jamestown heading

I. Native Women

II. First Women

III. More Women

IV. Cash Crop

V. Women's Lives

VI. Indentured Servant

VII. Wives

VIII. Living Condition

IX. Family LIfe

X. Women's Work

XI. Fate of Jamestown


VI. Women as Indentured Servants

Men and women harvesting a tobacco field in jamestown
Men and women harvesting a tobacco field
click on image to see full picture
Credit: The Gutenberg Project

Because Jamestown was still struggling, many servants were overworked. The long work days, meager food, and insufficient clothing made life miserable for many indentured servants. Because the economy was so entirely based on tobacco, most workers could expect to spend long days in the fields. Therefore men were considered to be more valuable than women, and they were recruited more actively in England. Jamestown’s female indentured servants were outnumbered by a ratio of six men to one woman.

Jamestown women, both indentured and free, worked in the tobacco fields alongside men. Tasks were divided so men performed the more physically demanding chores like plowing while women hoed. Women often handled the work of stripping tobacco leaves and preparing it for curing in tobacco barns. Indentured female servants also did other agricultural work, especially milking cows and caring for cattle, hogs, and poultry. Some performed tasks that had been neglected in Jamestown’s male-dominated society. Female indentured servants took over “women’s work” such as cooking, caring for children and the sick, planting vegetable gardens, and doing laundry for households that did not include wives. Because of the skewed gender ratio, indentured women often were able to marry planters prosperous enough to pay off the remainder of their terms. Indeed, indentured servitude proved so successful for both the group and the individual that future colonies followed the model created for Jamestown.

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