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The Lost Souls of Virginia Dare


Virginia Dare was a figure that became larger than the life she probably had. Born on August 18, 1587, she is recognized as the first English child born in the New World. Born to Eleanor (White) Dare and Ananias Dare after the colonists had made landfall and built some form of established colony, there is no other record of her life. She is just one of the many colonists who vanished after Virginia's grandfather and governor of the settlement, John White, went back to England for more supplies, but was unable to return due to the ongoing threat of the Spanish Armada to England's shores. When he did arrive three years later, the settlement had been dismantled, and the markings for their destination of Croatoan on a post and CRO on a tree, signified that they had probably gone willingly to present day Hatteras Island, where there would possibly be more game and food supplies for the surviving colonists.

But that's it. That's the entirely of documented history for Virginia Dare and the other colonists. There are theories, some interesting evidence, several hints, but the real, actual history was never written down, and no one knows what happens to Virginia and her parents. The real mystery of the Lost Colony isn't so much what happened to make them leave Roanoke, but what happened next.

There are some historical hints, as some of the later Jamestown settlement tried to find remnants of the colonists, with little success. Some natives claimed to have killed or imprisoned the colonists, as well as there being stone two story structures that were claimed to be built by the members of the Roanoke colony, but there's no history, no proof, that backs up the descriptions and claims. They seem to have just melted away, which may be the most likely result. But Virginia, she lived on.

Maria Louisa Lander carved this statue of Virginia Dare when she worked as an artist in Rome in 1860. Lander imagined Virginia as having survived into adulthood as a member of the local natives. She dressed the girl only in beads and fishing net. Unlike other portrayals of women in captive by wild natives, Lander showed Virginia more as a risen princess among the Croatoans. It may have something to do with Lander's own life. She was close to the family of Nathaniel Hawthorne until word reached them that she may have either lived with another man or posed nude for a painting. Undaunted by scandal that left her without support, she still continued her own work in Rome and later in Boston. The statue met with her own struggles. Lander had it shipped to the US, but the freighter sank in the Mediterranean. Lander had to buy her own sculpture back from the salvagers that raised it from the sea floor. Later it was sold to a collector, who had a fire in their house that took everything, except for the room where Virginia Dare stood, saved, by the fortunate closing of a pair of doors. It later ended up in the North Carolina hall of history, standing tall under the stares of paintings of stern Confederate generals, jealous and judging of her nude stature. Jowly senators urged moving the naked Virginia to the more intimate quarters of the state auditor, George Ross Pou. Even then, a naked woman in the auditor's office, even in marble, was frowned upon. She was then shipped to Waterside Theater, home of Paul Green's play The Lost Colony. But with the land becoming a historical park, the National Park Service didn't want the statue, either. There was no place for her, there was no evidence she ever lived to be an adult, it just didn't serve the historical aspect, and she was never even unpacked. After a soundside flood got to her base, she was sent to Paul Green.

Green had no place for her, either. Soon after the Elizabethan Gardens were built, he quickly shipped the girl off to the beach. And there, along with the statuary from the Whitney Estate, with its own interesting history and pedigree, she finally got her own home.

The statue is amazing, with lots of hidden decorations that have greater meaning that most realize. As I mentioned, she wears only beads on her arms, and is draped in a fishing net for a royal cloak on those warm summer island days. Instead of hunting hounds at her feet, she has a new world heron as her protector. And her feet are bare, standing at the shore as miniscule waves lap at her toes. It is as if she has had her life embrace her, but she still looks toward the east and her mother's home in England on the far side of the horizon, wondering or knowing that her grandfather will ever come again. Virginia has been a symbol used many times, for good and bad, throughout North Carolina. But she is definitely a positive symbol on the coast that was her home. There have been many women who shared her name, both first and last, a meaningful moniker that must be lived up to. So Virginia Dare may very well be a set of lost souls, a forever missing child, a young girl, perhaps a legend turned into a white doe that wanders the twilight of Roanoke Island. She pines quietly for her former life, or comfort for her parents. But it seems that the spirit of Virginia Dare, in a different form, has found a home.

If you would like to read a slightly different take on the Virginia Dare white doe legend, you can read about it in my book Haunting The Carolina Coast.


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