Thursday, January 31, 2013

Elizabethan Gardens

Enchanting.  Historic.  Beautiful. The Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island in North Carolina are exquisite, even in January when the camellias are in full bloom.  It was a wet, gray morning when my travel buddy and I toured the gardens a few weeks ago, but we loved it this way.  It only added to the mystery of the Lost Colony, which the gardens commemorate.

Although the Sunken Gardens with Roman statuary of the gods, is considered the highlight of the gardens, I came here to see the controversial Virginia Dare sculpture.  To me, this was the Crown Jewel.

Virginia Dare
Virginia Dare, of course, was the first child born in the New World of English descent.   She was only a baby when her grandfather, John White, left the colonists behind on Roanoke Island to go back to England for much-needed supplies.  Because England went to war against Spain in 1588, he was not able to return until 1590.  No one knows what happened to the people left behind, but when a new colony settled in Jamestown twenty years later, there were rumors of white men living among the Chesapeake Indians.  John Smith sent a search party out to find them, but they were not successful.  A legend persists even today--that Virginia Dare grew up among the Native Americans and her spirit roams Roanoke Island, the place of her birth, in the form of a white dove.

How we all want this to be true!  (Well, some of us anyway.)   The story of the Virginia Dare sculpture is as captivating as the Lost Colony one.  Carved in Rome by Maria Louisa Lander in 1859, it actually sank off the coast of Spain on its way to America.  It was recovered two years later from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  When it finally arrived, it was placed in the State Hall of History in Raleigh.  You can imagine how shocked the people of North Carolina were, when in the 1920's, they finally saw this depiction of their beloved daughter.   A grown woman, naked except for a fishing net wrapped around her waist.  An Indian Princess?  No way!  The statue was removed.

Paul Green, the playwright who wrote The Lost Colony, kept it at his estate near Chapel Hill until he donated it to the Elizabethan Gardens.  It took a full one hundred years after its creation, to find its proper home.  Placed under a canopy of trees in a serene corner of the gardens, Virginia Dare is at peace.


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