Personal Stories

TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia

Women’s roles in the event of early Virginia were rarely recorded. These stories have rarely been shared, and some have never been told.

Anne Burras Laydon’s Story

Mistress Forrest and Ann BurrasAnne Burras was just 14 when she arrived in Jamestown in 1608 as one of only two English women. As a maidservant, Anne had accompanied Mistress Forrest to the colony, but her life abruptly changed when her mistress presumably died soon after their arrival. Anne wasn’t lonely for long. Two months later, she married laborer John Laydon – a man twice her age – in what is thought to be the first English marriage in the colony.

Anne’s tenacity and resilience ensured her survival through a sea of troubles including the deadly winter of 1609-10, which took the lives of nearly 75 percent of colonists. The weather was not Anne’s only obstacle. In 1610, she and Jane Wright sewed shirts under orders originating from the Virginia Company’s new Martial Law. Since they had little thread available, they unraveled fibers from shirts they had already made in order to sew more. As punishment, the two received a severe whipping, and later that night Anne miscarried, and lost her unborn child. Yet, Anne would later establish a home in Elizabeth City with her husband and four daughters, and live until the 1630s.

Angelo’s Story
Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia, January 1624-25

The “Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia, January 1624-25” documents the colony’s inhabitants after the March 1622 Anglo-Indian War to include “Angelo a Negro woman in the Treasuror.” Courtesy of The National Archives of the UK, ref. CO1/3 f136v.

When Angelo stepped off the ship Treasurer to view her new home in Virginia, she saw no one who looked like her – only her captors. As one of the first recorded Africans in the colony, she arrived in 1619 as an enslaved woman from the Portuguese colony of Angola in West Central Africa. The Portuguese captured her and others in Ndongo and shipped them into slavery, bound for Mexico. As if the terror of her initial capture wasn’t enough, English privateers waylaid her ship as it crossed the Caribbean, confiscating Angelo and other captives on board and sailed for Virginia.

In Virginia, English officials traded supplies for Angelo. Not much is known about Angelo’s life in Virginia. However, from period documents we know that by 1625 she worked for planter William Peirce and his wife Joane on their property at Jamestown.

In June 1624, Virginia became a royal colony following the dissolution of the Virginia Company. King James I ordered Virginia’s leaders to make a record of the colony’s inhabitants and provisions. This 1625 “Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia” documents “Angelo, A Negro woman in the Treasuror,” living in the household of William Peirce at Jamestown. This entry is significant, because it identifies the ship on which Angelo arrived in Virginia, Treasurer.

Silver frontlet, English, circa 1677, Courtesy of the Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center.

Silver frontlet, English, ca. 1677, Courtesy of the Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center.

The Story of Cockacoeske, “Queen of the Pamunkey”

When her husband died in 1656, Cockacoeske became Queen of the Pamunkey – one of the few remaining Powhatan tribes paying tribute to the colonial government for protection. Cockacoeske needed to keep her people on good terms with Virginia’s English officials. In 1677, after Englishmen attacked certain Virginia tribes including hers, she met with other Indian leaders and colonial officials and signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation to reinforce the relationship between the two governments. Cockacoeske unsuccessfully tried to unite the remaining Powhatan tribes, but she did successfully negotiate peace for her people for many years. The treaty also reinforced the boundaries of their remaining Indian lands. Cockacoeske is a reminder of women’s power and influence in traditional Powhatan culture.


Ann Jackson’s Story

Ann Jackson’s Story Perhaps full of hope and optimism for a new life in Virginia, young Ann Jackson left her father William’s house in London and boarded the Marmaduke as one of 56 skilled and respectable women who sailed in 1621. Ann survived the Atlantic crossing and joined her brother, who was already living at a settlement called Martin’s Hundred. Ann’s dreams of finding a husband and establishing a family in Virginia were dashed in March 1622, when Powhatan Indians captured her and 18 other women during an attack on the settlement. Her strength and tenacity allowed her to survive a frightening, perhaps curious captivity amongst the Powhatan. By 1628 she returned to the English, but the ordeal had a profound impact on her. The court ordered her brother to keep her safe until she could resume her life in England.

Temperance Flowerdew Barrow Yeardley West’s Story

Embroidered bodice, circa 1610, Courtesy of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

As soon as she stepped aboard the Faulcon bound for Virginia, Temperance Flowerdew Barrow’s life took interesting turns. After surviving the harrowing storm that wreaked havoc on a fleet of nine ships that sailed in 1609, she stepped off the ship in Virginia in the midst of an unusually harsh, starvation-fraught winter. Temperance survived. Temperance came to Virginia already married, but presumably her husband died in about 1613, and she married George Yeardley, who became the colony’s governor in 1619. The high death rate in Virginia assured that she, and other women survivors, stood to marry and inherit from a number of husbands. By 1625 Temperance’s Jamestown household included three children and 20 servants, some of whom she managed. She may have even managed some of George’s financial affairs. When George died in 1627, he left land to Temperance in his will. She soon married again, this time to governor Francis West, but died soon after.