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Brent, Margaret (1601-1671?)

Margaret Brent (1601-1671?)

Attorney and landowner

Sources

Early Settler. Margaret Brent was born in Gloucester, England, the daughter of Lord Admington and Lark Stoke. Little is known of her mother. Brent was reared a Roman Catholic and given an education. She arrived in Maryland in 1638 with a sister, two brothers, and several servants. The Brents were well connected and had a letter from Cecilius Calvert, the proprietor of Maryland, which recommended they be given land.

Land Grant. Men usually received land grants, but Margaret and Mary Brent were also accorded land independently, a 70.5-acre property called the Sisters Freehold in St. Marys City. In 1642 Margaret acquired one thousand acres, including a house, mill, and livestock, from her brother Giles in payment of a debt. Her brother Fulke returned to England and bestowed upon her full power of attorney, making her able to represent him in all legal and economic matters concerning his Maryland property. Few professional lawyers were to be found in Maryland in the 1640s, and individuals represented their own interests before the courts. Of these amateur lawyers Margaret Brent was perhaps the most successful of her day, and she often appeared in court representing her brothers or her own interests. Brent had connections in the elite circles of Lord Baltimore, and she came to advise the governor on all sorts of political and legal matters.

Important Task. When Gov. Leonard Calvert died unexpectedly in 1647, Margaret Brent became the executrix of his will, making her responsible for seeing that his estates financial affairs were settled and his final wishes were fulfilled. The court declared her to be his Lordships attorney, and as such she handled all the claims made against his estate as well as all the debts owed to the deceased governor. More important, in her capacity as attorney she had a responsibility not only to Leonard Calvert but also to his brother, the lord proprietor. These duties included maintaining order after a rebellion had been put down by troops imported from Virginia. Her shrewd handling of the situation gave the new governor the necessary time to get things in order. And while Cecilius Calvert later criticized her conductshe had sold much of his cattle to pay the soldiers salariesthe Maryland assembly defended her, saying that the Colony was safer in her hands than any mans in the Province.

Limits of Gender. While Margaret Brent was a major landowner and in some ways acting governor, she was still discriminated against because of her gender. In 1647 she demanded two votes in the assembly, but the request was denied. Brents influence became limited because, following the English Civil War in 1648, Puritans started discriminating against Roman Catholics. Moreover, her brother Giles was an outspoken Jesuit. As a result Brent and her family moved to Virginia; there she died around 1671, an unmarried, independent woman.

Sources

Rosalyn Baxandall, Linda Gordon, and Susan Reverby, eds., Americas Working Women: A Documentary History, 1600-Present (New York: Vintage, 1976);

Elisabeth W. Dexter, Colonial Women of Affairs: Women in Business and the Professions in America Before 1776 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931).

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Brent, Margaret

Margaret Brent, 1600?–1671?, early American feminist, b. Gloucester, England. With her two brothers and a sister, she left England to settle (1638) in St. Marys City, Md., where she acquired an extensive estate; she was the first woman in Maryland to hold land in her own right. Under the will of Gov. Leonard Calvert, Margaret Brent was made executor of his estates. She also acted as attorney (i.e., agent) for Lord Baltimore. As an important woman of affairs in the colony, she demanded (1648) a place in the colonial assembly. Her claim was refused while the heirs contested her handling of the Calvert estates. Shortly thereafter she moved to Virginia but kept her Maryland property.

See M. E. W. Ramey, Chronicles of Mistress Margaret Brent (1915); E. A. Dexter, Colonial Women of Affairs (1924, repr. 1972).

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