1607: Jamestown and the New World
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Black Power Years of Withdrawal Triangular Diplomacy: U. Roe v. Flower Power The New Right The End of the Cold War Republicans vs. The End of the American Century. Jamestown, Virginia, was the site of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. The settlers chose a location close to the water, hoping to establish a thriving community. Pictured are the three ships that brought the original settlers to Jamestown in the Susan Constant , the Godspeed , and the Discovery.
Jamestowne Society The Jamestowne Society, an organization open to descendants of Jamestown colonizers, strives to educate and inform people about Jamestown and its settlers.
The society's website offers well-organized information on the settlement, including its history, people, charters, survival, and fashion. For fun, try out the Jamestown history quiz at the bottom of the homepage. Jamestown Was Established Take this virtual tour of the Jamestown settlement. The tour begins on May 14, , the day Jamestown was established. This brief journey offers pictures and explanations of important events in the development of the first English settlement in the New World.
The fact that the Jamestown brides were not sold is important and represents a conscious decision by the Company, which could have, as was easy and common at the time, kidnapped potential colonists instead. Shortly thereafter, a similar number of street urchins were rounded up and sent to Virginia.
These kidnappings were government-sponsored, but after the Virginia Company instituted a new incentive for immigrants in , private individuals also began kidnapping men and women for the colonies. Under this new arrangement, called the headright system, settlers who financed their own passage to the Virginia colony received acre tracts of land. The same amount of land was offered to anyone willing to sponsor the passage of a new settler. Speculators and planters were eager to take advantage of the latter offer, but they had difficulty finding willing recruits.
Paying men and women to kidnap settlers solved this problem. By mid-century, thousands of unwilling immigrants were being shipped to the colony as indentured servants every year. One particularly prolific kidnapper was rumored to have abducted more than 6, victims. So, if the Virginia Company had wanted to kidnap women to have enough colonial wives, it could have done so.
In fact, in a man named Owen Evans, a messenger for the Privy Council, a group which directly advised the king, decided to try, and he nearly succeeded. Claiming he had government approval, Evans traveled to Somerset, England, and began forcing dozens of young women onto ships. Luckily, his deception was quickly exposed and the women were freed. Owens was then charged with treason and hanged, drawn, and quartered.
The kidnapping was barely mentioned. Indeed, although private kidnappings were technically illegal, prosecutions were rare and punishments were minimal.
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In , a woman named Ann Servant was fined a mere 13 shillings and sixpence for kidnapping and selling a young woman named Alice Flax. Similarly, in , a couple was fined only 12 pence for kidnapping and selling a year-old girl. In comparison, a horse thief would have been hanged. Regardless of whether they could have gotten away with kidnapping, the leaders of the Virginia Company believed the role of colonial wife was too important to leave to reluctant or unwilling women.
Instead, they insisted on voluntary marital immigration, which was a wise decision: A century later, French Louisiana attempted to solve its gender imbalance through forced immigration and the results were disastrous.
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These women had no interest in marriage or the fate of the colony and they rapidly transformed it into a hotbed of crime and debauchery. The colonial government offered female colonists freedoms and opportunities unavailable to most 17th-century Englishwomen. But in Virginia, the need for female immigration frequently caused leaders to relax or ignore the rules of coverture.
Providing female colonists with free land was a substantial immigration incentive, but it was actually the generous property and inheritance laws that offered women the greatest benefit. Because malaria, dysentery, and influenza were widespread in colonial Virginia, early death was also common.
This meant that most marriages were short, but the morbid upside was that colonial law and practice ensured widowed women were uncommonly well provided for. In Virginia, widows almost always inherited more than that. Independent wealth also allowed colonial women to exert an unusual degree of control over their lives, particularly their marital decisions. In one well-known story, a Virginia woman named Sarah Harrison is recorded as refusing to go along with a crucial portion of the marriage ceremony.
After the third refusal, the reverend acquiesced to her demand and performed the ceremony with no mention of the promise to obey.