jamestown heading

I. Native Women

II. First Women

III. More Women

IV. Cash Crop

V. Women's Lives

VI. Indentured Servant

VII. Wives

VIII. Living Condition

IX. Family Life

X. Women's Work

XI. Fate of Jamestown


X. Women's Work

Drawing of women brewing beer in Jamestown
Drawing of women brewing
beer in Jamestown

click on image to see the full image
Credit: Project Gutenberg

As Jamestown grew, women’s work also evolved. Indentured English men and Africans of both sexes constituted an increasingly large part of the agricultural labor force. The importation of more male laborers enabled English women to spend less time working in the tobacco fields. Their transition into more domestic and traditionally female labor was not necessarily easier, and their struggles sometimes became more emotionally difficult because of isolation from others. As Jamestown expanded, colonists did not settle around a main village, but were instead spread around on tracts of land that were barely distinguishable from wilderness. Almost everything eaten and used by the family had to be made by the family, and women bore the brunt of this work as the primary producers of their families’ goods. While male duties required going to town, many women spent months at a stretch without seeing anyone beyond their immediate families. This isolation was even worse for unmarried indentured servants, whose lives were unrelenting toil.

Feeding the family, for example, involved more than simply the final stage of cooking or baking. Women ground corn to make soup and bread. If the family had milk, it was because women tended and milked cows. A family’s butter and cheese had to be made from the milk. Eggs were available only because women raised chickens. Vegetables were the product of gardens grown by women. Meat needed to be butchered, preserved, and boiled or otherwise prepared. Cider or beer accompanied meals because women brewed it.

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