Sunday, August 22, 2010

Virginia Dare or The Birth of a Nation, Baylus Brooks

Born 18th August 1587

A tiny mewling baby all red and splotchy

And already fiercely independent.

What joy filled their hearts as her cries

Drifted on the scented air.

So many hopes and fears swaddled tight,

One small bundle with the future of a nation

Grasped briefly in her chubby pink fingers.

What became of Virginia Dare

And the others of the "Lost Colony"?

How long did they search

With no trace ever found.

Only the grey eyed Indians

Perhaps held the key.

How long did she live?

Such an heroic name for little Virginia Dare

One name remembered amongst a multitude

Of others long forgotten.

Today, we set fair for Roanoke… to the beginnings of the story that holds a nation spellbound in wonder. For us, the “great mystery” only requires evidence to prove that it was no mystery. And our efforts over the many years (months for myself) have gained great riches! But, Anne and Dawn (and eventually me) came to Manteo today to promote our endeavors, yes, but mostly to honor the birthday of Virginia Dare, daughter of Ananias and Eleanor Dare, first English child to be born in what is now the United States. It occurred on Roanoke Island right here in North Carolina.

The festivities at the Lost Colony Theater grounds were to begin at 11:00 a.m. Where was I? Touring the island of Roanoke. For me, it was my first visit. Arriving at 8:30 a.m. I had plenty of opportunity to visit the Roanoke Festival Park first and tour the Elizabethan-era remake of a type of English ship that brought our colonists from England to these shores. The facilities that made this ship are located on the island as well.

I stayed long enough to watch a harquebus being fired from the deck of the ship. This was a deck-mounted affair (as opposed to shoulder-mounted) that was quickly reloadable through the use of a removable powder canister that could be refilled and reloaded in short order. The smoke and roar was not bad compared to its bigger brothers and sisters usually kept below on the gun deck.

I also had a chance to stop in at the Outer Banks History Center, a part of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. There are several good Hatteras collections that will require our close attention. Sarah, a curator at the center, gave me some excellent research tips on Hatteras history and previous work.

I also stopped by the Settlement Re-enactment to speak with the blacksmith, who worked in an old wattle and daub type structure very similar to what the colonists would have used. While I was there, I drilled him on what modifications he thought that the colonists might have made to their structures after having moved off the island, possibly incorporating Algonquian building techniques as did the Jamestown colonists after realization that the wetter weather made that necessary. They covered their homes in tree bark to make them more weatherproof.

I also spied a nice set of armor to go with my new red leggings. Nice!

From the Festival Park, I arrived just after 11 to find Anne and Dawn hard at work. They were already set up with various potsherds of both Indian and English manufacture, all found mixed at the same level on Hatteras Island, near Buxton. There were also deer bone that Anne will tell you proves that there was plenty of food to support the mere 100+ colonists of 1587.

Our intrepid archaeologists also found a half-naked Algonquian man to “talk” to. Yeah, right! I did notice that there were no half-naked Algonquian females around. Hmmmph! Good girl, Dawn, keeping your hands carefully crossed in front of you like that.

Well, I’m not a half-naked Indian, but somehow I managed to get between the gals. This was a great opportunity for me because I have never met these two great researchers. We have spent the summer communicating by email and I have hundreds of emails to prove it. A lot of progress has been made too. I’m looking forward to the digs in November and April to find what we have spent the past few months theorizing and maybe learn from my partners a little about archaeological work and methods.

After packing up for the day, Anne and Dawn decided to give me a tour backstage of the Lost Colony Theater. Here’s what it looks like when no one is around. But, there are more goodies in the back…

They decided to make a brief stop to vandalize a local tree before moving on, however.

The crew was preparing for that night’s performance as we arrived and we toured the grounds. Luckily, they knew these guys and we didn’t get thrown out!

We even got into the costume department and even the makeup. Of course, we didn’t get to be in the play but you can’t have everything. I even have a really good 16th-century English accent… at least the guys at the Settlement said so. They were well-practiced with theirs.

 here be ye props… I’ve been looking for a chair just like that for my living room, too.

Well, it’s been a great trip but, I had to be off to get ready for school. My wife and I both start this week. So, these two will watch tonight’s play and then sit around in their hotel room and, as Bobbi wistfully recalled, speculate on what happened with those abandoned colonists that we now know so well:

I remember my first time at that cast party sitting looking over the water and watching a shooting star. What must they have thought when they saw them too? Did they think they were omens that they were going to be rescued, or relieved, or maybe just visited by people from England with news of their families? Did they see John White's boats in the 1590 trip sail by Croatoan Island and was that smoke a desperate signal? Did they follow the ships to Roanoke as quickly as they could, only to discover they were too late? Did they know how close they were to rescue or replenishment?

Goodnight, Virginia Dare! We’ll get together again next year. Maybe by then, we’ll have some news of your grandfather, John White. Maybe we’ll even know you a little better as well. Whatever we find, I’m sure we’ll have fun doing it! As for ye rest, Fare thee well, ye lubbers!

Baylus Brooks

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