"...the plantation can never florish till families be planted and the respect of wives and children fix the people on the soil." ~Sir Edwin Sandy, Treasurer Virginia Company of London, 1620
Thomas Hart Benton's Brideship
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Mail order brides. The images these words conjure up are not entirely pleasant, and certainly not romantic! Our modern equivalent of the mail order bride seems to bear little resemblance to the women depicted in Mary Johnston’s romantic adventure, To Have and to Hold, and to the actual women who traveled to the New World in 1620 to start new lives by marrying Colonists. In Johnston’s novel, Lady Jocelyn Leigh is running away from a man named Lord Carnal (sounds like a fitting moniker for a pimp, doesn’t it?) and she is rescued by the ultimate hero, Ralph Percy. When she meets Percy in the courting meadow, the scene is tinged with valor and romance. But was there much romance for the real Jamestown brides?
Ninety women traveled from England in 1620 to meet and marry eagerly waiting men-complete strangers who had showed up to claim these unknown brides. England was an established country, and the New World was rustic, rugged, and untamed. What possessed these women to leave all behind, to make a dangerous trip, and upon arrival, instantly marry? I doubt they were fleeing unhappy society marriages like Johnston’s heroine, Lady Jocelyn! Their reasons were probably far more mundane.
Serving women, women of low birth with little to no chance of changing their fate in the heavily class-based England, had the opportunity for more freedom by coming to the New World. Certainly they would be faced with many hardships--famine, disease, a high likelihood of attack by hostile Native Americans, (not to mention the distinct possibility of being saddled to an unattractive, less than hygienic settler)--but they would also have been facing difficulties in England. The difference would be that for an adventurous soul, the possible rewards might outweigh the cost. The chance to have their own homes, to work alongside their own husbands (even if he did happen to be dirty and covered in lice) instead of working for other women’s husbands, perhaps even to have their own servants, all of these would be intoxicating opportunities to an individual who had little to no chance of ever breaking free from the societal bonds they had been born into.
In fact, on closer inspection, it is possible that these original brides’ motivations are more similar to the modern day mail order brides than one would have previously thought. The Jamestown brides were leaving a developed county to come to an underdeveloped one and the exact opposite is true of most current mail order brides, but their reasons for leaving their homes are probably not so different. Hopefully there are at least a few Ralph Percys out there waiting to sweep them off their feet.
The National Park Service has a great website with more information on the role women played in establishing Jamestown and the New World, and they have a great bibliography for further reading, too. Check it out HERE.
The official Jamestown Settlement website is a treasure trove of information on life in the Virginia Colony--articles, photos, videos, podcasts--check it out HERE.
POSTED BY: L.R. Blizzard
To Have and to Hold by Mary Johnston
Professionally edited and formatted for today's readers!
Get the Legacy Vintage Collection Enhanced eBook Edition for $1.99!