The early settlers in Jamestown were all male until 2 Females arrived in 1608 – Mrs. Forest and Anne Burras. There are two divergent stories regarding Mrs. Forest as to whether she arrived to join her husband Thomas Forest, a gentleman, or whether he accompanied her on her journey. What is clear is that she was sickly and did not stay long in Virginia.
Anne Burras, on the other hand, was only 14 years old at the time, the personal maid of Mrs. Forrest and the first unmarried woman to arrive in the colonies. Shortly after her arrival (just 2 months later), she married John Leydon (sometimes spelled Laydon). This was another first for Virginia as it was most likely the only Christian wedding that was performed in the colonies at the time.
The couple moved to Point Comfort, then an outpost of Jamestown and Anne bore 4 children, the first of which was a girl named Virginia. Life was not easy in the colonies and during what was then referred to as the starving time, their main food source was rats, snakes and their horses and dogs in Jamestown.
However, life was slightly more comfortable in Point Comfort due to an abundance of lobsters and hogs. Out of the 470 male and 20 female settlers that arrived in Jamestown, only 60 were to survive after their supply of hogs was purposely destroyed and hunting became problematic due to the Native Indian population.
Anne, John and their 4 children all survived these early days and later moved to Elizabeth City (now called Newport News). John was given 200 acres of land which he further patented with the help of Anne’s brother, Anthony Burrows, to include an additional 1250 acres in 1936. While little else is known about Anne and her family, they did live out their lives in Virginia.
Her most significant contribution to the history of Virginia and the early colonies is that she was the first unmarried women to arrive in the New World. This later resulted in the realization of the importance of women in the colonies. It was determined that the men and the settlements were more likely to survive and thrive if women were present to provide stability and permanence through setting up homes.
These homes were to become an important factor in which early settlements were to survive and which were to fail in later years.