Three documents from Magdalene College Old Library’s collection of Ferrar Papers will be exhibited on rotation in Jamestown, Virginia, USA from November until January 2020. Jamestown is the site of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas and the Ferrar Papers contain a large number of documents related to this venture. The Ferrar family were closely involved with the Virginia Company, who established the Jamestown settlement.
The exhibition is entitled ‘Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia‘ and ‘will explore little-known, captivating personal stories of real women in Jamestown and the early Virginia colony and their tenacious spirit and impact on a fledgling society.’ The three documents which date from the early 1620s to be lent from the Old Library reveal detailed lists of the women who sailed from England to be wives for the men setting up the colony in Jamestown.
These women were from the length and breadth of England. To name a few, Alse Dollinges was from Dorset, Jennet Rimmer from Lancashire, Ann Tanner from Essex, Joane Ffletcher from Cheshire and Margaret Bourdman from Yorkshire. Though the women were from different regions some common themes emerge when looking through the list of ‘Maydes and Younge Woemen’: they were in the late teenage years or early 20s (in the expectation that they would bear children), and many had lost either one or both of their parents. Their propensity for work is also commented upon in the documents, because the women’s skills would be needed to continue establishing the colony in tough conditions. Parnell Tenton ‘cann worke all kinde of orginary workes’ and Ellen Borne was ‘a sober and industrious Mayd skillfull in many workes’.
In Jennifer Potter’s new book, ‘The Jamestown Brides’, the author explains that the women travelled of their own volition, but the Virginia Company was ‘in effect selling them at a profit for a bride price of 150 lbs of tobacco for each woman sold.’
Magdalene is joining a distinguished list of lenders to the exhibition, including the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, The National Archives, the Museum of London and the Victoria and Albert Museum. In addition to lending the three selected original documents, a touch-screen interactive display has been created at the Jamestown Settlement using digital versions of the documents. The interactive display will include transcriptions of the documents and further information about the women featured.
By Catherine Sutherland
Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections