanoke. That word was Croatoan.

What happened to the settlers of the lost colony of Roanoke? Were they captured by local native tribes? Were they murdered by an aggressive tribe? Were they assimilated into a friendly native tribe? Were they taken as slaves to work in copper mines? (It was speculated in Return to Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony (History Channel, 2015) that this was the colonist’s fate.) Were they murdered by Spaniards marching up from Florida or were they abducted?

White was left to wonder and failed to find any settler, alive or dead.

Virginia and The Dare Stones

Virginia Dare was the first child of English heritage to be born in the Americas and was named Virginia because she was the first born there. Her father was Ananias Dare, her mother was Ellinor White Dare (daughter of Gov. John White.) Illustrated depictions of young Virginia’s baptism into the Catholic faith at the Jonestown Exhibition in 1907 can be found online, but the child vanished soon after without a trace. Her life is a mystery and remains so to this day.

In 1937, a California man driving through the coastal Carolina region found a 21 pound rock, roughly 80 miles from Roanoke Island, engraved with strange markings. He delivered his find to the History Department at Emory University. When university officials declined to pay for testing of the stone, Haywood Pearce brought it to Brenau University and began tracing its origins and transcribing the writing on the stone. He put out a call for other stones, offering a reward, but was essentially buried in potentials, further muddying the mystery. There are a total of 48 stones supposedly describing the last days of the colony at Roanoke.

According to The Native Heritage Project (https://nativeheritageproject.com/2013/12/08/the-dare-stones-1-through-48/), the original stone reads as follows.

The writing on the stone appears to be a message from Ellinor White Dare to her father describing murders by “sa(l)vages” (save 7 colonists) and the locations of grave sites along with where the group of surviving colonists might be found. Some scientists have speculated, upon close examination, that some of the stones appear to have been recently carved, one even looks as if it may have been done with a drill press.

 

A team of historians commissioned by the Smithsonian did assign some validity to the original stone. The team was led by Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard University. A preliminary report was released stating that the stone appeared to be valid and the stones officially became known as the Dare Stones.

In 1941, the Saturday Evening Post all but reported that Pearce Jr. had crafted the stones himself. There was talk of libel action against The Post, but WWII pretty much put the kaibash on that. The stones disappeared from view on campus.

In 1977, Leonard Nimoy narrated an episode of In Search of… on which a Brenau professor, Dr. Southerland, stated that he believed only the first stone was authentic. Ten years later, he amended his statement, asserting that even the original stone may have only a 50% chance of being real.

Interest in the stones was once again revived as Jamestown, VA, celebrated the 400th anniversary of the first English colony to gain purchase on American soil. An internet scavenger hunt (among other scheduled events) caused Brenau officials to receive dozens of phone calls. One of the items on the scavenger hunt list was a rubbing of one of the Dare Stones.

Location of the Stones

It has been speculated that the stones are housed in an 18th century mausoleum on campus, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dare Stones are actually housed in a boiler room beneath the university amphitheater and range in size from 20-40 pounds each. One stone is on view at the Northeast Georgia History Center adjacent to campus. Two (including the original stone) are housed in the special collections section of the Trustee Library.

Every Good Mystery Has a Twist…

In an interesting twist, part of the Ellinor Dare legend is that she gave birth to a child named Agnes who was fathered by an American Indian “king” from North Carolina or Georgia. Tribes in that area believed that the souls of the deceased were transferred into sacred stones.

Kathy Amos, the university’s Tradition Keeper states that Brenau’s resident ghost showed up around the same time the stones did. Supposedly, the ghost’s name is Agnes.

Stories exist about the ghost of Agnes committing suicide by hanging herself in the theater. It’s generally a story of unrequited love. Agnes is also said to have been a pledge for Zeta Tau Alpha who died in an initiation gone wrong. It has also been said that she killed herself after being ousted from the sorority. Some claim that Agnes appeared in the 1930’s while others say she’s been around since 1960. She’s said to haunt the theater, the dorms, the library… It seems as if it depends completely who you talk to on campus as Agnes stories abound.

Have you ever seen the Dare Stones first hand? What’s the story with Agnes? Is she the deceased daughter of Ellinor or another spirit entirely? Let us know in the comments below!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

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