Monday, April 4, 2011

Tobacco Brides of Virginia, 1619-1623

When a ship arrived and the women were ferried to shore, men lined up to greet and try to impress them. These men also had to assure the company that they were respectable and financially capable. Prospective grooms for these potential brides had to prove that they were “freemen or tenants as have meanes to maintaine them.”

Only landowners were permitted to marry. Indentured servants were forbidden to marry during their years of service. Most men reimbursed their brides’ voyage expenses in tobacco, not cash. A payment of 120 pounds of leaf tobacco was typical.

A woman was not forced to marry if none of the men who immediately appeared was to her liking. If she chose, she would be placed into a home that, preferably, already had a wife. There she would perform duties such as laundering and cooking until she found someone she agreed to wed.

The Virginia Company required that the colony provide these unmarried women “‘fitting ser[v]ices till they may hapne upon good matches.” The Virginia Company officially recruited prospective wives for only the short time between 1619 and 1622. Because of Indian raids and financial problems, the attention of the Company directors was focused elsewhere.


  1. hi thanks for sharing this


  2. Thanks for the comment. I've been reading about the "tobacco brides" of the Virginia Company of London, but mostly they are mentioned as a side note, or an occasional sentence.

    Personally, I'd really like to read the women's stories from their point-of-view. It seems like the voices of the women, who were early settlers in Virginia are silent. Perhaps, life was just really difficult during the early 17th century Virginia settlement, therefore the women that were brought over didn't have the leisure time to write like Jane Austen (but, Ms. Austen was late 18th century writer and English, not quite the rugged frontier lifestyle of 17th century colonial Virginia).

    Maybe, one of those old families in Virginia, will unearth an old diary or old letters--I'm sure the stories of the Virginia "tobacco brides" would be fascinating.

    --Ron Edwards

    1. These were primarily orphans and young ones at that, about 15, the oldest of the 144 sent over was 28, they were 'recruited' to go. Only 6 of the 144 survived.

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