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"America Unearthed" at Roanoke Island, the Dare Stones controversy

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Part One: A four century old mystery

The Superbowl Weekend edition of “America Unearthed” on History Channel H2 traveled to Roanoke Island, North Carolina, Gainesville, GA and Cambridge University in England to investigate the mysterious disappearance of England’s attempt to colonize the coast of North Carolina. Forensic geologist Scot Wolter focused on the long overdue geo-chemical analysis of the so-called Dare Stones, but the program’s one hour format did not have time for discussing new historical discoveries, which lend credence to controversial interpretations of these rock slabs containing Elizabethan English.

The year is 1583. England’s arch-enemy, Spain, had been establishing colonies in the New World for 90 years. The gold and silver mined in these colonies, along with the horrific exploitation of their indigenous peoples had propelled Spain into being a super power. A private company of investors was led by some of the most brilliant men of the Elizabethan Age. They included Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Ralph Lane, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Captain John Hawkins and scholar Richard Hakluyt. They dispatched a shipload of brave Englishmen to establish a colony in Newfoundland.

British fishermen had been sailing to Newfoundland at least from the time of Columbus. Hakluyt claimed to have evidence that fishing boats form Cornwall and Bristol had been sailing to the coast of Newfoundland since the late 1300s.

The Newfoundland Colony was a disaster. Gilbert drowned there. The Virginia Company then decided to establish a colony farther south, where the climate was less severe. In April of 1584, a fleet set sail for North America, but became scattered in a storm off the coast of Portugal. Grenville’s flagship, the Tiger, stopped first along the southern coast of Puerto Rico. Here they built a fort on Guayanailla Bay.

After some of the lost ships appeared, the colonists then sailed northward past the Spanish colonies of St. Augustine and Santa Elena to establish a colony on Roanoke Island. Most of the colony’s food supplies were lost when the Tiger floundered on a shoal. Nevertheless, a fort was built on the island’s north end under the command of Ralph Lane. The colonists soon alienated local Natives by burning an Indian village because a silver cup had been stolen. The Natives then unsuccessfully attacked the fort.

In May of 1586, Sir Francis Drake’s fleet transported most of the colonists back to England. A token force was left at the fort. His fleet then continued southward to sack the Spanish colony of St. Augustine. The Spanish government soon ordered the much larger colony of Santa Elena in South Carolina to be dismantled and moved to St. Augustine, in order to put more distance between the Spanish colonists, and what Spain assumed to be a large pirate base, somewhere on the coast of Virginia.

In 1587 a new band of colonists sailed across the Atlantic to establish a colony on the Chesapeake Bay. They found a single skeleton at the fort on Roanoke Island. No evidence of this garrison’s fate has ever been discovered. Without the garrison to guide them to Chesapeake Bay, the colonists wanted to return to England. However, they were ordered to disembark and establish a new fort on Roanoke Island. This is the one that was inspected by geologist Scot Wolter on the History Channel show. The new colony was much better managed under the leadership of Governor John White. He also created some exquisite water colors of the Natives and drafted an accurate map of Ocracoke Sound.

The new colony was able to establish relations with the Croatan Indians, but the other tribes remained hostile. Virginia Dare, the grand-daughter of John White, became the first English child born in the New World. One colonist had been murdered while catching crabs. The surviving colonists persuaded John White to return to England in late 1587 with two out of three of their ships, to explain the dangerous situation.

The attack of the Spanish Armada intervened. Queen Elizabeth ordered all experienced sea captains and armed ships to come to the aid of England. White was not able to return to Roanoke Island until August of 1590. His expedition found the fort uninhabited and carefully dismantled, as if the colonists planned to relocate. The word Croatoan was carved on a tree. White instructed the colonists to carve a Maltese cross if they were forced to leave the island in an emergency. No Maltese cross was found. A hurricane was rolling in so the expedition was not able to sail to Croatan Island. The fates of the garrison in 1586 and the colonists in 1587 remain a mystery to this day.

The Eleanor Dare Stones

In June of1937, the longest playing outdoor drama, “The Lost Colony,” began performances on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. In September of 1937, a California produce dealer, named L. E. Hammond, was vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. While deep in the woods near Edenton, NC, searching for hickory nuts, he discovered a moss-covered quartzite slab with strangely spelled English on it. He immediately assumed that it marked a buried pirate’s treasure. Unable to find someone locally, who could clean and interpret the 20 pound rock slab, Hammond traveled to Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Various members of the faculty examined the enigmatic stone until it eventually reached the office of Dr. Haywood Pearce, Jr of Brenau College in Gainesville, GA.

After Pierce carefully cleaned the stone, he was astonished to see the words, “Ananias Dare & Virginia went hence unto heaven 1591.” The back of the stone stated that a portion of the colony had taken refuge at that location, but were massacred by another tribe in 1591. Only seven of the original 17 members of that party survived. In 1607 Chief Powhatan told John Smith, leader of the Jamestown Colony that he had ordered the killing of a party of English colonists, who had taken refuge with an enemy tribe. These could have been the survivors of either the 1586 garrison or else the Dare party.

Numerous geologists and linguists declared the authenticity of the Annias Dare tombstone. This is the stone that “America Unearthed” host Scot Wolter declared to be authentic. Pierce then offered cash rewards for any other similar stones. Pierce purchased many more stones, often from farmers and poorly educated construction laborers, who couldn’t possibly know how to fake 440 year old English rock inscriptions. A cluster of inscribed stones were found in a cave in the Nacoochee Valley that described the last days of the Roanoke Colony survivors. These seemed as authentic as the first one.

The Eleanor Dare stones marked a trail leading from Roanoke Island, North Carolina to the Nacoochee Valley in the mountains northeast of Atlanta. According to the stones found in the cave in the Nacoochee Valley, Eleanor had married a Creek Indian chief there and born more children before dying. The last tablet stated “Eleanor Dare dye February1599.” It was signed by a fellow survivor, Griffin Jones.

A team of professional archaeologists, geologists and historians, led by Dr. Samuel Elliot Morrison of Harvard University declared all the stones to be authentic. North America’s early history had been changed. Little known Brenau College in Gainesville, GA suddenly was in the national news. The tiny, all girls, liberal arts institution then started its own outdoor drama, which attracted large crowds because of the publicity about the Eleanor Dare Stones. That’s when the trouble began.

The sponsors of the original outdoor drama in North Carolina were furious. They began a campaign to discredit the competitive outdoor drama in Georgia. Eight more stones, with far less authentic looking appearances, turned up near Atlanta. An inscription was carved on a boulder near the Chattahoochee River then sprayed with purple dye, in an obvious effort to make it appear faked. Academic rivals of Dr. Pierce posted letters to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which described him in most unflattering terms. North Carolina officials complained to the Saturday Evening Post because the magazine had initially publicized the Eleanor Dare Stones. The worst was yet to come.

In Part Two of this series on the Eleanor Dare Stones, we will examine the fraudulent strategies used by rivals of Dr. Haywood Pierce, to discredit all the “Eleanor Dare Stones” and then squelch any scientific analysis for seven decades. Use of archaeological fraud to discredit academic rivals has a long tradition in Georgia, going back many years before the Dare Stones controversy. Go to the URL below?

http://www.examiner.com/article/america-unearthed-at-roanoke-island-disc...

Those readers who wish to ask Richard Thornton questions about architecture, urban planning or Native American history may email him at NativeQuestion@aol.com .

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