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Ninety maidens wooed and won

From the Mountains

The marriage of Pocahontas.
The earliest of Jamestown settlers who disembarked from the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed and the Discovery were on the new continent 16 months without seeing a woman except for Pocahontas and others of the Indian race.

Anne Forrest and Anne Burras arrived in October 1608 a year after the founding of the settlement. Mrs. Forrest was the wife of Thomas Forrest, one of the men in the settlement. The 14-year-old Anne Burras was her maid. Within a year Anne married John Layton a carpenter in the settlement in the first wedding in Jamestown. Their first child, a daughter, was named Virginia.

Initially their hope was to find gold, but tobacco became the primary crop and source of revenue. Additional men and a small number of women continued to arrive from England. The men were given a tract of land to work and on which to construct a dwelling. In this early period, there were very few women in the settlement.

During the winter of 1609-10 there wasn’t sufficient food in storage, and the inclement weather resulted in little success in hunting. This “starving time” resulted in 430 of the residents dying, out of a population of 490. Anne Burras and her daughter survived the bad winter.

The 1604 marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe was the social sensation of that period. There was much opposition in England and Virginia alike in the intermarriage of Christians and pagans, those without religion. The adverse commentary resulted in no similar marriages for many years. Incidentally, Pocahontas was the favored daughter of Chief Powhatan, and the marriage resulted in good relations between the Indians and settlers for eight years. Pocahontas, who became the first Indian to convert to Christianity, died in England in 1617.

Rolfe had been married before, but his wife perished after their ship wrecked off Bermuda. Their daughter survived, only to perish during infancy due to the unhealthy conditions at Jamestown.

The Virginia Company of London initially financed the settlement in the New World.

They soon found there was a good market for tobacco from Jamestown.

They decided that the tobacco output would improve if the settlement had more wives and children. This would give them a greater reason for toiling.

In 1618, the Virginia Company of London began sending “young handsome and well-educated maids” for the bachelors and widowers of Virginia. They were to be of good character and were to come of their own free will.

Interested women needed to be recommended by an employer or respected person.

The first two ships, the Jonathan and London, moored at Jamestown in May 1619 with this unusual cargo.

They carried 90 maidens, “homesick, seasick, but timidly inquisitive English girls” who could be wooed and won by the luckiest of about 400 immigrant bachelors.

The men were encouraged to be clean and dressed in their best garb.

The courting and mating began immediately on the Virginia shore.

But the men wooing and winning brides could not claim them until paying the Company 120 pounds of tobacco for each one.

The fee was to defray the costs of each maiden’s voyage from England.

It was written that the scene was amusing, with the women being largely outnumbered.

It gave them their choice of men and their own way in the matter.

It was said the wooing was done forthrightly and without embarrassment.

Surprisingly, it was soon over. The English company was paid for its costs and a sufficient profit to merit continuing the practice of sending wives to the Virginians. It continued for several more years, as there were many additional men wanting wives.

The celebratory bursts of gunfire celebrating the marriages could result in a dwindling of the gunpowder supply. There was always the potential for an Indian uprising.

There was a major setback in 1622 when such an uprising occurred, resulting in the death of a third of the colonists and the colony largely being destroyed.

Additional men and women continued to arrive in the New World.

The first duel in Jamestown was fought in 1624, and was thought to have been between two rivals in love. Richard Stephens wounded 25-year-old George Harrison, who died 14 days later.

Two women were sent back to England in 1632 because their behavior during a voyage that year was “disgraceful, rendering them unfit to be the mother of Virginians.”

Nathaniel Bacon led an attack on Jamestown in the 1670s, burning the entire town.

Jamestown never recovered, except as an archeological site.

Copyright 2022 Jadon Gibson.

Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature. Thanks to Lincoln Memorial University, Alice Lloyd College and the Museum of Appalachia for their assistance.