Brent, Margaret (c. 1601–c. 1671)

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Margaret Brent, landowner and executor of the estate of Maryland governor Leonard Calvert, was the daughter of two prominent Gloucester English Catholics, Richard Brent (Lord Admington and Lark Stoke) and Elizabeth Reed Brent. Born about 1601, she arrived in the new colony of Maryland with her sister and two brothers in 1638. As kin of the Calverts, they expected a warm welcome, and they bore letters from Lord Baltimore, recommending that they be granted land on the same terms as the original proprietors. The patent for land near St. Mary’s City that Margaret and her sister Mary took out in 1639 made them Maryland’s first women to own land in their own right. Colonists called the property “Sisters Freehold.” In 1642, Margaret added 1,000 acres on Kent Island, transferred to her by her brother to settle a debt. Margaret Brent actively managed her estate, appearing in court more than 124 times in eight years to pursue debt claims or represent others through power of attorney. It was not necessary to have studied law or to be admitted to the bar to represent one’s self or others in Maryland courts. She also was co-guardian, with her brother, of Mary Kitomaquund, daughter of the chief of the Piscataway Indians. When Giles Brent later married Mary Kitomaquund, some feared he was trying to build a source of power separate from the Calverts. By 1643, England was deep into civil war, and Leonard Calvert was called home. Maryland Protestants, encouraged by William Claiborne and Richard Ingle, rose against the government of the Catholic proprietors while Calvert was gone. When he returned from England in 1645, the Protestants drove Calvert into Virginia, and Ingle sent Giles Brent as a prisoner to England. In August 1646, Calvert returned to Maryland, leading an army of soldiers recruited in Virginia, and he regained control of the colony. Margaret Brent may have helped gather the troops. On his deathbed in May 1647, Calvert appointed Brent his executor, giving her authority to “take all and pay all.” It was not an easy task, for the governor’s estate was besieged with claimants for debt. Brent defended against these claims, acting as the estate’s attorney. Calvert’s will made Brent, for all practical purposes, the fiscal administrator for the colony. Unfortunately, the colony faced a severe corn shortage. Hungry, unpaid soldiers were a threat to Maryland that she could not ignore; however, Leonard Calvert’s estate was not large enough to meet all of these payments. To maintain peace and retain control of the Virginia troops, Margaret Brent imported food from Virginia and sold some cattle from Lord Baltimore’s estate (which had been managed by his brother, Leonard Calvert) to pay the soldiers. Both as executor with power of attorney of Calvert’s estate and as a proprietor in her own right, Margaret Brent qualified for a vote in the Assembly. (All other large landowners had a seat by virtue of their property.) On January 21, 1648, she requested two votes. She thus became the first woman in the colonies to request political participation in a legislative assembly. The Assembly denied her request without giving a reason, apparently believing that her request went beyond acceptable roles for a woman, even when acting as representative (executor) for a man. Margaret was surprised and angry, but she continued managing Maryland’s finances until the estate was settled. Lord Baltimore was displeased to learn that she had used her power as executor to sell some of his property, but the Assembly defended her actions as necessary to save the colony. In 1650, no longer in favor with the proprietor, the Brents moved to land in nearby Westmoreland County, Virginia. There, Margaret Brent imported numerous settlers and presided over a manorial court on her estates. Brent managed her Virginia estate, which she named “Peace,” until her death in 1670 or 1671. Her will was offered for probate in 1671. Often incorrectly hailed as the first woman to ask to vote in the colonies and as the first woman attorney in the British colonies, Brent best illustrates the way an upper-class woman could assume roles of power by acting as an agent of her family. As a single woman, she escaped the limits English law placed on a married woman’s control of property. She carved a niche for herself in history as an entrepreneur and competent manager, who provided crucial leadership to Maryland at a critical point in the colony’s development. Joan R. Gundersen See also: Landlords; Maryland. Bibliography Morello, Karen Berger. The Invisible Bar: The Woman Lawyer in America, 1638 to the Present. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Norton, Mary Beth. Founding Mothers and Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. Spruill, Julia Cherry. Women’s Life and Work in the Southern Colonies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1938. Margaret Brent – Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia travelquaz


Brent, Margaret (c. 1601–c. 1671)

Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame – Wikiwand travelquaz

Brent, Margaret (c. 1601–c. 1671)

17C American Women: July 2013 travelquaz

Brent, Margaret (c. 1601–c. 1671)

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