Photo: Baptism of Virginia Dare. Credit: National Geographic.
August 18, 2021 marks the 434 birthday of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World. Virginia Dare’s birth was not only a celebratory day for her family. Her birth gave hope to fellow and future settlers that new life was possible in the Americas.
Virginia Dare’s Ties to Roanoke Island
The Dare family’s connection to Roanoke Island can be traced back to Virginia’s grandfather, John White. An explorer, artist, and cartographer, White was a vital member of the 1585 expedition to Roanoke Island. John White’s watercolor images of the area’s flora, fauna, and American Indian communities gave extraordinary insight to life in the New World.
White returned to Roanoke Island several years later on a new expedition in 1587. In an effort to stake England’s claim in the New World, 120 colonists set sail from England on May 8, 1587 to start a colony on the Chesapeake Bay. This voyage was led by White who was appointed governor and included Virginia Dare’s parents, Ananias and Eleanor Dare, daughter of John White, who was pregnant at the time. The expedition didn’t go as planned when the colonists landed on Roanoke Island instead on July 22, 1587. Virginia Dare was born shortly after the settlers arrived on August 18, 1587, making history as the first English child born in the Americas. With food and supplies dwindling and life becoming increasingly challenging for the colony, White, left to seek aid shortly after Virginia Dare’s birth on August 27, 1587. White’s arrival to England that November was untimely, as the nation was preparing to go to war with Spain and claiming the Americas, no longer a priority.
What Happened to Virginia Dare?
Nearly three years later in August 1590, White was allowed to return to Roanoke Island to provide aid to the colonists. When he finally reached the shores of Roanoke Island, the settlement he left was nowhere to be found. The only remnants of the English colony were the letters “CRO” carved into a tree and the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post in the palisade wall surrounding the fort. Both markings lacked the cross, an agreed upon sign if the colonists had left under distress.
Much to his dismay, White sailed back to England without his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. The fate of the colonists and Virginia Dare remains a mystery today, although experts have settled on three possible theories. Many believe the colony merged with American Indian communities nearby. Others believe the opposite, that the colonists had a deadly conflict with the American Indians. The other likely theory is the colonists suffered from famine and disease. Without any concrete evidence, the mystery of the lost colony and Virginia Dare still baffles historians today.
To learn more about the Roanoke voyages, Dare family, and lost colony, visit the Adventure Museum at Roanoke Island Festival Park. The museum lays out these events in chronological order and features interactive exhibits to highlight this fascinating time in history.