On this day in history….18th August 1587

On this day in history : 18th August 1587 – The birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the New World; what became of her and the rest of the Roanoke Colony remains a mystery….

Colonists had set sail for Virginia onboard ‘The Lion’ in May 1587 – the Captain of their expedition was Simon Fernandez, the Portuguese navigator…. Their chosen destination was Chesapeake Bay – but on reaching Roanoke in late July, Fernandez stopped to let his passengers disembark and then refused to allow them back onboard again….

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Roanoke Colony – drawn by John White during his first visit to the region in 1585. Roanoke is the pink coloured island, centre, right – John White, public domain

Roanoke, which is now part of North Carolina, had previously been inhabited by 15 men…. The new settlers patched-up the dwellings left behind by their predecessors and attempted to search for the men – but all they found were bones….

The settlers were led by Governor John White; he made enquiries with some friendly natives, the people of Chief Manteo and was told the 15 men had been killed by a hostile tribe…. On the 8th of August White led his men on a dawn raid….but they got it so wrong! Instead of attacking an antagonistic tribe they attacked friendly natives, killing one and wounding many more…. From then on relations with all the tribes declined….

Ten days later White became a grandfather; his daughter, Elenora, who herself had been born in London circa 1563, gave birth to a healthy baby girl…. It was announced : “Elenora, daughter to the governor of the city, and wife to Ananias Dare, one of the assistants, was delivered of a daughter in Roanoke”…. Ananias Dare, a tiler and bricklayer by trade, had also been born in London, circa 1560…. The Dares named their new daughter ‘Virginia’, as she was the first to be born there….and she was christened the following Sunday….

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Baptism of Virginia Dare, lithograph, 1880 – Henry Howe, public domain

Towards the end of 1587 food supplies were rapidly beginning to run out; the supply ships, not knowing Fernandez had stranded the Colonists at Roanoke, did not stop there…. The settlers persuaded White to set off and make his way back to England to organise necessary provisions for them – something he eventually agreed to – but against his will….

These were difficult times; England was at war with Spain – and Queen Elizabeth I had commandeered almost all seaworthy ships with which to fight the Spanish Armada…. This meant White did not return to Roanoke until the 18th of August 1590 – on what would have been little Virginia Dare’s third birthday….

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The return of Governor White to Roanoke – Public domain

Only there was no sign of his grand-daughter, or his daughter – or indeed any of the 80 men, 17 women and 11 children who made up the Colony of Roanoke…. The houses and fortifications were collapsed….not torn down but purposely dismantled….and there was no evidence of a battle or a struggle…. White had told the settlers before he left that if they were forced to leave they should carve a Maltese Cross as a sign…. There was no cross to be seen….just the word ‘Croatoan’ carved onto a post of the fort…. White assumed they had moved on to Croatoan Island (now called Hatteras Island)…. He never did find out what happened to them….their disappearance remains a mystery to this day….

Of course most theories conclude that they were killed by natives; although others say they were given refuge by sympathetic Chesapeake Indians…. There are those who believe they were taken captive by natives and forced into slavery; there were even reported sightings of European women and children among the native people…. We will never know what happened to little Virginia Dare….but featuring prominently in myths and legends, through American folklore she lives on….

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Illustration from Virginia Dare : A Romance of the Sixteenth Century, 19th Century novel by Mrs E.A.B. Shackelford, loosely based on the life of Virginia Dare – Public domain

On this day in history….30th September 1630

On this day in history : 30th September 1630 – John Billington, one of the original pilgrims to set sail on the Mayflower to the New World, becomes the first settler to be executed in the English Colonies….

The Mayflower at Sea – copyrighted and published by A S Burbank – Public domain

Believed to be from Lincolnshire Billington, along with his wife Eleanor and two sons, John and Francis, set sail with the Mayflower when it departed on the 16th of September 1620…. They were soon to become known as the trouble-making family onboard…. On one occasion young Francis got hold of his father’s musket and shot it close to an open barrel of gun powder – nearly blowing the whole ship sky-high….

Billington himself was foul-mouthed and bullish and had soon made plenty of enemies…. The family were not part of the Puritan group who were travelling to the New World – the Billingtons were actually making the voyage to escape creditors in England….

Pilgrims at prayer during their voyage to North America – 1844 painting by Robert Walter Weir – Public domain

In the March of 1621 Billington was convicted of contempt after insulting Captain Myles Standish…. His punishment was to be having his heels tied to his neck…. However, as it was his first convicted offence and because he begged for humble forgiveness, he was spared the sentence….

Things did not improve once the settlers had arrived and established themselves in Plymouth, Massachusetts…. The family were regularly involved in disputes and civil disobedience…. Even Eleanor got herself into bother and spent a spell in the stocks accompanied by a whipping after being accused of slander against church deacon and politician John Doane….

Then in September 1630 Billington got into a dispute over hunting rights with fellow colonist John Newcomen…. Billington shot him dead with a blunderbuss…. Once he had been tried and convicted Governor William Bradford felt he had no alternative but to order capital punishment…. Billington was hanged in Plymouth….

Mayflower II – replica of the original Mayflower at Plymouth, Massachusetts – Image credit : Gma.Joli – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0