The origins of one of the America’s oldest unsolved mysteries can be traced to August 1587, when a group of about 115 English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina. Later that year, it was decided that John White, governor of the new colony, would sail back to England in order to gather a fresh load of supplies. But just as he arrived, a major naval war broke out between England and Spain, and Queen Elizabeth I called on every available ship to confront the mighty Spanish Armada. In August 1590, White finally returned to Roanoke, where he had left his wife and daughter, his infant granddaughter (Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas) and the other settlers three long years before. He found no trace of the colony or its inhabitants, and few clues to what might have happened, apart from a single word—“Croatan”—carved into a wooden post.
The “Dare Stones”
In 1937, a twenty-one-pound quartz stone was found in a swamp 60 miles west of Roanoke. On one side was a cross and the instruction “Ananias Dare & Virginia went hence Unto Heaven 1591.” On the other were carvings that, when deciphered by faculty at Emory University, were a message from Eleanor Dare to her father, John White, that the colony had fled inland after an Indian attack.
The story told by the stones matched some of the details of Strachey’s account, and a number of academics believed them. During the next three years, nearly forty more stones were found in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Together, they told a story of the colonists’ journey through the southeast, ending in the death of Eleanor Dare in 1599.
The timing of the discovery, exactly 350 years after the English settlement of Roanoke, made the “Virginia Dare Stones” a perfect story, and the media jumped on it. In 1941, though, an article in The Saturday Evening Post revealed the “discoverers” of the stones to have staged an elaborate hoax. The stones were quickly forgotten by most people, although there are others that state that the article in the Post was biased for “tourist” reasons. There are many scholars that still believe the first stone found to be authentic. But the other forty stones, conveniently “found” after the fact, are definitely suspect and most likely a hoax.