The Dare Stones

By T. Mike Childs
NC Government & History Library, 2013.

Clicking on this button or link takes you to the audio player at the bottom of the screen.Listen to this entry

Download MP3 audio

The front of the first Dare Stone, aka the Chowan River stone. Image courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga.The Dare Stones are a series of forty-eight rocks chiseled with messages purporting to be those of the survivors of the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke, gone missing between 1587 and 1590. The rocks, discovered over a period from 1937 to 1940, tell a dramatic tale. The stones are also a definite hoax. Except… the first stone holds the tantalizing potential of being genuine, with as yet no way to prove it true or a hoax.

The first stone was found in the summer of 1937; a California tourist named Louis Hammond showed up at Emory University in Atlanta, saying he found the stone off a then newly opened stretch of Highway 17 near Edenton, North Carolina while hunting for hickory nuts. After much examination by intrigued professors, the text on the stone was deciphered as (flour was used to make the writing more visible):

 

[Side 1]:

Ananias Dare &
Virginia Went Hence
Unto Heaven 1591
Anye Englishman Shew
John White Govr Via

 

The back of the first Dare Stone, aka the Chowan River stone. Image courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga.

 

 

[Side 2]:

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
EWD

 

 

The tale on the stone is by "EWD," none other than Eleanor White Dare, daughter of the colony's governor John White, and mother of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America. It describes the colonists moving further inland shortly after governor John White departs for England. They suffer misery and war with the local tribes, and their numbers are reduced by illness even more until only 24 are left. After a ship is spotted, the Indians turn against them and attack, killing all but seven of the remaining 24, including her husband Ananias and her daughter Virginia. The seven buried their dead, carved a tombstone for them, and recorded their woe in stone, and asked Governor White to handsomely reward any "salvage" (i.e., savage) who brought him the message.

The Emory professors published an article in the May 1938 issue of the prestigious Journal of Southern History. Emory history professor Dr. Haywood J. Pearce, Jr. became a firm believer in the stone's authenticity. He persuaded his father, Dr. Haywood J. Pearce, Sr., to buy the stone from Hammond. Pearce Senior was the sole owner of private school Brenau College in Gainesville, Georgia (now Brenau University), where the stones still reside. Pearce Junior led a search for the second stone mentioned in the text, but found nothing. Knowing the second stone would authenticate the first, solve its mystery, and rewrite history, the Pearces offered a $500 reward.A photograph of professors (l to r) James G. Lester, Haywood Pearce, Jr., and Ben W. Gibson examining the first Dare Stone. Image courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga.

Enter Bill Eberhardt, a stone cutter from Fulton County, Georgia. In the summer of 1939, he claimed to have found the second stone, engraved with the names of 17 deceased English colonists. He claimed to have found it near Pelzer, South Carolina, showing the Pearces the site. In fact, he said he had found thirteen stones there, and provided them. It was only the beginning. All in all, Bill Eberhardt provided the Pearces with 42 stones, all forgeries, for which he was paid a total of about $2000. A few others were provided by Eberhardt's cohorts. These stones indicate the survivors journeyed southwest from the Edenton, N.C. area through South Carolina to Georgia. Eleanor and the six survivors found refuge with friendly Cherokees in "Hontaoase." Eleanor married an American Indian chief in 1593, gave birth to his daughter Agnes, and finally died in a cave on the Chattahoochee River near present-day Atlanta in 1599.

The Dare Stones had become news. Investigative reporter Boyden Sparkes published a damning exposé in the April 26, 1941 Saturday Evening Post magazine, claiming the whole thing was a hoax. Problems with the stones included anachronistic language, a consistency of spelling atypical of the time, and even hidden acrostics. The names of the colonists did not match any other existing records. Investigating Eberhardt, Sparkes found he had sold forged Indian relics before.

When Pearce confronted Eberhardt, Eberhardt tried blackmailing Pearce by forging another stone with the inscription "Pearce and Dare Historical Hoaxes. We Dare Anything." If Pearce didn't pay him $200 for it, he'd turn it over to the Saturday Evening Post and admit to faking the stones. To his credit, Pearce went to the newspapers and admitted being duped. The story topped the headlines of the May 15, 1941 Atlanta Journal.

Professor Pearce's career suffered. The Dare Stones were kept in storage and ignored by Brenau College as an embarrassment, popping up occasionally, such as an appearance on a 1979 episode of Leonard Nimoy's television series In Search of...

But the first stone, also known as the Chowan River stone, is completely different from the others, in the type of rock, the writing style, the usage of words, and the fact that it had nothing to do with Bill Eberhardt. If a hoax, it is a superior one requiring a level of scholarly knowledge such that no reputable scholar with the ability would risk their career in the attempt. The Chowan River stone has been tarred with the same brush of "hoax" as the others and lost in the scandal and hubbub, but it remains as much a mystery as the Lost Colony itself.

Average: 3.5 (36 votes)
Audio: 

The second Dare Stone, forged by Bill Eberhardt. Image courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga.References:

La Vere, David. “The 1937 Chowan River ‘Dare Stone’: A Re-evaluation” North Carolina Historical Review 86, no. 3 (July 2009) 251-281.

La Vere, David. The Lost Rocks: The Dare Stones and the Unsolved Mystery of Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony. Wilmington, N.C.: Dram Tree Books. 2010. http://books.google.com/books?id=6XyW01Qg7LMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed March 15, 2013).

Sparkes, Boyden, "Writ on on Rocke: Has America's First Murder Mystery Been Solved?" The Saturday Evening Post. April 26, 1941. 9-11, 118, 120-122. http://www.angelfire.com/ego/iammagi/dare_writ_on_rocke.htm (accessed March 15, 2013).

Additional Resources:

Haywood J. Pearce, Jr. "New Light on the Roanoke Colony: A Preliminary Examination of a Stone Found in Chowan County, North Carolina." The Journal of Southern History 4, no. 2 (May 1938). 148-163. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2192000

Taylor, Charles S./UPI. "Dare Stones: Hoax or Clue to Lost Colony?" Ludington Daily News. April 11, 1977. Google News. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=7M5OAAAAIBAJ&sjid=J0oDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7268%2C717290

Mineheart, Tom. "Dare Stones – real or not- may hold clue to Lost Colony" Associated Press. The Daily Item [Sumter, S.C.]. June 21, 1984. Google News. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=xZYiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=yakFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1394%2C9196203

Morrison, David. "Brenau's Pet Rocks." Brenau Window. Summer 2007. 20-23. http://artsweb.brenau.edu/BrenauWindow/Summer2007/BrenauSum07c.pdf

Powell, Lew. "Dare Stone: Does debunking need debunking?" North Carolina Miscellany (blog). North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. April 20, 2010. http://www.lib.unc.edu/blogs/ncm/index.php/2010/04/20/dare-stone-does-debunking-need-debunking/

"Dare we? New methods could untangle Brenau's rocks riddle." Brenau Window. Spring 2011. 14-15. http://artsweb.brenau.edu/BrenauWindow/Spring2011/Spring11_darestones.pdf

Dentamaro , Nick. "History Channel's 'America Unearthed' Segment Features Jim Southerland And Dare Stones." Brenau Update (blog). Brenau University. February 1, 2013. http://update.brenau.edu/2013/02/01/history-channels-america-unearthed-segment-features-jim-southerland-and-dare-stones/

Morrison, David."'Dare Stones' Authenticity Theories Rock On" Brenau Update (blog). Brenau University. February 6, 2013. http://update.brenau.edu/2013/02/06/dare-stones-authenticity-theories-rock-on/

Brenau Staff. "Mile-Stones Anniversary." Brenau Update (blog). Brenau University. July 23, 2012. http://update.brenau.edu/2012/07/23/mile-stones-anniversary/

Dare stones collection, 1937-1987. Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University Archives. http://findingaids.library.emory.edu/documents/eua0071darestones

Stephenson, Robert L. "Report of Observations Regarding 'The Dare Stones'." Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina. April 15, 1983.

Image Credits:

"Dare Stone (front)." Photograph. Courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga. http://window.brenau.edu/articles/brenaus-pet-rocks/

"Dare Stone (back). Photograph. Courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga. http://window.brenau.edu/articles/brenaus-pet-rocks/

"Brenau professor Haywood Pearce, Jr. center with Emory colleagues James G. Lester left and Ben W. Gibson." Photograph. Courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga. http://window.brenau.edu/articles/brenaus-pet-rocks/

"[Dare Stone number two]. Photograph. Courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga.

Authors: 
Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

I had heard that croanoke Indians might have taken in the colonists because they were actually friendly with said colonists what do you think?

Comment: 

They are the Chiwanoke people, associated with the Chopin River. The stone was found a mile or so up river from wher the Chowan meets Abermerle Sound, and across the sound, there is a dig going on based on the patch findings of John Whites map. Test digs ar the site of the first stone's discovery yield thousands of native and some English artifacts from the right time period. The theory now seems to be the colony split up, with half heading inland as preplanned, and some going to Croatan ( Hattaras) Island. It I my belief the first stone is genuine. It's made from stone found locally, different from the Georgia stones that are fake. The language is correct for the time period, The others not) it it correctly names colonists from records (the others do not). Plus the local native legends, the instances of blue eyes among the Chowanoke, and other anecdotal evidence. The search is currently underway for the grave stone she monotones on a small hill four miles from the stones location. The problem is the area is dense swamp now, with hurricanes changing the terrain over the years. But I believe it will be found, and will ties it all together. So, part of them went to Croatian, part went inland to the western reaches of Abermearle sound. They were most likely assimilated into the respecting host tribes of each region. I hope to return to the region next summer and talk to the local team working the Chowan River Edenton site.

Comment: 

What prompted Hammond to travel all the way across the country? Job? Vacation? Merely curious...

Comment: 

Hi Lucas,

That's a great question.  Mr. Hammond was apparently a tourist and was likely vactioning in North Carolina.

Thanks for visiting NCpedia!

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

The official literature differs from Bob's bio on Lewis E. Hammond above. Where does Bob find proof that this man he sites is the same one? Here is what literature states......" In mid-September, 1937, L.E. Hammond, a small produce dealer of Alameda, California, was touring in North Carolina. He wanted hickory nuts. On a causeway by a swamp about three miles from Edenton, North Carolina, he stopped his car. This swamp, until the causeway was built shortly before, had been as inaccessible as any jungle. About a quarter of a mile in the woods, on the east bank of the Chowan, the tourist stumbled over a rock slab. It bore an inscription. A clue to buried treasure? The thought is not uncommon in a section long the resort of pirates. The stone was heavy, but he lugged it to his car. In November, 1937, he came into Atlanta, in search of a translator. Chance brought him to Emory University. A colleague urged Professor Pearce to look at the stone."

Comment: 

Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony was a very good show! I grew up just a little up river from where the show says the 1st stone was found. It is true that you can find pottery and arrow heads with every scoop of dirt in that area. However, this could not be the place the stone was found as the area is not near hwy 17. So the location contradicts previous reports.
I think the 1st stone is real, but I have doubts it was found by Hammond in the area. I suspect he purchased it from someone that he met at the Lost Colony Play.. It is too coincidental that he comes to watch the play and on trip back, he stumbles across the stone while looking for hickory nuts...

Comment: 

White was unable to search more than 1 afternoon due to bad weather, it being late in the year, with onshore winds threatening to drive his ship aground. It appears like the colonists split up among several sites, one being near present day Buxton, another at Beech Ridge on the Alligator River, a possible site near Cape Henry in VA which Powhatan bragged about destroying to Captain John Smith of Jamestown, and the present day site at the mouth of the Chowan River. The peculiar "disappearance" is partly due to the 100 year vacuum in North Carolina settlement, which was primarily settled from Virginia by landless and illiterate folk from Tidewater Virginia. Whatever slim documentation they may have left concearning the lost colonists was probably lost in turmoil with native Americans.NCpedia

Comment: 

Aye, but John Smith seems a bit of a liar with his tales. I would take everything he has written down with a grain of salt.

Comment: 

Thanks for that info Bob,

You mentioned:

"a possible site near Cape Henry in VA which Powhatan bragged about destroying to Captain John Smith of Jamestown"

Can you give some sources for that, I'm very curious about it. I had heard that Powhatan attacked "a tribe" living near Cape Henry, in the present day location of First Landing state park (formerly known as Seashore st. park), but nothing more.

Comment: 

If, infact, the original first stone carving is held by Brunell University all these years, why haven't they gotten a carving tool of the 16th century that A. Dare might have had in the colony and that Eleanor would have had acess to. If the tool was used to carve a letter in a similar stone, it may verify, to an extent, the validity of the first stones carvings.

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, please note thats some email servers are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. These often include student email addresses from public school email accounts. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at http://ncpedia.org/comments.