The American woman and the 4th of July

Unfortunately, it is all too true that many of our forefathers were racists, as were most white people all over the world.  Their enslavement of black Africans and the brutal treatment of America’s Natives are national scars that should not be forgotten.  But we have tried to make things right with American blacks, and are trying to make up for what we did to the Natives.

But the charge that early Americans, in any way, mistreated their women is preposterous.  Women were the most valuable import, highly prized and courted.  The reason English is the language of North America is because of the English women who first settled this country.

Their only European competition were the few thousand brave French women who emigrated to New France between 1608 and 1760.  The French men came mainly from northwestern France, but most of the women were recruited from orphanages in Paris and Rouen.  They were marvelous wives and mothers, and are the ancestors of the 3.5 million French Canadians alive today.

Unlike a lot of the French and Spanish, the Englishmen who first came here were not interested in marrying Native women, for the most part.  They wanted to start Christian English families, and start an Christian English community, which could only be done with English wives.  The trick was, how in the name of God do you convince a woman to live in a savage wilderness, and found a nation?

Getting young men to run off to the middle of nowhere is not that hard, especially if they’re escaping a life of drudgery and submission.  But what was it that lured these young English girls to come to Virginia?  What was it about them that found the idea appealing?

In many cases, as far back as 1618, they came in ships designed specifically for them, 200 at a time.  They were responding to advertisements by the Virginia Company, which promised them their choice of husbands, each of whom would be a property owner.  Their fare would be paid by the man who they selected, and paid with pleasure.  It was the best bargain in American history.

They were eagerly awaited in Jamestown, and when they arrived they quickly paired up with their choice of the men who waited on them.  For those who couldn’t decide, lodgings were arranged, and they could take her sweet time picking the man who would be their life partner, and the father of their children.

I think, above all, it was the lure of land, in fee simple, which could be bequeathed to her children, which brought these poor women over.  They knew that if they worked hard, and God’s good grace shined on them, they could start a family which would extend on, generation after generation, far into the future.  And their sons and daughters would be free, far freer than they had ever been.  And these children would be able to have not just the land they would inherit, but their own new land, that they would settle themselves.  A whole continent awaited.

Unlike the Spanish and the French, the English woman’s culture was that of the Absolute Nuclear Family.  This family structure was taken from the Anglo-Saxon immigration, and is the family system of Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and England.  It’s the American family structure of today.

In this culture a woman has absolute control over her body.  She mates, and marries, who she chooses. Once she’s married she and her husband are not subject to the control of his or her parents.  Her husband is expected to provide a home for her, apart from his own family.  She has no legal obligations to her parents or his, and she is not obliged to leave her own estate to her children, if she chooses not to.

It’s a system of, by, and for women.  It’s why many patriarchal societies hate us.  But it’s as American as apple pie, baseball and the 4th of July.

One of those women was the mother of James Pettyjohn, born in Northampton County, Virginia, in 1635.  She’s the ancestor I’m most proud of on my country’s birthday.

 

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