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Women Before the CourtLaw and Patriarchy in the Anglo-American World, 1600-1800$
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Lindsay R. Moore

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781526136336

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7765/9781526136343

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Inheritance and family feuds: the legal power of elite women

Inheritance and family feuds: the legal power of elite women

(p.105) 5 Inheritance and family feuds: the legal power of elite women
Women Before the Court

Lindsay R. Moore

Manchester University Press

This chapter examines women from the English and colonial elite. It draws from women’s letters and correspondence to lawyers and family members to examine the depth of women’s legal knowledge, and how women participated in litigation even while they were under coverture. Different demographic patterns and inheritance laws across England and the colonies affected how elite women managed and protected their property, and defined the legal conflicts between women and their male relatives. In England the relative shortage of land and the likelihood of parents to live into old age often resulted in family feuds: widows who sought to gain their dower rights came into conflict with heirs eager to receive their full inheritance. In the colonies the fact that land was more abundant released some of the pressure between generations. However, the longer life-spans of people in New England, compared with those of people in the Chesapeake, had a significant impact on elite women’s control of property.

Keywords:   elite, women, coverture, widows, New England, England, Chesapeake, inheritance, dower rights, property

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