In the Affairs of the World: Women, Patriarchy, and Power in Colonial South Carolina

By Cara Anzilotti | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
“By Order of Madam”:
Women and Property
in the Low Country

Mary Hyrne Smith joined the ranks of the South Carolina planter elite in 1738. In that year her husband died, and he made her a substantial landholder in her own right. Thomas Smith was a cautious man. One of the colony’s most prominent figures, son of a former governor, senior member of the governor’s council, he had amassed a sizable personal fortune in land and goods, which he chose not to trust to the laws of intestacy. Instead, he wrote a will dividing his holdings carefully and quite specifically among his numerous heirs. Mary, his wife of twenty-five years, known to most as Madam Smith, was among the beneficiaries of his largesse.

Mary was not Smith’s first wife and was much her husband’s junior. They had married in 1713 when she was sixteen and he fortythree. The youngest of their six surviving children was only four at his death, yet his will mentions thirty-one grand- and great-grandchildren. In addition, there were three daughters and three sons-inlaw from Smith’s previous marriage, including the widower of one daughter who had died, all of whom he remembered with generous bequests. But it was to Mary that he left acres of valuable real estate for her to own outright, as well as the right to occupy his Goose

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