Jamestown TV Series

Many Of The First Women From The Western World Answered An Ad To Be A Bride

(L-R) Naomi Battrick as Jocelyn, Niamh Walsh as Verity and Sophie Rundle as Alice
Stuart Martin as a Silas
Max Beesley as Henry

The British are coming, again. From the people who produced Downton Abbey, this time they’re coming in the form of a major TV drama centered on some of the first English women to join the colonists at Jamestown.

The series, titled Jamestown, will debut in the U.K. on Friday, May 5, at 9 p.m. on Sky 1 and NOW TV. The series comes to the screen courtesy of Downton Abbey’s Carnival Films. Here’s a sneak peek. Naomi Battrick, Sophie Rundle and Niamh Walsh star as the first Western women to arrive in America.

While it all sounds oh-so exciting, exotic, adventurous and almost romantic. These women responded to newspaper ads, posters and pamphlets searching for women who would travel to the outpost of Virginia to become wives, without knowing who their husbands would actually be. But there is no doubt these women helped populate North America and get things in order and, without them, hard cider and beer, well, the settling of America would just have to wait.

What these pioneering, confident and intrepid women found was not a beautiful settlement and bounty of food and resources, but a squalid 17th-century settlement on a swampy island where starvation, disease and Native American attacks were the norm. It was brutally hot in the summer and killer cold in the winter. Basically they were told “good luck and Godspeed.”

When the women arrived, the Jamestown settlement’s survival was questionable. Things started to turn around after they arrived. With an average of eight men to every woman, the women may have been outnumbered but it certainly helped give them enormous influence and to some degree, power. That’s what the series is about.

The Virginia Company, the company that was betting on Jamestown and the settlement and future riches, offered substantial incentives to the women who signed up. The Virginia Company quickly figured out that without women, the men were not likely to stick around. It all fell to a company executive named Sandys to solve this problem that one could say goes back to Adam and Eve. Or lots of Adams and very few Eves.

Luckily for Sandys, the financial obstacles to marriage in 17th-century England worked in his favor. Securing a home and setting up a domestic household were expensive in England in the 17th century.

Leaving England and sailing to a settlement in Virginia was a very interesting option. First, women were given a dowry of clothing, linens and other furnishings, free transportation to the colony, and even a plot of land. They could choose their husbands. They could not be sold. And there was a lot of competition with the men given there were very few women. They received room and board while they pondered their choice of spouse.

Hey, we’re talking The Bachelorette circa 1619! Who’s going to get the Tobacco Leaf?

The male colonists (mostly planters) paid between 120 and 150 pounds of good tobacco leaf, worth abouta year’s wages, for a bride. The women in England shipped off and upon arrival in Virginia, they found a line of men waiting for them. No Tinder or Facebook to get any intel before the first and only date. No “Virginia is for Lovers” in 1619.

Not only did the Jamestown Bridal Program work, it had some major positive implications for the women, as in rules and laws that were unheard of back home in England. For example, in England a married woman could not own land in her own name, or dispose of it, or make wills. Not so in Jamestown, Va. Women received parcels of land and benefited from inheritance laws. Let’s get real, in the 17th century death was a frequent companion, and many marriages were therefore kind of short. So widows could actually do quite well. That also meant widows did not have to remarry just to survive.

And with land, some economic security, and the numbers in their favor, colonial women had more say in marital decisions. In a story well and long told, a Virginia woman named Sarah Harrison is recorded as refusing to go along with the traditional marriage ceremony. According to witnesses, when the clergyman asked for her promise to “obey,” Harrison answered, “No obey.” When the question was repeated, she gave the same response. After the third refusal, the reverend acquiesced to her demand and performed the ceremony with no mention of the promise to obey.

Welcome to Jamestown, Va., the settlement, the colony and eventually the American Revolution and eventually, 2017.

Modern-day women and visitors can still see and embrace the exact place where this all happened at Historic Jamestowne. Traces of it are all still there – the fort, church and settlement. It’s one of the most active and largest archeological sites in North America. This is the land of Pocahontas, John Smith and the stuff of legend. Neighboring Jamestown Settlement showcases what the fort living environment was like during this tumultuous time.

For more information on Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, and the Greater Williamsburg area, visit www.visitwilliamsburg.com.

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