Who Was The First European Child Born in "Virginia"?

location of Roanoke Colony on White-De Bry Map of Virginia
location of Roanoke Colony on White-De Bry Map of Virginia,
from Thomas Hariot's A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1590) (note that "west" rather than "north" is at the top of the map)
Source: Library of Congress

The first known English child known to have been born in what the English called Virginia was named Virginia Dare. She was born on August 18, 1587 at the colony on Roanoke Island. It which was in "Virginia" then, but is in North Carolina now.

Virginia Dare was the daughter of Ananias Dare and his wife Ellinor (also spelled Eleanor and Elyonor). She was the daughter of the leader of the Roanoke colony, John White.1

Virginia Dare is also the first English child whose name is known to die in Virginia. She was part of the "Lost Colony," which was last seen in 1587. Her mother, Eleanor White Dare, may have moved inland and carved a record of her daughter's death into a stone.

An artifact discovered in 1937 may be fraudulent, or may be a relict of the Lost Colony. It includes an incription stating that all but seven of the colonists had been slain by the Native Americans. According to the stone, Virginia Dare and her father Ananias were supposedly among the victims but Eleanor White Dare initially survived:2

Ye Salvages Faine Spirits Angrie Suddaine Murther Al Save Seaven Mine Childe Ananais to Slaine wth Much Misarie

this stone, reportedly discovered in 1937, could indicate what happened to Virginia Dare
this stone, reportedly discovered in 1937, could indicate what happened to Virginia Dare
Source: Brenau University, The Dare Stones

In 1587, there was no "North Carolina." Roanoke Island was within "Virginia" then, as defined by the English. Virginia Laydon, born in 1609, was the first English child known to have been born within the current boundaries of the state of Virginia. She was the daughter of John Laydon and Anne Burras. Anne Burras was the maidservant to Mistress Forrest, and together they were the first two women to arrive at Jamestown. Anne Burras married John Layden in December, 1608, shortly after her arrival.3

In contrast to the mix of colonists sent to Roanoke Island, no women had been included in the first expedition sent by the Virginia (London) Company to establish Jamestown in 1607. Men were perceived as the most capable colonists because they could explore, seeking mines or new pathways to China.

Women were not recognized as essential members of the colony until late in the company's management of Virginia. The decision to send women to Virginia in 1619 occurred when the Virginia Company consciously sought to make Virginia a more attractive colony for long-term settlement. Sending prospective wives to Jamestown and granting more autonomy (including a popularly-elected legislature) to the colonists was part of the new management strategy of the investors in the Virginia Company.

The very first child in Virginia with an English parent could have been born long before Virginia Dare on Roanoke Island in 1587. An English sailor working on one of the many Spanish ships that sailed along the coast in the 1500's could have had a child with a Native American woman. English sailors along the Atlantic Ocean coastline were rare before 1584, but there is no reason to assume that the sailors were celibate.

Similarly, the first child of a French parent may have been fathered by a sailor visiting the coastline, or traveling up the St. Lawrence River in the 1500's.

French settlers and sailors were willing to have children with Native Americans. In New France along the St. Lawrence River, the absence of women immigrants from France led to liaisons. The mixed-race children became known as Metis. Their ability to navigate between the cultures of First Nation mothers and European fathers was key to the success of French traders who traveled deep into the interior of Canada and the Mississippi River valley. The first documented child of French parents may be Hélène Desportes, born sometime after her parents Pierre Desportes and Françoise Langlois reached Quebec in 1614.4

In the first decades of English settlement in Virginia, there were far more male than female colonists. Sexual relationships between English men and Native American women must have occurred, but documentation is thin. Only a few of the early English colonists chose to formally marry Native Americans.

The most notable interracial marriage was John Rolfe and Pocahontas in 1614. While sexual relations between the colonists and the Algonquians may have occurred often outside of marrige, and the English permitted the Indians to enter the colonial houses freely until the uprising in 1622, formal acceptance of Native Americans into colonial Virginia society was extremely rare. A "population pyramid" displaying age and gender for the early colony would not resemble the culture in England, and the absence of women may explain why some colonists returned to England as soon as they had a chance.

The gender imbalance of the colony indicates that the investors who financed colonization of Virginia did not intend to establish an agricultural community initially. Jamestown was planned to be an outpost of male workers. Until the recognition that farming was the path to wealth in Virginia, the London Company did not try to create a parallel society to England on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Virginia Company understood the potential role of women in a colonial settlement, before deciding in 1606 to send just men to Jamestown on the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. Of approximately 120 colonists who arrived at Roanoke Island in 1587, 17 were women and:5

Sir Walter Raleigh knew that self-sustaining family groups were necessary to establish a permanent English settlement in the New World and made sure that his 1587 colony included both women and children.

romantic imagery surrounding Virginia Dare is unconstrained by the few facts documenting her life
romantic imagery surrounding Virginia Dare is unconstrained by the few facts documenting her life
Source: Virginia Dare: a romance of the sixteenth centurys

In 1619, the Virginia Company realized that tobacco culture could make the colony profitable. As part of a new strategy, the company sent women to Virginia and started to convert its outpost into a community, but it was too late. Failure to establish a society that could make a profit, or even defend the colony in 1622, cost the company its charter in 1624.

Pre-1970's textbooks on Virginia history may refer to Virginia Dare as the "first child" born in the New World. Such an English-centric perspective completely ignores the fact that Native American children had been born for perhaps 18,000 years in North America.

The Vikings created the first European settlements on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Saga of the Greenlanders describes how 60 men and 5 women sailed from Greenland to somewhere between Cape Cod-Newfoundland. The colony lasted only three years before everyone returned to Greenland, but Snorri Thorfinnsson - the son of Thorfinnr and Gudridr - was born during that time. His birth occurred between 1005–13A.D., nearly 600 years before Virginia Dare arrived on the Outer Banks of Virginia (now North Carolina).6

A narrower claim that "Virginia Dare was the first modern European child born in the boundaries of the modern United States" assumes incorrectly that no children were born in the Spanish settlements established in the 1500's. Martín de Arguelles Jr. was born in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1566. He was 21 years old before Virginia Dare was born at Roanoke Island in 1587.7

The settlement of Virginia by the English is often presented as a conquest tale, a story of righteous and modern European colonists replacing technologically-backward, morally-challenged occupants who lacked official right to the land. Claims regarding the "first child born in Virginia" and the "First Families of Virginia" often reflect the racial attitudes of the 1800's. They fail to consider the Native Americans, or the Spanish and other nationalities who set foot on "Virginia" long before Jamestown was built starting in 1607.

In 2015, the state of Virginia unveiled an historical sign that provided some balance to the debate regarding which Europeans had "first" children in North America. The descendants of Antony and Isabella participated in the dedication of a new historical market at Hampton, together with the annual African Landing Day commemorating the arrival in Virginia of the first African Americans (who had been captured from a Portuguese slave ship). As noted on the marker:8

Their son, William, was the first child of African ancestry known to have been born in Virginia (ca. 1624).

Failure of the French Before Jamestown

The First Virginian

Spain and Jamestown

Spanish Exploration and Settlement in the Southeast

Was Virginia Destined to Be English?

Virginia - An International Frontier With French, Spanish, Swedish, and Dutch Involvement



1. "Virginia Dare (1587-?)," North Carolina History Project, https://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/virginia-dare-1587/ (last checked March 23, 2019)
2. "Dismissed as a forgery, could a mysterious stone found near Roanoke’s ‘Lost Colony’ be real?," Washington Post, July 5, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/07/05/dismissed-as-a-forgery-could-a-mysterious-stone-found-near-roanokes-lost-colony-actually-be-real/ (last checked July 6, 2018)
3. "Heroines of Virginia," The William and Mary Quarterly, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Vol. 15, No. 1 (July 1906), p.39, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1915736 (last checked July 2, 2014)
4. "Desportes, Hélène (Hébert; Morin)," Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/desportes_helene_1E.html (last checked March 23, 2019)
5. "The Women of the Lost Colony," Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/fora/historyculture/women.htm (last checked July 2, 2014)
6. T. J. Oleson, "SSnorri Thorfinnsson," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/snorri_thorfinnsson_1E.html (last checked July 2, 2014)
7. "Firsts," Boca Raton News, July 4, 1971, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1291&dat=19710704&id=5vdTAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KI0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=4179,227424 (last checked July 2, 2014)
8. "Virginia recognizes first Africans to arrive in state," Free Lance-Star, August 21, 2015, http://www.fredericksburg.com/news/va_md_dc/virginia-recognizes-first-africans-to-arrive-in-state/article_ce379741-34d1-528a-86a2-feefe4630e6d.html (last checked August 24, 2015)

Exploring Land, Settling Frontiers
Virginia Places