Midwifery In Colonial America

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.

One Reply to “Midwifery In Colonial America”

  1. I am glad to see the site up and running!

    Over time you are going to get the content of the site will build itself up as you add in items, but once you have a few more items in there with associated images you can really dig into getting. Now aside from adding more content to the site I would like to know what your plan is for the homepage, which currently only has one line of text on it, and the exhibits page, which currently looks to be where you have posted a bibliography.

    Omeka’s biggest strength is also one of the things that takes a bit of getting use to, that is that the content of pages is dynamically generated. So thinking about how you want a page to look ends up being more about thinking about how the pieces you want to include need to come together. For a point of reference here is a site I built in Omeka with the same theme. http://playingscience.org/ If you see things on that site that you want to replicate for your site feel free to bug me about it and I can tell you about how I did them.

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