Father, soon after you went to England, we came here / Only misery & a war torn year / About half are dead for two years or more from sickness,
Eleanore Dare, 1591, Roanoake Colony
Gold leaves of the sassafras
shudder along with the shoulders
of a woman recording her name
and plight in stone. Her hair coming loose
as if to patch the tear in her blouse
ripped on burrs while heading toward the river.
The wind breathes cool, smelling of that sweet plant
as her hands crudely carve
a cross and clues into large quartzite. There’s barely
enough time to finish. And like those other things:
unhung herbs, damp kindling –grief
for a lost husband and daughter,
they must be left. Something shimmers in the distance.
She turns around reaching for a shawl. Her shadow
widens across the rock
like floodwater leaving
its hopelessness in the letters. Its darkness
is felt by passing birds. Their bleak cry
fallen through clouds
shattering the gray lull; and with them
draped in tufted wool, she takes flight — vanishing
into the south.
In 1587, one of the first, experimental colonies in the New World inhabited the wild island of Roanoke off the coast of North Carolina. They came with hopes of establishing a productive settlement on The American Coast with a certain amount of autonomy and goals of achieving both personal and mercantile success. However, they were confronted with not only harsh climate factors but disease, hostile Native Americans, and rapidly dwindling supplies. Out of desperation, the governor of the colony, John White, decided to sail back to England and petition his sponsors for more supplies and money. In his absence, the colony began to suffer a number of misfortunes. On the brink of starvation and impending Indian attacks, something had to be done. And that became the mystery. When Governor White returned to Roanoke after two years, he found the settlement completely dismantled with no trace of anyone or any building foundations. He set out to find his people and came across a series of carved stones along the woodland trail. And these were supposedly carved as clues by his own daughter , Eleanor White Dare, who had been married to another colonist and had given birth to a girl, the first white child to be born of English descent in America. ( According to some accounts, her husband was slain by Indians and her child lost or possibly slain as well). The first stone had the longest message and yet briefly described what occurred and why they left.. The rest of the stones (47 in all with various short clues as to the direction of their whereabouts) were deemed fraudulent by scientists and historians. Yet, the mystery of why and how Eleanor Dare carved these stones lingers. And even greater, the disappearance of an entire colony.