Women at Law in Early Colonial Maryland

Women at Law in Early Colonial Maryland

Women at Law in Early Colonial Maryland

Women at Law in Early Colonial Maryland

Synopsis

The settlers in early colonial Maryland had to form a new legal system while remaining in-sync with the contemporary laws of England. This book looks at how one group of settlers, women, negotiated their place in society via this new legal system. Drawing on the work of Lois Green Carr and Lorena Walsh, this book begins with an understanding that women had more rights in the earliest years of the colony than they did in mother England. They used this status, along with a changing legal system, to establish a place for themselves in the new society. How they did this is at the heart of this book.

Excerpt

On January 21, 1648, a propertied colonist went before Maryland’s General Assembly and “requested to have vote in the howse … and voice also.” Governor Thomas Greene denied the request and the colonist went away protesting the proceedings of the Assembly. the petitioner was a unique individual who not only served as the Lord Proprietor’s attorney, but also as executor for late Governor Leonard Calvert’s estate. Since arriving in Maryland ten years previous, this petitioner had appeared before the Provincial Court no less than two dozen times, as plaintiff, defendant, and attorney. There was one other noteworthy fact about this individual. This petitioner with the exceptional legal and political background was also a female. the woman in question, forty-seven-year-old spinster Mistress Margaret Brent, is perhaps best known for her request to the General Assembly, but she was also accustomed to dealing with Maryland’s legal system. Brent held property in St. Mary’s County and Kent County; she served as attorney or executrix for at least a dozen men and women during her time in Maryland; she managed her own affairs, entering her own cattle mark and taking property claims to court as her own attorney.

Although her individual situation was unique, Brent represented the potential women had for advancement in colonial Maryland. But, was Margaret Brent, her experience with the courts, and her legal acumen typical of Maryland women at the time?

This study investigates the place of women before the bar in Maryland. the main question this study aims to answer is: what was the legal status of women in early colonial Maryland? This question seems simple. However, inherent in this straightforward question are a host of additional questions. Did women understand the new legal system imposed on Maryland by colonial leaders? How did women . . .

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