I will now discuss some of the specific women profiled in the exhibit.
Temperance Flowerdew Barrow, a gentrywoman, is considered the first First Lady of Virginia. Her story was quite exciting and dramatic. She left England for Virginia on board the Falcoun, one of a convoy of nine ships, in 1609 with her husband Richard Barrow. A terrible hurricane in the Atlantic had devastating consequences and inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest. The passengers must have thought death was imminent. Somehow, Temperance survived to arrive on the shores of Jamestown in August of 1609, just in time for the starving period. The extraordinarily harsh winter devastated the colony. Food supplies were scarce, men raiding Pohowtan supplies were killed, spawning Indian raids. Again, Temperance survived against the odds. Her husband died and in 1618 she married George Yeardley, who became the colony’s governor in 1619. In 1625 her household included three children and 20 servants. When George died in 1627, he left land to Temperance in his will. Temperance made the decision to marry governor Francis West, but died soon after. She is represented in the exhibit by a beautifully embroidered jacket.
On loan from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, this bodice features an ornate embroidered design with trailing stems and leaves done in colored silk and metal threads. It is also decorated with metal spangles or sequins. I can’t imagine how long it must have taken someone to make this bodice by hand! While it is similar in style to the waistcoats worn by interpreters at Plimoth Plantation, it is far more ornate and luxurious, something Puritans would have frowned upon. The Tenacity exhibit also showcases a fancy coif (head covering) as well. As wife of the most important man in Virginia, Temperance would have been expected to dress in the finest style money could buy.
Another upper class woman’s story that needed telling is that of Mistress Sarah Rolfe, first wife of John Rolfe, the planter who later married Pocahontas. Pregnant when she and her husband boarded the Sea Venture bound for Virginia, the journey across the Atlantic must have been far more uncomfortable than normal. In July a massive hurricane ran the ship aground just off Bermuda. 150 people were able to make it to shore and salvage as many of the ship’s supplies as they could to survive. During their 10-month stay, Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Bermuda. Sadly baby Bermuda did not live to see Virginia and Sarah died in 1610 shortly after their arrival.
Colonial women were able to have some degree of control over their lives, particularly their marital decisions. A bride named Sarah Harrison is recorded as refusing to promise to obey her new husband, not once but three times. After she refused the third time, the clergyman went forward with the ceremony omitting the word obey. Go Sarah! Her insistence at not agreeing to obey may have contributed to her refusing her original fiancé. In spite of signing a marriage contract with her original fiancé, Sarah was never punished for breaking the contract, a serious crime under English law.
Fourteen-year-old Anne Buras arrived in Jamestown in 1608 as maidservant to Mistress Forrest. Mistress Forrest presumably died shortly after arrival, leaving Anne the ONLY English woman in Virginia! Anne didn’t have a whole lot of choices available so she chose a husband who would hopefully look after her. Two months after arrival, Anne Buras married John Laydon, a man twice her age. Anne is believed to be the first English woman to marry in Jamestown. The winter of 1609-10 was a period of great hardship in Virginia. Nearly 75% of the colonists died. Anne Buras and Jane Wright were ordered to sew shirts for the Virginia Company in 1610. They ran out of thread and with none available, they had to get creative. The women unraveled threads from the shirts they had already sewn in order to make more. Under the Virginia Company’s new Martial Law, this was considered a crime. A pregnant Anne and Jane Wright were whipped. Anne miscarried her child but showed remarkable resiliency. Anne, her husband and four daughters established a new home in Elizabeth City. She died some time in the 1630s.
Anne’s whipping was no exception. It was common to publicly humiliate women who did wrong. In 1627 the General Court declared Jane Hill guilty of fornication. She was made to wear a white sheet and stand in front of the congregation. 1634 woman named Betsey Tucker found herself strapped to a chair connected to a long, wooden beam and dunked into water. Her crime? “Brabbling” or gossiping. An example of a dunking chair was on display in the exhibit.
Another Ann was not so fortunate in her experience at Jamestown. Ann Jackson arrived on the Marmaduke in 1621, joining her brother, who was already living in Virginia. The following year Powhatan Indians captured Ann and 18 other women during an attack on the settlement. While she survived capture and living with the Indians, she likely suffered from what we would recognize as post-traumatic stress syndrome. By 1628 she returned to the English under the protection of her brother until she could resume her life in England. It is unknown what happened to Ann after that. I’m sure life was never normal after that. The passage back to England, if she even made it that far, was stressful and then going back among people who had no idea of what she had been through and didn’t understand must have been painful. It’s easy to say now “I would have stayed with the Indians and had a better life,” but it had to have been pretty traumatic to be captured and worry about being killed.
The exhibit also tells the story of Sarah Woodson who defended her family against an Indian attack in 1644. After surviving the Second Anglo-Powhatan War, the Woodsons moved farther inland near present-day Richmond. Chief Opechancanough feared the influx of settlers would overwhelm his people and so went to war. When the Indians attacked her home, Sarah sent one son with a hunting rifle to the sleeping loft and hid her other son in the hole in the floor where they stored potatoes. Upon arriving home to try to save his family, Dr. John Woodson was killed in the attack. While a houseguest shot at the Indians, Sarah tipped her stewpot onto one of the Indian attackers and swing her heavy iron roasting spit at the other Indian attacker’s head, killing him. A gruesome story in which I feel sorry for the Indians yet also admire Sarah for thinking clearly and saving her family.
An ornately carved cupboard is associated with Mary Peirsey Hill Bushrod, who arrived in Jamestown in 1623 at the age of 10.
This exhibit also did an excellent job showing the tenacity of women of color as well. The “founding mother” of African-Americans in Virginia was Angela or Angelo, an enslaved woman who arrived in Virginia 400 years ago in 1619. In 1613 tobacco was introduced by John Rolfe who later married Pocahontas. The men needed more people to work the tobacco fields leading to slavery. The first Africans came from the kingdom of Ndongo in Angola, West Central Africa. They were captured during war with the Portuguese and sold into slavery, bound for Mexico. English privateers then waylaid the ship as it crossed the Caribbean, confiscating all captives on board and sailed for Virginia. In Virginia, English officials traded supplies for Angelo. Period documents show that by 1625 Angelo worked for planter William Peirce and his wife Joane on their property at Jamestown. The 1625 “Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia” shows “Angelo, A Negro woman in the Treasuror,” living in the household of William Peirce at Jamestown. This document is significant because it identifies the ship on which Angelo arrived in Virginia, Treasurer.
You can learn more about Angelo and the enslaved experience in the museum’s new gallery. The amount of information is staggering and I didn’t have time to stay and read everything but I enjoyed the video.
The first enslaved people were treated like indentured servants. They could become free and members of a community. Mary Johnson arrived in 1623 and worked on a Southside Virginia plantation owned by Richard Bennett. She married Antonio (Anthony) Johnson. They won their freedom and by 1650, they owned 250 acres of land, eventually owning a family plantation of 900 acres. Interestingly, they had two African servants working for them. The couple later moved to Somerset County, Maryland as slave laws became more strict.
Elizabeth Key, the daughter of an Englishman and an African woman, was put into service by her father until the age of 15. After her father’s death, Elizabeth was passed from one planter to another. Finally, at the age of 25, Elizabeth had had enough. She and her English common-law husband went to court to gain her freedom. Eventually, the courts found in her favor because she had served the time of her contract, was the daughter of an Englishman, and was a baptized Christian. Her son was also freed. Unfortunately for African-Americans, the laws of servitude were codified over the next decade and slavery soon became a permanent, lifelong thing. As we know, the children of enslaved women were inherently enslaved and baptized Christians were no longer exempt from slavery.
Indian women were represented as well. Cockacoske, “Queen of the Pamunkey” understood the importance of preserving good relations with the English colonists. After Englishmen attacked several Virginia tribes in 1677, including the Pamunky, Cockacoske met with other Indian leaders and colonial officials to sign the Treaty of Middle Plantation. The treaty reinforced the relationship between the two English and native governments. Cockacoeske tried to unite the remaining Powhatan tribes but was unsuccessful. However, she was able to negotiate peace for her people for many years. The treaty reinforced the boundaries of their remaining Indian lands. The exhibit profiles Cockacoeske as a reminder of women’s power and influence in traditional Powhatan culture. She is represented by a the silver ornament presented to Cockacoeske (circa 1640- circa 1686), weroansqua or “queene of Pamunkey,” on behalf of Charles II marking the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation, on loan from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe of King William, Virginia. Read more about it on Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation blog
Cockacoeske’s efforts succeeded in legally protecting her people. They were allowed to retain title to their lands, continue fishing in Virginia’s waterways, and were protected from enslavement. Today, the protected land is the Pamunkey Indian Reservation in King William County. In 2016 the Pamunkey became the first Virginia Indian tribe to be formally recognized by the United States government.
The exhibit continues on to showcase the legacy of the tenacious women to present day. The Legacy Wall touch-screen display showcases stories of women from 1607 to the present day in five different categories: occupation, citizenship, marriage, education and healthcare. Visitors could also share stories of influential women across history, including their own or family members to add to the Legacy Wall.
I thought the “tenacious” theme was stretching a bit for the 17th-century women. They did what they had to do to survive. I don’t think all of the stories told exhibit tenacity but some of them do. The exhibit was also a lot smaller than I expected. It was difficult to see and learn everything with hoards of school children running around undisciplined.