Elizabeth Shirland was born around 1577 in Devonshire, England. Elizabeth and some of her family joined a group of settlers to live on a colony founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585. Elizabeth was known as a very beautiful yet vigorous and energetic girl, and maybe that is the reason for her career after the mysterious happenings on Roanoke Island. Some chapters of Elizabeth Shirland's life are suspected to be fictional, especially when it comes to the mystery of her lost booty. Hidden treasures always inspired the fantasies of story tellers who passed on the legends of secret wealths.
Although John Cabot (ca. 1450-1499) established an English claim to the
North American continent as early as 1497-1498, more than half a century
elapsed before Englishmen turned their attention to the new lands. The
most well-known early colony was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh (ca.
1554-1618) on Roanoke Island, off the coast of present-day North Carolina.
In 1585, Raleigh's men settled on the small island. Raleigh sent groups of
settlers for three years, beginning in 1584. (Raleigh's initiative was
successfully imitated by a group of London investors who founded Virginia
Relations with the Native American inhabitants were peaceful at first, but
as the colonists' supplies dwindled, amity dwindled too. The colonists
left in 1586 after beheading the local Indian chief, Wingina.
Raleigh arranged for Governor John White and a group of
families to return to live in peace with the natives in 1587. Violence,
however, is not easily forgotten. Within one month, hostilities resumed,
and White was forced to return to England to ask Raleigh for
reinforcements. Time was not on White's side. When the war with Spain
erupted, White could not return to the colony for three years. When he set
foot on Roanoke Island in August 1590, he searched frantically for the
settlers, including his daughter and granddaughter, the first English New
World baby, named Virginia Dare.
All that could be found was the remains of a village and a
mysterious word, "CROATOAN," engraved on a tree. White concluded there
must be a connection between the word and a nearby Indian tribe, but
before he could investigate, a violent storm forced him out to sea and
back to England.
Left for three years, the 117 men, women, and children had
disappeared mysteriously. This lost colony remains one of the greatest
mysteries of the colonial period. Although Raleigh sent an expedition to
search for them, the colonists are never found and their fate remains
However, it is known that Elizabeth Shirland was amongst
those settlers. It is rumored that after being left behind the colonists
built a wall around their homes for protection from the Indians. This was
the wall that John White found on his return to Roanoke Island in 1590.
The men would leave the fort to hunt and fish as the colonist's food
supply eventually ran out. The Indians ambushed and killed each man as
they left the fort. In time all the men were killed and the Indians
captured the women and children. The Indians took the hostages to their
villages to live and work as slaves.
Elizabeth was raised by Indians and left the island 1589 on
board of a Spanish ship after she was picked up by Spanish soldiers. It is
said that she was held captive and raped several times by the soldiers
before she killed her sentinel with his own knife during the turmoil of a
pirate attack a few weeks later.
Disguised as a young man she had served under the command of
Sir Francis Drake, before she returned to England
and got married in 1595. However, she could not stand the life of a
housewife and soon left her husband and went to sea again. Little is
known about her life and destiny from that point forward. She returned to
York, England again once or twice, where she gave birth to a little son.
Soon afterwards she left her family for good.
Elizabeth had prepared her own career as a woman pirate. It is
safe to assume that she was inspired by the criminal career of the famous woman pirate Grace O'Malley.
When she was captain on her own ship, she disclosed her sex to her crew
and she commanded and ruled them with her iron will and her strong ability
to assert herself. She used men from the crew for her sexual pleasure, and
some of them left the ship with a cut throat. Due to that fact and her
ability to master the blade she was also known as the Cutlass Liz.
Cutlass Liz was not too successful as a pirate captain, and
hardly anything is known about her operations. The only successful strike
reported was the capturing of a Spanish merchant in 1604, where Cutlass
Liz looted silk and gold before burning the captured ship. A few weeks
afterwards she was betrayed to the Spanish by two members of her crew and
was arrested while making love to one of her traitors. As the Spaniards
dragged the naked woman pirate from the bed, she was suddenly aware of the
treason and managed to stab her lover with the dagger she had hidden
beneath her pillows. She was instantly killed by the soldiers, what spared
her from public humiliation and the painful death of hanging.
However, her only mentionable booty - gold and goods worth
at least £ 30,000 - was not on board of her ship anymore and could never