The Dare Stones are one of those ‘artifacts’ that I find the belief in them hard to understand. There is so much that I find to be obviously wrong with them, that I have a hard time figuring out why anyone would believe them to be real. Though to be honest, it seems not a whole lot of people really do find them to be authentic, just a few who might have an investment in them.
So what are the Dare Stones?
One of the Dare Stones. Image via America Unearthed screen shot.
Like many of the questionable artifacts we’ve looked at over the years, these also have dubious origins. In 1937, one L. E. Hammond, claimed to have found a stone he thought was inscribed by Eleanor Dare, the daughter of the John White, Governor of the lost colony of Roanoke (Childs 2013). Hammond said he found the stone off Highway 17 in North Carolina, while hunting for hickory nuts (Childs 2013).
Hammond claimed that he struggled to decipher the stone himself, and decided to seek help (Pearce 1938). Hammond took the stone to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where it was examined by Dr. Haywood Jefferson Pearce, Jr., professor of American history. Pearce seems to have been convinced of the authenticity of the stone, and penned a preliminary examination of the stone, published in The Journal of Southern History (Pearce 1938). In his article, Pearce uses cautionary language about the authenticity of the stone, but writes as if he is certain it’s real. He makes several assumptions (Pearce 1938) based on the Stone being real:
- That the colonists didn’t go to Croatoan as has been usually assumed by Historians.
- The colonists did not go to the mainland opposite Roanaoke island.
- The colonists did go inland to the lower reaches of the east bank of the Chowan River.
- The colonists for two years…suffered ‘misery and war’ and in two more years were reduced by sickness to ’24’.
- Of these 24, all but 7 were massacred by the Indians in 1591.
- Among the dead were Ananias and Virginia Dare, the husband and daughter of Eleanor Dare.
- The massacre was reported to the Jamestown people and was instigated by the priest.
- The approximate burial-place of the massacred was a small hill, four miles east of the Chowan River on which a rock inscribed with their names was placed.
Pearce, seeming to sense that there would be fall out for his examination of the stone, asked a few valid questions about the stone. Two of which were, why was Croatoan written on the palisade door if they didn’t go there, and why didn’t Eleanor state her exact whereabouts in the message inscribed on the stone?
Pearce states that he was impressed by the stone for a few reasons, including how well the account on the back of the stone adheres to known historical sources from the time, including the mention of 7 survivors (Pearce 1938). He was also impressed by the authenticity of the language and grammar used on the stone, which matched the known language of the time (Pearce 1938). He did mention the unconventional 3 letter signature of Eleanor at the end of the stone, it was almost unheard of for women to sign their names this way, usually it was with only 2 letters (Pearce 1938).
Hammond, after being well received at the university, worked with researchers there to decipher the stone and even took them to see approximately where he claims to have found the stone (Pearce 1938). There is no report to say if any further examination of the stone was ever made.
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. (Childs 2013)
Pearce managed to convince his father, Pearce Sr., owner of private school Brenau College in Gainesville, Georgia, to buy the stone (Childs 2013). Pearce also knew he needed more evidence to confirm the authenticity of the stone, and he knew if he could find the second stone alluded to in the first stone’s inscription, it would go a long way to proving the stone was real.
After the publication of his article, Pearce was contacted by a Capt. J. P. Wiggins, a former mayor of Edenton, North Carolina. Wiggins seemed to remember as a young man seeing a moss covered stone up on a knoll, or small hill (Sparks 1941). He said he could take Pearce to the location, but he couldn’t promise that the stone was still there. The location and description seemed to match the first stone’s story of the burial place of the 17 dead. Pearce lead his first survey of the area in February of 1938, and the found the large stone. When it was uncovered though, there was no writing on it. Still convinced that it was an unmarked grave Pearce went back in August of that year and excavated the entire hill. Nothing was found. He returned to the area one last time in March of 1939, with the same results (Sparks 1941).
Frustrated but not defeated, Pearce decided to tackle this another way, he offered a $500 reward for information on the second stone (Childs 2013). With money on the line, Pearce’s luck was about to change.
In the summer of 1939, William “Bill” Eberhardt, a stone cutter, told Pearce that he’d found the second stone (Childs 2013). Not only that, he’d found a total of 13 other stones there as well. He said he’d found them near Pelzer, SC, and showed Pearce the site (Childs 2013). To his credit, Pearce didn’t immediately take to Eberhardt’s claims at first (Sparks 1941). Pearce told Eberhardt that the first stone presented was probably a Spanish grave marker, and the second two stones were dated wrong, not to mention the 300 mile difference (Sparks 1941). Pearce made the mistake of telling Eberhardt what he was looking for, that an authentic stone would have been dated 1591 and have seventeen names inscribed on it (Sparks 1941). A week later Eberhardt showed up with just the right stone (Sparks 1941). Of greatest interest on this new stone was the inscription on the side of it; “Father wee goe sw.(Sparks 1941).” This seemingly small detail was quite a clever ruse set in place to make the distance seem more logical and more plausible. Eberhardt was paid for his discoveries, and over the course of time he managed to ‘find’ 42 more stones, bilking the Pearce’s for $2000 in total (Childs 2013).
Eberhardt’s stones expanded the story started on the original Dare Stone, and now there was a proper epic. Adding to the story of woe and misery on the first stone, the Eberhardt stones expanded on the story creating a world where the seven:
“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 (Childs 2013).”
Reinvigorated by this new discovery, Perce had Eberhardt show him where the stones had been found, and sure enough, there were still indentations in the ground (Sparks 1941). Bolstered by this, and that all investigations into the stones and Eberhardt showed that the stones were authentic and Eberhardt so uneducated to have forged them (Sparks 1941), Pearce bought the hill the where the stones were found and began excavations. Despite their efforts, nothing was found here either.
In August of 1939, Pearce received a new bit of information, this time from one I. A. Turner, of Atlanta, GA. He to had found a rock and this one furthered the goose chance that Pearce was on (Sparks 1941). Still seemingly unaware of the situation, Pearce sent Eberhardt to investigate harder in Georgia and sure enough, just outside of Gainesville, GA, Eberhardt found nine more stones, all with the date 1591 on them (Sparks 1941). Over the next few years more stones would be found, with the direct aid of Eberhardt, and the winding saga of Eleanor Dare would wrap up nicely, carved in stone.
But this is where things get weird.
In April of 1941, Boyden Sparkes published a very critical article in the Saturday Evening Post, claiming the whole thing was a hoax and that Eberhardt was behind it along with Pearce himself. (Sparks 1941, Childs 2013).
Sparkes’ story in the Saturday Evening Post uses strong language and makes direct assertions. However, Sparks makes a very convincing argument trying to prove the stones are an elaborate hoax, including interviewing almost all of the parties involved.
Sparks begins his unraveling with an account from 1937, a year before Pearce publishes his article. In this account an unnamed man was routinely was coming to Roanoke trying to sell several get-rich scams, including proposing a hoax whereby a “bogus stone relic” would be ‘discovered’ and point to the fate of the Lost Colony (Sparks 1941). This man claimed that he had workers who could carve the stones, and presumably hide and then discover said stones (Sparks 1941). This all seemed to have something to do with an upcoming production about the history of the lost colony, and the man was trying to get rich off of this. No one took the bait, that time. Sparks was able to track Hammond’s whereabouts at the time, and they appeared to correlate strongly with the unnamed man trying to sell a fake stone and a hoax (Sparks 1941).
Sparks makes the assertion that at the time of the publication of his article, Pearce would have been aware that the stone he was writing about was the same stone (Sparks 1941). Pearce even admitted to Sparks that he never bothered to investigate the correlation (Sparks 1941). This didn’t sit well with Sparks, who decided to really delve into Hammond and Eberhart’s backgrounds.
Eberhart himself was well acquainted with creating and selling fake artifacts. He even had an antique dealer who refused to deal with him anymore, since they couldn’t sell any of Eberhart’s forged Aztec or Mayan relics (Sparks 1941). This same dealer had been able to sell Eberhart’s other “Indiana Relics” before (Sparks 1941). Perhaps these were stretching the imagination too much (Sparks 1941).
When these forgeries were investigated, there appeared to be evidence of the soapstone pieces being treated with a blowtorch to make them seem older (Sparks 1941). The State Geologist of the time, said the carving on the relics had been recently made (Sparks 1941). All this would have been knowable to Pearce, so how did Pearce not know about this part of Eberhart’s past?
Sparks discovered that Eberhart and I. A. Turner had been friends, or at least acquaintances, for 10 years or more (Sparks 1941). He also discovered that the “four different people” that are credited with finding more stones, were either linked back to Eberhart or Turner, or were led by the nose by the two men in their ‘discoveries’ (Sparks 1941). Eberhart was involved in finding all but two of the 42 Dare stones, the exceptions being the first stone found by Turner and a stone found by William Bruce (Sparks 1941). Even the stones supposedly recalled by a man named Jett from his childhood, would never have been rediscovered had it not been for Turner’s involvement, and both of those stones have serious flaws of their own (Sparks 1941).
Turner, when interviewed directly by Spacks, admitted that he and Eberhart had planned to go in half with the profits from the stones (Sparks 1941). He also has an interesting story that appears to link Hammond, who apparently came to Turner looking for a someone who could fake a rock with the word “Yahoo” on it (Sparks 1941). He offered to pay $30,000. for it, but Turner didn’t think he had the money, so refused the work (Sparks 1941).
Sparks directly investigated the discovery location of the half stone produced by Jett’s wife (stone no. 46), and went to talk directly with her father, J. H. Whitmire. He was shown the chest where the stone that she produced was stored, and the chest was apparently a large storage chest where all kinds of items were tossed. These items included heavy farm tools and used millstones, along with other ‘Indian Rocks’. Sparks notes that anyone could have come and planted the broken stone here, and since the Jetts were approached by Turner to produce their stones, Sparks seems to think it was a good chance that this was the case.
To support that claim, Sparks points out that the stone (No. 46) had been stored in the chest for somewhere around 15 years. Yet the stone itself was nearly pristine when found presented by Mrs. Jett. Sparks says:
“One of the least credible facts about the collection is that the half of Stone No. 46 represented to have been for twenty-six years part of a barn pillar, and then for fifteen other years somewhere on the ground, and the half that had been knocked around fifteen years in a chest of heavy tools, after such varied experiences fit as neatly as a freshly broken teacup. (Sparks 1941)”
This isn’t the first time the neat and unworn conditions of the stones were questioned. Sparks mentions that it appeared to be Eberhart’s habit to present stones that were “clean” (Sparks 1941). The stones had been repeatedly scrubbed with steel-wool and had their in inscriptions scraped out (Sparks 1941). Whatever the reasoning given for this activity, it effectively made it impossible to glean anything useful from the stone itself, and I agree with Sparks in that Pearce should have known better.
The Language of the Stones.
This ‘clean’ condition spurred Sparks to interview other authorities in the field to get their opinions on the Dare Stones. He spoke with Professor Jim Lester, who was working at Emory college. Lester commented on the “freshness” of the stones and the groves of the engravings. On Stone no. 25 he noticed the strange manner that the letters were engraved on the stone. They appeared to be done in a way as to not disturb the lichen already growing on the stone (Sparks 1941). Lester notes:
“. . .I am forced to believe less in the authenticity of this stone. than in any. . . . It makes me believe it has been doctored . . . the lack of lichenous material in the grooves seems to be the first glaring drawback to any of the stones that I have seen.” (Sparks 1941)
It was Lester’s opinion that the stone he looked at was a fake (Sparks 1941).
Sparks began to look at Pearce’s own writing on the stone, and started to take his argument apart one bit at a time. Starting with Pearce’s claim that the methods used to inscribe the stones couldn’t be replicated with modern techniques. Sparks looked up the first stone cutting company in the New York phone directory and asked them if they could reproduce the stones:
In New York I took photographs and geological descriptions of the stones to the Mount Airy Granite Company. The telephone directory showed it to be the most convenient. I asked Abe Goldsmith, in charge, “Could you do work like this?” “Sure. Any stonecutter could.” “Could you make the work look old?” “All stones are old. But it would be easy enough to ‘age’ the surface-tumble it in a barrel. Acids. Wrap the stone with wet sacking sprinkled with iron filings. Any number of ways.” (Sparks 1941)
Next he looked at Pearce’s claims that the lettering was consistent with the time period. He spoke to Dr. Samuel Tannenbaum, an Elizabethan scholar and paleographer, and an expert in historical writing styles. The problem that Tannenbaum discovered was that the very shape of the letters was all wrong:
“There isn’t a Gothic letter here. And this settles the whole matter! The forgery becomes obvious to anyone who knows how the Elizabethans wrote. In England in 1590 only men like Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, Walter Raleigh, Philip Sidney could write Roman script. Few enough could write at all. Even those men wrote their text in Gothic, but as a mark of culture used Roman letters in their signatures. Every letter on these stones is a Roman letter. The best man in England would have slipped, made here and there a Gothic letter.” (Sparks 1941)
Finally, Sparks looked at the language on the stones because Pearce claimed it was acceptable for the time period. Sparks had 712 words from the stones analysed and found issues with the variation in spelling, namely that there wasn’t any:
“No Elizabethan was ever so consistent in spelling.” Said Tannenbaum. “Francis Bacon spelled his own name something like thirty different ways. Walter Raleigh spelled his name, I think, forty-five ways. Elizabethans had no principles of spelling because they had no dictionary. Here the consistency is supposed to have been observed through twelve years of forest wandering by people shut off from white civilization. “Shakespeare had a vocabulary of fifteen thousand words. Next best was John Milton with eight thousand words. The average person today has at most three thousand words. Isn’t it extraordinary to find ‘primeval’ and ‘reconnoitre’ when they do not appear in Shakespeare . . . ?” (Sparks 1941)
A simple check of the Oxford Dictionary finds that the earliest known use of “primeval” was in Urquhart’s Rabelais, 1653 (Sparks 1941, Oxford Dictionary). “ Reconnoitre,” wasn’t in used before 1707 in English (Sparks 1941, Oxford Dictionary). The word “trale” [trail] was used to denote the scent of a quarry rather than a pathway in the 1590’s (Sparks 1941). The presence of these words on stones that were supposed to date to 1591 should be enough to debunk the stones (Sparks 1941). Unless you want to argue that these are really the first recorded uses of these words. (please don’t)
The last interesting bit of Sparks’ investigation into the stones was an exchange he had with Paul Green, the author of the historical play we mentioned way back at the beginning.
He told me: “Whoever inscribed those stones plagiarized at least the framework of my play. There is no basis in history for such an Eleanor Dare. Her name is mentioned; she had a child, Virginia. After research, I conceived the need of a pioneering type of woman, capable of leadership. (Sparks 1941)
When Sparks published this article, it understandably angered Pearce. At some point afterwards Perce confronted Eberhardt. In response Eberhardt forged another stone with the inscription “Pearce and Dare Historical Hoaxes. We Dare Anything (Childs 2013).” He threatened to turn it over the the Saturday Evening Post and admit to faking the stones if Pearce didn’t pay him to stop (Childs 2013). At this point, Pearce admitted being duped publicly (Childs 2013).
But despite all this, the Dare Stones still have their faithful followers. Retired Brenau history professor, Jim Southerland, thinks the first Dare Stone is authentic, and the stones have enjoyed renewed popularity thanks to shows like America Unearthed and the History Channel’s production Roanoke : Search for the Lost Colony (AccessWDUN 2015). Unfortunately for them, both shows did more to prove the stones were fake than real.
All of the Dare Stones follow a predictable pattern that should be familiar at this point; mysterious and unreliable discoveries, dubious finders, no documentation, and no archaeological evidence to support them. Throw in this very well documented conspiracy that appears between Eberhardt, Turner, and possibly Pearce, and you simply can’t trust these artifacts at all.
It’s interesting to think that the first stone might be real. It’s a nice bit of closure for a missing colony. However, all evidence that we have suggested that the colonists went to Roanoke island, and there is some archaeological evidence to support this. What’s the complete story? Probably nothing close to the epic written in stone by Eberhardt and Turner. Still, they get points for creativity.