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| 9 1 Gentlemen and Soldiers Competing Visions of Manhood in Early Jamestown John Gilbert McCurdy On May 14, 1607, 104 men and boys landed on a small peninsula in the Chesapeake and established Jamestown. The colonists sailed not for themselves but for the Virginia Company, whose shareholders were financing this foray into the New World. Consistent with the company’s instructions, the colonists organized a government, built a settlement, and made contact with the indigenous people. Almost immediately, however, Jamestown was on the brink of collapse. Starvation and disease struck first, followed by internal dissention and war with the Powhatan Indians. In the decade that followed, the Virginia Company continued to resupply Jamestown and send hundreds of new colonists, but large numbers continued to die and no one could find gold or any other resource that might profit the investors. Hoping to salvage the colony as well as his own investment, Sir Edwin Sandys took control of the Virginia Company in 1619 and implemented a series of changes. For Sandys, the colony’s problem was that it contained too many men. Too many men led to too much fighting and ultimately diverted the colonists from their original mission of enriching the Virginia Company. “For the remedying of that mischiefe,” Sandys demanded that the company send young women for the men to marry, as “wifes, children and familie might make them lesse moueable and settle them.”1 Four centuries have passed since the settlement of Jamestown. While Sir Edwin was ultimately unsuccessful at rescuing the company’s fortunes, the colony survived to become the first permanent English settlement in the New World. The recent quadricentennial celebrations of Jamestown’s founding testify to the continued relevance of the settlement and its place at the beginning of American history. Nor is Jamestown just a fixation of the popular imagination. In recent years, professional historians have continued to unearth—literally and figuratively—new meaning from the Virginia colony, 10 | John Gilbert McCurdy such as the origins of American racism and the creation of an Atlantic world.2 Studies of Jamestown have also proved instrumental to understanding gender at the beginning of American history. As historians like Mary Beth Norton and Kathleen Brown have demonstrated, gender was critical to the conquest and subjugation of the native Virginians. It also informed concepts of power, dividing the English settlers along the lines of social rank, and was even used in the justification of African American slavery. As these historians have been careful to note, divisions of gender did not only separate men from women; they were also used by men to suppress other men and to deny them power in the early Chesapeake.3 It is possible to build on this work to gain a better understanding of the struggles that beset early Jamestown. Although historians have sought to understand the experience of the first female colonists, we actually learn much more from a gendered analysis of the colony’s male population.4 After all, early Jamestown was decidedly a man’s world. The first English women did not arrive until September 1608—more than sixteen months after settlement —and they remained a distinct minority for the next decade, totaling only three percent of the population in 1613.5 Yet the problem may not have been as simple as too many men. While Sir Edwin Sandys treated all male colonists the same, it is now widely accepted that manhood is anything but monolithic. Instead, distinct variations exist, sometimes peacefully coexisting and other times leading to conflict. Nor is manhood static. It has changed markedly over time, shifting in response to political and economic trends.6 In early Jamestown, the varieties of manhood were particularly contentious because the very concept of manhood was undergoing significant revision and change. The key to understanding manhood in early Jamestown is to recognize first that the colony was established as a military outpost. Concerned with the extraction of resources and fearful of a hostile native population, the Virginia Company purposely outfitted the early colony like an army unit. It organized the colonists as soldiers, settling them in a fort and denying them the comforts of civilian life such as private property and political rights. Individual interests were subordinated to the mission of the company. Nine of the eleven men who led the colony between 1607 and 1619 had considerable experience leading troops into battle.7 Indeed, the military mission partly explains the limited number of women in the early colony.8 Studies...


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