I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I view it as propaganda to cover up the genocide of the Native Americans and the theft of their land. But as this Thanksgiving falls on Folklore Thursday, I figured you’d all like some Halloween mixed with the turkey. A vanishing English colony, a mysterious message on a tree, Shamans and shape shifting, and a tragic curse. And the Ghost of the first English woman ever born on the continent.
A ghostly English and American fairytale worthy of the Brothers Grimm.
The Lost Colony and it’s history
The Mystery of the Missing Colony at Roanoke is known far and wide. As are the legends of Virginia Dare. Roanoke was the first true English settlement in Turtle Island (America). It was Founded by Sir Walter Raleigh a notoriously brutal colonizer and war criminal. While he committed genocide in Ireland at the behest of Elizabeth, here he used different tactics.
He decided to “befriend” the indigenous peoples so that he could slowly infiltrate their societies. And learn all that he could about them. Including potential enemies, resources to steal, strengths and weaknesses, and who would be allies of England. This was especially important for when they would stop being friendly and begin forcing submission. Now, Raleigh already has a strange history including a missing head after he died.
But that’s a story for another time. For now we will focus on the strange connection he has to this story. The settlement was on an Island off the coast of North Carolina. It wasn’t supposed to be there at all. It was supposed to be in Chesapeake Bay.
But the Pirate captain they hired to take them, a Portuguese Mercenary*, was in a rush to raid Spanish ships. So he left them stranded on Roanoke Island. Raleigh had previously befriended two indigenous leaders : Manteo and Wanchese. In fact, he took them all the way to England and they met the Queen. And Raleigh managed to get Manteo a Lord Title.
Becoming the only Native who ever received an English title. The Colony was given to the command of Governor John White. There were 115 Colonists under him. Among them was his daughter Eleanor, and her husband, Ananias Dare.
Virginia was the very first child of English blood born on Turtle Island. But little did they know the dangers they were in. Many of the local tribes despised them. You see years before, another mercenary captain had ordered the whole sale slaughter of many indigenous tribes. Their crime? That one of their chiefs had held the captain’s silver cup in his hand for a moment.
The Captain believed he was trying to steal the cup. So he decided he make an example of them. Just to prove a point. This left the local tribes permanently traumatized. And when Europeans had once again appeared in the form of the Roanoke colony, they decided to show the invaders they weren’t welcome.
As things began to get dangerous, John White knew they needed help. So he left, presumably just for a few months. Returning to England for aid. He told the colonists that if they had to leave for any reason, to carve the name of their new location on a nearby tree. And if they were forced under pressure to leave, to carve a cross underneath the name.
When John White left for England, he had no idea that he would never see the people of Roanoke again. In 1588, the country was bracing for an Invasion from the Spanish armadas. Three years had passed before he and his new crew with their supplies made it back to Roanoke. And when they got there, they were greeted with an eerie silence. The whole colony, all 115 of them had long gone.
And near the ruins of the settlement was the word “Croatoan” carved in a nearby tree. The disappearance of Virginia Dare and the Colony as well as the mysterious word has been the subject of fiction. From the Buffyverse where Virginia Dare was a past slayer, to “The Immortal Nicholas Flamel” series where she’s a villain. To her being a demon responsible for the disappearance of the colony in the FreakyLinks tv show. To the Croatoan virus from Supernatural which is a demonic virus that turns people into savage zombie like monsters.
Comic books. And recently on the CW series Legacies, a Demonic Monster that hunts and devours those who keep secrets. Of course all of that is nothing compared to the racist, anti indigenous fiction created later. One of the most famous Apocryphal stories spread is how the colonists died. That Virginia’s mother Eleanor bravely carved the word into a tree as a clue.
While she had her dead husband at her feet and her baby in her arms while savage natives attacked. Except that not one of the Roanoke colonists were killed. Remember, there wasn’t a cross carved under the word. Which means they weren’t forced to leave. There was no conflict.
And despite the English repeating stories of how the whole village was butchered, not one body was found. The village was abandoned with nothing left behind even for raiders. Which means the colonists took the supplies with them. Most of the English assumed local tribes had killed them all. But John White rightly assumed that the word was a misspelling of the word Croatan.
The name of Manteo’s tribe. But even with the possibility that they survived, he choose not to look for them. He and his crew went off to raid ships. And this is where Colonial history falls silent. Many people have said he wanted to find his family but a storm was coming.
Other sources say he also wanted to engage in raiding Spanish ships. Some believe he was more motivated by greed at this point. And since three years had passed since the colony was abandoned, he probably did believe they were dead. Although others claim it was the captain and not John White, who wanted to raid the ships. It depends on who you talk to.
Personally, I’m inclined to believe that there was a storm, he was pressured to leave by the soldiers, and he also thought they were dead. A man isn’t just going to give up on his daughter and granddaughter no matter what. Especially someone who brought an army and supplies even after three years. When anyone else would have assumed they were dead. I can only imagine the anguish he just have felt.
Native History, Legend, and Lore
But Native history picks up where colonial history left off. According to the Croatan, Manteo discovered that some of the tribes were planning a raid on the settlement. So he not only warned them, but led them through a tunnel on Roanoke island where canoes were secretly waiting for them on the other side. He brought enough not just for the colonists, but all of their supplies and personal possessions as well. He led them to his tribe the Croatan Nation.
And once there, the Tribe adopted them.
~ White Doe ~
Now we explore Virginia Dare’s childhood. Only she stopped being Virginia Dare. Her Mother was renamed “White Doe”. And Virginia became “Little Fawn”. Little Fawn was beloved by the whole tribe.
And was seen as the embodiment the principles of the First Nation. Not as a colonist or settler. But as a native woman. We do know that the new generation of Croatan not only knew native traditions but European traditions as well. Which means there was an equal exchange of cultures between the groups.
Upon becoming a woman, she inherited the name White Doe from her mother. She also earned the title of “Beloved Woman” and “Prophet”. She was trained as a Shaman. She grew up with Wanchese’s son who was named after his father. The younger Wanchese loved her, but had never confessed his feelings for her.
Later in Jamestown, some of the other settlers in 1608, reported that they saw survivors from Roanoke.
“Seven English alive…who escaped the slaughter at Roanoke. Fower men, two boys, and one young mayde,”
Except nobody died. The massacre was stopped by Manteo. Many suspect the young woman was White Doe/Virginia Dare herself. There were also tales of gray eyed natives or people with mixed features in those days. But going back to Croatan accounts, White Doe’s magic became so powerful, that she attracted the attention of a male shaman named Chico.
Chico was greedy for her power. He believed that if he could marry her, he could gain her powers for himself. Maybe even sire a child with greater powers still. But White Doe politely said no. This angered Chico greatly.
And he began to plot against her. For if he couldn’t have her power, nobody would. He led White Doe to her birth island at Roanoke. What pretext he used to lead her there isn’t clear. What is said is that he cast a powerful spell on the island.
And that she became a real white doe the moment she stepped foot on the cursed land. Trapped in this form, Chico abandoned her to her fate. When she disappeared, the whole village began to speculate that Chico was behind it somehow. But nothing could be proven.
The Magical Doe of Roanoke Island
Stories from the native hunters along the coast started to spread. They told of a lone white doe on Roanoke island. It was said that when tribal hunters shot arrows at the Doe, it went right through her. Taking no effect. And the animal was supernaturally fast as well.
Wanchese was sure it was his White Doe. It seems her magic remained even after she was cursed to animal form. He figured what Chico had done. So he decided to save his love. And he had the tool to do it.
Wanchese inherited a silver tipped arrow from his father. The arrow was a present that Wanchese Sr. was given by the Queen of England. It was reputed in the tribe to have special powers to break any enchantment. This makes sense because silver is the metal of the fae. And it’s said to have powers over evil spirits and magic.
His plan was to give White Doe a harmless flesh wound. That way the curse would be broken with her life spared. I think you can already tell this tale is going to end badly. The younger Wanchese chased her across the lands and finally cornered her in Kill Devil Hills. And there he fired his arrow.
Only to realize he had pierced her heart. She slowly turned back into a human woman.
She locked eyes with him, breathed her last breath, and died. Then her spirit appeared out of her body in the form of a ghostly white doe which fled into the forrest. Now I have told you this version of the story first. And the reason is because out of all the stories I researched, this one seems to be the most accurate account. It came from one of my paranormal books which I will cite later.
And it is recited orally for generations by the tribe. But for some reason, everyone either scoffs at the story as a silly fairy tale. Or they pervert the Croatan accounts for their own gain. As you’ll see soon by this next part.
Big Business, Bullshit, and Bigotry
As I have mentioned above, there are dozens of distortions to this story. The colonists and their later descendants were for the most part, unruly people. They had a sense of racial superiority about them. And in modern and former times, Virginia Dare was taken as a symbol of white womanhood and racism. She was used by racist white men in the South as a banner to rally white women and men to stop black women from voting.
And she’s also been used in more recent times by racial separatist and Neo Nazi organizations. Invoked for different white supremacist agendas. Currently to protest immigration by non whites and “pc culture”. Her story has been perverted for other people’s agendas for hundreds of years. And one of those agendas was to sell wine.
During prohibition, a new take on Virginia Dare arose. One where the native leader Wanchese was scared of English people. In this myth, he turned against the Roanoke colonists and plotted to kill them all. In this version Manteo is still the one who saves them. But instead of Wanchese’s son, it’s a warrior named “Okisko” who is White Doe’s love.
And rather than a silver tipped arrow, he uses an oyster tipped arrow with a mother-of-pearl lining. The silver arrow remains with Wanchese. But story says that Wanchese was also hunting her. They make him into the stereotypical “evil Indian”. The reason Wanchese has been vilified by colonial sources, is because he broke relations with the English.
He saw the English as dangerous. And that they had ulterior motives for their “friendship,”. Wanchese was a noble warrior and leader of his people. And while he was never a Chief, his words held a lot of weight with them. He tried to warn Manteo about the dangers of being too close to the British Empire.
But sadly he didn’t listen. Wanchese broke his ties with the British. Which made Manteo their one ally. History was rewritten Wanchese as a villain. So back to the revised story, here she was supposedly stalked by both her true love and Wanchese.
Wanchese is portrayed here as a macho man who wanted to kill the white doe to prove he was a skilled hunter.
And Okisko wanted to save his love. They both found her drinking water at a pond and fired. Both hitting her in the heart at the same time. When she becomes human, Wanchese realizes what he did and flees. So here they paint the great leader as a shameless coward as well as a killer.
Okisko buries her.
He took her to the center of the Roanoke ruins and buried her there. And from her fallen body, came the scuppernong. The first of the grapes grown in North Carolina was born. Grapes as red as blood. And this was how they sold the wine in North Carolina.
Sallie Southall Cotten wrote this poem for a wine brand to sell the grapes. This version of the story was made famous from the Poem, “The White Doe or the Legend of Virginia Dare,” it was a campaign to sell wine. And other versions of the story were further distorted. A famous NY Times article actually claimed that a hunter from Virginia shot the white doe with a silver bullet. Causing her death.
But it was all a massive media campaign to sell wine. And there are still people who view it as true to this day.
The Ghost Deer of Roanoke Island
The ghostly white doe is still spotted to this day. Ever since her death at Kill Devil Hills, she’s been seen. Hunters who go to Roanoke island have seen a pure white female deer. Supernaturally fast, because they all say the same thing. They can only ever get a glimpse of the deer.
As soon as they see it, it’s gone. As in the blink of an eye. Many skeptics have tried debunking claims that this is her spirit roaming the island. Claiming it’s just a rare breed of albino deer. But that has never been proven.
Where are all the albino deers? It’s only ever one deer, a female deer who is spotted. And it’s been spotted since colonial times. Albinos would have to appear once in every generation. Maybe it’s an immortal deer. She only comes out at night.
Even today there are people reporting the mystical white doe. The sightings are regarded as an “urban legend,”. But if that’s the case, then this is the longest running Urban Legend in US History. Or perhaps there is more fact than fiction here. A mystical blend of historical mystery and the Supernatural.
And it only gets weirder. In Manteo, North Carolina they have a play showing the founding and vanishing of the Roanoke Colony. The play has been going on since the 1930’s. In every single play, the actors reported encounters with people dressed in period clothing roaming around backstage. Except these people are not from the cast.
And many have claimed to have seen ghostly apparitions of a young blond maiden they think is Virginia herself. Are these the ghosts of the colonists? Could it be that what happened to Virginia has caused them to remain in limbo? Stuck between realms. Much like White Doe herself, Little Fawn, the Beloved Woman, who even today remains untamed, illusive, and perhaps….unknowable.
*Some accounts claim it was a Spanish captain named Simon Fernando. But given the fact that there were serious tensions occuring between Spain and England I find that doubtful. And his name is often used in accounts that to me are less than trustworthy. The Southern author of the book who listened to the Croatan, says it was a Portuguese mercenary who captained the ship. And he had abandoned them on Roanoke to raid Spanish ships.
This account is more in line with the history. And as stated before, they weren’t supposed to be on Roanoke. A fact that is almost left out of every account. I didn’t even know that. The only thing they do agree on is that the name of the ship was Lion.
But even then, popular sources translate it as Lyon which is French for Lion. If it had been Spanish as they claim, it would have been Leon. The Portuguese name would have been Leão and to non speakers of the language it may have sounded like Lyon. What I discovered is that the author was right : the name of the Captain was Simão Fernandes. Usually translated as Simon Fernandes and eventually in apocryphal accounts as Simon Fernando.
Many historians from the West especially England, try to translate the names of other cultures in English. Juan becomes John and so forth. English museums do this all the time. So mistranslations are bound to occur. So the Pirate captain’s nationality was changed from Portuguese to Spanish.
Probably because the people doing the translating in future generations may not have been able to tell that his name was Portuguese. There are some minor similarities in both languages and the translators may have translated his name so many times that it no longer looked like his name.
1) “Dixie Spirits : Tales of the Strange and the Supernatural in the South,” by Christoper K. Coleman, Chapter 21 (pg 167-172)
⬆️ This book had some of the most accurate information. There were a few things that were wrong but mostly correct. Also, the colonial ghosts at the play since the 1930’s comes from this book as well. This author has thoroughly researched the South. And while I don’t always agree with his opinions, he does have good information.
And he has tried to verify as much as possible. Also the report from Jamestown comes from this book.
2) Virginia Dare, The White Doe
3) On the Wine Campaign that started the Revised History
4) The Sad Fate of White Doe New York Times (April 22, 1888) (this one mentions the revised stories including that a farmer supposedly killed her with a silver bullet)
5) Donald W. Patterson, “Time Hasn’t Diminished the Image of Virginia Dare“, News and Record (Piedmont Triad, N.C.) April 23, 2000
6) Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia by Kathleen R. Arnold
8) “The Lost Colony may now be found” by Erin James, The Virginian Pilot Nov 1st 2010 (this includes genetic analysis proving that the colonists did intermarry with the Croatan people)
9) “The Lost Colony May Now Be Found,”
10) “America’s First Mystery: What Happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke?”
11) 6 Famous Unsolved Mysteries (With Really Obvious Solutions)
12) Wingina, Wanchese and Manteo: A Lumbee Perspective on the Lost Colony