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Margaret Brent: ca 1600-1671

Margaret Brent was an early American feminist. Born in Gloucester, England, with her two brothers and a sister, she left England to settle (1638) in St. Mary's City, Maryland., where she acquired an extensive estate. She was the first woman in Maryland to hold land in her own right.

In 1647 the new Maryland colony was in crisis. Protestants had revolted against the Catholic government and seized control of the colony. To preserve Maryland as a refuge for Catholics and safeguard his family's interests, Governor Leonard Calvert hired mercenary soldiers from Virginia. Lacking hard currency to pay them, he pledged his estate and that of his brother, Lord Baltimore, the proprietor of Maryland, as security for their wages. Shortly after he died having made Margaret Brent executor of his estates. She also acted as attorney (i.e., agent) for Lord Baltimore.

On January 21, 1648, Margaret Brent appeared before the Assembly and demanded to be admitted with two votes, one for herself and one as Lord Baltimore’s representative. This was the first recorded instance of a woman in North America requesting the right to vote. The governor refused and she departed, protesting the proceedings unless she could be present and vote.

The day after the Assembly refused her request to vote, Brent turned to the only realistic option left to her which would allow her to pay the soldiers and avoid a mutiny. This was the sale of Lord Baltimore’s only portable possessions in Maryland. Without the Lord Baltimore’s permission or knowledge, Brent began to sell his cattle in order to save Maryland. The Maryland Assembly defended Margaret Brent’s actions to the Lord Baltimore in a letter to him in 1649: “We do verily believe, that your estate was better for the colony’s safety at that time in her hands than in any man’s else. For the soldiers would never have treated any other with civility and respect. She rather deserves favor and thanks from your Honor for so much concurring to the public’s safety than to be justly liable to bitter invectives.” In the Assembly’s view it was not only Margaret Brent’s courage and diplomacy that enabled her to save the day but her womanliness, which demanded and received civility.

However she never regained favour in Maryland and soon moved to Virginia and founded a new community there.

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