The Jamestown Brides
(London, Atlantic Books, 2018)
In 1621, fifty-six English women crossed the Atlantic in response to the Virginia Company of London’s call for maids ‘young and uncorrupt’ to make wives for the planters of its new colony in Virginia. The English had settled there just fourteen years previously and the company hoped to root its unruly menfolk to the land with ties of family and children.
While the women travelled of their own accord, the company was in effect selling them at a profit for a bride price of 150 lbs of tobacco for each woman sold. The rewards would flow to investors in the near-bankrupt company. But what did the women want from the enterprise? Why did they agree to make the dangerous crossing to a wild and dangerous land, where six out of seven European settlers died within their first few years – from dysentery, typhoid, salt water poisoning and periodic skirmishes with the native population? And what happened to them in the end?
Delving into company records and original sources on both sides of the Atlantic, Jennifer Potter tracks the women’s footsteps from their homes in England to their new lives in Virginia. Giving voice to these forgotten women of America’s early history, she triumphantly invites the reader to journey alongside the brides as they travel into a perilous and uncertain future.
‘Potter tells the story using a rich range of sources – pamphlets, ballads, sermons – and travels to flesh out the gaps … She writes well and hauntingly.’
‘Potter weaves a compelling narrative and her use of archival material to link a collection of early modern players is top notch … a real pleasure to read.’
‘I love this kind of historical writing, with the stitching showing. There is a story here, but it is Potter’s skilful guidance through the disparate sources that makes it work.’
‘With extraordinary scholarship and painstaking use of contemporary texts Potter succeeds in her professed task of bearing witness to the lives of young women unknown to history … This is a memorable work of literary recreation.’