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“If you have to leave this island, carve a message on a tree to tell me where you are when I return. If you are in trouble, carve a cross over the message.”
There Was No Trouble
Photo by Tadd Sipes / Unsplash

The Lost Colony

My real name is Virginia Dare. In the remote chance you’ve heard about me, you don’t know about me. My life has been shrouded in mystery and even now no one calls me by my real name. As far as anyone knows, I mysteriously disappeared years ago with everyone from the colony.

I remember my fourth birthday on July 21, 1591 … it seems to be the day things changed forever. Everyone on Roanoke Island was gathered to celebrate my birthday with my mother and father. There were only a few other children younger than me—I was the first one born in the new settlement. Some older children were there who, if my memory serves me correctly, came from England to settle in the new colony with their parents. My mother and father worked hard along with their friends to rebuild an old settlement that had been abandoned years before.

I overheard my dad’s friend, John White, talking to the men. It was decided he should travel back to England to bring supplies back before winter set in. They said our stores were critically low because they spent more time rebuilding the settlement than planting new crops. I remember his instructions to the men like it was yesterday.

“If you have to leave this island, carve a message on a tree to tell me where you are when I return. If you are in trouble, carve a cross over the message.”

I really didn’t understand everything then, but it all makes sense to me now. I didn’t realize how my life was about to change.

Mr. White wasn’t gone but just a few days when some Indians from a nearby island called Croatoan showed up. I remember feeling afraid. Mother held me close and told me not to fear—she heard they were friendly and came to help.

There was a meeting among the men and a few of the Indian leaders. My mother later told me that the Indians offered to help until Mr. White returned with the supplies.

It was such a long time. Every day the men would use their looking glass as they searched the waters for any sign of Mr. White’s return. Every day they returned with the news that there was no sign of him. Every day we prayed that God would send him back safely. I could sense fear in my father’s heart. He was afraid we’d been abandoned and forgotten by Mr. White and by England.

More than two years passed without anyone coming with supplies. We thanked God daily for the Indians from Croatoan who shared their bounties with us. The air was crisp with winter’s soon approaching; we had no choice but to leave Roanoke and join the Indians on Croatoan.

I watched my father carve the word “Croatoan” on the tree just as Mr. White instructed. He put no cross over the carving—there was no trouble.

Within two days our belongings were packed; we began our journey. The weather turned bad and the snow began to blow, making each step harder as we pressed on toward the Indians’ offer of refuge.

We gathered at the shore where some Indians waited to help take us to Croatoan. Four large rafts made of wood bound together with ropes were waiting to carry all of us together. I remember holding my mother’s hand so tightly that she decided it would be easier to pick me up and carry me, offering me the comfort of a mother’s love.

The Indians were so wonderful! They put our belongings on one raft and helped us onto the remaining rafts as the cold wind blew. The waves were beginning to pound at the shoreline but we couldn’t go back—there was nothing to go back to.

I regret to report that only one raft made it to Croatoan that day. Of those on that raft, only three survived—two of the Indians and me. My family and the others died from exposure and the cold. The Indians became the family I lost.

Three years after Mr. White first left Roanoke he returned to find no one to greet him. Carved on the tree was a message—“Croatoan”. He came looking for the colony he left behind and found only me. Rather than demanding I return with him, he reported to England that no survivors were ever found.

That is why even to this day Roanoke is known as “The Lost Colony”.