Here's to the Ladies
The number of women in the Manakin colony was considered a real asset.
Women were in short supply in the New World, partly because adventure
was more attractive to men, partly because the nature of indentured
servitude was more attractive to men, partly because the mortality rate was
very high for women both on the journey and after they arrived.
About 25 percent of the women in Colonial Virginia died from childbirth
or its complications. There was no concept of cleanliness in medical
procedures, as the discovery of germs was more than a century away.
Another 25 percent died in cooking accidents. The combination of
voluminous garments and large open fireplaces was treacherous.
Men were expected to become established before marrying, and girls and
their families often chose much older grooms by this criterion. Marriage
for love was a lesser consideration except for shotgun weddings, which
were usually covered up, but were not rare.
Laced in stays well before their second birthdays, girls were dressed like
adults from early childhood. An adult's dress could take as much as 20
yards of fabric, which made garments very expensive. They were expected
to last up to 15 years and were restyled as fashions changed. Wedding
dresses were simply the best of the few garments a woman owned. These
were stored, folded, in a chest.
Because daily responsibilities were so strictly divided by gender, people
did not remain widowed long, and remarriage within a month or two was
not uncommon. The luxurious concept of a year's mourning period did not
become prevalent until the Victorian era.
Carol Cason, Virginia Branch Leaflet March 2000