Sybilla Masters

First American Woman Inventor Image: Sybilla Masters Corn Mill Invention American colonist and inventor, Sybilla Masters is first mentioned in the records of the New Jersey colony in 1692. Not too long after that date, she married a Quaker merchant named Thomas Masters, and moved with him to Philadelphia. Thomas became a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1701, and served two terms as the Mayor of Philadelphia, in 1707 and 1708. Sybilla, like most colonial women, had to work hard to care for her family and prepare their food. One of the common foods of the time was hominy. Hominy meal was made from ground-up Indian corn, sometimes called Hominy Grits. At that time, corn was ground between…

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Henrietta Johnston

First Professional Woman Artist in America Image: Portrait of Marianne Fleur Du Gue By Henrietta Johnston, 1708-10 Early in the 18th century, many of the portraits of colonial gentle ladies were done by Henrietta Johnston (1670-1729), the first female portrait painter in the American colonies. Surprisingly, she did not use oils or watercolors, but French pastels – a relatively new medium at that time. Johnston rendered the facial features with precision and blended colors skillfully, particularly in the hair. Henrietta De Beaulieu was born to a French Huguenot family in Dublin, Ireland in 1670. At the age of 10 or 12 she fled with her Huguenot family to England from France to avoid persecution. In 1694, she married Robert Dering,…

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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…

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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…

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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.