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Women's Rights In Colonial America Essay

1857 words - 7 pages

Women's Rights in Colonial America In the Colonies European American women led a relatively free life, while all except a very few African American women were true slaves, and as such, lived in a vastly different manner.In Europe, tradition held that women be esteemed, but being inferior, they must be guided by men. English Common Law allowed a single woman upon reaching legal maturity, a few rights. She could own property, retain control of her monies, and enter into contracts, but because in Europe a single woman was viewed as unproductive, she was generally discriminated against. Married women basically ceased to exist and had no rights other than those granted by her husband. Upon marriage, a woman became "one with her husband."Luckily for women in the Colonies, although Colonial Law was based on English Common Law, many restrictions and codes were greatly relaxed. Attitudes for the most part, were much more lenient. Single and married Colonial women often worked outside the home and/or engaged in business and other pursuits considered to be in the male realm. They owned property, voted in some elections and even chose their own mates. Rape and physical abuse of any female were punishable by law. They could divorce their husbands. They made many decisions about their lives for themselves without being ridiculed and were even admired and considered to be the equal (almost) of a man, as when Margaret Brent, a landowner of more than on thousand acres, was appointed the executor of Maryland governor Leonard Calvert's estate. While one European American woman described the Colonies as a "paradise on Earth", most African American women probably felt as if they had been condemned to a "hell on earth." Viewed as "trade goods," equal only to livestock or produce, their purpose was to generate income for their "master" by producing offspring that could be indentured, sold, or put to work or by working themselves.Original Colonial African American women were all captives from Africa. They had suffered rape, starvation and other abuse by their European captors on the voyage to the New World, and this continued after they were "indentured" or sold to colonists.African American women had no say in who they were "mated" with. Owners often ordered matings much as with livestock, because he thought the cross would be good. Marriage ceremonies were sometimes performed between African American men and women according to their customs and beliefs, but the slaveholder did not often recognize such marriages. Spouses, as well as children, were commonly sold off and never seen or heard from again. English Common Law was patrilineal (titles, property, and rights were held by males), but the colonies adopted a matrilineal position with African Americans. African American children share the status of their mother. In other words, if the mother was a free woman of color, then her children would be free, but if a slave, her children would be slaves,...

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