Saturday, March 17, 2018

Augustine Herrman 1605-1686 - From Enemy Mapmaker to Commited Colonist

Article from The Salisbury Times (now called The Delmarva Times), Salisbury, Maryland from the Delmarva Heritage Series, by Dr. William H. Wroten, Jr.
Augustine Herrman (1605-1686) Artist Unknown c. 1800-1900 Maryland Historical Society

Augustine Herrman, son of a wealthy and important merchant of Prague (in present day Czechoslovakia) was able to speak at least six languages and in addition was an artist, surveyor, and mapmaker. As a soldier of fortune he fought in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) under the famous (or infamous) Wallenstein at the Battle of Lutzen, where King Gustavus Adolphus was killed in 1632. The next year, 1633, Herrman became interested in the work of the Dutch West India Company and sailed to America where he was active in the Dutch purchase from the Indians of lands on the Schuykill River. His rise to a position of importance in this Dutch Colony was rapid for he was soon a wealthy and prosperous merchant, banker, lawyer, sponsor of privateering, and influential in governmental circles. On occasions Governor Peter Stuyvesant chose him as an ambassador to Maryland, Virginia and sections of New England. Later, however Herrman fell from the good graces of the Governor when he opposed him in the Council, and for this Herrman was imprisoned.

In the meantime (1654-1655) the Dutch had taken over the Swedish settlement along the Delaware and thus they ran into conflict over boundary lines and land possession with Lord Baltimore's family. On September 30, 1659, two Dutch ambassadors, accompanied by some guides, mostly Indians, and conveyed by a few soldiers, left New Amsterdam for Maryland. On Oct. 16, this Dutch commission delivered a "declaration and manifesto" to the Council of Maryland which was meeting at Patuxent. It was suggested by the Dutch that in order to prevent further trouble, three delegates from each colony be appointed to meet "about the middle of between the Bay of Chesapeake and the aforesaid South river or Delaware Bay, at the hill lying to the head of Sassafras River and another river coming from our river almost meet together," with full power to settle the boundary and limits of the two provinces. After hours of debate, the Council on Oct. 19 announced to the Dutch, by way of the ambassadors, Augustine Herrman and Resolved Waldron, that the land settled and claimed by them in the vicinity of the 40th degree north latitude belonged to Lord Baltimore and the King of England and that such authority must be recognized. The Council made it clear, although using diplomatic language, that force would be used against the Dutch if necessary. With this reply, Waldron returned to New Amsterdam, while Herrman journeyed on to Virginia to see how the Governor of that Colony felt about the matter and also if possible to create seeds of dissention between the two English settlements. The Dutch mission was unsuccessful but the disputed territory continued to be troublesome for Maryland and Delaware even after the Dutch had been removed from the area.
Augustine Herman, First Lord of Bohemia Manor (Czech Augustin HeĊ™man, c. 1621 – September 1686). However, during Herrman's visit to Maryland in 1659, Gov. Philip Calvert, recognizing this foreigner as a man of ability, took a liking to him. At the same time Herrman was quite pleased with the northern region of the Eastern Shore. Soon a deal was made between the two, whereby Herrman would make a map of the Province of Maryland, for which a large grant of land was to be given him at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. This estate was named Bohemia Manor, in honor of his native land. In 1666 he was made a naturalized citizen of Maryland, probably the first foreigner so honored. 

The map was finally completed and published in London in the 1670's, being inscribed by Herrman as "Virginia and Maryland as it is now planted and inhabited this present year of 1670, surveyed and exactly drawn by the only labors and endeavors of Augustine Herrman, Behemiensis." This original map is supposed to be still in the British Museum, in four folio sheets, with a self portrait of the artist.
Southeast portion of Augustine Herrman Map showing the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland

Friday, March 16, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

First Licensed Female Colonial Printer - Dinah Nuthead of 1695 Maryland

In 1695, Dinah Nuthead inherited her husband's printing press in St. Mary's City, Maryland. St. Mary's was the capital of the state at that time, & her husband William acted as the government's printer. Less than a year later, Dinah moved the printing press to Annapolis; when the government relocated there, & she continued to run the printing business. She would become the first licensed female printer in the colonies.

Colonial governments showed little enthusiasm for printing presses & their owners in the 17th century. Printing in England was strictly controlled from the late 16th century; until the Licensing Act lapsed in 1695. The number of printers & the size of their shops was regulated. Authorities feared that printing might incite the populace.

Sir William Berkeley, royal governor of Virginia in 1671, wrote, 'I thank God there are no free schools nor printing and I hope we shall not have these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them...God keep us from both.'

The instructions of King James II to Governor Edmund Andros of New England, gave him sweeping powers: "And forasmuch as great inconvenience may arise by the liberty of printing within our said territory under your government you are to provide by all necessary orders that no person keep any printing-press for printing, nor that any book, pamphlet or other matters whatsoever be printed without your especial leave and license first obtained."

John Buckner was the first man to use a printing press in Virginia. He employed William Nuthead to print the laws of the General Assembly under Governor Berkeley, beginning in June 8, 1680. On February 21, 1682-3, he was called before Berkeley's successor Lord Culpepper and the Council for not getting His Excellency's license. Thereupon he and his printer were ordered to give bond in £100 not to print anything thereafter until His Majesty's pleasure should be known. 

William Nuthead (1654-1695) moved to nearby Maryland & had a printing press up & running in St. Mary's City by 1686, when immigration records show him entering the province. After Massachusetts, Maryland was the 2nd colony to establish & sustain a printing press. Archaeologists have found pieces of the Nuthead's printing type on several sites in St. Mary's City. Nuthead's main business was in printing forms for the government.

After the Protestants gained power in Maryland in 1689, they hired Nuthead to print a political tract petitioning the English monarchs for legitimacy. A surviving copy in London, titled “The Declaration of the Reasons and Motives,” notes that it was “printed by William Nuthead at the City of St. Maries.”

At his death in 1695, his wife Dinah Nuthead continued operating the press; and when the capital moved to Annapolis later that same year, she moved with the government.

On May 5, 1696, more than a year after her husband's death, "Dinah Nuthead's Petition for License to Print was read & referred to the House that if they have nothing to Object her Paper might be Granted provided she give Security for the same."

Eight days later her petition was read to the delegates, & the House expressed its willingness that she should have leave to print if his Excellency pleased. Evidently the Governor offered no objection, for the next day 3 persons described as "Dinah Nuthead of Ann Arundell County Widow, Robert Carvile, and William Taylard of St. Maries County Gentn" gave bond to the Governor to the amount of 100 pounds for the good behavior of Dinah Nuthead in the operation of her press.

"Now the Condition of this Obligation is such that if the said Dinah Nuthead shall exercise and Imploy her printing press and letters to noe other use than for the printing of blank bills bonds writts warrants of Attorney Letters of Admrcon and other like blanks as above - sd nor Suffer any other person to make use thereof any otherwise than aforesd Unless by a particular Lycense from his Exncy the Governor first had and obtained And further shall save harmless and indempnifye his sd Exncy the Governor from any Damage that may hereafter Ensue by the said Dinah Nuthead misapplying or Suffering to be misapplyed the aforesd Printing press or letters otherwise than to the true intent & meaning before expressed, Then this Obligation to be Voyd or else to Remain in full force and Virtue."

This agreement for the protection of the Province against the evils of indiscriminate printing was signed by witnesses, by the 2 bondsmen, & by the Dinah Nuthead, who made her mark instead of signing her name to the document.

She had agreed "to print blanks, bills, bonds, writs, warrants of attorney, letters of administration and other necessary blanks useful for the public offices of this Province." And she had agreed to forfeit her license & her bond & go out of business; if she should print anything other than what the government specified. Since Dinah could not write, she probably would not act as compositor & set type with her own hands. She would supply the money & business acumen, leaving the mechanical aspects of operating a printing press to literate employes.

Sometime before December of 1700, Dinah Nuthead remarried widower Manus Deveron (1655-1700) of Anne Arundel County, who dying in that month left his estate to his own daughter Catherine, & to his children-in-law, that is his step-children, William & Susan Nuthead. His wife & executrix submitted her account to the county under the name of Dinah Devoran. In later years, Dinah married again to "Sebastian Oley of Annarund'l County a German born," as he was described in his act of naturalization of 1702.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

1692 Salem Witch Trials

In 1692 a group of adolescent girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, became subject to strange fits after hearing tales told by a West Indian slave. They accused several women of being witches. The townspeople were appalled but not surprised: Belief in witchcraft was widespread throughout 17th-century America and Europe. Town officials convened a court to hear the charges of witchcraft. Within a month, six women were convicted and hanged.

The hysteria grew, in large measure because the court permitted witnesses to testify that they had seen the accused as spirits or in visions. Such "spectral evidence" could neither be verified nor made subject to objective examination. By the fall of 1692, 20 victims, including several men, had been executed, and more than 100 others were in jail (where another five victims died) -- among them some of the town's most prominent citizens. When the charges threatened to spread beyond Salem, ministers throughout the colony called for an end to the trials. The governor of the colony agreed. Those still in jail were later acquitted or given reprieves.

Although an isolated incident, the Salem episode has long fascinated Americans. Most historians agree that Salem Village in 1692 experienced a kind of public hysteria, fueled by a genuine belief in the existence of witchcraft. While some of the girls may have been acting, many responsible adults became caught up in the frenzy as well.

Even more revealing is a closer analysis of the identities of the accused and the accusers. Salem Village, as much of colonial New England, was undergoing an economic and political transition from a largely agrarian, Puritan-dominated community to a more commercial, secular society. Many of the accusers were representatives of a traditional way of life tied to farming and the church, whereas a number of the accused witches were members of a rising commercial class of small shopkeepers and tradesmen. Salem's obscure struggle for social and political power between older traditional groups and a newer commercial class was one repeated in communities throughout American history. It took a bizarre and deadly detour when its citizens were swept up by the conviction that the devil was loose in their homes.

The Salem witch trials also serve as a dramatic parable of the deadly consequences of making sensational, but false, charges. Three hundred years later, we still call false accusations against a large number of people a "witch hunt."

For more, see Outline of U.S. History, a publication of the U.S. Department of State from the website of the United States Information Agency, where it was published in November 2005.

Monday, March 12, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Emergence of 17C Colonial Governments

Detail Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899

In the early phases of colonial development, a striking feature was the lack of controlling influence by the English government. All colonies except Georgia emerged as companies of shareholders, or as feudal proprietorships stemming from charters granted by the Crown. The fact that the king had transferred his immediate sovereignty over the New World settlements to stock companies and proprietors did not, of course, mean that the colonists in America were necessarily free of outside control. Under the terms of the Virginia Company charter, for example, full governmental authority was vested in the company itself. Nevertheless, the crown expected that the company would be resident in England. Inhabitants of Virginia, then, would have no more voice in their government than if the king himself had retained absolute rule.

Still, the colonies considered themselves chiefly as commonwealths or states, much like England itself, having only a loose association with the authorities in London. In one way or another, exclusive rule from the outside withered away. The colonists -- inheritors of the long English tradition of the struggle for political liberty -- incorporated concepts of freedom into Virginia's first charter. It provided that English colonists were to exercise all liberties, franchises, and immunities "as if they had been abiding and born within this our Realm of England." They were, then, to enjoy the benefits of the Magna Carta -- the charter of English political and civil liberties reluctantly granted by King John in 1215 -- and the common law -- the English system of law based on legal precedents or tradition, not statutory law. In 1618 the Virginia Company issued instructions to its appointed governor providing that free inhabitants of the plantations should elect representatives to join with the governor and an appointive council in passing ordinances for the welfare of the colony.

These measures proved to be some of the most far-reaching in the entire colonial period. From then on, it was generally accepted that the colonists had a right to participate in their own government. In most instances, the king, in making future grants, provided in the charter that the free men of the colony should have a voice in legislation affecting them. Thus, charters awarded to the Calverts in Maryland, William Penn in Pennsylvania, the proprietors in North and South Carolina, and the proprietors in New Jersey specified that legislation should be enacted with "the consent of the freemen."

In New England, for many years, there was even more complete self-government than in the other colonies. Aboard the Mayflower, the Pilgrims adopted an instrument for government called the "Mayflower Compact," to "combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation ... and by virtue hereof [to] enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices ... as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony. ..."

Although there was no legal basis for the Pilgrims to establish a system of self-government, the action was not contested, and, under the compact, the Plymouth settlers were able for many years to conduct their own affairs without outside interference.

A similar situation developed in the Massachusetts Bay Company, which had been given the right to govern itself. Thus, full authority rested in the hands of persons residing in the colony. At first, the dozen or so original members of the company who had come to America attempted to rule autocratically. But the other colonists soon demanded a voice in public affairs and indicated that refusal would lead to a mass migration.

The company members yielded, and control of the government passed to elected representatives. Subsequently, other New England colonies -- such as Connecticut and Rhode Island -- also succeeded in becoming self-governing simply by asserting that they were beyond any governmental authority, and then setting up their own political system modeled after that of the Pilgrims at Plymouth.

In only two cases was the self-government provision omitted. These were New York, which was granted to Charles II's brother, the Duke of York (later to become King James II), and Georgia, which was granted to a group of "trustees." In both instances the provisions for governance were short-lived, for the colonists demanded legislative representation so insistently that the authorities soon yielded.

In the mid-17th century, the English were too distracted by their Civil War (1642-1649) and Oliver Cromwell's Puritan Commonwealth to pursue an effective colonial policy. After the restoration of Charles II and the Stuart dynasty in 1660, England had more opportunity to attend to colonial administration. Even then, however, it was inefficient and lacked a coherent plan. The colonies were left largely to their own devices.

The remoteness afforded by a vast ocean also made control of the colonies difficult. Added to this was the character of life itself in early America. From countries limited in space and dotted with populous towns, the settlers had come to a land of seemingly unending reach. On such a continent, natural conditions promoted a tough individualism, as people became used to making their own decisions. Government penetrated the backcountry only slowly, and conditions of anarchy often prevailed on the frontier.

Yet the assumption of self-government in the colonies did not go entirely unchallenged. In the 1670s, the Lords of Trade and Plantations, a royal committee established to enforce the mercantile system in the colonies, moved to annul the Massachusetts Bay charter because the colony was resisting the government's economic policy. James II in 1685 approved a proposal to create a Dominion of New England and place colonies south through New Jersey under its jurisdiction, thereby tightening the Crown's control over the whole region. A royal governor, Sir Edmund Andros, levied taxes by executive order, implemented a number of other harsh measures, and jailed those who resisted.

When news of the Glorious Revolution (1688-1689), which deposed James II in England, reached Boston, the population rebelled and imprisoned Andros. Under a new charter, Massachusetts and Plymouth were united for the first time in 1691 as the royal colony of Massachusetts Bay. The other New England colonies quickly reinstalled their previous governments.

The English Bill of Rights and the Toleration Act of 1689 affirmed freedom of worship for Christians in the colonies as well as in England and enforced limits on the Crown. Equally important, John Locke's Second Treatise on Government (1690), the Glorious Revolution's major theoretical justification, set forth a theory of government based not on divine right but on contract. It contended that the people, endowed with natural rights of life, liberty, and property, had the right to rebel when governments violated their rights.

For more, see Outline of U.S. History, a publication of the U.S. Department of State from the website of the United States Information Agency, where it was published in November 2005.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Education in 17C Colonial British American

A significant factor deterring the emergence of a powerful aristocratic or gentry class in the colonies was the ability of anyone in an established colony to find a new home on the frontier. Time after time, dominant Tidewater figures were obliged to liberalize political policies, land-grant requirements, and religious practices by the threat of a mass exodus to the frontier. Of equal significance for the future were the foundations of American education and culture established during the colonial period. Harvard College was founded in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Near the end of the century, the College of William and Mary was established in Virginia. 

Even more noteworthy was the growth of a school system maintained by governmental authority. The Puritan emphasis on reading directly from the Scriptures underscored the importance of literacy. In 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted the "ye olde deluder Satan" Act, requiring every town having more than 50 families to establish a grammar school (a Latin school to prepare students for college). Shortly thereafter, all the other New England colonies, except for Rhode Island, followed its example.

The Pilgrims and Puritans had brought their own little libraries and continued to import books from London. And as early as the 1680s, Boston booksellers were doing a thriving business in works of classical literature, history, politics, philosophy, science, theology, and belles-lettres. In 1638 the first printing press in the English colonies and the second in North America was installed at Harvard College.

The first school in Pennsylvania was begun in 1683. It taught reading, writing, and keeping of accounts. Thereafter, in some fashion, every Quaker community provided for the elementary teaching of its children. More advanced training -- in classical languages, history, and literature -- was offered at the Friends Public School, which still operates in Philadelphia as the William Penn Charter School. The school was free to the poor, but parents were required to pay tuition if they were able.

In Philadelphia, numerous private schools with no religious affiliation taught languages, mathematics, and natural science; there were also night schools for adults. Women were not entirely overlooked, but their educational opportunities were limited to training in activities that could be conducted in the home. Private teachers instructed the daughters of prosperous Philadelphians in French, music, dancing, painting, singing, grammar, and sometimes bookkeeping.

For more, see Outline of U.S. History, a publication of the U.S. Department of State from the website of the United States Information Agency, where it was published in November 2005.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Southern Colonies

Slaves Working in 17C Virginia Unknown artist c 1670 Wikimedia

In contrast to New England and the middle colonies, the Southern colonies were predominantly rural settlements.  By the late 17th century, Virginia's and Maryland's economic and social structure rested on the great planters and the yeoman farmers. The planters of the Tidewater region, supported by slave labor, held most of the political power and the best land. They built great houses, adopted an aristocratic way of life, and kept in touch as best they could with the world of culture overseas.

The yeoman farmers, who worked smaller tracts, sat in popular assemblies and found their way into political office. Their outspoken independence was a constant warning to the oligarchy of planters not to encroach too far upon the rights of free men.

The settlers of the Carolinas quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the marketplace became a major source of prosperity. Dense forests brought revenue: Lumber, tar, and resin from the longleaf pine provided some of the best shipbuilding materials in the world. Not bound to a single crop as was Virginia, North and South Carolina also produced and exported rice and indigo, a blue dye obtained from native plants that was used in coloring fabric. 

In the southernmost colonies, as everywhere else, population growth in the backcountry had special significance. German immigrants and Scots-Irish, unwilling to live in the original Tidewater settlements where English influence was strong, pushed inland. Those who could not secure fertile land along the coast, or who had exhausted the lands they held, found the hills farther west a bountiful refuge. Although their hardships were enormous, restless settlers kept coming.

For more, see Outline of U.S. History, a publication of the U.S. Department of State from the website of the United States Information Agency, where it was published in November 2005.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Monday, March 5, 2018

New York & Pennsylvania

New Amsterdam in 1660.  Today New York's Financial District is located on the southern tip of Manhattan, roughly overlapping the New Amsterdam settlement on New York Harbor in 1625 - on one of the world’s largest natural harbors. Containing many of New York’s oldest structures, the town was the 1st legally charted city in America.

New York best illustrated the polyglot nature of America. By 1646 the population along the Hudson River included Dutch, French, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, English, Scots, Irish, Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Portuguese, and Italians. The Dutch continued to exercise an important social and economic influence on the New York region long after the fall of New Netherland and their integration into the British colonial system. Their sharp-stepped gable roofs became a permanent part of the city's architecture, and their merchants gave Manhattan much of its original bustling, commercial atmosphere.

Society in the middle colonies was far more varied, cosmopolitan, and tolerant than in New England. Under William Penn, Pennsylvania functioned smoothly and grew rapidly. By 1685, its population was almost 9,000. The heart of the colony was Philadelphia, a city of broad, tree-shaded streets, substantial brick and stone houses, and busy docks. By the end of the colonial period, nearly a century later, 30,000 people lived there, representing many languages, creeds, and trades. Their talent for successful business enterprise made the city one of the thriving centers of the British Empire.

Though the Quakers dominated in Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania others were well represented. Germans became the colony's most skillful farmers. Important, too, were cottage industries such as weaving, shoe-making, cabinetmaking, and other crafts. Pennsylvania was also the principal gateway into the New World for the Scots-Irish, who moved into the colony in the early 18th century. "Bold and indigent strangers," as one Pennsylvania official called them, they hated the English and were suspicious of all government. The Scots-Irish tended to settle in the backcountry, where they cleared land and lived by hunting and subsistence farming.

For more, see Outline of U.S. History, a publication of the U.S. Department of State from the website of the United States Information Agency, where it was published in November 2005.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

17C New England

The northeastern New England colonies had generally thin, stony soil, relatively little level land, and long winters, making it difficult to make a living from farming. Turning to other pursuits, the New Englanders harnessed water power and established grain mills and sawmills. Good stands of timber encouraged shipbuilding. Excellent harbors promoted trade, and the sea became a source of great wealth. In Massachusetts, the cod industry alone quickly furnished a basis for prosperity.

With the bulk of the early settlers living in villages and towns around the harbors, many New Englanders carried on some kind of trade or business. Common pastureland and woodlots served the needs of townspeople, who worked small farms nearby. Compactness made possible the village school, the village church and the village or town hall, where citizens met to discuss matters of common interest.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony continued to expand its commerce. From the middle of the 17th century onward it grew prosperous, and Boston became one of America's greatest ports.

Oak timber for ships' hulls, tall pines for spars and masts, and pitch for the seams of ships came from the Northeastern forests. Building their own vessels and sailing them to ports all over the world, the shipmasters of Massachusetts Bay laid the foundation for a trade that was to grow steadily in importance. By the end of the colonial period, one-third of all vessels under the British flag were built in New England. Fish, ship's stores and wooden ware swelled the exports.

New England shippers soon discovered, too, that rum and slaves were profitable commodities. One of the most enterprising -- if unsavory -- trading practices of the time was the so-called "triangular trade." Merchants and shippers would purchase slaves off the coast of Africa for New England rum, then sell the slaves in the West Indies where they would buy molasses to bring home for sale to the local rum producers.

For more, see Outline of U.S. History, a publication of the U.S. Department of State from the website of the United States Information Agency, where it was published in November 2005.

Friday, March 2, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

An Early "Melting Pot"

Quakers of Pennsylvania. 17C North of American Colonists from History of the United States, 1899 

Most settlers who came to America in the 17th century were English, but there were also Dutch, Swedes and Germans in the middle region, a few French Huguenots in South Carolina and elsewhere, slaves from Africa, primarily in the South, and a scattering of Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese throughout the colonies.

After 1680, England ceased to be the chief source of immigration. Thousands of refugees fled continental Europe to escape the path of war. Many left their homelands to avoid the poverty induced by government oppression and absentee-landlords.

By 1690, the American population had risen to a quarter of a million. From then on, it doubled every 25 years until, in 1775, it numbered more than 2.5 million.

Although a family could move from Massachusetts to Virginia or from South Carolina to Pennsylvania, without major readjustment, distinctions between individual colonies were marked. They were even more so between the three regional groupings of colonies.

For more, see Outline of U.S. History, a publication of the U.S. Department of State from the website of the United States Information Agency, where it was published in November 2005.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

1642 Education - Massachusetts Bay School Law

Massachusetts Bay School Law

Forasmuch as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth; and wheras many parents & masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kinde.

It is therfore ordered that the Select men of everie town, in the severall precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren & neighbours, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may inable them perfectly to read the english tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes: upon penaltie of twentie shillings for each neglect therin.

Also that all masters of families doe once a week (at the least) catechize their children and servants in the grounds & principles of Religion, & if any be unable to doe so much: that then at the least they procure such children or apprentices to learn some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism by their parents or masters or any of the Select men when they shall call them to a tryall of what they have learned of this kinde.

And further that all parents and masters do breed & bring up their children & apprentices in some honest lawful calling, labour or imployment, either in husbandry, or some other trade profitable for themselves, and the Common-wealth if they will not or cannot train them up in learning to fit them for higher imployments.

And if any of the Select men after admonition by them given to such masters of families shal finde them still negligent of their dutie in the particulars aforementioned, wherby children and servants become rude, stubborn & unruly; the said Select men with the help of two Magistrates, or the next County court for that Shire, shall take such children or apprentices from them & place them with some masters for years (boyes till they come to twenty one, and girls eighteen years of age compleat) which will more strictly look unto, and force them to submit unto government according to the rules of this order, if by fair means and former instructions they will not be drawn into it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

1686 Virginia Women through the Eyes of a Visiting Frenchman

Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, ending French toleration of Protestants. Many French Protestants fled to other countries friendly to Protestants. In England, the Huguenots were seen as temporary refugees, waiting for French policies to change again. In the New World, however, the colonies were eager to recruit the Huguenots as permanent settlers. Virginia was land-rich and people-poor, and Protestant refugees were prime targets for expanding the local population.

One Huguenot refugee in Virginia during 1686, Durand de Dauphine fled France, arrived at the North River separating Mathews and Gloucester counties on September 22, 1686. The idea of settling in Virginia was intriguing to the Frenchman:

The land is so rich & so fertile that when a man has fifty acres of ground, two men-servants, a maid & some cattle, neither he nor his wife do anything but visit among their neighbors. Most of them do not even take the trouble to oversee the work of their slaves, for there is no house, however modest, where there is not what is called a Lieutenant, generally a freedman, under whose commands two servants are placed. This Lieutenant keeps himself, works & makes his two servants work, & receives one-third of the tobacco, grain, & whatever they have planted, & thus the master has only to take his share of the crops.

Occasionally Durand comments in his journal specifically about the women of Virginia...

Moreover, the Captain sold here all the women servants for tobacco...As we were crossing the river, which it was necessary to do here in boats, Mr. Wormeley said to me that there lived in this neighbourhood the widow of a worthy citizen; that she was only 30 years of age, good looking, without children, and that he knew that she wanted nothing better than to marry a person of quality; that he had great influence with her; that she had a good house, a plantation of 1,000 acres of land, and plenty of servants and cattle of all kinds; that it was only a league's distance, and if I agreed we might turn out of our way and he would propose me to her as a husband...the refuge of people who are unable to make a living in England. Taking ship, they are brought hither and sold for their passage. The country constitutes also the galleys of England, for those who have committed any crime short of hanging may be banished and condemned to service in America. It is also the refuge of bankrupts. As to women likewise, it is the refuge of those who have been convicted of picking and stealing or have lost their reputations for chastity...Each one is master in his own plantation. The gentlemen, whom they call squires, are greatly honoured and respected. Moreover, they have the best of manners and good faith. They serve nearly all the offices of honour or emolument in the country...When a man runs through his property he exhausts that of his wife also, and this is not unjust for the women show the way in drinking and smoking. They spend most of their time visiting one another.

With tobacco they buy lands, hire and buy cattle; and as they can secure all they want with this commodity they become so lazy that they even import from England their linen and their hats, their women's clothes and their shoes... her to make shoes, and flax to make linen. On arriving I saw as good and as fine flax growing in Virginia as there is in Europe, but they let it waste after having gathered it, because there is not a woman in all the country who knows how to spin...When I went to church (all their churches are in the woods) I saw the parson and all the congregation smoking in the churchyard while waiting for the hour of service. When the sermon was over they did the same thing before separating. There are seats provided in the churchyards for this purpose. It was here that I saw that everyone smoked, women and girls and boys down to the age of seven years...Whatever their estates, for what reason I do not know, they build their houses consisting only of two ground floor rooms, with some closets and one or two prophet's chambers above. According to his means, each planter provides as many of such houses as he needs. They build also a separate kitchen, a house for the Christian (white indentured servants) slaves, another for negro slaves, and several tobacco barns, so that in arriving at the plantation of a person of importance you think you are entering a considerable village...When the women do their washing, if the clothes are not all dried the same day, they leave them out of doors sometimes two or three days and nights at a time.

(Robert Beverly explains these separate work houses in his History of Virginia, Book IV, Ch XVI, "All their drudgeries of cooking, washing, dairies, etc., are perform'd in offices detacht from the dwelling-houses, which by this means are kept more cool and sweet."  And yet, even when they live not 500 yards from the church, they mount their horses to go there. The women ride like the men, always at a canter. I was astonished how they held themselves on.

A Frenchman in Virginia; Being the Memoirs of a Huguenot Refugee in 1686 Translated by a Virginian, by Fairfax Harrison Published: Originally in 1687

Saturday, February 24, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Fashion Police - Massachusettes 1651

Colonial Laws of Massachusetts, 1651

Sumptuary Laws - Regarding What One May or May Not Wear

ALTHOUGH SEVERAL DECLARATIONS and orders have been made by this Court against excess in apparell, both of men and women, which have not taken that effect as were to be desired, but on the contrary, we cannot but to our grief take notice that intolerable excess and bravery have crept in upon us, and especially among people of mean condition, to the dishonor of God, the scandal of our profession, the consumption of estates, and altogether unsuitable to our poverty.
And, although we acknowledge it to be a matter of much difficulty, in regard of the blindness of men's minds and the stubbornness of their wills, to set down exact rules to confine all sorts of persons, yet we cannot but account it our duty to commend unto all sorts of persons the sober and moderate use of those blessings which, beyond expectation, the Lord has been pleased to afford unto us in this wilderness.

And also to declare our utter detestation and dislike that men and women of mean condition should take upon them the garb gentlemen by wearing gold or silver lace, or buttons, or points at their knees, or to walk in great boots; or women of the same ran to wear silk or tiffany hoods, or scarves which, though allowable to persons of greater estates or more liberal education, we cannot but judge it intolerable. . . .

It is therefore ordered by this Court, and authority thereof, that no person within the jurisdiction, nor any of their relations depending upon them, whose visible estates, real and personal, shall not exceed the true and indifferent value of £200, shall wear any gold or silver lace, or gold and silver buttons, or any bone lace above 2s. per yard, or silk hoods, or scarves, upon the penalty of 10s. for every such offense and every such delinquent to be presented to the grand jury.

And forasmuch as distinct and particular rules in this case suitable to the estate or quality of each perrson cannot easily be given: It is further ordered by the authority aforesaid, that the selectmen of every town, or the major part of them, are hereby enabled and required, from time to time to have regard and take notice of the apparel of the inhabitants of their several towns respectively; and whosoever they shall judge to exceed their ranks and abilities in the costliness or fashion of their apparel in any respect, especially in the wearing of ribbons or great boots (leather being so scarce a commodity in this country) lace, points, etc., silk hoods, or scarves, the select men aforesaid shall have power to assess such persons, so offending in any of the particulars above mentioned, in the country rates, at £200 estates, according to that proportion that such men use to pay to whom such apparel is suitable and allowed; provided this law shall not extend to the restraint of any magistrate or public officer of this jurisdiction, their wives and children, who are left to their discretion in wearing of apparel, or any settled militia officer or soldier in the time of military service, or any other whose education and employment have been above the ordinary degree, or whose estate have been considerable, though now decayed.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sailing for America 1649

Article from The Salisbury Times (now called The Delmarva Times), Salisbury, Maryland - October 28, 1964 from the Delmarva Heritage Series, by Dr. William H. Wroten, Jr.

According to pre-arranged plans, Col. Henry Norwood met with friends in Great Britain for a voyage to Virginia. In September, with about 330 on board, paying six pounds per head for themselves and servants, they sailed on "The Virginia Merchant," a vessel of 300 ton, carrying 30 guns or more.
 1657-65 Amsterdam for “Historiae Naturalis...” by John Jonston. Illustrated by Caspar and Matthias Merian

Some 20 years later, Norwood wrote the story of the crossing, the abandoned party, their experiences with the Indians and finally their arrival at Jamestown. The first third of the 50-page essay is a detailed description of their very exciting and fearsome trials from England to hte West Indies, and then on to the present coast of Assateague Island, where they were deserted by the crew, after they had gone ashore in search of food and water.

Of course, not all voyagers from Europe experienced the hardships of the colonel and his friends, but his voyage, although the extreme, gives an insight into the experiences of our ancestors in settling this land.  Today's article will deal primarily with the voyage as far as Assategue Island.

Except for the fact that they almost ran out of fresh water before reaching the West Indies, their journey of about three weeks, Sept. 23 to Oct. 14, 1649 was rather pleasant. They stayed in the West Indies for about two weeks, enjoying great hospitality. On one occasion, Col. Norwood dined with the captain of another ship, who had on board a lady of note and her family. Seemingly, the lady was of Portuguese nobility on her way from Brazil to Lisbon.

If Norwood and his friends enjoyed themselves with royalty, then the crew, while loading water on the ship, found pleasure elsewhere. Norwood reported: "Whls't we were caress'd in this manner on shipboard, the seamen on shore continued in their debauchery, with very little advance of our dispatch; the greeting water was so tedious in itself for lack of our boat, and so full delays by drunken contests of ours with the islanders, and with themselves, that, after some days stay upon the island, when our captain resolved to sail away, he found the ship in worse condition for liquors, than when we came on shore; for if we got a new supply of water, the proportion was hardly enough to balance the expense of beer that was spent in the time we got it."

About Oct. 22, they left the West Indies and with favorable trade winds reached the Bermudas in about 24 hours. It was here that Norwood repurted some geographical facts known to most of us today:  "In that latitude it is the general observation of seamen, that the seas are rough, and the weather stormy. It was my fortune to have a curiosity to look out, when the officer on the watch showed me a more than oridinary agitation of the sea in one particular place above the rest; which was the effect of what they called a spout, a raging in the bowels of the sea, (like a violent birth) striving to break out, and at last springs up like a mine at land, with weight and force enough to have hoised our ship out of her proper element, into the air (had the helm been for it) and to have made her do the supersalt; but God's providence secured us from that danger."

Although they did not stop at the Bermudas, they were happy to sight them for now they knew the true distance to Cape Hatteras, which meant that they would soon be ashore at Jamestown and rid of a "hungry pester'd ship and company." Their joy and fair weather came to an end on Nov. 8, when the weather and winds changed and the ship was endangered by hitting several "beaches" off of Caper Hatteras. Before they were finally clear of this dangerous cape they were blown rather far out to sea.

Now, before they had a chance to recover from the experience, they were caught up in a fresh gale. This new northwest storm, which developed into a violent gale, drove them many leagues out to sea until they were lost for many days. Norwood's description of this storm-the ocean, the ship, the people-is a literary gem.

The storm, and some others which seemingly follow immediately, ripped teh sails, tore loose the stays, and shrouds and the masts, as well as making a great hole in the forecastle (which fortunately some "land-carpenter" on board patched up).

Norwood wrote: "Abandon'd in this manner to the fury of the raging sea, tossed up and down without any rigging to keep the ship steady, our seamen frequently fell overboard, without any one regarding the loss of another, every man expectiong the same fate, tho' in a different manner. The ceiling of this hulk (for it was no better) were for the same cause so uneasy, that, in many tumbles, the deck would touch the sea, and there stand still as if she would never make another... In this posture did we pass the 10th and 11th days of November, the 12th morning we saw an English merchant, who shewed his ensign, but would not speak with us, tho' the storm was abated and the season more fit for communication. We imagined the reason was, because he would not be compelled to be civil to us: he thought our condition desperate, and we had more guns than he could resist, which might enable us to take what he would not sell or give. he shot a to leeward, stood his course, and turn'd his poop upon us... The passengers overcharged with excessive fears, had no appetite to eat; and (which was worst of all) both seasmen and passengers were in a deplorable state as the remaining victuals, all like to fall under extreme want: for the storm, by taking away teh forecastle, having thrown much water into the hold, our stock of bread (staff of life) was greatly damnified; and there remained no way to dress our meat, now that the cook-room was gone; the incessant tumbling of the ship (as has been observ'd) made all such cookery wholly impracticable. The only expedient to make fire betwixt decks, was, by sawing a cash in the middle, and filling it with ballast, which made a hearth to parch pease, and broil salt beef; nor could this be done but with great attendance, which was many times frustrated by being thrown topsy-turvy in spite of all circumspection, to the great defeat of empty stomachs."

Although there were periods when the gale winds abatedm the general weather conditions were extrememly bad for ocean sailing-fog, stormy seas, unfavorable strong winds, etc. " I would be too great a trial of the reader' patience to be entertain'd with every circumstance of our sufferings in the remaining part of this voyage, which continued in great extremity for at least 40 days from the time we left the land, our miseries increasing every hour: I shall therefore omit the greatest number of our ill encounters, which were frequently repeated on us, and remember only what has in my thoughts been most remarkable, and have made the deepest impression in my memory."

One of the deepest impressions was what Norwood referred as "A Famine." "Whilst this determination was agreed and put in practice, the famine grew sharp upon us. Women and children made dismal cries and grievous complaints. The infinite number of rats that all the voyage had been our plague, we now were glad to make our prey to feed don; and as they were insnared and taken, a well grown rat was sold for 16 shillings as a market rate. Nay, before the voyage did end (as I was credibly inform'd) a woman great with child offered 20 shillings for a rat, which the proprietor refusing the died...My greatest impatience was of thirst, and of dreams, were all of cellars, and taps running down my throat, which made my waking much the worse by what tantalizing fancy. Some relief I found very real by the captain's favor in allowing me a share of some butts of small claret he had concealed in a private cellar for a dead lift. It wanted mixture of water for qualifying it to quench thirst; however, it was a present remedy, and a great refreshment to me."

On the night of Jan. 3, 1650 they approached shore, although they were still about 7 miles away. At the time they had no idea of their location, but judging from Norwood's later descriptions and the use of present day maps it must have been the northern portion of Assateague Island.

After much argument the captain permitted Mr. Putts, the mate, to go ashore with "12 sickly passengers, who fancied the shore would cure them." They were to search for both fresh water and a creek which would harbor the ship.  The report that the mate brought back was so favorable that the captain and Norwood decided to go ashore and join those of the first group who had stayed. So that night, the fires of the shore-group serving as their beacons, they rowed to the island.

Col. Henry Norwood described his first moments on land, after he and the ship's captain joined some of the other passengers on Assateague Island, as follows:  "As soon as I had set my foot on land, and had rendered thanks to almighty God for opening this door of deliverance to us, after so many rescues even from the jaws of death at sea, Major Morrison (a friend of Norwood's) was pleased to oblige me beyond all requita;, in conducting me to the running stream of water, where, without any limitation of short allowance, I might drink by fill. I was glad of so great liberty, and made use of it accordingly, by prostrating myself on my belly, and setting my mouth against the stream, that it might run into my thirsty stomach without stop. The rest of the company were at liberty to use their own methods to quench their thirst; but this I thought the greatest pleasure I ever enjoyed on earth."

Shortly thereafter, by the light of the mon, the captain was able to bring down a duck, and thus along with some oysters they had a joyful feast. Here we might mention that Norwood on several occasions wrote that the cook's fee for preparing fowl was the bones, head, legs, and innards.

These joyful hours were to disappear with the rising sun. At daybreak the next morning, they noticed teh ship under way to the south (but the captain and mate, who had already started twoard the ship in their little boat were able to catch it). Norwood expressed the feeling of this abandonment:  "In this amazement the confusion of mind that no words can express, did our miserable distress'd party condole with each other our being so cruelly abandon'd and left to the last despairs of human help, or indeed of ever seeing more the face of man. We entered into a sad consultation what course to take; and having, in the first place, by united prayers, implored the protection of Almighty God, and recommended our miserable estate to the same providence which, in so many instance of mercy, had been propitious to us at sea; the whole party desired me to be as it were the father of this distressed family, to advise and conduct them in all things I thought might most tend to our preservation."

Norwood tried to organize and govern this handful of men and women for survival. His young cousin, Francis Cary, was sent to discover if there were Indians on the island. Cary reported that he could find none. Other members of the party were given fowling-pieces to hunt ducks and geese. Seemingly there was cold weather for a few days, and during the period great flights of fowl frequented the area. The caught fowl were roasted on sticks and ll was eaten but the feathers. "But as the wind veered to the southward, we had greater warmth and fewer fowl, for they would then be gone to colder climates. In their absence we were confined to oyster banks, and a sort of week four inches long, as thick as house leek, and the only green (except pines) that the island afforded. It was very insipid on the palate; but being boiled with a little pepper (of which one had brought on shore) and helped with five or six oysters, it became a regale for every one in turn."

Norwood went on to report: "In quartering our family we did observe the decencey of distinguishing sexes; we made a small hut for the poor weak women to be by themselves; our cabin for men was of the same fashion, but much more spacious, as our numbers were...Great was the toil that lay on my hands (as the strongest to labour) to get fuel together sufficient for our preservation. In the first place I divested myself of my great gown, which I spread at large, and extended against the wind in nature of a screen having first shifted my quarters to the most calm commodious place that could be found to keep us, as much as possible, from the inclemency of that prodigous storm. It was all they could do to gather wood for the necessary fires, being they were rather weak from the lack of food and shelter."

The changeing winds drove the fowl away, the tides made it difficult to harvest oysters and "thus we wish'd every day to be last of our lives (if God had so pleased) so hopeless and desperate was our condition, all expectation of human succour being vanished and gone."

Probably the lowest point of existence was reached when they felt it necessary to feed on their dead companions. "Of the three weak women before-mentioned, one had the envied happiness to die about this time; and it was my advice to the survivors, ho were following her apace, to endeavour their own preservation by converting her dead carcass into food, as they did to good effect. The same counsel was embrac'd by those of our sex: the living fed upon the dead; four of our company having the happiness to end their miserable lives on Sunday night the-day of January. Their chief distemper, 'tis ture, was hunger; but it pleased God to hasten their exit by an immoderate access of cold, caused by a most terrible storm of ahil and snow at northwest, on the Sunday aforesaid, which did not only dispatch those four to their long homes, but did sorely threaten all that remained alive, to perish by the same fate."

As their position looked hopeless, Norwood decided to swim the "creek" (Sinepuxent Bay?), which was not over 100 yards to roast. But when we came to the place of execution , my goose was gone all but the head, the body stollen by wolves, which the Indians told us afyer, do abound greatly in that island.

The loss of this goose, which my empty stomach look'd for with no small hopes of satisfaction, did vex me heartily, I wish'd I could have taken the thief of my goose to have serv'd him in the same kind, and to have taken revenge inthe law of retailiation. but that which troubled me more, was a apprehension that came into my mind, that this loss had been the effect of divine justice on me, for designing this loss had been the effect of divine justice on me, for designing to deal unequally with the rest of my fellow-suffers; which I thought, at first blush, look's like a breach of trust; but then again when I consider'd the equity of the thing, that I did it merely to enable myself to attain their preservation, and which otherwise could not have done, I found I could absolve myself from any guilt of that kind. Whatever I suffer'd in this disappointment, the cook lost not his fees; the head and neck remained for him on the tree. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677)

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born mostly English artist, 1607-1677). We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the portrait prints of women by Wenceslaus Hollar allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn in other countries during the early years of the European colonization of North America.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Women in 17C Virginia

This is the Virginia of the Native Americans, that British American colonial women would have found in the early years of the 1600s.  Hand-colored illustration of Theodor de Bry's (1528-1598) engraved illustration of the Native American village of Secoton, which accompanied the text of Thomas Hariot's book of 1588 entitled A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia.

Excerpts from Virginia Women: The First 200 Years
By Anne Firor Scott & Suzanne Lebsock

By their labor & by their care for the succeeding generations, Native American women, white women, and, later, black women played an indispensable part in making Virginia what it was & what it would become.

The First Virginians - Native American women, or Indians, as the Europeans called the native people of the Americas, were here first. There were perhaps15,000 Indians of various language groups living in what is now Virginia when the English arrived.

The English were surprised to find Native American women doing most of what they called work: planting, harvesting, house building, producing pots & baskets—as well as cooking & child care—were all women’s work. The Native American men went hunting & fishing, activities that in England were often considered to be recreation. Like the English, the Native Americans made a clear distinction between “women’s work” & “men’s work,” & the men never liked to be caught doing the former. Occasionally, an Native American woman would rise to be chief of the tribe, but since the English had a queen themselves, this did not surprise them so much. 

The men fish, hunt, fowle, goe to the wars, make the weeres, botes, & such like manly exercises & all laboures abroad. The women, as the weaker sort, be put to the easier workes, to sow their corne, to weed & cleanse the same . . . for, by reason of the rankness & lustines of the grownd, such weedes spring up very easely & thick . . . likewise the women plant & attend the gardins, dresse the meate brought home, make their broaths & pockerchicory drinckes, make matts & basketts, pownd their wheat, make their bread, prepare their vessels, beare all kindes of burthens, & such like, & to which the children sett their handes, helping their mothers. Source: William Strachey, The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia (1612). 

The planters in Virginia — we would call them small farmers, though a few already had large tracts of land—were a hardy lot, survivors of numerous diseases, of the starving time, & of various skirmishes with their Indian neighbors. They also had a reputation for cruelty to servants. This makes us wonder why boys & girls would come to Virginia in the first place, to work for strange families in an unknown wilderness. 

To find an answer, we must look at the place they came from. England in the early seventeenth century was plagued with poverty & unemployment . . . The enclosure of farming land to make sheep pastures had displaced many people in the countryside at a time when the population was growing. When young people from the country went to London or Liverpool in search of work, they found themselves competing with many others like themselves. Girls who would normally have gone into service—that is, gone to work in the houses of well-to-do families—had a harder & harder time finding places. Some of the most adventurous or the most desperate chose to make for the New World, rather than starve in the Old [World]. There were persistent stories, too, of greedy ship owners who kidnapped men & women in the streets of the cities & brought them to Virginia to sell. One way & another, perhaps 85 percent of the early settlers were indentured servants. 

What the indentured servants found in Virginia was in some ways like what they had known at home, but in other ways very different. A country girl who had been used to working in the fields for her father might not be surprised to find herself cultivating tobacco, which she would be put to doing if her master were a small farmer. If her time was bought by a large family, one with many male servants, her work would be cooking & washing & helping the housewife with all the chores, much as she would have helped her mother at home. 

Either way, it was a hard life. Every newcomer had to withstand the ordeal of “seasoning”—catching, then surviving the diseases prevalent in the new environment. Many more English people died from disease than from arrows & tomahawks. Half of the colonists in the first shiploads died during their first five months in Virginia. The death rate among Indians eventually proved even higher. Many more Indians died from germs than from gunfire, for the English brought with them diseases for which Indians had no immunity. 

If the servant were tough enough to escape death from disease, she likely found herself not only made to work very hard but also punished if she did not live up to the master’s expectations. A deposition taken in Lower Norfolk County in 1649 told a gruesome story of a mistress who beat her woman servant “more liken a dogge than like a Christian” until the servant thought her back was broken. The court records include a good deal of this kind of abuse. 

These were some of the hazards of life for a woman servant, but life was not all bad. For the lucky ones who survived their term of service, husbands were easy to come by; in the early years, white men outnumbered white women by a ratio of 4 to 1. Land was readily available. During most of the 17C any free English person who came to Virginia or paid for another to come could have 50 acres of land free. Servants finishing their terms could sometimes save enough to buy land, & when a husband & wife were healthy, hardworking, & competent farmers, they might move rapidly to become what they never could have aspired to be in England—landowners.

Of course it was a matter of hard work & hard living. Houses were 1-room affairs with—sometimes—a loft for the children to sleep in. Furniture amounted to a mattress or two, a couple of stools, & perhaps a chest. If we could visit a family at mealtime we might see them with a dinner of cornbread or mush, pork, & wild berries set on the chest or the floor. There is no table, & only the parents can sit, since there are not enough stools to go around. Everyone eats with wooden spoons from wooden trenchers. The woman, if we look closely, is very likely pregnant or holding a small baby to nurse. 

Life was painfully uncertain. One child in 5 died before its first birthday, & half had lost at least 1 parent by their 13th birthday. People of all ages died from “agues” & “fevers”—some of which today we could recognize as smallpox, typhoid, dysentery, whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria, pneumonia, influenza, & malaria. 

The high death rate meant that family composition was forever changing. A given husband, wife, & children might suddenly become a husband & children if the mother died; then the man took a new wife; they had a few children; then the husband died & the wife married again; the new husband already had a child by his dead wife; & so it went. Nothing we have seen in our own day of high divorce rates & multiple families can match the 17C. Some adolescents were completely on their own; others, orphaned, were “bound out” to work for a family until they were grown. 

There had to be a constant stream of immigrants to keep up with the deaths. Yet the white population grew rapidly. In 1634 there had been 5,000 whites in the whole colony; in 25 years the number grew to nearly 25,000. 

Already a class structure was beginning to be visible. Look through a shelf of books about early Virginia. One minute you read about William Fitzhugh with his baronial house & imported silver decorated with a family crest. A few minutes later you find a county court dealing with men & women so poor they were “cast on the parish” for support. Still lower on the scale were slaves, brought by force from Africa & increasingly condemned to a lifetime of harsh servitude. By the late 17C, the rough equality of the Virginia frontier was giving way to a highly stratified society. 

Such stratification—the division of people into gentry, the middle classes, & the lower orders—was much like what the colonists had known in England. The legal status of slaves was not fully established until about 1700. A Dutch trader brought the 1st blacks to Virginia in 1619, & their numbers grew slowly at first. Like the whites, the early Africans had a terrible time with disease; 1 in 4 died during their 1st year in Virginia. Also like the whites, men in the early days greatly outnumbered women, making it difficult for Africans to form families. 

The institution of slavery evolved slowly, & at first some Africans were treated much like white indentured servants. The greatest known success story was that of Mary Johnson. Brought to Virginia in 1622, she worked as a servant; for a time, she was the only woman on that plantation. When she gained her freedom, she married, raised 4 healthy children, & with her family farmed a 250-acre plantation. 

These occasional chances for freedom were not to last. From 1662 onward, a series of new laws defined slavery in its full, rigid brutality. By 1700 the typical black Virginia woman was a slave—property—and like any other property, she could be bought, sold, traded, or gambled away. She would be a slave all her life, & so would her children, who might be sold away from her at any time. She could be exploited, whipped, or even beaten to death at her master’s whim. While most slave owners had the self-restraint not to kill valuable property, some did not. 

In years to come, white Virginians would prefer to forget the horrors of the slave system. In the meantime, in the late 17C, whites accepted any system that provided laborers to work their tobacco. By 1700, black slaves were rapidly replacing white indentured servants as the major labor force on Virginia’s plantations.

The first 92 years in Virginia were extremely difficult. Everyone had endured extraordinary hardships, & for Indian, English, & African women alike, survival itself was a triumph. Yet these groups suffered & prospered in varying degrees. For black women, as we just saw, these were years largely of tragedy. The plight of Native American women was equally, if not more, tragic. For Native American women, the invasion of the English had meant families pushed off their land & death from new diseases & weapons—a truly staggering reduction in numbers. By 1700, the Native American population of Virginia was only one-tenth of what it had been 100 years earlier. Only on the western frontier could the native people still hope to oppose the rapid spread of white families into their territory & hunting grounds.

White settlers had their share of trouble, but despite disease, starvation, & warfare, for them their 1st century in Virginia witnessed remarkable achievements: a colony built, sustained, & launched upon impressive growth. Land had been cleared, crops planted, trade initiated, wealth created. Though no one at the time or since gave them much credit, all this could not have been done without the women.

The women who took part in these achievements saw them through the prism of daily life: constant work, childbearing, nursing the sick, caring for the aged, ingenuity in the use of materials. Husbands & wives worked together to create families & acquire property. The woman who went back to London in 1629 to brag that she had started with nothing & now could keep a better home in Virginia than one could do in England on 400 pounds a year was not exceptional.

[See: This text is excerpted from an essay originally published as a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation The Foundations of America book of the same title. The book is now out of print.]