Anne Orthwood's Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia

By Wall, Helena M. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Anne Orthwood's Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia


Wall, Helena M., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Anne Orthwood's Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia. By JOHN RUSTON PAGAN. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. x, 222 pp.

IN 1663, on Virginia's Eastern Shore, Anne Orthwood, a young indentured servant, engaged in a brief liaison with the favored nephew of a prominent planter. She became pregnant with twins, one of whom, Jasper, survived and was bound out; Anne, who had herself been born illegitimate in Bristol, England, twenty-four years before, died shortly after giving birth. This episode generated four lawsuits: one brought against the master who had sold Orthwood's indenture without disclosing that she was pregnant; a civil suit for child support and a criminal suit for fornication against the father, John Kendall; and, twenty years later, a suit for freedom brought by Jasper Orthwood.

These four cases provide the basis for John Ruston Pagan's intelligent and highly readable book. The book succeeds, first, as a microhistory of Virginia from the Restoration, with its attendant legal and political adjustments, through Bacon's Rebellion and its aftermath. Pagan deftly conveys the texture of life in this colonial society and contextualizes the experiences of its participants, from the meager possibilities for servants like Anne Orthwood, to the aspirations of John Kendall, a young man on the make whose fortunes would depend on the patronage of his uncle and perhaps a lucky marriage or two, to the strivings of the parvenu, William Kendall himself, rising in the rough-and-tumble world of Virginia to a position of substantial and yet still precarious power.

Second, to emphasize some major themes within this microhistory, Pagan shows us Virginia society under construction, as the demand for tobacco, for land, for labor, came to dominate the social landscape, and as the Virginia gentry consolidated its power by creating an alliance of white property owners with patriarchal claims. Pagan emphasizes how fully gentry power had to be negotiated, located within a set of reciprocal and consensual arrangements and concessions to those lower in the social order.

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