Child Becomes Alt-Right Icon
Born in 1587 in the Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina, Virginia Dare was the first English child born in a New World English overseas possession; she was named after the territory of Virginia.
What became of Virginia and the other colonists remains a mystery. When her grandfather, John White, returned from England in 1590, the settlement had been deserted. Buildings had collapsed, and White was unable to find any trace of his daughter or granddaughter—or any of the 108 people who made up the “Lost Colony.” Nothing else is known of Virginia Dare’s life.
Over the four centuries since the Roanoke colony, Virginia Dare became a prominent figure in American myth and folklore, symbolizing different things to different groups of people. She has been featured in books, poems, songs, television programs, and films. The name has been used to sell all types of goods and a number of places in North Carolina and elsewhere in the Southern United States have been named in her honor.
For some residents of North Carolina, Virginia Dare became an important symbol of the state and the desire to keep it predominantly European-American/white.
In the heyday of Jim Crow in the American South, at the 1907 exposition celebrating Jamestown’s 300th anniversary, Virginia Dare was profiled in the North Carolina exhibit as the “infant child of pure Caucasian blood” who launched “the birth of the white race in the Western Hemisphere.” In the 1920s, a group opposing suffrage for women feared that black women would get the vote, prompting a campaign in Raleigh urging “that North Carolina remain white … in the name of Virginia Dare.” Today, her name is used for the VDARE website, which is associated with white supremacy, white nationalism, and the alt-right. Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia describes VDARE as “one of the most prolific anti-immigration media outlets in the United States” and says that it is “broadly concerned with race issues in the United States.”
White supremacists and their allies still claim Virginia Dare as their own. Peter Brimelow, a friend of former White House adviser Stephen Bannon and current White House adviser Stephen Miller, founded the Vdare Foundation and vdare.com in 1999, to warn Americans about the danger posed by African and Asian immigrants. According to Andrew Lawler, author of The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke:
Virginia Dare’s story reveals our desire to assimilate and our anxiety about doing just that. This conflict is at the root of the cultural battle that led to violence last summer in Charlottesville, as white Americans confront the growing numbers of black and brown people with whom they share a country. The infant of Roanoke offers us two very different futures. We can be martyred for some imagined race, or we can recognize that to be American is, in its essence, to be willing to redefine our beliefs, goals and even our ethnicity. Only by getting lost can we become something new.
Which will we choose?