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Jamestown – Yorktown: Remembering the women and black soldiers who founded America

Written By | Oct 17, 2019
Jamestown, Yorktown, Tenacity, Forgotten Soldier, Revolutionary War

JAMESTOWN – YORKTOWN: Visiting Jamestown and Yorktown, Virginia is more than walking the paths of our earliest days.  It is a place to find the stories of the people that walked those paths through the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Jamestown Settlement museums. Special exhibits now telling the stories of the women, indigenous and enslaved women and soldiers vital to the success of America’s founding.

The Jamestown Settlement has grown to include a world-class museum that takes visitors back in time to learn about the people who first inhabited this land and who first traveled from far off lands to find a new life in a new land. Classified as living history museums, there is much more than static displays.  Archeological digs nform re-creations of a Powhatan Indian village and English fort, as well as authentic re-creations of the three ships – the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. All there for young historians to explore.

Particularly fascinating is “Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia”  that tells the story of the women of Jamestown. Women whose names are engraved on the steps leading to the exhibit.

Three ships left London on December 20, 1606, heading to Virginia.

The ships carried a combined passenger manifest of 105 passengers and 39 crew members.

Stand on the dock and look at the rather compact vessels and consider spending four months aboard one of these ships.  In 1607, 104 English men and boys arrived in at Jamestown, so named for King James 1 to start a settlement. The goal was wealth. Gold such as was found in South America, but more so the tobacco crops that grew in Virginia.

The early voyages were mostly men – explorers hoping to profit from riches to be found in the new world but in time, the passengers of the ship included women and it is their stories that Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia tells. However, the exhibit is not just the stories of the European women that suffered through Jamestown’s early days of hardship and starvation but also the indigenous and enslaved women.

Tenacity – an exhibit dedicated to the women of Jamestown

The curators at the Jamestown Settlement Museum have down a remarkable job introducing visitors not only to the women but helping visitors of all ages to understand their stories. History comes alive when we can put a name and personal story to it, and the curators have done a remarkable job of telling the stories of these early American women.

Before entering the exhibit, watch the less than 30-minute documentary  “1607: A Nation Takes Root,” in the museum theater.

Jamestown, VA: Where 400 years of representative government is born

The film introduces the story of three cultures spanning three continents.  The film is an overview of the first two decades of America’s first permanent English colony.  It introduces watches to the Powhatan Indian, European and African cultures that converged in the early 1600s Virginia.

The film chronicles events of Jamestown’s early years. It shows the conflicts of the English and Powhatans, and the colonists fight to survive in a harsh world.,

Anne Burras Laydon’s arrival in Jamestown was in 1608.
Anne Burris, Jamestown, Englishwomen, Servant, Tenacity

Image of Anne Burras Lanydon

Laydon, 14 years of age,  was brought to America to be the maidservant of Mistress Forrest, an English woman. They were the only two women in the fort and are considered to be the first two English female settlers.  When Mistress Forrest died, Anne was a servant left in a fort full of men, requiring her marriage to carpenter John Laydon – the first wedding held at Jamestown.

Anne is one of the few to survive the harsh life at Jamestown, including 1609-1610, known as the “starving time.

Cockacoeske was the “Queen of the Pamunkey”

Cockacoeske, Queen of the Pamunkey, Indigenous, Native American, Jamestown, TenacityCockacoeske was the rule over her indigenous tribe until her death in 1686.  At the time of the English settlement at Jamestown in 1607, Opechancanough ruled over the Pamunkey. Opechancanough was a much-feared warrior and a charismatic leader of the Powhatans.  Known to be strongly opposed to the European settlers, Openchancanough captured Captain John Smith of Jamestown bringing him before Chief Powhatan at Werowocomoco, where the Englishman met Powhatan’s young daughter Pocahontas

In 1644, Opechancanough, though to be 90-100 years old, was captured, only to be shot in the back by a guard. After Opechancanough’s death, the once-mighty tribe disintegrated, and the English grew stronger in the Virginia Colony. He was succeeded as Weroance, Algonquin for a leader, by Nectowance, and then by Totopotomoy, who eventually married Cockacoeske. Totopotomoy was an ally of the English siding with them in conflicts.

After Totopotomoy’s death in 1656 at the Battle of the Bloody Run, Cockacoeske became the Great Weroance of the tribe and was called Queen of Pamunkey by the English colonists. Despite their alliance, the Pamunkey were attacked by the English during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676.

While Bacon died, like many early settlers of dysentery, the Jamestown documentary about Bacon and his rebellion brings out that Bacon may have been driven mad by lice. These little things bring history, and the lives of those early settlers, into context.

Angelo is the first documented African woman to arrive in Virginia.

Angelo, was raised on the West Coast of Africa in Angola before becoming a captive of the Portuguese. The ship she was on, bound for Mexico, was captured by English privateers.  In the records found at the museum, the ship Angelo came to Virginia on is identified at the Treasurer.

Angelo was among the 20 captives the English privateers brought to Jamestown. Bringing Angelo’s life alive are two rare documents on loan to Jamestown from the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

Muster, Jamestown, Tenacity, History

“Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia,” circa 1625. Courtesy of The National Archives of the UK, ref. CO1/3 f136v.

Under lights that are dimmed to protect the five-hundred or so old documents, the book is opened to a page dated February 16, 1624, List of Living and Dead with Angelo, a negar being listed on page 174.

Another historical document is the 1625 Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia, a colonial house-to-house census.

Angelo, a “Negro Woman in the Treasuror” is recorded as living in the house of William Peirce at Jamestown.

The stories of the English women are told through the Ferrar Papers interactive exhibit.
Ferrar Papers, Jamestown, History

Ferrar Paper Interactive Exhibit. Click to enlarge

The original 1621 Ferrar Papers, so named for John Ferrar deputy to Sir Edwin Sandys, and early treasurer of the Virginia Company. Heads of companies were then called “treasurer” because they had the crucial job of keeping the company’s money.  The papers are on loan from the Master and Fellows of Magdalene College Cambridge and they feature the names, ages, and conditions under which  English women came to Virginia.

Images of the original 17th-century document are seen alongside the modern translation.

Through the exhibit, visitors will gain insight into the lives of 56 women who came to Virginia. Their lives come alive with the touch of a screen.

Museum, Exhibits, Tenacity, Jamestown

1) Ducking Chair, English, traditional 17th century, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.
2) Documents
3) Embroidered bodice, circa 1610, Courtesy of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
4) Court Cupboard, ca. 1650-1670, Courtesy of Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Gift of Frank L. Horton.

Tenacity runs through January 5, 2020

The story of America’s founding continues at Yorktown

America earned her freedom from British Rule when General Cornwallis surrendered to American forces at Yorktown, now a battlefield park where this weekend, October 19 and 20th, the victory at Yorktown is celebrated.

But the true story of America’s freedom is told at the American Revolutionary Museum at Yorktown.

Through a series of immersive indoor exhibits, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown displays the nature and epic scale of the Revolution and the richness and complexity of the country’s Revolutionary heritage. Part of that telling is the story of The Forgotten Soldier, the African Americans, freed and enslaved, that took up arms for America’s freedom from British rule.

Forgotten Soldier, Yorktown Revolutionary Museum, Enslaved, Black


The Forgotten Soldier

Available through March 22, 2020, the Forgotten Solider brings to life what African Americans had to face duringthe Revolution.  The choice between joining the British who promised freedom to fighters, and the American Revolution, and the American’s that enslaved so many of them.

The stories are about Crispus Attucks, a sailor formerly enslaved and of African and American Indian descent, who was the war’s first casualty at the Boston Massacre. Attucks is known as “the First Martyr of Liberty.”

There is also the Bristol Rhodes, an enslaved man who found freedom by joining the Rhode Island Regiment. Rhodes fought at the Siege of Yorktown in October 1781, losing his left leg and one hand due to cannon fire. Thomas Carney, who was born free in Maryland, joined the 5th Maryland Regiment in 1777. Carney was a private in the Continental Army fighting at Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth and Guilford Courthouse. Carney is one of the few blacks that did receive a cash bonus and 100 acres of bounty land for his service.

Jamestown – Yorktown – telling stories four hundred years old

Like the Tenancity exhibit, visitors will find informative movies and interactive displays that tell the individual stories of the black men who stood up for America, making a vital contribution to our early freedoms.

Like Jamestown with their recreation of a Powhatan village, including reenactors, Yorktown features a soldiers camp, complete with a field kitchen, tents, and regular displays of musket and cannon firings.  Also featured are authentic homes, gardens and working buildings creating the ability to step back into history and how life was once lived when America was fighting for her place in history.

Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.