Virginia Dare (1587-probably before 1590) – A five-cent stamp issued in 1937, the 350th anniversary of English settlement at Roanoke, North Carolina

The mysterious and presumably brief life of Virginia Dare long has been immortalized in pageant and poem. 

The first recorded birth of a child to English parents in the Western Hemisphere, she came into the world on August 18, 1587.  Although she was named in honor of the country that the English called Virginia, she was born at Roanoke Island, which is now part of North Carolina.  Virginia, of course, was named for the reigning monarch, the great Elizabeth I, who never married and became known as “the Virgin Queen.”

The baby’s mother, Elenor White Dare, barely made it to the new land before her child was born.  Clearly a woman of courage, Dare was one of just seventeen women in a party of 116 that left Plymouth, England, on May 8, when she was probably six months pregnant.  Her father, Captain John White, commanded the ship, and her husband, Ananias Dare, presumably was her social inferior; records list his occupation as bricklayer.

Although the group intended to settle on the mainland of Virginia, they landed at a mistaken destination in July.  It may well be that it was the expected arrival of his grandchild that motivated John White to set up the colony of Roanoke Island, where an earlier expedition led by Queen Elizabeth’s best explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh, had failed. At any rate, the child was presumably healthy, for she was christened on the following Sunday, August 24, and three days later, her grandfather sailed for England to make his reports and renew supplies.

He was delayed by war between the English and the Spanish, and when he returned three years later, his daughter, granddaughter, and the rest of the settlement had vanished.  “The Lost Colony” left only the word “Croatoan” carved on a tree.  Most who have studied the mystery believe this to mean that the colonists, unable to support themselves on the island in winter, had gone to join the friendly Croatoan tribe on the mainland, but others argue that the cryptic message was written hurriedly as Croatoans attacked. 

When the Jamestown colony was established two decades later, natives told the English of white people living in the south, but no verification of survivors ever was established. 

As successful English settlement followed along the Atlantic Coast, little Virginia Dare came to symbolize belief in the future, despite adversity.  Her mother, who should be remembered more than the child, certainly had shown such courage.

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