The Huguenot Society

of the

Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia

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 attractie 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