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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Margaret Brent

b. 1601, Gloucestershire, England; d. 1671, Westmoreland County, Virginia

Born into a wealthy British Catholic family, Margaret Brent emigrated to North America in 1638 and settled in Maryland colony, attracted by its policy of religious toleration. She came with a land grant, the first made to a woman in colonial America; through business and family connections, the original property was expanded into one of the largest holdings in Maryland. The colony was controlled by the brothers Calvert—Cecilius, Lord Baltimore, an absentee proprietor, and Leonard, who was deputized as governor. In 1645, England’s Protestant Parliament sponsored a raid on the colony; Governor Calvert and his soldiers reclaimed the colony at the end of 1646, but he died the next year, naming Margaret Brent executor of his estate with instructions to pay his debts, which included soldiers’ back wages. Unfortunately, his property could not cover the wages and Brent faced a mutiny. To avoid disaster, Maryland’s Provincial Court gave her power of attorney over Lord Baltimore’s assets, without, however, first obtaining his consent. Before tapping these assets, Brent made a shrewd move: she petitioned the assembly for the right to vote, as both a landowner and attorney to Lord Baltimore, probably intending to persuade the assembly to raise taxes to pay the soldiers. Her petitition was denied and she paid the debts with Lord Baltimore’s cattle. Despite the assembly’s assurance that Brent had saved the colony, Lord Baltimore was infuriated by her actions. Brent, equally enraged by his ingratitude, moved to Westmoreland County, Virginia, where she remained until her death.