Saturday, June 14, 2014

No Weapon for a Woman

        Another reason why no one ventured downriver from Jamestown in 1610 may have been the lack of able-bodied men in the fort. Since John Smith’s departure in October 1609 the Indians had killed at least a hundred at the falls and Nansemond. Thirty or forty had been sent to Algernon Fort. Thirty-six had sailed to England with Francis West aboard the Swallow. An unknown number of others had died of disease or run away to live with the Indians. Who was left? The weak, the sick--and the women. (For years, generations of male historians ignored the women.)

        A handful of names are all that history has recorded. Anne Laydon and her infant daughter, Virginia (who was born sometime during that awful winter), Joan Pierce and her four-year-old daughter, Jane (who would grow up to marry John Rolfe after his wife Pocahontas died); Temperance Yeardley, Thomasine Causey—all young women in their twenties. Besides these, there may have been at least fifteen or twenty others whose names we do not know: another Jamestown mystery.

       Women and children could not be left to fend for themselves if the men sailed downriver. What if the Indians killed the men on the way? What if the Indians attacked the fort while they were gone? A woman might load and fire a pistol, but a six-foot-long musket that had to have powder and wadding and a ball rammed down its barrel, another dose of powder in its firing pan, and a spark to ignite it to fire. That was no weapon for a woman.


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