1160: Jane Dickenson

One of the Few Colonial Women to be Heard Before a Court of Law

Born: Unknown, Most Likely England (Present-day England, United Kingdom)

Died: After 1624, Mostly Likely The Colony of Virginia, Present-day Virginia, United States of America

Jane made a landmark plea to be released from indentured servitude in the year 1624.

In 1620, Jane and her husband arrived in colonial Virginia, her husband under an indentured servant contract lasting seven years.

Jane was taken captive by Pamunkey Native Americans in 1622. Sadly, Jane’s husband was killed in the attack. After spending nearly a year under indigenous captivity, Jane was ransomed by a wealthy colonist under the agreement that she would become his indentured servant. Now, the word agreement here is used rather loosely. It seems that in actuality, Jane was coerced into accepting the agreement because her husband had been killed five years before the end of his contract. Jane was also told she would have to pay off the ransom amount as well.

With the choice being either staying with the native people, or returning to colonial English society, Jane agreed to becoming an indentured servant. Two years later she appeared before the court in order to plead for her freedom. According to Jane, the ill treatment she received from her new master was far worse than she had endured living with the Pamunkey people.

Now, I should note that the sources I have listed below are a little shaky and contradictory on Jane’s story. Some claim her husband was contracted and she was not, while others state they both came to the New World under contract as indentured servants.

Not only that, but the sources also fail to mention whether or not Jane actually received her freedom after making her petition, and any information about Jane after her petition has been lost to history as well.