American Pioneer Chronicles: Colonial Women, The Heartbeat and Backbone of our Nation

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Over the 90-year lifespan of Brita Mansdotter Justis, she witnessed the transformation of New Sweden from a tiny settlement of 185 souls to the established British Pennsylvania Colony with thousands of settlers. Immigrating with her parents in 1654 from Kinnekulle, Sweden, she endured the horrible voyage in a tiny ship crowded with men, livestock, disease, and very few women. Shrewdly, Brita knew that as one of the first young, single females to immigrate she would be sought after by the many single men of the colony. Within a few months she married a Swedish soldier, Jan Gustafsson (Justis), who was stationed at Fort Trinity near her father’s homestead. Fertile and industrious, Brita had eleven children while she helped establish a strong Swedish Lutheran presence on the Schuylkill River, north of Philadelphia. Keeping a large family fed and nurtured in a wilderness required extraordinary mothering skills, especially in the early years of her marriage. Carving out a homestead with few neighbors and many dangers called for a tenacious, formidable spirit.  Using her fierce determination to support her family’s vision of freedom, she became an asset to the entire settlement, and as the colony shifted from Swedish to Dutch, and finally British rule, Brita’s strong presence in the community eased the tensions among the varied cultures. Brita was strong, both physically and mentally. She outlived her husband by more than forty years, living with a daughter in her later life. She died in Wilmington, Delaware Colony, and was laid to rest at Holy Trinity Church.  All eleven of her children lived to adulthood, giving her over fifty grandchildren and making her the matriarch of the Justis family in America.