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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Alice Lake

Alice Lake was born in England, and immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony at some point, and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She was the mother of at least five children, all presumably fathered by her only known husband, Henry Lake. In 1651, those children would have been a girl about ten, a boy about seven, a boy about five, a child about three who likely was a boy, and an infant.

In 1651, Alice Lake’s baby died. Later, she told people that she saw the baby. Maybe she did. Or, maybe she grieved so much that her mind allowed her to imagine that she saw her baby to ease her grief. As painful as the death of a loved one is, a mother’s loss of a child is the most difficult.

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Verlinda Graves Stone

Calvert Presents Acts of Toleration to Governer Stone

The Year: 1648

Verlinda Graves was born about 1618 in England. William Stone was born in England around 1603. He came from a well-known merchant family in London. William came to America in1628 with a group of Puritans who settled on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. Verlinda and William were married in the 1630s in Virginia, and they had seven children.

The Stones were successful in the Chesapeake, and respected by their neighbors. William worked as a merchant and planter. He was appointed justice of the peace, and then sheriff in Accomack County, and a burgess in the Virginia Assembly. The settlement thrived there, but eventually came into conflict with Virginia’s established Episcopal Church.

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Margaret Jones

Accused Witch in Boston

It seems that when we think of witches we automatically think of Salem, but colonial Boston experienced a number of witchcraft episodes during the seventeenth century. Witchcraft involves the use of supernatural powers such as clairvoyancy, invisibility, flying, and the ability to kill at a distance. A witch is usually viewed as one who manipulates unexplainable forces through spells and other rituals.

Belief in witchcraft was prevalent in Europe, and scores of people had been convicted and put to death in England during the 1640s. Stories of those proceedings reached the New World, and led the people of Boston to fear for their own safety.

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Mary Fisher

The Year: 1656

Image: Panel B2 of the Quaker Tapestry, which was devoted to Mary Fisher

Quaker Beginnings
In the 17th century, the Quakers – also known as the Society of Friends – were a form of Protestant Christianity that was started by George Fox in England in 1652. According to tradition, Fox was standing on Pendle Hill in northwest England when he received a vision from God directing him that instead of simply obeying doctrines and rules, he should focus on the Inner Light—the ability of every person to directly receive God’s love.

George Fox believed there was no need for ordained ministers and traditional forms of worship, and began to preach this new form of Christianity throughout England. He also added the ideas of pacifism and the rejection of sworn oaths, which, of course, was not to the liking of political authorities. Officials hounded his followers and jailed them for their refusal to take oaths and for not supporting the Church of England.

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Anneke Jans

Dutch Woman in New Amsterdam

Anneke Webber was an early Dutch colonist in New Amsterdam and New Netherland. She was born in Norway in 1605. She married Roeloff Jans in Amsterdam, Holland, on Friday, April 18, 1623. They had six children. Her name became well-known because of the many lawsuits concerning her farm, which was claimed by her heirs and the Trinity Church in New York City.

The Dutch West India Company founded the colony of New Amsterdam—later New York City—in 1625 as a place to defend river access to the company’s fur trade operations in the Hudson River, which extended to the colony of New Netherland—later New York state.

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Slavery in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Slaves

Image: Narragansett Planters
Painting by Ernest Hamlin Baker, 1939
A grist mill and sacks of corn being towed by oxen – most of the harvested grain was likely kept in the Colony for consumption by the planters and their livestock.

Rhode Island established the first law regulating slavery on May 18, 1652, as part of the Acts and Orders of the General Court of Warwick. It stated that the blacks or whites forced to serve another must be freed after 10 years after arrival in Rhode Island. The fine for noncompliance was 40 pounds. The law was evidently never enforced, because African slaves were in the Colony that same year. The demand for cheap labor had prevailed.

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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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Frances Berkeley

First Lady of Virginia

Image: Remains at Green Spring Plantation

Frances Culpeper was Virginia’s most notable 17th century woman. The youngest of the five children of Thomas and Katherine Culpeper, Frances was baptized at Kent, England, on May 27, 1634. Her father lost everything in the service of King Charles I, but the Crown rewarded Culpeper by naming him one of the original seven grantees of the 5-million-acre Virginia land grant known as the Northern Neck Proprietary. Thomas Culpeper came to the New World in 1650, hoping to rebuild his fortune.

Good Marriages
In 1652, Frances married Samuel Stephens, governor of the Albemarle settlement in North Carolina and the owner of Roanoke Island, the site of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony. Her father died that same year, and his family, all except Frances, returned to England.

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Anne Arundel

First Lady of Maryland

Image: Lady Anne Arundel Baltimore

Lady Anne Arundel (sometimes spelled Arundell) was born in 1615. She was an English noblewoman, daughter of Thomas Arundel, 1st Baron of Wardour, and a member of the ancient family of Arundels in Cornwall, England. Her father was a wealthy and influential Catholic.

In 1628, at the age of thirteen, Lady Anne married Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, the founder of the colony of Maryland. Of the nine children the Calverts had, only three survived to adulthood, including Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore.

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