The Jamestown Brides: The Story of the Virginia Company’s Trade in Young English Wives

Time Period
16,000 BCE to 1622 CE
Media Type
Domestic Life
Women's History
Jennifer Potter

On June 25, 2019, Jennifer Potter delivered the Banner Lecture, “The Jamestown Brides: The Story of the Virginia Company's Trade in Young English Wives.”

In 1621, fifty-six English women from good families crossed the Atlantic in response to the Virginia Company of London's call for maids “young and uncorrupt” to make wives for the planters of its new colony in Virginia. One in six of the maids could even claim gentry status. Although promised a free choice of husband, they were in effect being traded into marriage for a bride price of 150 pounds of best leaf tobacco, the profits to flow to individual investors. How did the company justify such a trade, and why did the women submit to such a risky enterprise? Delving into company and court records, ballads, pamphlets, sermons, letters, and original sources on both sides of the Atlantic, Potter turns detective as she tracks the women from their communities in England to their new homes in Virginia, illuminating women's lives in early modern England and in the New World.

The Jamestown Brides is Jennifer Potter's tenth book. Appointed as one of the first Royal Literary Fund Fellows at the British Library, she first came to Virginia to research Strange Blooms, The Curious Lives and Adventures of the John Tradescants, her celebrated biography of the early seventeenth-century plantsmen, collectors of curiosities, and gardeners to King Charles I. She has also written novels, works about gardens and landscapes, and two cultural histories of flowers: The Rose, A True History and Seven Flowers and How They Shaped Our World. A long-time reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, Potter has enjoyed writing fellowships at leading British universities and at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. She is currently a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow and an Archaeology Ambassador for the Museum of London Archaeology.

This lecture was cosponsored with the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Virginia.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Want to listen to an audio-only version of this lecture? Listen now on Soundcloud.