The Dare Stones are a series of inscribed messages supposedly written by English colonists, members of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island off North Carolina. The colonists were last seen in 1587, when John White, the colony's governor, returned to England for supplies. White's return was delayed until 1590, when he found that all the settlers had gone. A single-word message indicated that they had moved to another place, but poor weather meant that White had to abandon the search. No subsequent trace of the settlers was ever found.
The stones purport to give accounts of what happened to the colonists. They are mainly supposed to have been written by Eleanor White Dare, who was the daughter of John White and the mother of Virginia Dare, the first child of English descent to be born in North America.
The first stone
L.E. Hammond, a Californian tourist, claimed in 1937 to have found a stone inscribed by Eleanor Dare. He took it to Emory University, Atlanta, where it was examined by Dr Haywood Jefferson Pearce, Jr., professor of American history. It stated on one side that Eleanor's husband and daughter were dead, and asked the finder to communicate this to her father:
- Ananias Dare &
- Virginia Went Hence
- Unto Heaven 1591
- Anye Englishman Shew
- John White Govr Via
On the other side it explained that all but seven of the colonists had been killed by savages, and was signed 'EWD'.
- Father Soone After You
- Goe for England Wee Cam
- Hither / Onlie Misarie & Warre
- Tow Yeere / Above Halfe Deade ere Tow
- Yeere More From Sickenes Beine Foure & Twentie /
- Salvage with Message of Shipp Unto Us / Smal
- Space of Time they Affrite of Revenge Rann
- Al Awaye / Wee Bleeve it Nott You / Soone After
- Ye Salvages Faine Spirits Angrie / Suddaine
- Murther Al Save Seaven / Mine Childe /
- Ananais to Slaine wth Much Misarie /
- Burie Al Neere Foure Myles Easte This River
- Uppon Small Hil / Names Writ Al Ther
- On Rocke / Putt This Ther Alsoe / Salvage
- Shew This Unto You & Hither Wee
- Promise You to Give Greate
- Plentie Presents
Pearce did not immediately declare the stone to be authentic, but argued that the content was not incompatible with the known historical facts, that the spelling conformed to expectations of Elizabethan orthography, and that the necessary tools for such an inscription were likely to have been in the possession of the colonists.
Further stones discovered
By 1940, forty-seven more stones allegedly had been found by a local farmer, William Eberhardt. They told a complicated tale of the fate of the Lost Colony. The stones were addressed to John White and called for revenge against the "savages" or told Eleanor's father the direction taken by the survivors. A stone dated 1592 indicated that the survivors had reached a sanctuary in the Nacoochee Valley area and lived there in "primeval splendor." A stone dated 1598 indicated that Eleanor had married the "king" of the tribe, while another said that she bore the chief a daughter, that the tribe was furious, and asked for White to send the infant girl to England. A stone dated 1599 announced Eleanor Dare's death and said that she had left behind a daughter named Agnes.
A team of historians examined the stones, commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution and led by historian Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard University. They issued a preliminary report and gave them a measure of authenticity.
Evidence of forgery
The stones were exposed as forgeries by journalist Boyden Sparkes in the Saturday Evening Post in 1941. He raised a number of questions without definitively indicating any individual as having responsibility, questions about the information given by the stones themselves, and also about the characters and background of those who purported to have found them. He also questioned the circumstances of stones having traveled so far from where they were supposedly left by Eleanor Dare to the spot where they were found. Sparkes put it to Pearce that "it must have been an exceedingly friendly naked savage who had carried a twenty-one-pound stone message across hundreds of miles of South and North Carolina". Sparkes also found evidence that someone had been attempting to sell a fake stone at Manteo, near Roanoke, shortly before the first stone was produced by Hammond.
Hammond had only a post-office box for an address and could not be traced by Sparkes or even by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and Sparkes noted that Emory University washed their hands of the business when Hammond proposed charging people to see the stone. It was at this stage that Pearce took the stone himself to Brenau College (now Brenau University), which his family ran. The finders of the subsequent stones (Mr. Eberhart, Mr. Turner, Mr. Bruce, and Mr. and Mrs. Jett) all had connections with one another, and the first two had been friends for many years—and one of them was a stonemason. Turner did not admit to any forgery when pressed by Sparkes, but said, “If those stones were crooked, Pearce knows who crooked 'em.”
The stones themselves gave Sparkes clues to their forgery. One was claimed to have been kept in a tool chest for fifteen years, yet it had suffered no damage, even though it started crumbling when handled by the museum. Pearce had apparently suppressed a report by a geologist colleague that one of the stones had an inscription “cut within the past few days or weeks”. The style of the lettering was non-Elizabethan, according to an eminent palaeographer consulted by Sparkes. Elizabethan spelling was notoriously inconsistent, yet these stones consistently used the same spellings over the supposed dozen years involved in their creation. Two words (primeval and reconnoitre) are not attested in the English language until fifty or a hundred years after these stones were supposed to have been inscribed.
Sparkes also noted that Pearce had been in contact with film producer Cecil B. DeMille with a view to a film being made based on the story outlined in the stones.
In 2015, a History Channel movie reported that the stones were examined by a team of archaeologists including Fred Willard, as well as Kevin Quarmby, a scholar of early modern (Shakespearean era) literature and writing from Oxford College of Emory University. The movie reported that the first stone was authentic and distinct from the other stones, which upon very close examination appeared to have been manufactured with a drill press. In 2016, in an examination at the University of North Carolina, the first stone was cut at one end to reveal a bright white color. Since the inscription on the stone when originally produced was not so bright, this suggested that if the inscription was fake, then it must have been chemically aged; possibly difficult to achieve in the 1930s. Scholars quoted by the National Geographic suggested that further, interdisciplinary research using modern methods might settle the matter.
The stones today
Today, Brenau University retains the Dare Stones, but displays only a few of them in the special collections section of the library. However, the university makes the entire collection available for legitimate research or reasonable media inquiry, and has cooperated on a number of television programs and research projects, including a 1977 documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy and an examination of the first stone in 2016 at the University of North Carolina.
Not many support the authenticity of the stones today, though Robert W. White's 1991 book A Witness for Eleanor Dare argues that they are genuine, and others have suggested that the first stone, if not the rest, may be real.
- Sparkes, Boyden (26 April 1941). "Writ on Rocke: Has America's First Murder Mystery Been Solved?". The Saturday Evening Post. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
- Childs, T Mike. "The Dare Stones". NCPedia. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
- Brenau University. "The Dare Stones". Retrieved 22 August 2018.
- Pearce, Jr., Haywood J. (May 1938). "New Light on the Roanoke Colony: A Preliminary Examination of a Stone Found in Chowan County, North Carolina". The Journal of Southern History. 4 (2): 161–163.
- Morrison, David. "Brenau's Pet Rocks". Brenau Window Online. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
- Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony (History Channel, Oct. 2015)
- Lawler, Andrew (June 2018). "Is This Inscribed Stone a Notorious Forgery—or the Answer to America's Oldest Mystery?". National Geographic. Retrieved 30 May 2018.