Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two hundred men, two women . . . .

How do we know what happened in a little log fort on the James River 400 years ago? 

Until the Jamestown Rediscovery Project unearthed the site of the original fort in 1994, all we had was a paper trail. John Smith’s writings fill three volumes, but historians still argue about how truthful he was. As for the other written records, there are only a handful. They do not tell the whole story, and some of the writers wanted to trash John Smith. And not one of these early accounts was written by a woman, although we know that there were English women at Jamestown.

            The back story: In April 1607, 104 “men and boys” arrived to found a colony in Virginia. By January 1608, when a supply ship arrived, only 38 of the 104 men and boys were still alive. Diseases (the “bloody flux,” malaria, and unknown others) and Indians (they landed in the midst of 15,000 natives who were not happy to see them) took a severe toll.
            The January ship brought “neare a hundred men” to join the 38 already there. In September that year 70 more newcomers arrived, raising the population at Jamestown to about 200--and two of them were “Mistresse Forrest, and Anne Burras her maide.” Mistress Forrest was probably the wife of colonist Thomas Forrest, listed among the “Gentlemen” who arrived on that voyage.  Anne Burras was probably related to one John Burras, in the list of arriving “Tradesmen.” These two women landed among 200 men, 130 of whom had not seen an English woman in a year and a half.



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