A Woman to Know: Margaret Brent

I am a landowner and thy Lordship’s attorney. I hereby request a voice on this council. — Margaret Brent

I am a landowner and thy Lordship’s attorney. I hereby request a voice on this council. — Margaret Brent

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1639, when Margaret Brent arrived in America, she came with something no other woman had: a land grant. The gentlewoman — then never married and already in her late 30s — settled in St. Mary’s, Maryland with her sister. She set about expanding her estate, which she called “Sister’s Freehold,” and by 1657, Margaret was one of the largest landowners in the New World.

But despite her legal claim, she wasn’t permitted to join her state’s governing body. “You’re a woman, and you’re not married. And by the way, we’re all landowners,” the men told her. “Well, I am also a landowner,” she responded — but they ignored her, predictably. But Margaret’s power and influence grew in the community, to the point that Lord Baltimore even hired her as his personal attorney.

In 1647, taken ill, Lord Baltimore asked Margaret to manage his vast estate: “Take all and pay all,” he told her. Left in power, Margaret considered how she could pay Lord Baltimore’s massive debts to his soldiers. She ultimately auctioned his cattle to do so, a move many heralded as “saving the colony.”

The very next year, Margaret appeared before the township council, formally petitioning to take her rightful place alongside the other landowners. But the move was risky — when the council ultimately rejected her request, Margaret and her sister had to move states.

They relocated to Virginia, where Margaret died in 1658, leaving the entirety of her vast, vast estate to her sister. Today, Margaret is remembered as a “founding mother” of Maryland.

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