X. Women's Work
Manufactured cloth and some clothing were available from the ships arriving in Jamestown, but women were responsible for the sewing and care of it. As cultivation of cotton began to supplant tobacco because it was more profitable, Virginia women typically spun their thread and wove their own fabric. Colonists had few changes of clothing, and their hard labor worked up a sweat. Women washed, sewed, and mended the clothing – and laundry especially was a constant, laborious task. First the water had to be pulled from the well, and a fire lit to heat the heavy pots of water. The woman then used a strong stick to pound the clothing, while rubbing it with her homemade soap. After rinsing the clothes, she hung them to dry, usually on a wooden fence -- and then she kept a careful eye against rain clouds, wandering animals, and other potential mishaps. Ironing involved still more work, including heating the heavy irons on a hot fire, even in summer.
When a family had extra money, they might purchase a male servant to work in the fields, but this additional worker did not lessen the labor burden of women. Instead, it added another bundle of laundry, another mouth to feed, and another sick person to nurse. While the men of Jamestown grew a cash crop, the women labored to provide everything else – producing, in fact, the majority of what was required to stay alive and healthy. The work done by the mothers and daughters of Jamestown was absolutely essential not only to a family’s existence, but also to the society itself.