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Domestic Life in Virginia in the Seventeenth Century   By:

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ANNIE LASH JESTER Member, Virginia Historical Society

Virginia 350Th Anniversary Celebration Corporation Williamsburg, Virginia 1957

Copyright©, 1957 by Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corporation, Williamsburg, Virginia

Jamestown 350th Anniversary Historical Booklet Number 17





Successful colonization, contingent upon a stable domestic life, was quickened in Virginia with the coming of the gentlewoman Mrs. Lucy Forest and her maid Ann Burras, who with Mrs. Forest's husband Thomas, arrived in the second supply, 1608, following the planting of the colony at Jamestown, 13 May 1607.

The possibility of finding a source of wealth in the new world, such as the Spanish had found in Mexico and Peru, and the more urgent need of finding a route to the East and securing this through the development of colonies across the seas, had motivated the several expeditions, begun with the unsuccessful settlement at Roanoke Island in 1585. Coupled with these reasons, for colonizing in the new world, was an ever expanding population in England, and the ancient law of entail, which limited possession of large landed estates to the eldest sons; younger sons and the scions of the middle classes were left with exceedingly limited opportunities or means of attaining estates in England, or, for that matter, of ever bettering their condition. Also, if England was to sustain its existing population, the nation must have sources of raw materials other than the dwindling supplies in the land, and it must have also outlets for the wares of the artisans.

Thus, while the hope of wealth in one form or another was a factor in the settlement of Virginia, a prerequisite to attainment, also taken into account by the promoters of expeditions, was the establishment of homes in a new land. Homes would serve as stabilizers for permanent bases, from which could be carried on the trade essential to England's rising position as a leading power.

Notwithstanding hardship, discouragement and sickness, the firm resolution of the English succeeded. Their determination, as shown in their several attempts at colonization, culminated eventually in a colonial homeland, which offered to gentlemen adventurers the lure of the unknown, as well as the prospect of land, and, to the many unemployed craftsmen a demand for their labor and privileges which could not be had by the average man in England.

Withal, the fireside became the bulwark for the great new venture. And, fortunate it was that such a base had been established, for, by the middle of the seventeenth century, many scions of the English upper classes were forced into exile because of the Civil wars, which reached their climax in the beheading of Charles I. A number of the King's loyal subjects found havens in Virginia and not only managed to bring with them some of the family wealth, but also their important connections with the trading enterprises, which gave another impetus to the colonial undertaking.

The silent part of women, ever in the background in the colony, but overseeing orderly households, comforting the men in discouragement and, at the same time carrying on the perpetual cycle of child bearing, was an immeasurable contribution. They braved the unknown to be at the sides of their mates and, as the prospering colony during the passing years of the century increased their responsibilities and burdens, they readily assumed the new tasks. Not least among these was that of household executive: managing servants, seeing that they as well as the family were clothed, fed and attended in their sicknesses, supervising spinning, weaving, garment making and generally maintaining a hub for the operation of plantations ranging from 100 acres to those of several thousands.

To the Englishman, the basis for wealth and position was a large landed estate... Continue reading book >>

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