By Michael Baadke
Virginia Dare was born Aug. 18, 1587, in the Roanoke Island Colony, on the Outer Banks off the coast of present-day North Carolina. The infant girl is known as the first person of English descent born in the New World.
Very little is known about her, though it is likely she died at a young age. By 1590 the colony’s residents had all vanished.
Some 100 colonists had landed on Roanoke Island just weeks before Virginia’s birth. Her grandfather, John White, was governor of the colony, and he returned to England to collect badly needed provisions. His return to the colony, however, was delayed because of war with Spain, and when he finally arrived at Roanoke in August of 1590, he found all of the people gone, their buildings dismantled, with only a carved single-word message, “CROATOAN,” on a fencepost.
Believing the colonists might have traveled to Hatteras Island (known then as Croatoan Island), White sought to follow them, but foul weather forced him off course, and he returned to England never learning what fate befell the colony.
“In 1607, when the English established their first permanent settlement at Jamestown, they were well aware that a colony had been left on Roanoke Island twenty years earlier,” the National Park Service reported. “The Jamestown colonists made several attempts to find the lost colonists; and investigated Indian reports of Europeans living at various locations; but no survivors ever surfaced. The fate of the lost colonists remains one of the great mysteries of American history.”
Later investigations failed to resolve the mystery, though dedicated groups undertaking archaeological studies at nearby locations have speculated that a small number of the colonists may have survived, possibly assimilating into native American cultures.
Virginia Dare and the lost Roanoke Colony are commemorated on a 5¢ stamp issued Aug. 18, 1937, the 350th anniversary of Virginia’s birth (Scott 796). The vignette shows Virginia cradled in her mother’s arms in front of their cabin home, with her father standing close by.