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U£ Archaeologists Study Remains of FIRST LADY
1st Female Colonist
BY MICHAEL KILlAN
THE CHJOAGO TRIBUNE
WASHINGTON - America's "First Lady," who lived at England's first permanent
settlement in North America nearly four centuries ago, is spending the
holidays at the Smithsonian Institution, where scientists are carefully
examining her bones for traces of disease.
She was given the title "First Lady" by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, which owns the Jamestown., Va., site and this week an-flounced it had identified her remains as those of a "Mistress Forrest," wife of "Thomas Forrest, Gentleman," one of the first colonists to come to what is now the United States. come believe she is the first woman to to Jamestown," said Nicholas
Luccketti, senior archaeologist for the preservation association's "Jamestown Rediscovery Project." The colony was established in May 1607 by 104 men and boys, more than half of whom died the first year from a variety of diseases, malnutrition, exposure and Indian attacks. Ships from England resupplied the struggling colony on Virginia's James
River in early 1808, bringing a few more males, but it was not until the "Second Supply" landed in October 1608, that the first women arrived - Mistress Forrest and her maid, Anne Burras.
It could be argued that Burras might have been the first woman, depending on which of them set foot first in the colony, but servants seldom preceded their mistresses in those times and, under the rigid strictures of the British class system, only Forrest, as a "gentleman's" wife, could be termed an official "lady." The colonists were said to be distressed by the "Second Supply's" new arrivals, more than half ofwhom were "gentlemen," rather than hardy workers who could survive in the wild and knew how to produce food.
The archaeologists are certain the skeletal remains do not belong to the maid. According to Luccketti, Burras married one of the male colonists named John Leydon, gave birth to the first child born at Jamestown and moved to a later settlement called Elizabeth City, on the site of what is now Newport News, Va., where she was listed as still living in the colonial census of 1625.
Forrest did not fare so well. "She died soon after arriving," Luccketti said. "The mortality rate was pretty horrendous." The Smithsonian team, led by anthropologist Douglas Owsley, is attempting to determine her cause of death, which Luccketti said may well have been salt poisoning. Jamestown colonists perished from a lot of diseases, including a deadly "Bloody Flux" dysentery caused by drinking sewage-tainted ground~water, but there was also widespread poisoning from drinking the brackish river water. "The symptoms the colonists described in their accounts are very comparable to salt poisoning," Luccketti said.
The identification of Forrest, officially known as archaeological object "JR156C," was made by dating artifacts at the gravesite to the year 1608. The woman's social rank was clear from the elaborate pinewood coffin she was buried in, which would not have been used for a servant. No remnants of clothing were found. The early colonists were buried either naked or wrapped in shrouds. "Clothing then was too valuable to bury with the dead," Luccketti said. Smithsonian isotope analysis also determined her diet was wheat rather than corn, which marked her as a woman high on the food chain and a recent arrival from England, he said. According to Owsley's analysis, she was Caucasian, 4 feet, 8 inches tall and about 35 years old. "That was very old in those days," Luccketti said.
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