A Brief History
On August 18, 1587, Virginia Dare was born in the Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina. Each year the current residents of Roanoke Island celebrate her birthday with an Elizabethan Renaissance Festival.
Whereas the date of death is often known for many famous people throughout history, their births were mostly insignificant and thus not recorded. For Virginia the exact opposite is true. As the first child born to English settlers on the North American continent, her birth is important. This is largely where her story also ends. In fact it is unknown if and when she died. Well, one can now assume that she has long since passed, but she and all other colonists in Roanoke literally disappeared into thin air when she would still have been a toddler.
Numerous theories for the disappearance of the colony exist. These range from starvation, disease, annihilation, assimilation into neighboring Indian tribes, all the way to abduction by aliens (The author is not making this claim up.) Virginia Dare’s fate in connection with the lost colony has become the subject of numerous documentaries, novels and films.
Nonetheless, as much as Virginia Dare’s short life is shrouded in mystery and considering that the only thing actually known about her is that she was indeed born, the amount of fascination her name evokes is amazing. For many she has become a symbol of innocence, purity and wholesomeness as well as a physical representation of the American values of new beginnings, promise and hope. Even the American attributes of adventuresomeness and bravery have been imparted on her. In short, she is the quintessential American girl, and even if she cannot be protected anymore, everyone wants to protect that image. Named Virginia after Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, and the original colony of Virginia, even her name is synonymous with the New World.
Much of the fascination with her is due to a phenomenon known as “first white child” pride. As racist as it sounds, it is not meant to be. It is simply the celebration of the birth of the first child of European colonists worldwide. Such births symbolized the growth and increasing permanence of new colonies. Some new colonists raced to have this honor bestowed on their child. Today these births are commemorated with plaques and monuments.
Towns, roads and bridges have been named in Virginia Dare’s honor. Capitalizing on the traits brought into association with her, many commercial products have also been named after her. Two famous ones involve the American products of tobacco and vanilla.
Even if there were records of Virginia Dare reaching maturity, it is unlikely that anything she would have done as an adult would have made her even more famous than the circumstances of her birth. Her claim to fame is truly as simple as being born. Her disappearance merely added to her mystique.
Question for students (and subscribers): Should Virginia Dare be celebrated and memorialized in such fashions as described in this article? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more interesting events that happened on August 18, please see the History and Headlines articles: “10 Major Steps in Women’s Rights” and “Would You Like Your Witches Fried or Boiled?“
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For more information on Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke, the following books might be interesting:
Fritz, Jean and Hudson Talbott. The Lost Colony of Roanoke. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2004.
Hudson, Marjorie. Searching for Virginia Dare. Press 53, 2007.
Stemple, Heidi E. Y., Jane Yolen, et al. Roanoke: The Lost Colony–An Unsolved Mystery from History. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003.