Monday, December 8, 2014

British Women in the 17th Century Chesapeake

From It's About Time:
During the early colonial period, when manpower was scarce, most women worked in the fields during planting & harvest seasons, especially in Virginia & Maryland, where tobacco was money. As slave importation increased, fewer indentured women toiled in the earth.  Although their chores were more home-based, they still worked from sunrise to sundown.  Initially many Chesapeake women died of malaria, dysentery, & epidemics during their first 6 months of "seasoning."  By mid-century, more servant girls were surviving their initial 7-year indenture agreements.

Once indenture contracts had been worked off, women usually married & worked on small plantations. In addition to their home-based chores, they now began to bear children.  Wives were in great demand in the Chesapeake, where the ratio of men to women during most of the 17C was at least three to one.  Because women usually could not marry during their indentures, generally Chesapeake brides were older than those in New England. More than one third of women were pregnant, before they married.

Often, a new bride would move into the house of her spouse which was usually about 25 by 18 feet with one open living space including some extra storage & sleeping space up under the eaves above. Child-bearing by Chesapeake wives did not begin to replace the population by natural increase until the 18C. Few portraits of women from the 17C Chesapeake exist.  Most Southern colonials lived in remote areas in relative isolation on farms or plantations with their immediate families, extended relatives, friends, & slaves, & indentured servants. (Read more.)

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