“The Lost Rocks” is a book written by David La Vere about the Dare Stones. David teaches American Indian History at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. His book is available at major online bookstores, as well as in the used marketplace.
David seeks, in his book, to sift through the various pieces of evidence to determine whether or not the stones were real, or elaborate fakes. If they are real, they offer the answer to the oldest mystery in American. If they are fake, they are one of the most elaborate hoaxes ever wrought, and managed to fool, or at least confuse a great number of very intelligent people for a long time. In fact, the jury is still officially “out” on at least one of the stones.
The book begins by providing historical detail about the colonists and how the first stone was found, which we have already covered. It also covers a great deal about the political background occurring at that time in North Carolina at the time that might have influenced the climate about the stones. For example, the state and some groups desperately wanted an increase in tourism, and someone suggested that “stones” be found. While I’m not going to delve into these factors, I do suggest that the book is a great read for anyone interested in the nitty gritty details of the saga of the Dare Stones. It’s a great mystery and well written.
The first problem with these multiple stones is that two of them, both purporting to be Virginia Dare’s tombstone, found in vastly different locations, give different years of her death, one in 1591 and one in 1597. The 1597 stone, found by a retired surveyor in response to the $500 reward offered, was quickly dismissed as a forgery.
About this time Eberhardt arrived with another stone, this date being 1589, and he was pretty quickly dismissed by the Pierce’s due to the fact that his date was both too early and in conflict with the already found 1591 tombstone date. Not to be dissuaded, Eberhardt reappears a couple of week later….with….guess what….a stone with the names of seventeen colonists, including Ananias and Virginia Dare, and the date of 1591. Now he had the Pierce’s interest as this is more in line with what they were expecting….and they had told him so previously.
The next grouping of South Carolina stones gave the Pierce’s pause. They contradicted some of the information on the original Chowan River Dare Stone which indicated that the colonists were there, or someplace nearby, in 1591. The South Carolina stones said they were there in 1589. If so, what were they doing back on the Chowan in 1591?
Another stone was dated 1587 and had an arrow pointing southwest. Knowing that both Mrs. Harvie and Eleanor Dare had given birth in August of 1587, and the colonists strengthened the fort (according to what White found in 1590), and were expecting supplies in the spring of 1588, this seems very unlikely, yet the stone begged for an explanation.
In 1940, new stones, beginning with stone 15, moved the colonists out of South Carolina into Georgia. In one haul, Eberhardt showed up with 9 different stones. By now, the total of stones was up to 23, plus the original Chowan River stone which bore no resemblance to the other stones. There was also the issue of the names of some colonists on the stones which did not appear on John White’s manifest.
Dr. Pierce decided that a possible explanation was that White had made an error on the manifest and that the first stone could be explained by the fact that Eleanor Dare, after Ananias and Elizabeth were killed in South Carolina on the Saluda River, had the original Chowan Stone carved as a message to her father and send it by friendly Indian messenger to be placed back at Roanoke. The Indian made it as far as the Chowan River, was perhaps killed, and there the stone lay for the next three and a half centuries until it was found in the 1930s.
The same year, 1940, Breneau wrote and produced a “romantic comedy” about the colonists and their trek through South Carolina into Georgia, ending on the Chattahoochee River. Recall that the Lost Colony play by Paul Green had opened on Roanoke Island in 1937, the same summer that the first Dare Stone was found.
It was about this time that the Pierces undertook background investigations of the three men who had found all of the stones. Louis Hammond found the Chowan River Stone, Isaac Turner found one stone and amazingly, all of the rest had been found by Bill Eberhardt. Hammond has in essence disappeared and no one really tried to investigate him. The investigators did little more than interview Eberhardt and Turner.
The story needed an end. It was left with Eleanor Dare and 6 other colonists living with a Cherokee King at Hontaoase town in the Nacoochee Valley in northern Georgia. What happened to them?
Not to leave the story untold, Eberhardt steps up to the plate once more and finds even more stones for the Pierce’s. One would think that by this time, even the most naive of people would be highly suspicious of this continued good fortune by Bill Eberhardt, and Bill alone. And not only did he find stones, he found a lot of stones.
By October of 1940, just in time for the scientific conference to determine the authenticity of the Dare Stones, stones 25 through 47 had been found and added to the collection. These stones detailed the deaths of the remaining colonists, including Eleanor Dare. The last remaining colonist, the stonecarver himself, was purported to be Griffen Jones.
The score at this point is as follows:
- Louis Hammond of California found the first stone on the Chowan River in August 1937.
- Bill Eberhardt of Atlanta found a total of 41 stones: 13 on the Saluda River in SC, 9 in Habersham Counthy, Georgia and 19 in Fulton County, Georgia near Atlanta
- Isaac Turner of Atlanta found 3 stones, one on the Chattahoochee north of Gainesville, one on Ball’s Creek at the Jett homestead when Eberhardt was with him, and part of broken stone 46, also with Eberhardt’s involvement.
- William Bruce found two stones in Fulton County.
La Vere totals the stones accounting for either 62 or 64 colonists, although only 51 names were mentioned. The rest of the 117 colonists are unaccounted for.
On the last stones, Eleanor Dare marries the Cherokee chief and has a daughter, Agnes. In the end, the fate of Agnes remains unknown, and of course that of Griffen Jones as well.
What seems obvious, at least to me, as too much of a good thing, maybe wasn’t. At least one stone had lichen covering three letters. Even the best forger wouldn’t be able to do that. And so, the scientists convened in the fall of 1940 to study the stones.
In Pierce’s speech at the conference, he gave the good, the bad and the ugly. He said that no other evidence had been found, that there were no artifacts or anything else to support the stones, but he also said that the stones were in perfect harmony with history.
Linguists, geologists and other scientists probed and testified, collaborating. However, a bombshell was about to drop. Eberhardt’s shady past caught up with him. He had been previously implicated in the selling of forged Indian artifacts.
In November the committee issued a statement in which they said that the “preponderance of evidence points to the authenticity of the stones”, but they had concerns and made a list of recommendations and suggestions, which is summarized below:
1. A search for graves, relics, and artifacts should be pursued.
2. Fraudulent proposals connected to the 1937 “Lost Colony” play launch and with Eberhardt’s sale of fraudulent Indian relics should be investigated.
3. Complete check of words and phrases on stones for authenticity, in particular the suspect words “reconnoiter” and “primaeval” as to whether those words were in use at that time or whether they are contemporary.
4. Check of dialect usage.
5. Study of the forms of letters on the stones.
6. Comparative study of names on the stones.
7. Study of the stones as to the age of the inscriptions.
8. Study of topographical and ethnological maps.
9. Genealogical study of the White and Dare families as to the name of Agnes.
10. Seeking cooperation and collaboration with other agencies and universities.
11. Application for grant funding to do the above.
12. If future stones are uncovered, that they be left where they are found so they can be evaluated.
With only one or two exceptions, Eberhardt had ignored the repeated requests of the Pierce’s to leave the stones where he found them and to take them to the stones.
Eberhardt continued to find stones and Dr. Pierce, anxious to move forward, not wanting to wait for the slow wheels of academia and believing that the stones are genuine, make the mistake of writing the story for the Saturday Evening Post, opening a can of worms he was never able to close again.
Pierce was crushed by the story run by the Post. It wasn’t anything like he had written. His story was one of “mystery solved” and theirs was one of “hoax perpetuated.”
Not done yet, Eberhardt showed up with another stone in late 1941 but Pierce refused to purchase any more stones out of context. He would only pay for stones left in their original setting. Pierce was becoming more distrustful of Eberhardt because some of the information on the new stones was contradicting information on the previous stones. It looked like someone was getting sloppy with their information and wasn’t being careful.
Days later, Eberhardt shows up again, this time with word of a cave and an inscription in the cave, from Eleanor. Dr. Pierce went to the cave, without Eberhardt, but with a geology professor. Both declared the cave inscription a fake, but then the bottom fell out. The geology professor, Dr. Gibson, discovered a glass bottle of sulfuric acid which had been used to smear on the rock to give it the appearance of age. Pierce confronted Eberhardt. The gig was up.
But that wasn’t the end for Eberhardt. He called Dr. Pierce Sr.’s wife and asked to meet with her. At the meeting, he shows up with yet another stone, but this one was quite different. It said “Pearce and Dare Historical Hoaxes. We Dare Anything.”
This was a blackmail attempt. He threatened to turn this stone over to the Saturday Evening Post and admit faking all the stones, unless he was paid $200. In order to entrap Eberhardt, Pierce paid him the $200, with a witness, requiring him to sign for the money, and then took the entire ordeal to the newspaper, exposing Eberhardt as a forger and the entire episode as a hoax. On the front page of the Atlanta Journal on May 15, 1941 the headline read “Hoax Claimed by ‘Dare Stones’ Finder in Extortion Scheme, Dr. Pearce Charges’.
Eberhardt, when finally located, told the story a bit differently. He said he never faked the stones, only looked where the Pierce’s had told him to.
One thing is for sure, the second and subsequent stones were not genuine, regardless of how this hoax was perpetuated, by whom and with the assistance of whom. Not for one minute do I believe that Bill Eberhardt with a third grade education was capable of composing Elizabethan English without some type of mentor. All of that makes a wonderful mystery and great reading, but the important part is that those stones can be dismissed from consideration as part of the solution to the mystery of the lost colony.
What is not as clear is whether the first stone is authentic or not. Louis Hammond was never found which seems a bit suspicious. The stone has neither been authenticated or proven unreliable. It was found “at the right time in the right place” to generate tourist interest for the Outer Banks and the new Lost Colony play, and there had been earlier discussion, and reports even of stones, as suggested “plants” to do just that. But whether the Chowan River stone was part of an earlier hoax or whether it is the real McCoy remains part of the mystery of the Lost Colonists.