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A Witness for Eleanor Dare by Robert W. White

Chapter 3 What's In a Word?

THE CONTROVERSY WHICH arose around the Dare Stones was entirely about business and had nothing to do with history or science. When Hammond brought his stone to Emory University, there had been no real controversy. Everyone, including people who developed the tourist park on Roanoke, accepted the Hammond Stone as probably a genuine artifact. They might grouse and grumble, but no one challenged it. Even when other stones began coming in from South Carolina and Georgia, there was little or nothing people on Roanoke could say or do, since in most respects these stones seemed genuine. Between 1937 and early 1940, Pearce hatched a plot to develop a tourist attraction of his own at Brenau College, based on the Dare Stones. With help from staff member Maude LeFleur, a drama was written and performed at Brenau in the summer of 940 which was meant to be in direct competition to one at Roanoke. It was judged a fair success and plans were made to repeat it in the summer of 1941 and, presumably, forever after. To people on Roanoke it was now easy to see which way the wind was blowing, but hard to know what to do. Pearce owned the stones and could do anything he wanted with them. When the successful summer performance at Brenau was followed in October 1940 by the Study Group's report, it must have seemed to Roanoke that the days of their own tourist attraction were numbered. Pearce seemed to have everything on his side and they had nothing but a dream and a song. Just when things seemed darkest, Pearce overplayed his hand by ignoring the Study Group's recommendations and going public with the stones. Pearce's article was on its way to The Saturday Evening Post within a few weeks after the Study Group's Report was done, which implies he had been working on it even while the Study Group gathered at Brenau. In effect he would use the Study Group's report as a seal of approval for publicity for Brenau's now summer fete. Given Pearce's rather narrow, shallow background in the academic world, he must have believed it would be impossible for anyone to have serious doubts about the Dare Stones, once he had the Study Group Report published. He seems to have forgotten, if he ever knew it, that intellectuals in America have as often been the subject of derision as of admiration. With all the optimism of a newcomer, he probably thought it could never happen to him. The Saturday Evening Post bought Pearce's manuscript and assigned a self-described reporter named Boyden Sparkes to investigate the stones. Thereafter they published Sparkes's article and suppressed Pearce's. This shift in sentiment at the Post was the single event most responsible for the ensuing belief that the stones were a hoax, and circumstances suggest The Saturday Evening Post was acting on behalf of the Roanoke tourist attraction. The cooperation and help Roanoke extended to Sparkes suggests they had nothing to fear from any report he would write; that implies they had either put him forward to the Post or else approved the Post's choice in advance of the article, for throughout the article Sparkes relied on views of experts who had been chosen for him by the people of Roanoke. As a result, his article was biased in favor of Roanoke-it was misleading and virtually slanderous toward the group of scholars and Pearce. Because of this article, the story of the Lost Colony was nearly lost for good. There are only three possible cases of truth for the stones: the stones are all true, or all false, or else some are true and some are false. Sparkes tried to say that because some of the stones seemed to be forged, they were all forged-a conclusion which does not follow and cannot be reached. Sparkes was interested in neither reason nor justice. He was interested in lynching Pearce in public and did just that. "After my first talk with Pearce," Sparkes wrote, "I could find no excuse for believing the story [of the stones found in South Carolina]." If Sparkes had said after talking to Pearce he had doubts, it would have been reasonable. If Sparkes had said he did not believe Pearce, even that would have been understandable. But Sparkes went further with his scorn by saying he could find no excuse for believing Pearce, as though Pearce were a little boy caught telling tales. When Sparkes arrived on the scene, Pearce's `story' as Sparkes calls it (implying it is fiction) had been heard by dozens of competent scholars who had examined the underlying physical evidence. Sparkes implied he disbelieved these other people as well. Sparkes went on to attack several key issues surrounding the truth of the stones: their geographical locations, the weathering of the stones, and the story on the stones. He introduced another, irrelevant issue: the messengers who found them and brought them to Pearce. This is connected to the locations, so we will begin there. Not surprisingly, considering the finders in Georgia had all lived within a small area all their lives, Sparkes discovered most of them had known each other, or known of each other, for a long time. (In 1940, the population was about half what it is today, making it still more likely these rural folk would know each other through meetings at banks, churches, schools and so on.) No one denied it and several stones were discovered which might not have been found if the finders had not known one another. To Sparkes this was clear evidence of conspiracy and not cooperation. He did not accuse the finders directly of forging the stones, because even his conviction about conspiracy could not support the case that these semi-literate farmers and roustabouts were able to create the messages. Rather, he insinuated they were dupes or agents of some master conspirator. Let's begin with Hammond and his stone since this discovery created a cash market for other stones. Sparkes was sure Hammond tried to sell his stone to Roanoke before he brought it to Emory University. He could not prove this, because Hammond disappeared shortly after selling the stone to Pearce and no one from Roanoke saw Hammond at Emory. No one photographed Hammond so there was no way to establish his identity. This lack of evidence was all the proof Sparkes needed to pen Hammond as a conspirator. He believed his suspicions true despite no further evidence than other people's suspicions. Suspicion itself became proof. Curiously, this led to later and opposite conjectures that the Hammond stone was genuine (no one could tie Hammond to Pearce) while someone may have created the rest of the stones to agree with and expand on the story. Several stones had already been discovered in Georgia and South Carolina, but this was not known to Pearce for more than a year after he'd bought the Hammond Stone. If the Hammond stone was genuine, then these stones had to be genuine too. In style and content they agreed completely. Sparkes's suggestion that Hammond tried to sell the stone to Roanoke before he brought it to Pearce may have had a basis in fact. Suppose it did. Hammond was near Roanoke when he found the stone and since the new tourist attraction had had its successful debut just weeks before, Hammond might think someone on Roanoke would be interested in buying his find. What this conjecture really shows is that people on Roanoke did not know a genuine Elizabethan message when they saw one, and Hammond was venal and concerned with getting money. There is nothing to suggest he forged the stone or deliberately brought it to Pearce. Sparkes himself acknowledged their meeting was accidental. All the facts about Hammond's stone uncovered by Sparkes himself suggest it is genuine, except one: its location. The two stones found in South Carolina flatly contradict this location when they say Virginia Dare is buried there, while the Hammond stone from North Carolina says she is buried there. Pearce's explanation for this was lame. He thought maybe a friendly native may have carried it four hundred miles north and left it on the banks of the Chowan River. Sparkes jumped on this as further evidence that something was phony, without realizing that the lack of a mystery's explanation is not the same as evidence that the mystery is fake. It's a mystery how these stones with the same message referred to places hundreds of miles apart, but nothing suggests Hammond's find a forgery. If this stone is true and genuine no matter where it was found, then Sparkes's conspiracy theory is demolished. If it is genuine then all the stones cannot be false, and that means we have received (and ignored, and scorned) a message from a brave dead Englishwoman lost long ago in our country. It does not matter that anyone later may have begun a hoax, because no later hoax could have created this stone. Other stones similar in style and content were found before they were revealed to Pearce, implying these stones were not part of a conspiracy. And then, how does one account for tombstones found in South Carolina which were evidently not written by Eleanor Dare? Sparkes did not account for them. He ignored them. Not even Sparkes could make a case for conspiring to make a hoax by creating tombstones of people no one had ever heard of. What would be the point? Yet this is precisely what Sparkes suggested about the Dare Stones because no one could explain them to his satisfaction. It was to Sparkes 'proof' f conspiracy when the trail of stones led from South Carolina to Georgia. He did not consider "I'm going southwest and will leave a trail" (Stones #2,7 & 14) that more messages would come from that direction. Instead, Sparkes interpreted this as evidence of laziness within the conspiracy. As though people smart enough to create this hoax should be stupid enough to flaunt it. Sparkes drew the wrong conclusion from physical evidence because it suited his prejudice. People on Roanoke Island should have known the Hammond Stone was true (assuming they saw it before Pearce) for it was found in exactly the place where the Colonists said they were going (a matter of record). Yet the very people in this century responsible for preserving such history failed to know what they were looking at (except Mr. Crittenden of the North Carolina Historical Commission). Eleanor's trail went the way it did because she was led that way by Muskohge warriors. Going to Hiawasee, Georgia was their idea, not hers. Concerning the surface weathering, or patination, of the' stones, anyone who has turned over a stone knows about weathering. When a stone is turned the bottom is of different color and texture than on top. The bottom is moist. Come back in an hour when it is dry and you'll see a difference between top and bottom, no longer due to moisture but to the effect of exposure. When a weathered stone surface is scratched with some harder object, it will cut through the weather-dust and expose fresh stone. It's like writing with your finger on a dusty table. How long does it take stone to weather and how could weathering be faked so convincingly it would fool a trained geologist? Some stones weather faster than others. The same kind of stone weathers at different rates in different climates, although this issue doesn't come into play here because the climates of North and South Carolina and Georgia are not that different. It also doesn't matter that several kinds of stones were used as writing surfaces, weathering at different rates. If natural weathering can be faked then its absence or presence is not an issue, because of the fake process. None of the dozens of scholars who examined the stones noted any suspicious or unusual differences in weathering on any stone, or between stones of the same type. Thirty years later, Samuel Morison recalled vividly that the stones were impressive because the inscriptions and backgrounds were equally weathered. Sparkes, himself, did not see anything wrong with the weathering on the stones, yet he raised the issue. He approached some masons and asked if it were possible to fake weathering. They said: " 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." These particular methods would not have worked on the Dare Stones. They showed no signs of tumbling. Acids would work differently on different stones, while iron filings would tend to give them all the same kind of weathered appearance. Although none of the mason's suggestions would have worked on the Dare Stones, let's assume there is some perfect and undetectable process which works equally well on every kind of stone-a process which takes effect in hours. If a process was not at least that good, it would not have fooled scholars or Sparkes, much less a trained geologist. Sparkes went to Professor Lester, the Emory University geologist, and talked with him about his study of the stones. Any problems? Lester replied that, although he had not examined all the stones under a microscope, he did have two problems with Stone #25 (heyr laeth eleanor dare 1599 seaven heyr sithence 1593). Lester said two lines used in carving two letters seemed to avoid two patches of lichen directly in their path. "The implication" Sparkes announced triumphantly, "was that the writer had done this to avoid disturbing the lichen." With this comment, Sparkes shot himself in the foot, but didn't know it. A weathering process would probably have killed all moss and lichen. Any forger not only had to have a perfect weathering process, but also one for ;rowing lichen and moss, which worked perfectly and quickly. Otherwise, weathering the stones would serve no purpose. However, there is no process to advance the slow growth of lichen and moss for the time we have to allot for forgery. Because two lines (out of hundreds) did not penetrate beneath existing lichens, it does not prove all the stones false. How could lines which did go beneath lichens be explained? Did some forger in possession of weathering processes and lichen- and moss-growing processes fail to use them in just these two cases? Hardly. Sparkes is taking lack of information about a mystery as evidence for forgery. Personally, I conclude from this hooey about lichens that in the course of 350 years the plants grew where they could and Sparkes drew a silly inference from what he saw. To give Lester and Sparkes proper due, however, here is what Sparkes said about Lester's report on Stone #25:

The most significant point was the `freshness' of the rock in the grooves of letters forming `sithence 1593'. These had been revealed under a binocular microscope as the `freshest in the entire stone.' Lester also reported: `The lower letters ... give the impression of having been cut within the past few days or weeks when compared with tie letters on the upper part.' In two instances he had found a letter poorly incised where a lichenous stain showed at places where the grooves would have been if the letters had been plainly formed. The implication was that the inscriber had tried to avoid disturbing the lichen growth. Professor Lester had written: `...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 I have seen.'

Now, never mind that Lester has begun thinking like Sparkes, and is blaming lichens for some conspiracy. Sparkes's conclusion:...

`the lack of lichenous material in the grooves seems to be the first glaring drawback to any of the stones I have seen.' Concerning that stone, Professor Lester says flatly that it is a fake.

Now, obviously, Lester did not say the stone was a fake. If he had, Sparkes would have put those words in quotation marks instead of the very different ones he did quote. Well, anyway, what about those fresh scratches? How'd they get there? Well, suppose a hoaxer put them there. Why? The message was written, the stone's surface was aged and lichens and moss were grown upon it. Why embellish what was written and destroy the weathering created? Why not re-weather, re-lichen and re-moss the inscriptions after embellishing them? I think I'll leave it to someone else to invent a scenario whereby the creator of an elaborate and unusual hoax destroys the work and doesn't cover it up with the perfect means available. I'm content to point out that since this is Eleanor's tombstone, she could not have written it. Nothing Sparkes or Lester suspected could have any bearing on stones she wrote or on the tombstones from South Carolina. This stone and all but one of the others was ripped from its place, cleaned, scoured, handled, `enhanced' for reading and otherwise exposed and abused before Lester saw it under a microscope. Maybe, just maybe, this had something to do with Lester finding fresh scratches on some of the lines of a few letters. Had he examined all the stones with equal magnification, he would probably have found many such scratches. Maybe, just maybe, not one of dozens of people, including Lester and Sparkes, could see these scratches with the naked eye because the scratches were incidental to incompetent handling, and had nothing to do with original carving. If anything could show these messages were forgeries, it would have to be the messages themselves. Not the stones or the carving, not the locations or finders, but something in the messages which would have been impossible for Eleanor or her companions to have known. Not even Sparkes suggested there were such references. Not one. In two checkable cases (John White's ship arriving in 1591 and the village of Honthaoase/ Hiawasee) the references on the stones are accurate. Sparkes took his suspicions to a new level. He said it was impossible for the words `trail,' `reconnoitre' and `primeval' to have been used authentically at that period. He claimed they were anachronisms. In support of this claim, he cited two authorities. One was Dr. Morris Tilley of the University of Michigan and the other was the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Here is exactly what Sparkes said about these words:

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the earliest known use of `primeval' was in Urquhart's Rabelais, 1653. This is sixty-six years after the colonists said farewell to Governor White. `Reconnoitre', according to the Oxford Dictionary, has not been found earlier than 1707 in English. In 1590 the word `trae' (trail) was used to denote the scent of a quarry rather than a pathway. I wrote Dr Morris Tilley, of the University of Michigan, where they are combing manuscripts not available to the Oxford Dictionary editors. Doctor Tilley: `An assistant assigned by me to examine the files of the Early Modern Dictionary files ...can find nothing earlier for `primeval' (1653) and `reconnoitre' (1707) than is in the Oxford Dictionary.' Dr Tilley added: `I examined once the pictures of the Dare Stones and felt convinced they were clearly forgeries.'

Here Sparkes makes this `research' sound simple and routine. If it were as simple and routine as this, why wouldn't a forger consult the Oxford English Dictionary too, before committing such contentious words to stone? Surely anyone smart and well-read enough to create a hoax of this magnitude would have avoided using contenious words and could have found them as easily as Sparkes did. I do not know which edition Sparkes searched, but every single unabridged dictionary (Oxford English Dictionary, Random House, Webster's) I consulted says the words `trail' and `reconnoitre' entered the English language (spoken language) during the period of Middle English, which lasted from 1175 to 1485. While it is possible no written record of these words survives, it is hardly possible to doubt that sailors, soldiers, hunters and explorers were familiar with these words in Eleanor's time. The spoken tongue clearly carried all these words centuries before Eleanor Dare was born. As to the word (primeval'-it is Latin and has been used by English-speakers nearly forever, because the Roman Catholic Church's business was conducted in that international and timeless language until this century. The question about this word is not when it came into use, but whether Eleanor or any of her companions would have known it. Eleanor herself may have been the first person to write these words. Not Urquhart, not Shakespeare, but this castaway Eleanor! Citing sources other than Eleanor cannot prove she could not use them. To suppose otherwise is to suppose in advance that the stones are false, which is what Sparkes was supposed to prove. Sparkes found the consistent usage of words and spellings unacceptable. He pointed out that inconsistent spelling was a hallmark of Elizabethan English and found an expert, a Dr. Tannenbaum of New York City (who was actually an M.D.; Elizabethan English was his avocation) to buttress his suspicions.

Said Dr Tannenbaum: `No Elizabethan was ever so consistent in spelling. Francis Bacon spelled his name something like thirty different ways. Walter Raleigh spelled his own 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.'

The Colonists kept an accurate and consistent calendar so I do not see why they were unable to spell words consistently. Sparkes suggests that when the writers of the Dare Stones were inconsistent with the etymological record, that it proved all the stones were false. Then he says that the writers were consistent and that too proves all the stones are false. Sparkes is inaccurate when he says the Dare Stones are written consistently. The tombstones from South Carolina are very different from the others. They use `cherl' for `childe' and `hyee' for `heyr' and `mrde' for `murthered.' If consistency were a standard for the language used, then the stones written differently were true. He didn't accept this. He was still trying to prove that all the stones were false. Tannenbaum and Sparkes are right in saying that proper names were spelled variously in Elizabethan times. They still are. In the last decade or so the written name of the capital of China has been changed from Peking to Beijing, which neither looks nor sounds the same to any English speaker. Does this mean everything written about Peking is false or forged? Anyway, there are any number of documents of the Tudor period in which every common word used is spelled the same way. Why shouldn't they be? Finally, we come to the letters used. Not the carving of the letters or the way the letters were used in spelling, but the form of the letters. Sparkes and his expert Dr. Tannenbaum claimed the stones had to be false because they were written in Roman letters rather than Gothic! Here's what Sparkes said:

In New York I saw Dr Samuel Tannenbaum, Elizabethan scholar and paleographer. Doctor Tannenbaum is the author of Shakespeare's Penmanship, the Booke of Sir Thomas Moore, Shakespeare Forgeries in the Revels Account, The Handwriting of the Renaissance. He writes in the Gothic script of the Elizabethans almost effortlessly. Doctor Tannenbaum examined photographs of the stones a full twenty minutes. Then he said: `There isn't a Gothic letter here. And this settles the whole matter!'

Sparkes certainly got good mileage out of the authorities he quoted. No doubts, no caveats, no distinctions from any of them. Instead, at Sparkes's suggestion, each looks at a photograph of some stones and declares Sparkes absolutely, without doubt, completely right in declaring all the stones false. Period. Let's hear a bit more from Tannenbaum:

The forgery becomes obvious to anyone who knows how the Elizabethans wrote. In England in 1590 only men like Francis Bacon, Edmund Spease4 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 their 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.'

 This is not a strong argument because Roman letters are much easier to form than Gothic ones. Anyone with a choice between the two would use the simpler letters, especially to carve in stone. Then as now ordinary people used ordinary lettering and letters used then are quite legible by people today as this illustration of a map by John White, Eleanor's father, clearly shows (Frontispiece). Tannenbaum's testimony is misleading, because whether `cultured' people used Roman letters is irrelevant. The only question is, did the Roanoke Colonists use Roman letters? They did, and Sparkes knew they did, because he had read Pearce's article. In it, Pearce quoted John White:

" we entred up the sandy banke upon a tree, in the very browe thereof were curiously carved these faire Romane letters CRo .."

Later in this same report, White says the word CROATOAN was written in fayre Capitall letters' and we can hardly doubt these were Roman, not Gothic letters. At the end of his article, however, Sparkes slyly and deliberately abused the truth, in order to mock and scorn the messages of Eleanor Dare:

Then I found what seems to me the final word in this matter. It is in `fair Roman' capital letters, beginning at the top of the stone. When a picture of it is held sidewise, a child would be able to read, `FAKE'.

Sparkes had come to the end of his article knowing he had not -presented a single piece of positive evidence to prove his case. So he next invented evidence. Here's what he said:

One morning in my hotel before breakfast I found a word staring at me from a picture of the back face of Stone No. 15,which Turner says he found all by himself in Hall County, Georgia, in March, 1939. I let out a shout to my companion. `I find what looks to me like 'Emory.' If it's acrostic, there ought to be other concealed words.' He said, `How's Atlanta, Ge Y True enough! `Atlanta, Ge' and 'Emory' seem to form a band around this rock. They are as easily read as many words deciphered by Professor Pearce. Then, accepting literally the inscription's boast, `We pvtt moche clew by wage,' I looked for more clues. We found `shed' vertically arranged, acrostic style. Then we found `Pearce' reading up on the front face. A little `forcing', as the cryptographers express it, was needed. Yet, thereafter it was impossible for me to look at the stone and not see `Atlanta' and 'Emory.' Is it an acrostic? I don't know. But I am sure Eleanor Dare had nothing to do with it.

 Sparkes himself created a hoax with this article and perpetrated it on an unsophisticated public with complete impunity, knowing Pearce could not defend himself. To create this hoax, Sparkes ignored, concealed, distorted and invented facts as he wished. When the article was published, the public embraced it with a laugh of scorn at Pearce and the dumb intellectuals who had been so easily fooled. Pearce's position was quite hopeless and he walked away from the Dare Stones forever, to die some years later in obscurity. After the Sparkes debacle, it was Pearce, Sr. who picked up the pieces-literally-and made sure the Dare Stones would be safe at Brenau College. Had he and his successors not acted responsibly, it is likely the stones would have been cast into the rubbish and lost.

Click Here to see the complete Boyden Sparkes Article, Saturday Evening Post, April 26, 1941: Titled: WRIT ON ROCKE Has America's First Murder Mystery Been Solved?

Order White's Book: A Witness for Eleanor Dare (Attempts to debunk the 1941 Saturday Evening Post's article and retore the historical significance of the Stones. Stone #1 is pictured on the cover.) 

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