One of the First English Women at Jamestown
Ann Burras — an unmarried young woman in her teens — accompanied Mistress Forest as her maid. Mistress Forest had come with her husband (probably Thomas — listed among the ship’s passengers as “a gentleman”).Two months after her arrival, Ann married a laborer, John Laydon, who had come to Jamestown with the original settlers in 1607.Ann bore her husband four daughters. Little else is known of her except that she survived the Indian attack of 1622 — which killed an estimated 347 colonists and was the beginning of a war that lasted for ten years. She was still living in Virginia in 1625.
The English who settled Jamestown in 1607 were all male — men and boys, who were all indentured to the Virginia Company, regardless of class. Initially, women were probably considered more of a hindrance than a benefit in the dangerous exploration and conquest of a new land.
The need for a more permanent colony may have led to revised thinking about the role of women. The traditional English role of women enlarged and shifted as they created a sense of permanence and “home” in the wilderness of Virginia, and their importance and standing grew. Jamestown’s women provided the stability needed for its survival.
Indian women of the Powhatan society interacted with the colonists from the start, accompanying male emissaries sent to the Fort by Chief Powhatan — at times bringing food which saved the settlers from starvation. From 1619 on, African women — brought to Virginia against their will — were also a vital part of the female history of Jamestown.
By 1619 settlers were being granted parcels of land — the number of acres depended on their standing and the length of time they had been in Virginia if they arrived before 1616. The men asked that land also be allotted to their wives “…because that in a newe plantation it is not knowen whether man or woman be the more necessary.”
In 1619, ordering “…a fit hundredth might be sent of women, maids young and uncorrupt, to make wives to the inhabitants and by that means to make the men there more settled and less movable…” the Virginia Company of London hoped the unmarried men would settle and remain in Virginia. Approximately 90 single women arrived the next year. Apparently, others followed in 1621, because in May of 1622 the Virginia Company reported that, “the previous year (1621) 57 young maids have been sent to make wives for the planters, divers of which were well married before the coming away of the ships.”
Ann Burras Laydon was the first of many courageous women who left family, friends, and England for an unknown, daunting future.