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Jamestown: What is real history of colony behind new series?

Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick), Verity (Niamh Walsh), and Alice (Sophie Rundle) in Jamestown
Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick), Verity (Niamh Walsh), and Alice (Sophie Rundle) in Jamestown. Pic: Sky

Last Friday saw the premiere of Sky 1’s new drama series Jamestown in the UK, a historic drama produced by the same people that brought us Downton Abbey.

The show centers on the arrival of a small group of women and their contribution to the burgeoning colony.

Given that Jamestown the series is a work of historic fiction, we thought it would be fun to have a little look at the real Jamestown.

Jamestown was the first permanent English Settlement in the Americas and it was a hotspot for a lot of the troubles between the settlers and the Native American tribes that were close by.

The settlement was established on May 4, 1607, as James Fort. It was considered a permanent settlement after a brief abandonment in 1610.

Jamestown was located in Tsenacommacah, in modern day Virginia,which was ruled by the Native American Powhatan Confederacy, specifically the Paspahegh tribe.

The tribespeople were said to have been initially welcoming of the English settlers and provided essential provisions and trade for the colonists who were not educated in working the land.

However, relations between the colonists and the Powhatan people soon soured and led to the total annihilation of the Paspahegh people, through conflict and infectious diseases brought over by the settlers, within three years.

Jamestown also set the stage for the meeting of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. She would become a significant figure for many reasons.

For over a year no English women lived in the colony, until 1608 when two women arrived with the “second supply” of men and provisions.

They were Anne Forrest, who arrived to be with her husband, and her young personal maid Anne Burras.

The fate of Mistress Forrest is uncertain, but we know that Anne Burras went on to marry Carpenter John Laydon and hosts the town’s very first wedding.

She would go on to raise four daughters in the area, which certainly would have contributed to the stabilisation of the colony.

The Sky One TV series picks things up in 1613. The colony is struggling due to mixed fortunes and in a bid to increase efficiency in the workforce the town’s Governor, Sir Thomas Dale, assigns 3-acre plots to the first settlers.

Smaller plots are assigned to the settlement’s later arrivals.

This land causes a fair bit of trouble in the series, but the focus of the show is on the new arrival of several women who have come to meet their new husbands.

The series aims to show the harsh conditions that these women had to deal with, but also the cruelty and attitudes that they had to endure.

As women didn’t arrive till later on, they were initially vastly outnumbered by the male colonists, which would have created a lot of problems for them.

The series highlights the invaluable contribution these women would make over time, but it also looks at the dangers that they faced on a day-to-day basis from certain elements of the male population.

In the first episode we see one of the woman being raped by her husband. She is powerless to do anything about it or retaliate.

There were no such thing as women’s rights and the courts would normally take the man’s side. So she continues on regardless.

The women that came to Jamestown came from all walks of life. There was a mix of working class, middle class and even noble women who all set off for a new life and found it to be much tougher than they could have imagined.

Their role initially would be to marry and raise families, which would provide the much needed stability for Jamestown to grow and thrive.

Jamestown airs Fridays on Sky 1 at 9pm in the UK.

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