Elizabeth Key

First African Woman to Win Her Freedom in Court

Elizabeth Key was the first woman of African ancestry in the American colonies to sue for her freedom from slavery and win. Elizabeth Key won her freedom and that of her infant son on July 21, 1656 in the colony of Virginia, in one of the earliest freedom suits in the colonies. She sued based on the fact that her father was an Englishman and that she was a baptized Christian.

Born in Warwick County, Virginia in 1630, Elizabeth Key was the illegitimate daughter of an enslaved black mother and a white English planter father, Thomas Key, who was also a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. She spent the first several years of her life with her mother.

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Margaret Brent

Women in Law: First Woman to Appear in Court

Image: Margaret Brent before the Maryland Assembly

Margaret Brent ranks among the most prominent women figures in early colonial history. Hailed as an early feminist who advanced the legal rights of women, Brent was the first woman in the American colonies to appear before a court of the Common Law to claim land in her own right or to pursue her own interests in court. She was also a significant founding settler in the early histories of the colonies of Maryland and Virginia.

Margaret Brent was born around 1601 in Gloucestershire, England, into a wealthy Catholic family, one of thirteen children. She was an early American feminist, a major colonial landowner and executor for the governor of Maryland at a time of crisis in the Colony’s affairs.

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Lady Deborah Moody

The Year: 1639

Lady Deborah Moody was christened Deborah Dunch in London in 1586. She came from a wealthy family with both political and religious connections, but also one that believed strongly in civil liberties and religious non-conformity. Deborah married Henry Moody, a well-connected landholder. He was later given knighthood, and she became Lady Deborah. In 1629, Henry passed away, when she was approximately 33.

Image: Map showing Long Island and New Amsterdam, later renamed New York

At this time, England was in great religious turmoil, and Lady Deborah was very attracted to Anabaptism, a Protestant sect that believed that baptism should be received by adult believers, but not children.

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