North Carolina Ghosts

Colonial ghosts

North Carolina's greatest unsolved mystery is the ultimate fate of Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the New World. She was the granddaughter of Governor John White, who sailed back to England to restock on supplies in 1587, leaving behind 89 men, 17 women and 11 children in a makeshift fort. His return to Roanoke Island was delayed, and three years later the only trace he could find of the settlement was the word "Croatoan" carved in a tree. This drama unfolds nightly in Manteo during the summer season, in a lavish outdoor production called "The Lost Colony."

The settlers could have starved to death or met a hideous fate at the hands of hostile natives, except that would have left skeletal remains behind. They could have fled the vicinity—Croatoan is the name of another island, known today as Hatteras—or were swept out to sea by a hurricane.

According to song and legend, Virginia Dare lived among the friendly native tribe of Croatoan and grew into a beautiful young woman who attracted the admiration of a few too many braves, including Okisko, the quintessential noble savage, and a jealous sorcerer named Chico. When she spurned the sorcerer's advances he turned her into a white doe, and according to one version of the myth she continues to this day to frolic in the woodlands of the upper Carolina coast.

But according to Sallie Southall Cotten's lengthy 1901 poem entitled, "The White Doe, or the Fate of Virginia Dare," that was far from the end of the matter. Wanchese was back from his visit to England and he had a silver arrowhead given to him by Queen Elizabeth. He resolved to use it to bring down this rare trophy, this white doe, while Okisko planned to restore her to her human form. Both men tracked her through the woods, unbeknownst to each other, and found her drinking from a deep pool. Okisko's arrow reversed the effects of the enchantment, but alas, in the same instant, Wanchese's arrow killed her.

On that spot next to the woodland pool a vine sprang up, bearing grapes sweeter than any other, and red as blood.

Rose Payne

Rose Payne was among the Lost Colonists. Very little is actually known about her, but that has never stopped the storytellers. They say she came from an English family of serf farmers and was involved with the son of the lord of the manor. In short order she was signed on to join the 1587 expedition before this romance went any further.

The colonists aimed to join another group encamped 50 miles north of Roanoke Island on the Chesapeake Bay, but the ship's captain was an unsavory character who unloaded his passengers at the earliest opportunity and refused to take them to their destination. This was in August, too late in the year to plant crops, and one of the very few options available to them was to find that group.

Sailing alongside the ship during the ocean voyage was a small two-masted vessel called a pinnace, capable of holding about 35 passengers, maybe about a third of the colonists. With Rose's sailing skills it might be possible to approach the Chesapeake by water, crossing the Albemarle Sound and entering the mouth of the Chowan River. It is widely believed that some portion of the colonists decided to give this a shot.

That belief is based upon the discovery of the pinnace in the Great Dismal Swamp three centuries later. The wreck is some ten miles from any navigable waterway, presenting only two possibilities as to how it got there. It either went airborne during hurricane-strength winds and waves, or the region's topography has shifted somewhat during the intervening years.

If Rose and her cohorts still wander the swamp, we wouldn't know it. It's very dismal and nobody goes there.

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