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When the Jamestown Colony Placed Ads to Attract Brides

January 2, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

In .

Many Jamestown settlers would “come to the colony, make their fortune, and go home to get married,” she says. A small portion abandoned “the colony to go live in the Indian villages, where obviously there were plenty of women and life was better.” This latter outcome was especially troubling to English religious leaders, who preached sermons about “the sexual availability of the Indian women,” she says.

“Obviously there are women in Virginia, they’re just not white women,” Yablon-Zug continues. “The Jamestown brides were supposed to be sort of the antidote to that.”

The Virginia Company advertised that if English women agreed to come to Jamestown in search of a husband, the company would loan them clothing, transportation and a plot of land. In Jamestown, they could have their pick of wealthy bachelors. Once they chose a husband, he would reimburse the Virginia Company for her expenses with 120 to 150 pounds of “good leaf” tobacco.

An illustration of the arrival of the first women to the Jamestown colony.

This exchange helped earn these women the nickname “tobacco wives,” and has also led to allegations that the Virginia Company “sold” these women. However, unlike the Africans who began arriving in Jamestown in 1619, no one bought or sold these English women. In fact, for women who couldn’t afford a good dowry to attract a husband, becoming a tobacco wife was a fairly attractive option.

“Women of all classes except the vagrant poor attempted to amass a dowry to attract a husband,” writes Nancy Egloff, a historian at the Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg, Virginia (Jamestown’s new Tenacity exhibit highlights the tobacco wives as part of a 400-year commemoration of significant events in 1619). “However, it seems that if a family sent their daughter overseas, they absolved themselves of the need to provide a dowry for [her].”

Little is know about the first group of 90 brides, but Egloff says that some of the 56 women in the second group had lost both of their parents, meaning that they didn’t have a good chance of amassing a suitable dowry to entice a husband. At least 16 women in this second group had worked “in service” to other English households in order to amass a dowry, meaning that they hadn’t had a good one in the first place.

Choosing to become a tobacco wife certainly came with risks. After all, these …read more


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