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First Contacts and the Atlantic World

The Ferrar Papers, 1590-1790, from Magdalene College Cambridge

Consultant Editor:

Dr David Ransome, author of The Ferrar Papers, 1590-1790, in Magdalene College, Cambridge: An Introduction

Source Library:

Magdalene College, Cambridge

Nature of Material:

The project is made up of four constituent parts:

  • Previously unpublished transcripts by Dr David Ransome of documents from the Virginia Company Archives. These are fully searchable and are linked to the original manuscripts.
  • A fully searchable text of The Records of the Virginia Company of London (4 vols, Washington DC, Government Printing Office, 1906-1933).
  • The complete Ferrar Papers from Magdelene College, Cambridge, together with a fully searchable listing linked directly to the manuscripts.
  • An extensive contextual introduction to the Ferrar papers and a wide range of maps, illustrations and other works.

Scope of Collection:

This is an essential source for the study of the Atlantic World and Early Colonial Period. It documents the founding and economic development of Virginia as seen through the papers of the Virginia Company of London, 1606-1624. It then shows the continuing interest of the Ferrar family in the settlement of North America from Jamestown to the Bermudas.

This collection provides a rich source for the study of trade between Britain and America. There is valuable evidence on the ethnic and gender composition of Virginia and new evidence of tensions among the colonists and of early relations with Native Americans. It is also a crucial source for London’s economic history and will be welcomed by religious and social historians of Early Modern England.

The Scope of the Ferrar Papers, 1590-1790:

The collection began as a business archive, consisting of the papers of Nicholas Ferrar (c1544-1620) and those of the Virginia Company of London and its subordinate, the Somer Islands Company. Both Ferrar and his sons held key positions until its demise in 1624. Kingsbury’s Records of the Virginia Company listed 80 documents relating to Virginia, but this was before the discovery of further Ferrar papers at Magdalene College in the late 1970s.

In addition the archive contains much material for the period after 1624 describing the business and commercial interests of the family, who continued to be interested in the fate of the American colonies.

There is, for instance, a list of women sent to the colony to be wives c1619-20. These have always been characterized as the sweepings of the streets, but the lists in the Ferrar papers indicate that they were selected with as much care as were those who went to the puritan colonies. Every woman was recorded with her pastor's recommendation, her parents' condition, and her own skills.

The papers contain similar lists of men. They also contain a census that may be from 1619 or 1620 that mentions a substantial number of Africans, almost equally split between men and women, living in Virginia - this is independent of the emblematic first arrival of Africans in 1619.

The papers also have a strong social and religious content with family letters, including many from women.

Finally, the collection is rich in prints and all of these have been fully catalogued and reproduced.

The Transcripts:

Originally intended as a book, the new transcripts of Virginia Company Archive material extend to over 350,000 words, including a contextual introduction by David Ransome describing the papers. Scholars have been awaiting the publication of this material eagerly and it is fitting that it will be published in time for the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement.