Historians have utilized existing court records from colonial Virginia, specifically the records of the General Court, Richmond County Court and Accomack – Northampton County Court to study local history, legal history and even gender relations. Thus far there has been little attention given to women’s history as presented within these records. I am currently reviewing these same records to determine the types of cases which brought women to court during the colonial period in Virginia and who testified in those cases. Specifically, I am searching for the presence of midwives within the court records. Historically, in England in addition to their role in childbirth, midwives testified in court in regard to cases of bastardy, infanticide, fornication, adultery, rape and witchcraft. My research will determine if this aspect of their practice made the journey with them from England to the colony of Virginia.
My website, www.midwiferyincolonialamerica.com focuses on the practice of midwifery in colonial Virginia based upon the information available in local court records. Women seldom left letters or diaries behind, especially midwives who usually did not keep records to protect the secrets of both the birthing room and their patients. In the absence of first-hand accounts, court records can provide a window through which historians can view the lives of these early settlers and gain an understanding regarding their gendered roles, social relations and gendered power dynamics.
I selected a ready-made product such as Omeka.com and a hosting service, BlueHost.com to create my website. I have provided links to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s website, www.dohistory.org, the site for Archiving Early America at www.earlyamerica.com and Colonial Williamsburg at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org which provides information on midwives and apothecaries.
The website currently features a specific case which moved from the local court, through the Court of Oyer and Terminer and ultimately ended at the General Court of Colonial Virginia. So far, I have located all of the records except those of the General Court which contain the final decision and punishment assigned to the case. This website is a work in progress and will most likely continue to evolve as I locate additional resources and information to add to its pages.