Colonial Virginia Woman
Image: Bruton Parish Church
Catherine Blaikley, born in 1695, lived in Williamsburg, Virginia. Her husband was merchant William Blaikley, who was reported to have been a wealthy merchant there. William Blaikley died in 1736, and left her a considerable amount of money and property. In a will written February 10, 1734, Blaikley bequeathed “unto my loving wife Catherine Blaikley, all my whole estate of lands, houses, Negroes, goods, and chattels, meaning my houses and lots in Williamsburg and 50 acres of land in Powhatan.”
During her 35-year widowhood, Catherine Blaikley lived in the house now called the Blaikely-Durfey House on Duke of Gloucester Street. The property inventory shows that the house was a half story house with a hall on each floor with rooms designated as Great Chamber Upstairs, little chamber upstairs, closet upstairs, passage upstairs, chamber below stairs chamber closet, parlor below stairs, hall, Mrs. Blaikley’s closet, little room by the hall, back passage, kitchen loft, kitchen, cellar.
Widowed at the age of 41, Catherine supported herself and her family by providing board and lodging in Williamsburg, and by becoming a midwife. Her thriving practice delivered “upwards of Three Thousand Children,” presumably both white and black, slave and free – and gave her economic independence and public recognition unusual for women in the 1700s.
Midwifery in Colonial America began as an extension of European practices. It was noted that Bridget Fuller attended three births on the Mayflower. Midwives filled a clear, important role in the colonies. Midwifery was seen as a respectable profession, and skilled practitioners were actively sought by women.
Catherine Blaikley died in 1771, and was buried in Bruton Parish Churchyard near the tower, where her tombstone can still be found today. Her epitaph notes that she “departed this Life the 25th Day of October 1771, Aged 73 Years and Upwards.”