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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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skull

Spurred by tobacco profits, Chesapeake settlement grew rapidly. Most immigrants were Europeans. But by the late 1660s, more and more Africans were brought to the region. As a cash crop, tobacco brought prosperity, at the cost of human suffering.

Lifelong, backbreaking labor marked the bones of the men, women, and children who tended fields. Most are nameless now; their stories lost—until we find their remains. These burials link us directly to the lives of the people who shouldered loads to turn the Virginia and Maryland frontiers into stable colonies.

 

contract of an indentured servant    The Bondservants' Bargain

During the 1600s, from 70 to 85 percent of the colonists came as indentured, or contracted, servants. More than a quarter of them did not survive beyond the end of their contract to freedom.

Historical re-enactors demonstrating the back-breaking labor that left marks on the colonists' bones.     Hard Evidence of Heavy Toil

The lives of most settlers — men, women, and children — consisted of continual hard labor. A lifetime of lifting and bending leaves skeletal markers.

vertebra    Proof of Burden

Skeletons embody the proof of the many burdens in the lives of Chesapeake colonists. Their remains represent the thousands upon whose backs early America was built.

Skull of a male, 25 to 29 years old, with heavily worn pipe facets    Pleasure of a Pipe

Not all skeletal damage came from hard work, injury, or disease. Sometimes the simple pleasure and leisure activities of the colonists left their own marks.

 

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