Did Sir Walter Raleigh Get Drunk in Canada?

I learned a new adage recently, Betteridge’s Law of Headlines: "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." I’d already understood that mentally of course I just didn’t realize it had a name. Good to know.

Naturally, Sir Walter Raleigh never got drunk in Canada. I’m pretty sure he confined his New World explorations farther south. Don’t worry, I’ll get to a tenuous connection momentarily. Also I didn’t think my clickbait headline really counted as such since it involved a topic few would ever be enticed to click. I just wanted an opportunity to invoke Betteridge’s Law of Headlines. Thank you for indulging me.

Rolla, North Dakota, USA

Rolla, North Dakota

It began with Rolla, North Dakota, the geolocation of a random 12MC visitor as suggested by Google Analytics. I wondered about a little dot at the farthest, most northern reach of North Dakota in the reader statistics and it turned out to be Rolla. I didn’t learn anything except that Rolla happened to be in Rolette County. I wondered if Rolla derived its name from Rolette and never found an explanation, satisfactory or otherwise. Forget about Rolla, North Dakota. I’m sure it was a fine town although it didn’t matter to the rest of the story other than leading me to wonder whether there were other Rollas.

Rolla, Missouri, USA

Rolla, Missouri

There were several places named Rolla. The largest was probably Rolla, Missouri with about twenty thousand residents, and the seat of government for Phelps County. I had better luck determining the origin of its name, though. The City of Rolla even maintained a convenient History and Naming of Rolla, Missouri page.

In 1858 Rolla was officially surveyed and laid out, and was officially named. Mr. Bishop wanted to call it Phelps Center, as his house was located in the center of the county. John Webber preferred the name Hardscrabble. George Coppedge, another original settler, and formerly of North Carolina, favored "Raleigh" after his home town. The others agreed with Coppedge on the condition that it need not have "that silly spelling," but should be spelled "ROLLA".

The explanation sounded a little bogus, however that’s what the city itself believed and that’s what it presented to the public so I’ll go with it. This is where the Sir Walter Raleigh part figured into the equation. Raleigh, the capital city of North Carolina, the supposed namesake of the phonetically-spelled Rolla, was named for Sir Walter Raleigh.

Rolla, British Columbia, Canada

Rolla, British Columbia

Let’s trace the story in another direction. Much farther north and deep into the Province of British Columbia sat another Rolla. It had a connection too.

The Lea Miller family was the first settlers to arrive in the area in 1912 that were originally from Rolla, Missouri in the USA. This new area then started being referred to as Rolla. The Millers opened a post office and Rolla was officially named in 1914.

Rolla, BC was known best for The Rolla Pub, established in 1920. Their website even included a short video of the interior which was described as "an explosion of kitsch."

Let’s recap the chain of events.

  1. Sir Walter Raleigh was an important figure in early North Carolina history
  2. The state named its capital city in his honor, Raleigh
  3. George Coppedge moved from North Carolina to Missouri and suggested the same name for his new hometown, spelled phonetically, Rolla
  4. Lea Miller brought the name from Missouri to British Columbia
  5. A pub in Rolla, BC took the name of the town

Ergo, these steps completed the strange connection between an English explorer and a Canadian prairie pub.

One Reply to “Did Sir Walter Raleigh Get Drunk in Canada?”

  1. Speaking as a resident of Raleigh, I can see an obvious problem with the Raleigh -> Rolla explanation, which is that Raleigh isn’t pronounced in a way that would become “Rolla”. If that were really the origin I would expect the name to be called Rolly.

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