Colonial Hardships

Colonial Hardship - Maddox Genealogy
Life for the Maddox settlers and the others in the Maryland of the late 1600's was hardly easy.  While settlers were granted substantial lands by the King of England for the risks they took to colonize the New World on behalf of the Crown, they battled disease, the elements, hostile Indians, and in some cases other colonists over religion.  This is a history lesson.  It is important to realize times and customs were very different--as were values.  But that's the way it was, and that helps us understand what our ancestors thought and what they did.

Struggling for food and health

There were few crops to begin with and wilderness winters could be harsh.  Disease and malnutrition were apparently prevalent.  There is little evidence to know why many colonists died but a very few graves have been found--of prominent citizens. 

A celebrated find of three lead-lined coffins has been analyzed by scientists in recent years.  It revealed a woman and infant, and a man--probably a brother of one of the Calverts, Maryland's most prominent settlers.  The woman, who had few remaining teeth, and infant both showed signs of scurvy--a disease of malnutrition.  Forensic scientists say the infant was very sick at death (about 1689) and showed signs of a an advanced and apparently painful infection. 

Even the well-to-do colonists could suffer.  The will of Notley Maddox Jr., (at right) obviously was written by someone else  in 1758.  But it was signed as a scribble from his deathbed, showed weakness.

Servants and slaves

Two-thirds of early Maryland's colonists were indentured servants, generally ages 14-24, wo sold their labor to pay for ships' passage to America.  Generally, they would work for 4-7 years and be given a small acreage, tools and supplies by their masters at the end of that time so they could begin their own lives. 


Servant labor included domestic work and building and working the fields for food or tobacco--the provinces' cash crops.

By 1700, black slaves appeared on the plantations and farms of St. Mary's County.  Wills which remain show that some of the early Maryland Maddox's did own slaves to help work the farms.

Living and Dying

Most European men and women who arrived in colonial Maryland came in search of better economic and social opportunities.  Expanding populations, harvest failures and decline of the cloth trade caused vast unemployment in England.  And there was religious persecution for those who were not members of the Church of England.

While opportunities existed in Maryland,  the change in lifestyle was demanding.  Differences in climate, diet, and physical activity created a high death rate for the colonists.  More men than women came so there was an unbalanced gender ratio.  Because of that, families were difficult to form and short-lived.  Nearly 24,000 people had immigrated between 1634 and 1680 but only 19,000 colonists were living there in 1681.

Servitude placed strains on family structure because neither men nor women could marry until their terms of service had ended--postponing marriage until a person's late twenties.  This shortened child bearing years and couples produced only two or three children.

Most males did not live past 40 and many women died as a result of pregnancy, so children could expect that one or both parents would die before the children's 16th birthday.  Nearly one-half of the children born in the 17th century died before the age of 20.

By the end of the century, a native-born population began to emerge and a more balanced of ratio of men to women appeared.  Since they were not indentured servants, couples married younger and had more children than their parents did.  Native born women married in their late teens and produced an average of 4-5 children.  Only then did the population become more stable and begin to grow.
   --By Webmaster from materials provided by Pat Doster and Jefferson Park and Museum, MD Dept of Housing and Community Development.  Photos by Doster.