The Governor’s Castle at St. Mary’s City On January 21, 1648, Margaret Brent startled the Maryland Assembly by asking for the right to vote. Margaret felt that she deserved two votes—one because she was a landowner and another because she had been given power by the late Governor Calvert. Some historians believe her to be the first true American feminist; others consider her to be a remarkable businesswoman who was more interested in her own personal advancement than in the advancement of all women.
Brent was born in Gloucester county, England, around 1601. She was one of the 13 children of wealthy Richard Brent. Raised a Roman Catholic, Margaret decided to leave England when she was in her thirties and join the Catholic colony of Maryland. In 1638, she, and three of her siblings immigrated to Maryland.
Margaret and her sister Mary Brent received a grant of more than 70 acres in St. Mary’s City; the property became known as the “Sisters Freehold.” Margaret also acquired 1 ,000 acres of land on Kent Island in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, and she appeared frequently in court to collect debts owed to her.
The Brent family acquired high social status in Maryland after Governor Leonard Calvert (see no. 39) married Anne Brent, another of the Brent sisters. In May 1647, as he lay dying, Calvert named Margaret Brent as his executor, telling her to “Take all, pay all.”
Margaret Brent faced a difficult situation. Just prior to his death, Governor Calvert had squelched the Claiborne Rebellion. He had brought soldiers from Virginia to accomplish this, and when he died there was no money to pay the troops. The colony stood on the verge of chaos.
Undaunted, Brent imported corn from Virginia to feed the soldiers. Finding that Governor Calvert’s estate was inadequate to pay the men, she gained a power of attorney to act on behalf of Cecil Calvert—the late governor’s brother, who was Lord Baltimore, the Colony’s Proprietor living in England.
She then sold his cattle to obtain the money owed the troops. The new governor, Thomas Green, was then able to re-establish order in the province. However, despite her actions in behalf of the colony, when Brent demanded two votes in the Maryland assembly, Governor Green denied her request.
In 1651, Margaret and Mary Brent moved across Chesapeake Bay to the Virginia colony and acquired large tracts of land in Westmoreland County. As lady of the manor, Margaret held regular feasts and celebrations for her people, and was generally well loved.
No other woman in colonial America held as much power as Margaret Brent did in 1647 and 1648. The trust shown her by Governor Calvert, and the power he handed her were unique.