Seeking Mary Jennings

An interpreter sat near the bow of the Maryland Dove, a recreation of a 17th century trading ship moored at Historic St. Mary’s City museum. She was a young woman – probably a student from St. Mary’s College, next door to the museum – in a laborer’s dress, with bare feet and a tankard in her hand.  She looked perfectly happy and in place – a picturesque combination of a fresh-faced 21st century collegian and a 17th century wench.

I asked – I always ask – “Can I take your picture?”

“Oh, yes,” she replied, then grinned.  “I don’t think we’re allowed to say no.”

Busy taking pictures and listening to her history of the ship, I forgot to ask a key question about her presence.  The first ships to arrive in Jamestown carried only men.  Were there women on the Dove’s 1633-1634 voyage from England to Maryland?

The Dove was trading ship that set sail, with her larger companion, the Ark, from England in 1633.  On it were settlers headed for Maryland under the auspices of Cecil Calvert, second Baron of Baltimore.   Charles I had granted his father, the first Lord Baltimore, the land north of Virginia – named Maryland after Charles’ Queen, Henrietta Maria — for services rendered.  Baltimore, a Catholic, hoped to establish a colony where Catholicism could be freely practiced.

Funding the trip were wealthy Catholic families, sending their younger sons to the colonies for a chance at a better career than anti-Catholic England could provide.  Cecil Calvert sent his two younger brothers, Leonard and George.  Also funding the voyage was the Catholic Jesuit order, which sent along some priests.  The large majority of settlers, however, were non-Catholic indentured servants.   The passengers sailed on the larger passenger ship Ark, and not the 76-foot Dove, which was used to haul supplies for the crossing.

After several stops, to pick up and drop off settlers and supplies from the Isle of Wight, Barbados, St. Kitts and Virginia, the Ark and the Dove made it to Maryland in March 1634.  They built a town and named it St. Mary’s City.

The Ark went back to England in May for more settlers and supplies, and continued making the trans-Atlantic voyage at least once a year for the next five years.  The smaller Dove was left to trade along the narrow waterways of the Chesapeake Bay.  It was lost trying to get back to England in 1635.

The Maryland Dove is a sort-of recreation of the 17th century Dove.  As it wasn’t possible to create an exact replica, naval architect William Avery Baker designed the Maryland Dove after early 17th century trading vessels.   It’s a full-scale, operating ship, built in 1975 using 17th century tools and methods, and commissioned in 1978.  The one concession to 21st century life: it has a pair of diesel auxilary engines.  It belongs to the State of Maryland and is moored at Historic St. Mary’s City, a State-owned living museum in southern Maryland.

A little online research showed that yes, there were women on the voyage – perhaps four or five.   No ships manifest exists, so passenger lists have been created by genealogical and lineage organizations using information from various sources, including land grants in 1633 and 1634, and letters and diary entries of passengers.   There was one gentlewoman, Ann Cox, a widow and daughter of a baronet, who was traveling with her brother.  In Maryland, she remarried.  Her second husband, Thomas Greene, would become second governor of Maryland.  The rest – Mary Jennings, Joan Porter, perhaps an Ann Smithson, perhaps an Ann Smith — were indentured servants who were wives of other indentured servants.

A further question, since the interpreter was portraying crew and not passenger: were there women (not disguised as men) working on ships?  Not on the Ark or the Dove and – from a superficial online search – not in the 17th century.  But if BBC is to be believed, “large numbers of women went to sea” in the 18th century and modern belief that women were unwelcomed as crew on ships is based on history rewritten by the Victorians.

The Maryland Dove occasionally leaves home to participate in special programs at other locations.  Days away would be listed here.  But generally, it can be found and visited at Historic St. Mary’s City.

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5 Responses to Seeking Mary Jennings

  1. Looks like you could get a concussion in the officer’s cabin (those are bed’s aren’t they?), but I guess you wouldn’t fall out of bed in tough weather.

  2. They looked like beds. Not for people with claustrophobia. I hadn’t considered it but you’re right: wouldn’t fall out of bed, no matter how much the ship was rockin’ and rollin’.

  3. I’m liking that ship. Even though I’m claustrophobic those beds look cosy. I think.

    Writing women out of history is interesting…..

    • They do look cosy, though no amount of cosiness would get me to make a transatlantic voyage in one of them. I feel a little quesy just writing about it.

      I didn’t know that about women on ships, although I do remember that in Persuasian, Admiral Croft’s wife went to sea with him. I’ll have to do more research on women actually finding employment on ships in the 1700s.

    • I’d always heard that sailors believed that women on a ship were bad luck. I don’t know that BBC is the most reliable of sources, but the Victorians making that all is believable enough to me to be the start off point for more research, when I get the time.

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