Imagine you are 14 years old. You have been sent to work as a lady’s maid to Mistress Margaret Forrest, and suddenly you find that Mistress Forrest and her husband Thomas are sailing across the Atlantic and taking you with them. Such was the fate of Anna Burras, one of the first two women to make their homes in Jamestown, Virginia.
Imagine also that after the long and treacherous journey, Mistress Forrest falls ill–and dies. This turn of events left the young teen virtually alone among a settlement full of men. Anna, it seems, found a safety net in carpenter John Laydon. He married her in November 1608. John had come with the first settlers on the Susan Constant; Anna had landed on September 30, 1608, a passenger on the Mary and Margaret. Her marriage to John, put Anna Burras’ name in the history books as she became the first English-speaking woman to marry in North America. In 1609, she gave birth to a daughter, Virginia. Three other daughters followed.
Anna and John survived the illness, poor crops and other problems of the Jamestown Colony. They prospered and in 1636, were granted an additional 1250 acres of land because of their status as “ancient planters.”
Anna’s spirit, however, sometimes got her in trouble. There are records noting that she and another woman, Jane Wright, were punished for a breach of discipline in 1611 or 1612, The women were assigned to make shirts and as they ran out of thread, they improvised by raveling thread out of the bottom of the shirts. This made their shirts shorter than those made by women who had not run out of thread. Anna and Jane were whipped for this infraction, and Anna reportedly suffered a miscarriage because of it.