North Carolina Office of Archives & History Department of Cultural Resources
Historical Publications Section The Colonial Records Project
Jan-Michael Poff, Editor
Historical Publications Section
4622 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4622
Phone: (919) 733-7442
Fax: (919) 733-1439


Last Updated 05/21/01


Women in Colonial North Carolina: Overlooked and Underestimated


[Vol. 58 (1981), 1-22]

The role of women in colonial North Carolina has received little attention, as might be expected in an era of assumed female domesticity and limited, low-status functions to which females were relegated. Surely the “ideology of subordination,” a common inheritance of Judaic-Christian western European origins, visited discrimination upon all colonial women. Still, by virtue of their small numbers and the general scarcity of labor, particularly in a rural and often frontier environment, women in eighteenth-century America enjoyed a greater degree of independence and importance than did their successors in the nineteenth century. Free and servant women in colonial North Carolina, the subjects of this essay, not only fulfilled their customary domestic and familial duties but also managed to secure some measure of recognition and freedom of action despite the cultural, legal, and economic restrictions imposed upon their activities.1

One of the most explicit, though not altogether correct, descriptions of the female sex in North Carolina came from the pen of Francisco de Miranda, the Latin American adventurer and international Don Juan who certainly possessed the necessary experience to make a comparative judgment. In 1783 he concluded that North Carolina women were somewhat reserved, though once their friendship had been gained, they were agreeable and charming. Those who married observed “a monastic seclusion, and such submission to their husbands” as he had never seen. Their life-style was totally “domestic” as they separated themselves “from all intimate friendships” and centered their attention “entirely upon the care of their house and family.” In the estimation of Miranda, married women spent their first year as lovers, their second as nursemaids, and the remaining years as housekeepers. Spinsters, however, enjoyed “complete liberty.”2

By less than subtle implication Miranda described a society in which the young possessed a considerable degree of freedom. A German minister in the North Carolina backcountry once remarked that the English let their children grow up like “domestic animals.” In the East, Thomas Tomlinson was forced from his teaching position at the coeducational New Bern academy by 1772 because he had incurred the wrath of two of the trustees of the institution after disciplining their children. And upon bringing John Rutherfurd’s children back from Europe, Janet Schaw remarked at the reunion that “Mr. Rutherfurd is as much in love with his daughter as I expected he would be, and so fond of the boys, that I fear they will be quite spoiled.”3

The girls manifested their freedom in various ways. When Christian Newton stole several articles of children’s clothing from John Jenoure’s store in Edenton, her attorney offered “youthful folly” as a defense of her actions. The court, however, decided that further outbursts of such exuberance might best be stopped by ten lashes on her bare back at the public whipping post. Much less harmful, though offensive to the public taste, was an incident in the same town involving two young couples who were hailed before the Chowan County court for swimming nude in the Chowan River. Three decades later James Iredell, the patriot and jurist, wrote Nelly Blair of Edenton, daughter of Jean Blair and a young girl for whom Iredell served as a father figure in the absence of her deceased parent, that her mother hoped she “would take a good deal of pains to bring ... her volatility, at least some time, down to a reasonable standard.”4

The sexually permissive atmosphere of the eighteenth century allowed the young an outlet for their natural biological urges. When William Byrd and his surveying party visited a home in which there were some “very sensible Industrious damsels,” he recorded in his diary that their father, “having some Notion of Female Frailty,” refused to allow the girls to sleep outside his own bed-chamber. Caution had its virtues. In his journey through North Carolina Miranda stopped at a tavern north of New Bern where he found two “very good looking” girls, Comfort and Constance, aged fifteen to eighteen, who were the daughters of the innkeeper. After a fine supper and excellent conversation Miranda had no trouble that night in persuading one of the girls to continue the conversation in his bed. Just prior to the Revolution a Jamaican merchant, impressed with the black mistresses found among South Carolina planters, concluded upon coming northward that fornication was no more out of fashion in North Carolina than it was in other places. The only difference was “that the White Girls monopolize it.”5

Indeed, court and parish records reveal that fornication was one of the most prevalent crimes in the colonial era. Churchwardens of St. Paul’s Parish in Chowan County and St. John’s Parish in Carteret County recovered more money from fines imposed on fornicators, many of whom were women, than from any other source. The case of Margaret Asbell of Bertie County, indicted “for Repeated Bastard Getting,” exemplified one of the many instances in which single women were arraigned for the consequences of their illicit actions. Many of the offspring of those unions were mulattoes. Before she was eighteen years old the daughter of Robert Howe, North Carolina’s highest ranking Revolutionary general, reportedly gave birth to two sons by a Negro slave.6 In at least a few cases women attempted to escape the ignominy, legal penalties, and difficulties of rearing their illegitimate children by resorting to infanticide to hide their crime.7

Life proved less fulfilling for members of the unfortunate groups in society. Apprentices, orphans with insufficient estates to warrant guardianship, were bound by order of the county courts to masters or mistresses who agreed to support, educate, and train the girls until they reached legal majority. Subject to the demands of master or mistress, the lot of the girls was sometimes precarious. Mary Gallant inordinately beat and abused her apprentice; Jennet Cowan failed to clothe properly her apprentice. The Craven County court discharged Elizabeth Manly from the service of William Kirkland when the justices found that Kirkland kept a “disorderly house,” and Carteret magistrates transferred Lovice Owen to another master after they found “that She was in a Likely Way to Gett Corrupted in her Morals....”8

Indentured servants probably fared worse than apprentices because they were usually newcomers to the colony and lacked the familial or neighborly concern that might have attended the apprentices. Moreover, subject to their contracts or indentures, servants were bought, sold, and bequeathed as property. In two and a half years Mary Coogan served three masters in Craven and Carteret counties.9 Physical abuse was more likely to attend the servants, too. The Onslow court finally refused to allow Edward Howard to correct Mabel Ryley for trivial offenses, permitting punishment only when approved by the nearest justice of the peace. Dr. George Allen so mistreated his servant, Matilda, that the Chowan County court ordered the girl sold to the highest bidder at public auction, using the proceeds to pay court costs and Dr. Allen for the time remaining on her indenture.10

Servitude often proved intolerable for those oppressed by the institution, and runaways commonly attested to a desire for early liberation. Although males stood the best chance of traveling swiftly, gaining employment, and passing as free, women also sought their freedom. Judith Williams left the service of James Briggs of Chowan County on two occasions, only to be captured both times, the last in Virginia after an absence of four months. Newspaper advertisements showed that Irish girls Mary Lambert and Mary Kelly left their masters in New Bern and Wilmington respectively, taking with them numerous articles of clothing for their proposed journeys.11

Complaints by masters of absenteeism on the part of servants were matched in number only by grievances concerning illegitimate children born to servant women. Although the women were forced by law to serve an additional year or two of bondage for each child born during their indenture in order that their masters might be compensated for the loss of time and labor occasioned by the childbirth and child care,12 many had one or more children before escaping their servitude. By 1769 Charlotte D’Armond had given birth to two children while indentured to John Dunn. Three years later, in the service of James Kerr, she bore two more. And in 1774 the Rowan County court ordered her to serve Manassah Lamb one year longer for having an illegitimate child.13 Many times the children in question were mulattoes. Christian Finny often appeared before the Carteret County court, bearing three mulatto children within eight years and prolonging her servitude accordingly.14 And hers was not an isolated example. Priscilla Kent of the same county was charged in 1769 “for Having three Children Born of her Bod[y] Begotten by a Negro....”15 Clearly the institution of servitude was not an altogether confining situation.

For apprentices and servants who completed their period of indenture, freedom dues reflected the prevailing conception of the fundamental necessities of life in the colonial era. Legislation in 1715 denominated freedom dues as three barrels of Indian corn and two suits of clothes valued at £ 5, but a statute in 1741 reduced the provisions by demanding £ 3 and one suit of clothes from masters.16 Often, however, the county courts supplemented legislative fiat. Rowan justices required W. T. Coles to provide Nansey Queen with a mare, cow and calf, spinning wheel, pair of cards, and a set of knitting needles. Agnes Williams in the same county received a cow and calf, spinning wheel, and a Bible. The Tryon County court demanded that Elijah Turner give two girls entrusted to his care as apprentices £ 3, a cow and calf, a bed worth £ 4, a ewe and lamb, and a spinning wheel.17

For liberated apprentices and servants as well as for most colonials, marriage was the ultimate expectation in life. At age thirty-six Samuel Johnston prepared for that eventuality, declaring, “I have long been sensible of the great inconvenience attending a single life....” Two years later his prospective brother-in-law, James Iredell, wrote that “in this Country a young Man without the joys of a private Family leads a very dull, and I may add, a less improving Life.” Women perhaps sought similar emotional and social satisfaction from marriage. Considering the limited economic opportunities available to them, females must have found marriage difficult to avoid. John Brickell had earlier stated that “she that continues unmarried, until Twenty, is reckoned a stale Maid, which is a very indifferent Character in ... this Country.”18

Respect for the institution of marriage varied greatly in the province. Where organized religion made little impact on the populace, formal matrimonial ties were lightly regarded. After visiting the North Carolina backcountry Anglican minister Charles Woodmason wrote, “Polygamy is very Common—Bastardy, no Disrepute—Concubinage General.” Courts perforce asked for proof of marriage if the justices suspected couples of illicit cohabitation. Among the more genteel, however, highly formal courtships preceded the marital union. James Iredell wooed Hannah Johnston for over a year before asking her brother, who was also her guardian, for permission to marry, and then the wedding did not occur until another year had elapsed.19

Although lovers increasingly made their own decisions about the choice of marriage partners in the eighteenth century, parents occasionally controlled prospective unions. Justina Davis, fifteen, shed many tears at the thought of her forthcoming marriage to Governor Arthur Dobbs, who was seventy-three, but her parents would not allow her to miss the opportunity to marry a royal governor with a considerable estate. James Iredell was told that Nancy Rainbough opposed her marriage to Edenton innkeeper John Horniblow but her parents had forced the match. The following day Horniblow invited many gentlemen including Iredell to a wedding dinner. However, the absence of the bride detracted from the festivities.20 Conversely, parents also discouraged marriages. Samuel Cornell, a wealthy, conservative New Bern merchant, refused to allow his daughter to marry Willie Jones of Halifax. Jones frequently bet large sums of money on horse races, and Cornell objected to the character of a man who risked fortunes in that manner.21

Still, youthful passion was not always easily channeled. After her father’s death, Penelope Johnston was sent by her guardian to Williamsburg, Virginia, to mingle with the better sort of people. There she fell in love with John Dawson. Meeting the objection of her guardian to a proposed marriage to Dawson, the couple eloped. James Murray, a member of the royal council in North Carolina, disapproved his niece’s intended marriage to the brash, fiery William Hooper, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence, but Murray’s objections were ignored. And the mother of a Miss Moseley, a young girl from a reputable, wealthy family in the Lower Cape Fear, pleaded in vain that her daughter renounce her intention to marry the illegitimate son of a Captain Monroe.22

Of course, the married woman in colonial North Carolina was at a distinct legal disadvantage. Upon marriage her identity merged with that of her husband who became her head and lord. Single women, spinsters and widows, were fully competent for purposes of private law, enjoying the privileges of making wills, suing in court, consummating contracts, executing deeds, administering estates, and serving as guardians. Wives, on the other hand, were legal nonentities.23

Thus, prospective wives occasionally tried to avoid their impending subservient status by concluding marriage contracts to protect their property rights. Upon contemplating marriage to Edward Moseley in 1705 and finding that her intended husband had no real estate, the widow Anne Walker compelled Moseley to agree to leave her by will £ 500 “in Money Plate Jewells Slaves or household Stuff’ and to allow her to dispose of that sum according to her wish. Wills sometimes reflected marriage contracts. In Northampton County John Dawson determined that his gold and silver, stock of cattle, and debts due to him should be used to meet the terms of his prenuptial agreement; and Peter Avent in the same county left his wife £ 300 Virginia money to realize “the jointer he made at their marriage.”24

A systematic analysis of marriage contracts found in the New Hanover County deed books before the Revolution reveals that they were few in number and confined principally, though by no means exclusively, to the upper class. Over 70 percent of the contracts involved widows, an indication of the desire of such women to preserve a measure of the independence gained via widowhood and to secure their property for the benefit of the children of the previous or forthcoming marriage.

North Carolina marriage contracts deviated from the usual settlement in the southern colonies which aimed to keep property in the family from which it had descended. Instead, most granted the prospective wife certain powers over property which she possessed at the time of marriage or which she would receive after matrimony. John Burgwin agreed that he would deed to his wife, Margaret Haynes, all the personal estate belonging to her “for and during the term of her Natural Life, To and for her Separate use, benefit, and behoof,” and that the property would not be subject to debts or encumbrances of Burgwin. For widows the contracts reserved property to the woman “exclusively” in the case of Mary James or gave them “full power and command” of estates after marriage in the instance of Ann Dallison.25

Provision for the disposition of the property received by the women indicated a desire to provide for the children of former and intended marriages. Half of the contracts contained clauses to that effect. Sarah Watson, widow, directed that her intended husband apply one half of her late husband’s estate for the use of a child by the former marriage. The property to be received by Isabella McAlister from her previous marriage was to be placed in trust for her two children by that marriage. Elizabeth Rowan demanded that the slaves and silver of her deceased husband be divided among the children of the previous marriage. Mary James’s contract provided for the division of her estate from a previous marriage among the children of the impending marriage.26

The most striking characteristic of the marriage agreements was their diversity. Each was devised for particular circumstances. Mary DeRosset with the consent of her future husband, Adam Boyd, transferred certain property to trustees “For the securing and settling a competent maintenance for the said Adam Boyd and Mary DeRosset....” Rebecca Perry, widow, “for the love and affection” she professed for Anthony DuBose, her intended husband, granted him all her goods and chattels that can “be found within the Realm of England or its Dependencies....” Jean Innes, before marrying Francis Corbin, reserved property for her use during her lifetime and the power to direct the disposal of half that estate by will. Moreover, if Corbin predeceased his wife, his executors were required to pay an annual stipend to his wife.27

Miranda was probably correct when he stated that after marriage women spent their first year as lovers and their remaining years as nurses and housekeepers. A Pitt County census in 1775 showed that only 9 percent of the families lacked children, a smaller percentage than found for most English American colonies. White children comprised 41 percent of the total population and 54 percent of the white population of the county at that time.28 Perhaps John Lawson had been right when he wrote at the beginning of the eighteenth century, “It has been observed that Women long married and without Children in other Places, have removed to Carolina and become joyful Mothers.”29 Nonetheless, the number of children per family was seldom as large as contemporary observers suggested. Over 70 percent of the Pitt County families had fewer than five children. None had more than nine. The average of 3.2 children per household, a figure corroborated by the data garnered from guardian accounts and wills, approximated the mean number of children per family in the British mainland provinces.30

The children represented a burden as well as delight, absorbing much time and energy on the part of their mothers. Penelope Dawson, left with several small children at the death of her husband in 1770, cared admirably for her brood, even teaching her young son when the neighborhood schoolmaster departed. Yet, she apologized to her cousin, Samuel Johnston, for a letter she was writing to him, saying that “the bratts have been all in full cry in the room with me ever since I” began the missive. Several years later the situation had little improved, as her letter had been written “with such a noise around me that... I ... trust to your goodness to excuse all that is amiss in it.”31

As the “bratts” advanced in age, they acquired an education befitting their sex and status in society. Orphan and apprenticeship records reveal a populace that expected young girls to obtain a minimal competence in reading and a proficiency in the female arts. Sometimes the courts were more specific in their directions. Rowan required Margaret Campbell to be able to read the Bible; Carteret demanded that Phenny Love learn “to Read Modern English”; and the Tryon court ordered that Eleanor Caldwell be taught to read “under a proper teacher....”32 Wealthier orphans who possessed sufficient estates to warrant guardianship sometimes obtained little more formal education than apprentices. Extensive accounts from Edgecombe and Pasquotank counties reveal that approximately half the girls for whom more than two years’ records are available received some education. The affluent more often learned to write, for theirs was an age that depended upon the handwritten missive. James Iredell occasionally sent pens to Nelly Blair, declaring that if she continued to use her hard-nibbed ones, her handwriting would “be good for nothing.”33

Only the Moravians, who settled as a cohesive group in Wachovia, provided systematic educational instruction for girls. Schools appeared in the towns of Bethania in 1761, Bethabara in 1762, and Friedberg in 1770. In Friedberg, Ludwig Bachhoff taught school four days a week, eleven months a year. Girls and boys each came two days a week. The young children arrived in the morning to memorize the catechism and learn Bible stories; the older ones came in the afternoon for instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic. In Salem in 1772 Elizabeth Osterlein began teaching girls in an effort that presaged the appearance of Salem College in 1802, one of the oldest institutions of higher education for women in North Carolina.34

Education involved more than formal academic discipline, however. For the upper strata of society a satiric poem in the North Carolina Magazine in 1764 suggested that female education was grounded in the arts of dressing, dancing, cutting fowl, and drinking tea. Appearances may well have been deceiving. By his will in 1751 Governor Gabriel Johnston desired that his daughter be brought up “in the Fear of God, ... in Sobriety and Moderation [,] Confining her Desires to things Plain, neat and Elegant, and not aspiring after the Gayety, Splendor and Extravagances; and Especially ... to keep within the Bounds of her Incomes....” Two decades later Iredell reflected the education of the upper class when expressing his admiration of Mrs. William Hooper’s “highly cultivated” mind, her “great correctness and elegance,” her interesting conversation “equal to high subjects,” and her extensive “knowledge of History.”35

Apparently mothers or their substitutes managed their instructional tasks well. Brickell found North Carolina girls “bred to the Needle and Spinning,” as well as “to the Dairy and domestick Affairs,” which they managed “with a great deal of prudence and conduct, though they are very young.” On her visit to the Cape Fear later, Janet Schaw concurred. According to Schaw, mothers “not only instructed the girls in the family duties necessary to the sex but in those accomplishments and genteel manners that are still so visible amongst them, and this descended from Mother to daughter.” From the Edenton area Iredell described Johnston’s daughter, who became Mrs. Penelope Dawson, as “generally allowed to be above all kind of competition” in her “excellence of understanding, Goodness of heart, and ... most polite, attractive behaviour.”36

The married women not only performed their maternal duties admirably but exercised dominion over the domestic scene as well. While men attended the plantation, the store, the craft shop, and business matters in general, the women cared for home affairs. They knew their dwellings and their furnishings in detail unknown to their husbands. And it was they with a bevy of servants who enabled men of wealth and leisure to underwrite the old theme of southern hospitality. When Charles Roads of New Jersey tendered his thanks to the gentlemen of Edenton for his kind treatment during a visit to the town, noting that the “Hospitality of the Gentlemen of Carolina to Strangers is a thing not known in our more Northern regions,” he negligently overlooked the contribution of the women. Not so with Josiah Quincy, Jr., the Massachusetts lawyer and inter-colonial traveler, who found William Dry’s house just north of Brunswick rightly “called the house of universal plenty,” a place where his servants excelled “in cookery” and his wife, Mary Jane, provided superb pastries and knick-knacks.37

Women not only competently satisfied the demands of domestic life but by their exertions proved the more admirable of the sexes according to many observers. William Byrd noted appreciatively that the women sewed, knitted, and spun, and were much less likely to succumb to “the Distemper of Laziness” than men. John Brickell wrote that the women were “the most Industrious in these Parts,” many so “Ingenious that they make up all the wearing Apparel” for their families, while others were “ready to help and assist their Husbands in any Servile Work, as planting when the Season of the Year requires expedition ....” The critical “Lady of Quality,” Janet Schaw, believed that many of her new female acquaintances in the Lower Cape Fear “would make a figure in any part of the world” and decided “to cultivate their esteem as they appear worthy of mine.”38

In addition to the fulfillment of their domestic obligations, married and single women sometimes proved less docile than the norms of a masculine society might have prescribed. Miranda observed that spinsters, and by inference all single women, enjoyed a substantial measure of freedom, and William Hooper, upon learning of the impending marriage of a relative, said that “it is some comfort to have company, ... even in the rope.” Elkanah Watson, while in Warrenton on an election day, found the mother of his host exhorting people at the polls. He recorded, “She was a great politician; and I was assured that she had more political influence, and exerted it with greater effect, than any man in her county.”39

Of course, the most often cited instance of female political activity before the Revolution was the “Edenton Tea Party” of October, 1774, in which ladies from that town issued a general statement of support for the recently convened provincial congress of North Carolina. The Revolution produced the voluntary association of “the young Ladies of the best Families in Mecklenburg County who refused to “receive the Addresses of any young Gentlemen of that Place, except the brave Volunteers who chearfully served in the Expedition to South-Carolina and assisted in subduing the Schovolite Insurgents.” Ladies in Rowan County adopted a similar resolution which was formally acknowledged and approved by the Rowan County Safety Committee as “sensible and polite,” “worthy the imitation of every young lady in America.” North Carolina also had its complement of distaff patriots during the war, most notably, perhaps, Elizabeth Steel of Rowan County, who purportedly aided Nathanael Greene by giving the general a substantial sum of gold and silver to underwrite the expenses of the military effort.40

On occasion women ran afoul the law for offenses that ranged from murder and assisting in a jailbreak to petty theft, gossiping, and adultery. In 1720 a grand jury indicted Elizabeth Branch of Chowan Precinct for killing Elizabeth Harris in an incident in which Branch stabbed Harris with a flesh fork. Elizabeth Scap brought tools to her husband and helped him dig a hole under the wall of the Orange County jail in a successful effort to free him. A sympathetic court freed her from any charges. Less fortunate was Margery Rippon of Chowan County who was whipped out of Edenton “at the Carts Arse” for stealing two handkerchiefs, a pair of garters, and one-fourth pound of tea. Evidencing the appearance of gossips and scolds in the province was the construction of ducking stools in the towns of Edenton and Wilmington in 1767 and 1774 respectively to deal with obstreperous women.41

Wives, like husbands, though probably less frequently, sought sexual satisfaction beyond the bounds of marriage. In 1719 the grand jury of the General Court of the province presented John Myers and James Boulton for “Seduceing” the wives of Thomas Portis and William Jennings, Sr., respectively and for “Cohabiting” with them. Two years later Mary Haughton of Chowan Precinct was found guilty of adultery, though the circumstances indicated that she may have been “assaulted” against her will. While touring the backcountry in 1753, John Saunders, an agent for a British mercantile firm, learned that the wife of a justice of the peace of Granville County had given birth to seven children during her marriage, two of whom her husband had refused to “own.”42

Certainly married life was not always an idyllic affair. Lawyers Samuel Johnston and James Iredell, while riding the court circuit, spent some time with Richard Bennehan and his recent bride in Orange County. Iredell noted that Mrs. Bennehan had “not a single woman she can associate with nearer than Hillsborough,” which was eighteen miles away. When Johnston indicated that he would bring his wife to visit, Mrs. Bennehan “could scarcely speak; tears flowed into her eyes.” There, indeed, was a lonely woman. But so were the wives of the lawyers. Noticeable tension appeared between Hannah and James Iredell in 1779. Younger than his wife, charming, and away from home on circuit four to six months a year, James Iredell apparently embarrassed and humiliated Hannah in what might have been only “a silly flirtation....” At any rate, Iredell learned well, and the incident concluded with a stronger marriage and a greater appreciation of his wife.43

More than infidelity and loneliness threatened marriages. Ofttimes wives felt their physical safety sufficiently jeopardized by their husbands that they sought the protection of the courts. Mary Wall of Bertie County exemplified those suffering women when she complained in 1762 that her husband had beaten her and threatened her life. She had good reason to be fearful. John Jones of the same county had been executed four years earlier for murdering his wife. When faced with these situations the courts placed the offending husband on recognizance accompanied by a bond with securities to ensure his good behavior for the space of a year.44

When the rigors, disappointments, or dangers of marriage became too great to endure, women sought escape. Divorce was practically impossible, even though in the colonies English ecclesiastical law and concepts of marriage failed to obtain in their entirety and marriage was more a civil contract than a sacrament falling within the purview of the church.45 In North Carolina a general divorce law did not materialize until the first quarter of the nineteenth century and only rarely were divorce petitions presented to the provincial legislature before the Revolution. Solomon Ewell was virtually alone in his request to the assembly in 1766 for a dissolution of his marriage because his wife had eloped and lived adulterously.46

Ewell’s wife, however, was one of many who seized the initiative in marital squabbles. Early in the eighteenth century the Reverend John Urmstone declared that many women forsook their husbands to come to North Carolina and live with other men. If followed by their spouses, “a price [was] given to the erstwhile husband and madam stays with Gallant,” after which a report would be spread that the husband was dead, and the couple became man and wife. In numerous newspaper advertisements husbands warned creditors that they would no longer be responsible for their wives’ actions. Vinkler Jones stated that his wife had left him “with an intent to ruin him”; William Jones, that his wife “made it a practice of dealing with merchants and others and running into debt”; and Morris Connor, that his wife departed his household and “otherwise treated me ill.” In one of the most scandalous cases of medical malpractice in colonial North Carolina, Mary Campbell, wife of Bertie County planter and politician John Campbell, and her physician tried twice unsuccessfully to poison Campbell and then attempted to elope to the West Indies.47

For some the parting was more amicable. When Ephraim and Ann Vernon in New Hanover County “mutually agreed to separate and live apart from each other,” the husband deeded two plantations, six slaves, and sundry household goods to his estranged wife in order that she “should live reputably and comfortably....” Joseph and Mary McGehe of Bute County advertised their separation of 1769 via a newspaper, the North-Carolina Gazette, and Henry and Catherine McLorinan of Wilmington recorded their separation of 1775 before the New Hanover County court. A later example of marriage dissolution occurred in 1803 when Rebekah and John Farrow of Currituck County drafted a contract whereby “some unhappy Differences” had caused them “to agree to a mutual separation in consequence of which each was free to remarry.”48

Some women in early America preferred the single life to remarriage. A measure of legal competence, control of property, and personal liberty was appealing. And widowhood in North Carolina, as apparently it was in the colonies in general, was an increasing phenomenon. Few females headed households early in the eighteenth century, but during the quarter century before the Revolution women controlled from 2 to 8 percent of the families in North Carolina. By 1790 the first federal census showed that women headed 8, 10, and 12 percent of the families in Perquimans, Carteret, and Pasquotank counties respectively.49

Though their number undoubtedly increased through the course of the eighteenth century, widows remained single for relatively few years. The Bertie County tax lists for 1751, 1763, 1768, and 1774 reveal that only 1 of the 27 women found in the 1751 list appeared in 1763; 3 of 28 in 1763 appeared in 1768; and 5 of 29 appeared in 1774. One, Martha Bryan, was listed in 1763, 1768, and 1774. Elsewhere, 2 of 27 Beaufort County women in 1755 remained widows in 1764, 3 of 5 Brunswick County widows in 1769 continued single in 1772, and 5 of 15 Onslow women listed in 1769 reemerged in 1771. While some, like Martha Bryan, maintained independent households for a decade or more, they were few in number before the Revolution.50

Single women appeared most frequently in the towns of the province which provided a measure of protection as well as economic opportunity that was unavailable on the farm or plantation. Elizabeth Reed and Rachel Bexly were 2 of the 21 persons described as permanent residents of New Bern in 1741. When the Wilmington commissioners levied an ad valorem tax on the houses in the town in 1755, the records indicated that women owned 9 of the 58 dwellings subject to taxation. In 1769 the tax list for Edenton recorded 8 female heads of households in a total of 72 families in the town.51 Although the data is scattered, apparently women controlled more than 10 percent of the households in the larger urban areas of early North Carolina.

Upon gaining their independence women necessarily sought self-sustaining economic endeavors. Some found teaching, sewing, and washing remunerative enterprises. The widows of merchants, Mrs. Edward Batchelor of New Bern and Mrs. Jean Blair of Edenton, continued their husbands’ business operations. A few even managed to find public employment. From 1750 to 1762 the Wilmington commissioners paid Mrs. Margaret Clay to clean and secure the courthouse in the town. Later, New Hanover County justices employed Mrs. Catherine McNamara and Mrs. Elizabeth Egan to perform similar tasks.52

Widows also attempted to supervise plantations, though, like Penelope Dawson, most were woefully unprepared to contend with overseers, slaves, and the general problems of farm management. Mrs. Dawson constantly turned for advice and active assistance to her cousin, Samuel Johnston. Immediately after the death of her husband she asked Johnston to write a few lines to the plantation overseer in response to complaints by the slaves that they were being starved, feeling that “it would have a much better effect” if Johnston communicated with the overseer. At the same time she asked what price she might attach to a horse that a friend wanted to purchase, saying that she was “quite unacquainted with these matters.” Four years later she wrote Johnston that she was “vexed” with herself for troubling him “about the overseer.”53

The occupation that carried most women beyond the confines of the home was tavernkeeping. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of the tavern or ordinary licenses granted by the county courts went to females. However, analysis of the individual counties shows that the majority of the female licensees resided in the eastern coastal counties which contained the largest towns in the province. In New Hanover County (Wilmington), 17 of 181 licenses granted from 1759 to 1775 were awarded to women. The figures for Craven County (New Bern), 1741 to 1775, and Chowan County (Edenton), 1741 to 1775, were 18 of 197 and 23 of 127 respectively. In contrast, in the western counties 1 of 24 licensees in Johnston County from 1759 to 1775 was a woman, and 2 of 78 in Orange County from 1752 to 1766 were women.54

The ladies generally found their way into tavernkeeping by attempting to continue the businesses of their deceased husbands, and usually they maintained their establishments for only one to two years.55 Like their male counterparts, women not only found tavernkeeping a rough, demanding business but also encountered legal difficulties. John Powell, justice of the peace in Craven County, charged a Mrs. Routledge in 1738 with taking more than the law allowed for a half pint of rum, and three years later a grand jury in Chowan County indicted Elizabeth Lipscombe for retailing liquors without a license. In the port of Wilmington the New Hanover County court, finding Mrs. Lettice Blackmore and Mrs. Elizabeth Saunders “guilty of keeping disorderly houses, & harbouring & detaining Common Sailors, to the great Injury of the Merchants & Masters of Vessels trading to the river of Cape Fear,” deprived the ladies of their tavern licenses and threatened them with prosecution if in the future “any Sailors or other disorderly person or persons” were allowed “to tipple any Liquors in either of their houses....”56

Another occupation pursued by many widows was ferrykeeping. Between 1762 and 1764 five women maintained ferries in Cumberland County, though Margaret Livingston had to surrender hers, “she not being abel to give it Proper Attendance.” In Tyrrell County at least four widows obtained permission from the county court to continue the ferry operations of their deceased husbands. Females also appeared frequently as ferrykeepers in New Hanover, Bertie, and Beaufort counties.57

The central problem of widowhood was the need for economic support. In North Carolina, where an agrarian order mandated extensive manual labor, as many as one fourth to one third of the widowed families contained free white males aged sixteen years or over. Most were sons of the widows, though some may have been servants or apprentices. More prominent were the slaves. Seventy percent of the households contained bondsmen. Not only did that figure far exceed the norm for the counties, but the average number of slaves in the families headed by women easily surpassed the average for the households generally.58

Proper housing was another major concern of single women. By their wills some men attempted to provide for this contingency. Ruth Baker received the use of the “Back room and Entry” of the plantation house of her deceased husband; Elizabeth Barclift, “the outward Room & upper chamber” of one house and the “Lower Room of ... [the] Brick House”; and Elizabeth Snoad, the “Benefitt of the two front rooms, & the three Front Chambers of ... the Dwelling House....” William Barrow and Patrick Maule directed their executors to build houses for their widows, in the case of Maule, a twenty-by-sixteen-foot structure.59

In addition to labor and housing, land and other benefits proved mandatory for the proper maintenance of widows. William Barrow willed his plantation to his wife “with oute Molestation or Incumbrance dureing her naturall life”; Henry Baker and Caleb Callaway devised half their plantations and orchards to their wives during widowhood; John Fonvielle bequeathed the use of his plantation, the liberty of pasturage, and a year’s provision of meat to his wife; and John Snoad offered his wife “the Privilege of the Smoak house to Smoak her meat & the Barn to put her Crope In....” Although widows generally received extensive property rights only for the duration of their widowhood, Richard Skinner granted his wife the right to retain one half the plantation, including the dwelling house, smokehouse, milk house, and kitchen in case of her remarriage, and Patrick Maule permitted his wife “full privilege for making tar & turpentine” on his land “during her Natural Life.”60

Testacy, of course, proved advantageous in that it allowed the devisement of property exceeding the usual dower right, obviated the necessity of an unnatural and perhaps an injurious division of the estate, and permitted the deceased greater control over the disposition of his property. Of course, that control might extend to restriction that in turn could culminate in punishment. David Brown, Wilmington tailor, in 1760 bequeathed to “my undutiful wife Ann Brown one shilling sterling for her Misbehavior to me during our Cohabitation together & since.”61

In the case of separated couples husbands were expected to provide for their spouses. Some complied, but in 1731 the Bertie County court directed Fincher Hayne to appear to answer a complaint of Anne Hayne for nonsupport. In 1749 Onslow justices ordered that goods belonging to Joseph Paul be delivered to his estranged wife “for her Use and Comfort.” The following year Jennet Boyd told the provincial council that her husband, whose affections she suspected had been alienated by “lewd Women,” not only placed her “in perpetual peril and danger of her Life, Limbs and other bodily hurt” but also deprived her of “any subsistence ... [intending] to reduce ... [her] to the utmost Misery in her old age.”62

Colonial society recognized a public obligation to minister to the needs of the impoverished. When women found themselves distressed, and families or neighbors proved unable to care properly for them, they called upon the parishes, county courts, and provincial government for assistance. While such religious groups as the Quakers and Moravians attempted to care for their own,63 the Anglican parishes, where they were viable institutions, assumed responsibility for the general populace. Parishes preferred to allow the poor to continue to maintain their homes and live independently whenever possible. When poverty mandated care outside the home, the poor were supported in community households.64

The county and provincial governments rarely intervened in matters of poor assistance. On occasion, however, women availed themselves of exemptions from public taxes and took advantage of legislation that provided relief for insolvent debtors. The provincial assembly sometimes rendered aid to women who had lost their husbands in military conflict. After Gabriel Regan had been killed in the French and Indian War, the legislature awarded his widow £ 20. In the aftermath of the Battle of Alamance in 1771 in which the forces of Governor William Tryon had crushed the Regulators, the assembly provided stipends to dependents of the deceased. Representing those women was Faithy Smith, “a very poor and distressed widow with an infant at her Breast,” who in her “low weakly Condition was likely to become Chargeable to the Parish.”65

In sum, overlooked and underestimated by historians, women in colonial North Carolina, whether in active or passive roles, helped to shape the development of the province. Of course, the eighteenth century was an era in which women were relegated to a distinctly subordinate status. Yet, young, unmarried girls and older, single women evinced a noticeable degree of freedom. Even the married women, despite their lack of legal protection and the common assumption of female inferiority, displayed a measure of personal independence. Not only did they dominate the domestic scene but they also occasionally enjoyed the ownership and disposition of property, resisted abusive husbands, and moved beyond the bounds of marriage for sexual satisfaction. Eighteenth-century America may not have been the “golden age” for women, as suggested by Elisabeth A. Dexter and Page Smith,66 but early American history cannot be understood fully without accounting for the contribution of the female sex.


* Dr Watson is professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

1 This paragraph is based principally upon the comments of Joan Hoff Wilson, “The Illusion of Change: Women and the American Revolution,” in Alfred F. Young (ed.), The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976), 385-431, especially 385-393.

2 Francisco de Miranda, The New Democracy in America: Travels of Francisco de Miranda in the United States, 1783-1784, translated by Judson P. Wood and edited by John S. Ezell (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), 5-6, hereinafter cited as Miranda, Travels.

3 William K. Boyd and Charles A. Krummel (eds.), “German Tracts Concerning the Lutheran Church in North Carolina during the Eighteenth Century,” North Carolina Historical Review, VII (April, 1930), 245; William L. Saunders (ed.), The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh: State of North Carolina, 10 volumes, 1886-1890), IX, 239, hereinafter cited as Saunders, Colonial Records; Janet Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality; Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774-1776, edited by Evangeline Walker Andrews with the collaboration of Charles McLean Andrews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921), 157, hereinafter cited as Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality.

4 Saunders, Colonial Records, II, 827; General Court Docquet, Chowan County Court Minutes, July, 1737, CCR 116, Archives, Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, Raleigh; Don Higginbotham (ed.), The Papers of James Iredell (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History [projected 4-volume series; 2 volumes to date], 1976), I, 461, hereinafter cited as Higginbotham, Iredell Papers. The author extends his appreciation to Mrs. Barbara D. Cain of the State Archives for the Chowan reference.

5 William K. Boyd (ed.), William Byrd’s Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina (Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission, 1929), 97, hereinafter cited as Boyd, Byrd’s Histories of the Dividing Line; Miranda, Travels, 10-11; Winthrop D. Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 145.

6 Records of the Proceedings of the Vestry of St. Paul’s Church, Edenton, North Carolina, 1701-1841, typewritten copy, State Archives; Vestry Book, St. John’s Parish, Beaufort, 1742-1843, State Archives, hereinafter cited as St. John’s Parish Minutes; Writ to Sheriff for apprehension of Margaret Asbell, July 16, 1756, Bertie County, Criminal Papers, 1734-1780, State Archives, hereinafter cited as Bertie County, Criminal Papers; Miranda, Travels, 14.

7 Indictment of Margaret Bryan of Beaufort Precinct, General Court Docquet, July, 1729, Colonial Court Records, 174; Saunders, Colonial Records, II, 398-399.

8 Minutes of the New Hanover County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, June, 1741; July, 1768; Minutes of the Craven County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, December, 1740; Minutes of the Carteret County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, March, 1775, State Archives. Hereinafter these and other minutes of the county courts of pleas and quarter sessions will be cited as court minutes with the appropriate county and will be found in the State Archives.

9 Craven County Court Minutes, December, 1746; Carteret County Court Minutes, June, 1749.

10 Onslow County Court Minutes, January, 1735/6; Chowan County Court Minutes, January, 1731/2; July, 1732.

11 Chowan County Court Minutes, January, 1745; July, 1747; July, 1748; North-Carolina Gazette (New Bern), April 15, 1757, hereinafter cited as North-Carolina Gazette; Cape-Fear Mercury (Wilmington), September 22, 1773, hereinafter cited as Cape-Fear Mercury.

12 Mattie Erma Edwards Parker (ed.), North Carolina Higher-Court Records, 1670-1696, Volume II of The Colonial Records of North Carolina, Second Series, edited by Mattie Erma Edwards Parker and others (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History [projected multivolume series, 1963—], 1968), 375-376, hereinafter cited as Parker and others, Colonial Records of North Carolina, Second Series; Walter Clark (ed.), The State Records of North Carolina (Winston and Goldsboro: State of North Carolina, 16 volumes, numbered XI-XXVI, 1895-1906), XXIII, 64-65, 195, hereinafter cited as Clark, State Records.

13 Rowan County Court Minutes, February, 1769; May, 1772, 1774; February, 1775.

14 Carteret County Court Minutes, December, 1736; June, September, December, 1743; March, June, 1744; December, 1745; St. John’s Parish Minutes, June 10, 1743, April 15, 1745.

15 Carteret County Court Minutes, June, 1769; June, September, 1770; March, 1775. The quotation is found in the September, 1770, minutes. Priscilla Kent previously had delivered an illegitimate white son in 1760. Carteret County Court Minutes, May, 1764; St. John’s Parish Minutes, March 1, 1766.

16 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 63, 196. For indications of freedom dues prior to 1715 see Saunders, Colonial Records, I, 169-170, 173, 182; William S. Price (ed.), North Carolina Higher-Court Records, 1702-1708, Volume IV of Parker and others, Colonial Records of North Carolina, Second Series, 185, hereinafter cited as Price, Higher-Court Records, 1702-1708.

17 Rowan County Court Minutes, February, 1772, August, 1774; Tryon County Court Minutes, April, 1774.

18 Samuel Johnston to ?, February 8, 1770, Folder 75, Hayes Collection, microfilm, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill, hereinafter cited as Hayes Collection; Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, I, 123; John Brickell, The Natural History of North-Carolina (Dublin: James Carson, 1737; Murfreesboro, N.C.: Johnson Publishing Company, 1968), 31, hereinafter cited as Brickell, Natural History.

19 Richard J. Hooker (ed.), The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Virginia, 1953), 81; Carteret County Court Minutes, September, 1732; Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, I, 86-88, 96, 158.

20 Neil Larry Shumsky, “Parents, Children, and the Selection of Mates in Colonial Virginia,” Eighteenth Century Life, II (1976), 83-88; ? to Samuel Johnston, September 21, 1762, Folder 45, Hayes Collection; Saunders, Colonial Records, VI, 737-738; Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, I, 183-185.

21 Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, I, 223-224.

22 Alice E. Mathews, Society in Revolutionary North Carolina (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, 1976), 59; Nina B. Tiffany (ed.), Letters of James Murray, Loyalist (Boston: Privately printed, 1901), 116-117.

23 Julia Cherry Spruill, Women’s Life & Work in the Southern Colonies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1938; New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), 340-341, hereinafter cited as Spruill, Women’s Life & Work. See, however, the comment by Thomas Burke, lawyer and future governor of North Carolina, who said that married women were so much favored in North Carolina law that hardly any settlement or covenant on their behalf would be set aside in favor of creditors. Thomas Burke to Joseph John Alston, July 9, 1773, Letter Book, 1769-1773, Thomas Burke Papers, PC 55, State Archives.

24 Price, Higher-Court Records, 1702-1708, 202; Northampton County Wills, Book A, 69, 215, State Archives.

25 New Hanover County Deeds, Books D, 268-269; E, 75-77; C, 71, Office of the Register of Deeds, New Hanover County Courthouse, Wilmington, hereinafter cited as New Hanover County Deeds. See Spruill, Women’s Life & Work, 364, for a discussion of the marriage contract in the southern colonies.

26 New Hanover County Deeds, Books G, 156-157; H, 385-386; D, 418-419; E, 75-77.

27 New Hanover County Deeds, Books L-1, 220-221; A & B, 489-490; E, 88-94.

28 Pitt County, Tax List, 1775, Papers of the Secretary of State, 837, State Archives; Robert V. Wells, “Household Size and Composition in the British Colonies in America, 1675-1775,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, IV (Spring, 1974), 555-558, hereinafter cited as Wells, “Household Size and Composition in the British Colonies.”

29 Frances Latham Harriss (ed.), Lawson’s History of North Carolina (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1937, 1951; originally published as John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina in John Stevens’s A New Collection of Voyages and Travels [London, 1708]), 85-86.

30 Wells, “Household Size and Composition in the British Colonies,” 551, 555; Alan D. Watson, “Household Size and Composition in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina,” Mississippi Quarterly, XXXI (Fall, 1978), 557-558, hereinafter cited as Watson “Household Size and Composition in North Carolina”; R. D. W. Connor, North Carolina: Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, 1584-1925 (Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1929), 201, n. 66.

31 Penelope Dawson to Samuel Johnston, December 22, 1768, May 2, 1774, Folders 66, 87, Hayes Collection.

32 Rowan County Court Minutes, April, 1758; Carteret County Court Minutes, December, 1757: Tryon County Court Minutes, April, 1769. Rarely did the courts require masters to teach their female apprentices to write. See, however, Sarah Linsey and Bathsheba Oliver, Chowan County Court Minutes, October, 1741, July, 1747.

33 Alan D. Watson, “Orphanage in Colonial North Carolina: Edgecombe County as a Case Study,” North Carolina Historical Review, LII (April, 1975), 117; Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, I, 244. When writing to Mrs. Mary Blount, Martha Baker warned her not to show “this Scrawl” “this insignificant scribble,” to anyone, particularly Thomas Blount, her future husband. Alice Barnwell Keith, William H. Masterson, and David T. Morgan (eds.), The John Gray Blount Papers (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History [projected 4-volume series; 3 volumes to date 1, 1952—), I, 7-8.

34 Adelaide L. Fries, Douglas LeTell Rights, Minnie J. Smith, and Kenneth G. Hamilton (eds.), Records of the Moravians in North Carolina (Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission, 11 volumes, 1922-1969), I, 173, 181, 203-204, 241, 267, 285, 301, 331, 377, 435; Adelaide L. Fries, “The Moravian Contribution to Colonial North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review, VII (January, 1930), 13; Edward H. Holder, “Social Life of the Early Moravians in North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review, XI (July, 1934), 174-175.

35 North Carolina Magazine; or Universal Intelligencer (New Bern), September 7, 1764, hereinafter cited as North Carolina Magazine; or, Universal Intelligencer; J. Bryan Grimes (ed.), North Carolina Wills and Inventories (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1912), 269, hereinafter cited as Grimes, N.C. Wills and Inventories; Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, II, 29.

36 Brickell, Natural History of North Carolina, 32; Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality, 154-155; Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, I, 107.

37 Charles Roads to ?, June 27, 1775, Folder 88, Hayes Collection; Mark A. De Wolfe Howe (ed.), “Journal of Josiah Quincy, Junior, 1773,” Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, XLIX (1916), 459. For the role of women in domestic affairs and their knowledge of household goods, see Mary Beth Norton, “Eighteenth-Century American Women in Peace and War: The Case of the Loyalists,” William and Mary Quarterly, third series, XXXIII (July, 1976), 386-398.

38 Boyd, Byrd’s Histories of the Dividing Line, 66; Brickell, Natural History of North Carolina, 32; Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality, 154.

39 Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, II, 56; Winslow C. Watson (ed.), Men and Times of the Reuolution, or Memoirs of Elkanah Watson (New York: Dana and Company, 1856), 287-288.

40 Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, I, 285-286, editorial note; Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), November 3, 1774, Postscript, hereinafter cited as Virginia Gazette; South-Carolina and American General Gazette (Charleston), February 2, 1776; Saunders, Colonial Records, X, 594; Archibald Henderson, “Elizabeth Maxwell Steel: Patriot,” North Carolina Booklet, XII (October, 1912), 65-103. Wilmington ladies may also have staged a tea party. See Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality, 155. For the argument that the Revolution activated the political instincts and energies of women, see Mary Beth Norton, “‘What an Alarming Crisis Is This’: Southern Women and the American Revolution,” in Jeffrey J. Crow and Larry E. Tise (eds.), The Southern Experience in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 221-222.

41 Saunders, Colonial Records, II, 434-435; Orange County Court Minutes, June, 1758; Chowan County Court Minutes, April, 1742; October, 1767; Donald R. Lennon and Ida B. Kellam (eds.), The Wilmington Town Book, 1743-1778 (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1973), 225, hereinafter cited as Lennon and Kellam, Wilmington Town Book.

42 Saunders, Colonial Records, II, 363, 365, 442; Diary and Account Book, John Saunders Notebook, September, 1753, PC 1010, State Archives.

43 Higginbotham, Iredell Papers, II, 7-8, 134-135, editorial note.

44 Complaint by Mary Wall, September 1, 1762, Bertie County Criminal Papers; Bertie County Court Minutes, July, 1758. For examples of bonds required from husbands for their good behavior, see Aaron Odom, Craven County Court Minutes, September, 1740; Emanuel Jones, Onslow County Court Minutes, July, 1747; Micajah Picket, Orange County Court Minutes, June, 1759; Robert Simington, Rowan County Court Minutes, August, 1771.

45 Thomas R. Meehan, “‘Not Made Out of Levity’: Evolution of Divorce in Early Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XCII (October, 1968), 441-464; K. Kelly Weisberg, “‘Under Greet Temptations Heer’: Women and Divorce in Puritan Massachusetts,” Feminist Studies, 2 (No. 2/3, 1975), 183-193; Henry S. Cohn, “Connecticut’s Divorce Mechanism: 1636-1969,” American Journal of Legal History, XIV (January, 1970), 35-54.

46 Guion Griffis Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937), 218-219, hereinafter cited as Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina; Saunders, Colonial Records, VII, 352.

47 Saunders, Colonial Records, I, 767; Virginia Gazette, April 1, 1773; North Carolina Magazine: or, Universal Intelligencer, December 21, 1764; Cape-Fear Mercury, December 29, 1773; Thomas C. Parramore, “The Saga of ‘the Bear’ and the ‘Evil Genius,’” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, XLII (July, August, 1968), 321-331.

48 New Hanover County Deeds, Book D, 471; North-Carolina Gazette, April 7, 1775; New Hanover County Court Minutes, April, 1775; Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina, 219-220.

49 Robert V. Wells, “Quaker Marriage Patterns in a Colonial Perspective,” William and Mary Quarterly, third series, XXIX (July, 1972), 415-442; Alexander Keyssar, “Widowhood in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts: A Problem in the History of the Family,” Perspectives in American History, VII, 83-119; Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1908; Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1966), 27-29, 127-129, 192-194.

50 The tax lists are found in Colonial Court Records, 190; Bertie County, Taxables, 1755-1764, 1765-1771, State Archives; Secretary of State Papers, 837; Legislative Papers, 11.1, State Archives.

51 Craven County Court Minutes, December, 1741. Lennon and Kellam, Wilmington Town Book, 77-78; Edenton Tax List, 1769, Chowan County, Taxables, 1762-1778, State Archives.

52 Lennon and Kellam, Wilmington Town Book, 35, 49, 51, 92, 107, 110, 112, 122; New Hanover County Court Minutes, July, 1768; July, 1769; October, 1772.

53 Penelope Dawson to Samuel Johnston, July 6, 1770, March 9, 1774, Folders 66, 87, Hayes Collection.

54 New Hanover County Court Minutes, 1759-1775, passim; Craven County Court Minutes, 1741-1775 passim; Chowan County Court Minutes, 1741-1775 passim; Johnston County Court Minutes, 1759-1775 passim; Orange County Court Minutes, 1752-1766 passim.

55 There were exceptions, however. Elizabeth Gillespie started her tavern in Rowan County after the death of her husband. Mrs. Mary Wallace and Mrs. Elizabeth Wallace in Edenton and Mrs. Fielder Powell in New Bern kept their taverns for a decade or more. Robert W. Ramsay, Carolina Cradle: Settlement of the Northwest Carolina Frontier, 1747-1762 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964), 168-169; Chowan County Court Minutes, October, 1757-December, 1772, passim; Craven County Court Minutes, August, 1756-March, 1775, passim.

56 Craven County Court Minutes, December, 1738; Chowan County Court Minutes, April, 1742; New Hanover County Court Minutes, April, 1768.

57 Cumberland County Court Minutes, May, 1762; August, 1763; May, August, 1764; quotation found in May, 1762; New Hanover County Court Minutes, March, 1737/8; February, 1759; June. 1761; Bertie County Court Minutes, February, 1734/5; Spruill, Women’s Life & Work, 303.

58 Watson, “Household Size and Composition in North Carolina,” 561-562, 569.

59 Grimes, N.C. Wills and Inventories, 24, 25, 415, 30, 301.

60 Grimes, N.C. Wills and Inventories, 29, 24, 105, 195, 415, 408, 301.

61 New Hanover County Deeds, Book E, 206.

62 Bertie County Court Minutes, November, 1731; Onslow County Court Minutes, January, 1748/9; Saunders, Colonial Records, IV, 1042.

63 For the life of one Moravian woman and her tribulations in old age, see Belinda B. Riggsbee, “Woman of Wachovia,” The Three Forks of Muddy Creek, III (1976), 25-36.

64 Alan D. Watson, “Public Poor Relief in Colonial North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review, LIV (October, 1977), 348-355, hereinafter cited as Watson, “Public Poor Relief.”

65 Orange County Court Minutes, August, 1765; New Hanover County Court Minutes, March, 1765; Saunders, Colonial Records, VI, 493, IX, 54-55; Watson, “Public Poor Relief,” 358, 361-362.

66 Elisabeth Anthony Dexter, Colonial Women of Affairs: A Study of Women in Business and the Professions in America before 1776 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1924; Clifton, N.J.: Augustus M. Kelley, 1972), 189-192; Page Smith, Daughters of the Promised Land (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970), 37-76.

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