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TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia

A legacy project of the 2019 Commemoration
Jamestown Settlement Special Exhibition
Winner of the 2020 AASLH Leadership in History Award of Excellence

TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia at Jamestown SettlementWomen’s roles in the events of early Virginia history were rarely recorded. History gives us only fragments of their lives – a name here, a date of arrival there, a court case, a marriage or a death. Some of their stories have never been told. 

“TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia,” a special yearlong exhibition on display November 10, 2018, to January 5, 2020, explored little-known, captivating personal stories of real women in Jamestown and the early Virginia colony – women like Anne Burras Laydon, Cockacoeske and Angelo – and their tenacious spirit and impact on a fledgling society.

The special exhibition was a legacy project of the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, a national observance of the 400th anniversary of key historical events that occurred in Virginia in 1619 and continue to influence America today.

Ferrar Papers interactive screen. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation photo.

A Ferrar Papers interactive, presented near the original Ferrar Papers on loan from the Master and Fellows of Magdalene College Cambridge, will allow visitors to gain insight to the 56 women listed in the 1621 Ferrar Papers with the touch of a screen.

This story-driven special exhibition featured artifacts, images, interactives and primary sources – some on display in America for the first time – to examine the struggles women faced in the New World and their contributions. Visitors heard stories of the first English women in the Virginia colony beginning in 1608 and the Powhatan Indian women they encountered. Exhibits examined stories of the first documented African woman, Angelo, to arrive in Virginia in 1619, and the Virginia Company of London’s effort that same year to encourage the growth of the Jamestown colony by recruiting single English women. From women’s roles to women’s rights, the exhibition connected issues of the 17th century and their relevance today.

Visitors discovered stories of these tenacious women, including Anne Burras Laydon, an English woman who arrived in 1608 at the age of 14 as a maidservant; Cockacoeske, a Virginia Indian woman who was recognized by the colonial government as the “Queen of the Pamunkey” and ruled until her death in 1686; and Mary Johnson, an African woman who arrived in 1623 and labored on a Southside Virginia plantation and later gained her freedom and became a landowner in Virginia.

Along with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s collection of 17th-century objects, the special exhibition featured more than 60 artifacts on loan from 22 international and national institutions, including the Victoria & Albert Museum; Museum of London; Master and Fellows of Magdalene College Cambridge; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; The National Archives, U.K.; Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“TENACITY” Programs & Events

A series of special programs, from public lectures to performances, complemented the special exhibition through January 5, 2020. Among them was the “Tenacious Women Lecture Series,” which featured speakers and influential scholars such as British historian and author Lucy Worsley, which ran through November 14, 2019.

About Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement explores the world of America’s first permanent English colony and the Powhatan Indian, English and west central African cultures that converged in the 17th century. Through comprehensive and immersive indoor exhibits and outdoor living-history experiences, the museum explores life in the Jamestown colony and its first century as Virginia’s capital.

Jamestown Settlement, currently closed in response to COVID-19 and scheduled to reopen June 24, 2020, is located on Route 31 just southwest of Williamsburg.


“TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia” was a public-private partnership funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia, James City County and 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, with additional support from the Robins Foundation.

TENACITY sponsors