The Dare Stones

By T. Mike Childs (2013) and Kelly Agan (2019), Government & Heritage Library

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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. For the most part, the stones have been determined to be a hoax, with the exception of the first stone discoverd. This stone, known as the Chowan River Stone, has the potential to have been inscribed during the era of the colonists. 

The first stone was found in the summer of 1937; and then in November of that year a California tourist named Louis Hammond showed up at Emory University in Atlanta, saying he found the 21-pound 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 and using flour to make the markings more visible, the text on the stone was deciphered as:

Text of side 1: 

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

Text of 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

TThe back of the first Dare Stone, aka the Chowan River stone. Image courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga.he inscriber signed the inscription on side 2 of the stone with "EWD".  These initials have been assumed to be those of Eleanor White Dare, daughter of the colony's governor John White, and mother of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America. The inscription 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 remaining alive 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.

Examination of the Chowan River Stone at Emory and additional stones surface:

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 Chowan River Stone's authenticity. He persuaded his father, Dr. Haywood J. Pearce, Sr., to buy the stone from Hammond. Pearce Senior was the sole owner and operator 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.

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 and showed the Pearces the site. In fact, he said he had found thirteen stones there and provided them to the Pearces. That was only the beginning. All in all, Bill Eberhardt provided the Pearces with 42 stones, all later demed forgeries, for which he was paid a total of about $2,000. A few other stones were provided by Eberhardt's cohorts. These stones indicate the survivors journeyed southwest from the Edenton, N.C. area through South Carolina to Georgia. They go on to say that Eleanor and the six survivors found refuge with friendly Cherokees in "Hontaoase" and that Eleanor married an American Indian chief in 1593, gave birth to his daughter Agnes, and finally died in 1599 in a cave on the Chattahoochee River near present-day Atlanta.

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.

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.

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...

Much attention to Roanoke Island in 1937: the 350th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, Paul Green's "The Lost Colony", construction of the Fort Raleigh historic site, and a visit from FDR:

Coincidentaly, Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony were in the public eye in 1937.  August 18, 1937 marked the 350th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare. In fact, the Fort Raleigh historic site, the state, and town of Manteo were preparing for a vist from then President Franklin Roosevelt on August 18 to mark the anniversary. On the same day, the U.S. Postal Service also released a 5-cent Virginia Dare commemorative stamp. The Fort Raleigh site had received attention during the preceding years as infrastructure developments had brought roads and bridges, at last connecting the island to the mainland of North Carolina. New Deal projects via the Works Progress Administration and the Emergency Relief Administration had helped to build reconstructions of the colonial settlement at the site. And the same year in January, North Carolina playwright Paul Green had been commissioned to dramatize the story of the colonists disappearance, penning "The Lost Colony."  Green's play opened on July 4, and Roosevelt made his historic visit a little more than a month later. And in November that year, the Chowan River Stone appeared.

21st Century efforts to authenticate the Chowan River Stone:

The first stone discovered, also known as the Chowan River Stone, is significantly 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 and scientific examination that very few reputable scholars and researchers have been willing to risk their careers in an attempt to authenticate.

In 2016, the president of Brenau University, a geologist by training, had samplings of the stone tested by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. A slice of the stone revealed a distinct difference between the bright interior of the rock and the darkened crevices of the engravings, suggesting to some experts that the stone may be authentic.This is based on the scientific understanding that it takes a very long time for weathering to take place and a very old inscription would have weathered significantly, as in the case of the Chowan River Stone, to a dark color along with the exterior surface. Other history and linguistic experts have disagreed, citing questions about word use and the use of the initials "EWD" (not considered a standard convention for signing one's name in the 16th century). The stone's mineral composition has also been used to target the location where it might have originated. Investigators have hypothesized that the stone came from an area in southern Virginia.  Further archaeological investigation is needed to determine if the remains of settlement exist in either the area where the stone may have originated or was found. Despite these recent efforts to study and reevaluate the Chowan River Stone, it has been tarred with the same brush of "hoax" as the others and continues to remain as much a mystery as the Lost Colony itself.

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. https://www.jstor.org/stable/i23516308 (may require account access)

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. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2192000?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

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

Brenau Window. Summer 2007. 20-23. 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. https://window.brenau.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2011-spring.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. https://window.brenau.edu/articles/dare-stones

"Dare Stone (back). Photograph. Courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga. https://window.brenau.edu/articles/dare-stones

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

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

Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

Bob, How did you come up with the brief bio? You would have to have something concrete to start with, and I'm not seeing that. The History Channel show pointed to a couple different Lewis Hammonds they found but they did not know if those were matches and they seemed doubt he was the one who was in Folsom Prison. All they had to go on was his own signature "Lewis E. Hammond" and that he said he was visiting from California. Where do you come up with the idea he was born in Michigan? I checked and there was one Lewis Hammond born in Michigan living in CA in 1920 and 1930. There was another Lewis Hammond born in California living in CA also. The show said they believed he was born around 1900.

There were several Lewis Hammonds on WWI draft cards.

I don't think there was a motivation for the real Lewis Hammond to forge the stone,
since he didn't get anything from it. If he was a con artist how would he come up with such an obscure idea and have such intricate knowledge of Early Modern English? Why go to the trouble of going to the remote location just to say he found a stone?

Pam

Comment: 

Great work on tracking down L E Hammond. I had started to do a search myself after the History channel special on Roanoke: the Lost Colony last week. I thought the search for Hammond could have been done better and then I saw your post . I hope you let the producers of the show know about your findings

Comment: 

Hi all. Interesting comments. Bob, how did you track down that info about Lewis Hammond? Seems the show didn't do such a great job, but you did. Just wondering.

Comment: 

I don't see anything pointing to the bio Bob gives as being accurate. What is that based on? I did some checking and there were a few Lewis Hammonds at the time. A couple different ones lived in CA. The show pointed to a draft card of one living in Kansas at the time. However there were several more Lewis Hammonds on WWI draft cards.

In the show they mentioned that there was one who had been in Folsom prison, but that doesn't say it was the same one. Nothing indicates Lewis Hammond was born in Michigan either.

The Stone #1 was not discredited based on the language style, content, or workmanship. Why would Lewis Hammond turn the stone in and get nothing for it then disappear? I think at the time a writer wanted to lump all the stones together saying if the later ones were fake, all were fake. However, the first one came out of the blue for no reason. The others were copy cats.

Pam

Comment: 

Agree that the America Unearthed show was very disappointing and irritating but I thought the special Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony was very good. I thought having stone masons examine the stones was a great idea. I am puzzled by the fact that if a second fort was planned 50 miles ~ from the original site, why didn't John White go inland to search for the missing colonists?

Comment: 

I thought the 10/26/15 History Channel special was interesting and revealed more than the America Unearthed episode did. Mr. Wolter suggests that the 2nd - 48th stones are authentic, were as the stonemason Vieira brothers debunked this, by finding the drill impressions. I am curious as to what Mr. Wolters comments are about the new information. I also curious as to when this web site will update its information on the YE salvages.

Comment: 

I agree with Nc Cpl that the show "America Unearthed" is so contrived and the host always tries to make "his" evidence stick above real forensic investigators. Last one I watched was about a stone fence in rural Alameda county that he stated was thousands of years old. This is the one that broke this camel's back. These stone fences are all over Northern California and they were built by the Chinese in the 1850's! The shows never come to prove anything, but Wolter tries to make off that he solved something! Dumb show using the carrot and the donkey trick!

Comment: 

Actually, Bonnie, the early Spanish settlers in the area reported seeing those stone walls so they were NOT built by the Chinese in the 1850s.

Comment: 

I am constantly amazed at the smugness of the orthodox academic community and their ability to make a few short terse statements on a topic in order to negate any positive effect which challenges any predetermined decisions made. It shows a constructive lack of investigative skills with the exception of that which emerges from a journalistic format designed to suppress evidence. North Carolina continues until this day to do such in order to protect the industry which NC alone benefits through either research or pageantry which it hosts. More damage has been done to further these goals.

Comment: 

It irks me no end to observe a supposed forensic observer seeing only that which agrees with his thesis. In any scientific endeavour the investigator is generally required to create his theory by closely examining the evidence and forming his ideas based on the clues to the truth. The lead investigator for this show spends almost all of his time doing exactly the opposite. A shame, because I agree with his proposal that there are sites in the US that show that men have carved a living out of the land for centuries, maybe a few millenia, before conventional scholars currently portray.

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