Friday, May 20, 2016
by Tamera Lynn Kraft
We've all heard about the mail order brides who came out West to marry men they'd written letters to but had never met, but long before the mail order brides of the Wild West, there were the Jamestown brides.
In 1607, Jamestown was the first permanent British settlement in America. On the shores of James Island in the colony of Virginia, men from the Virginia Company built a fort hoping to strike it rich finding gold. They didn't find gold, but after years of struggling, they did find Virginia was the perfect place to plant a cash crop of tobacco. Until then, tobacco was a luxury in England because it needed a warm climate to grow. After Jamestown was established, the habit of smoking became commonplace.
When Jamestown started, there were few women in the settlement. In 1608, the second ship arrived with the first two women, Anne Forrest, wife of Thomas Forrest, and her maid, fourteen-year-old Anne Buras who married a carpenter, John Layton. Anne Layton gave birth to the first European baby in the colony and named her Virginia.
In 1609, 120 more women arrived, most of them wives and families of the men traveling to Jamestown. Most of these women died, but Temperance Flowerdew Yeardley, wife of Captain George Yeardley who later became the governor of the colony, survived the "starving time" and became the mistress of a large plantation known as the Flowerdew Hundred. Joan Pierce sailed with her husband and daughter Jane and loved Jamestown life. Jane Pierce later married John Rolf after his first wife, Pocahontas died.
In order to entice more men to the colony to grow tobacco, in 1618, the Virginia Company began recruiting women to go to Jamestown to become brides and help establish the colony through families. In the first few years of bride ships, the women had to have references they were moral church going women. Later, because of the great need for women, the rules were relaxed.
The first bride ships left England in 1619 with a hundred women and arrived in Jamestown with only 90 of those women still alive. The second group of bride ships left England in 1621 with another 57 women. The women were expected to find husbands who could pay for their passage to the New Land. They could choose the husband they wanted, and they could also choose to remain single provided they worked as indentured servants for seven years to pay their passages. Because the ratio of men to women was seven to one, most women had married by the time the ship left to return to England three months later. If a woman chose to become an indentured servant instead of marrying immediately, she could marry at any time provided her husband paid the remainder of the passage she had not yet worked off.
Women came to Jamestown for many reasons. Even with the hardships they suffered, many had no resources in England. The cities were crowded, and their were no employment opportunities for women. If they didn't have husbands or fathers to care for them, their futures were bleak. Many times, they would be forced into starvation or prostitution. The bride ships gave them an opportunity to find a husband and a new life in a new land.
These women who left everything to come to Jamestown and survived famine, disease, and Indian attacks beside their husbands were the fore-mothers of the new land that would later be known as the United States of America. Their strength and courage, as well as their adventurous spirit, gives women today a great pattern to emulate.
Tamera Lynn Kraft has always loved adventures and writes Christian historical fiction set in America because there are so many adventures in American history. She has received 2nd place in the NOCW contest, 3rd place TARA writer’s contest, and is a finalist in the Frasier Writing Contest.
Her novellas Soldier’s Heart and A Christmas Promise are available on Amazon. Her novella Resurrection of Hope will be released in July.