Margaret Brent

(c. 1601—1671) colonist and proprietary agent in America

Quick Reference

(c. 1601–1671), leader in colonial Maryland. Brent, a Roman Catholic, arrived in Maryland with her sister Mary and two brothers in 1638. Unmarried and hence legally able to control property, she established herself as a landowner and entrepreneur. Her business and diplomatic skills proved crucial after a raid on the Catholic-led colony early in 1645 by a ship captain armed with letters of marque from England's Protestant Parliament. Governor Leonard Calvert fled but returned with soldiers to reclaim the Maryland government in December 1646. He found his colony in a shambles, most of its inhabitants gone. At his death in June 1647, Calvert named Brent his executor with instructions to pay his debts. These included the soldiers' wages which he had pledged, if necessary, to pay himself or pay from the estate of his brother, the absentee proprietor, Lord Baltimore. The governor's property proved insufficient and Brent had to contend with threats of mutiny. Without time to gain Lord Baltimore's consent, Maryland's Provincial Court granted her power of attorney over his Maryland assets. On 21 January 1648, before risking use of this property, Brent—probably hoping to persuade the Maryland assembly to raise taxes to pay the soldiers—“requested to have vote in the howse for herselfe and voyce” as Lord Baltimore's attorney. In an era when women were excluded from politics, the assembly denied the request. Brent then paid the soldiers with Lord Baltimore's cattle, thereby averting a crisis that might have destroyed the colony and its policy of religious toleration. Lord Baltimore, in England, was outraged at her actions, even though the assembly advised him that she had saved the colony and “deserved favour and thanks from your Honour [rather than] bitter invectives.” To escape the proprietor's anger Brent and her sister joined their brother Giles in Virginia, where the family established a thriving plantation called Peace. Here Margaret Brent died in 1671.

From The Oxford Companion to United States History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: United States History.

Reference entries