A couple of weeks ago, the History Channel presented a documentary in which the Vieira Brothers went in search of evidence that the colonists from Roanoke had gone inland instead of to Hatteras Island (formerly Croatoan), as is commonly accepted. While a new report doesn’t prove them right, it does cast doubt on the consensus of the past twenty years about the fate of the colonists, and could offer a lifeline to those who believe that the so-called Eleanor Dare Stone is an authentic Elizabethan document.
In 1998, the discovery on Hatteras of a gold ring emblazoned with a lion passant led to speculation that the item belonged to Kendall family, one of whom was among the colonists and another who visited in 1586, because the lion passant was their family crest. This suggested that the colonists had decamped to Hatteras after the failure of their colony, perhaps to live with Native Americans there. The evidence suggested that the story told on the so-called Eleanor Dare Stone, a rock found in the 1930s and inscribed with what seemed to be the story of the flight of the colonists from Roanoke, was unlikely to be true.
A new study of the ring by North Carolina state conservator Erik Farrell determined that the ring is of brass, not gold, and is likely a seventeenth century trade item used in commerce with Native Americans. Not all scholars agree, however, that brass precludes an Elizabethan origin. Other artifacts found on Hatteras also appear to be from the 1600s and 1700s, according to Smithsonian magazine. Instead, Smithsonian reports that artifacts that might have belonged to the lost colony have been found along the Albemarle Sound, near the spot where an English fort had been planned before the failure of the Roanoke colony. This is the spot that the Eleanor Dare Stone commemorates, and it is close to where the stone was found in the 1930s.
While none of this validates the authenticity of the Dare Stone, it does raise an intriguing question about why a potential forger might have placed the stone in that location. While at first glance, this would seem to suggest authenticity, it need not necessarily be so. The historical record clearly indicates that the Roanoke colonists, under Philip Amadas and Ralph Lane, explored the Albemarle Sound (which they called the “Sound of Weapomeiock”) in the spring of 1586 and passed the information on to John White, whose map is the only one to indicate the abandoned location of the fort. According to Lane’s own account of events sent to Sir Walter Raleigh, Lane thought that the sound would lead to the Spanish colonies of Mexico via “a passage to the South-sea, or some way to it.” Lane gave out to all who would listen the claim that the land up the Albemarle Sound had “the most sweete and healthfullest climate, and therewithall the most fertile soyle (being manured) in the world.” Even without any forger knowing of the planned fort, the Albemarle Sound, being the area familiar to the colonists and apparently a place they thought would be much less harsh than Roanoke, would have been the logical choice for a forger to send them to keep in line with extant records, particularly Lane’s account. Perhaps not coincidentally, it might also be where the colonists, after Ralph Lane’s departure, chose to go, if the new evidence is true.
Thus, the loss of the ring as evidence leaves us where we started in terms of the Dare Stone’s authenticity. It could be real, or it could be fake.
What’s worth noting is that the scientists involved did not try to hide the results of the new study, nor did they attempt to suppress the truth. Even the Smithsonian, long accused by fringe historians of actively suppressing the real facts of history, published the results on its magazine’s webpage.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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