Introduction:'When Women goe to Law, the Devill is full of Businesse' --Part I. The courts and the law.The varieties of Anglo-American law : property, patriarchy, and women's legal status in England and America ;Women as plaintiffs and defendants : the common law, equity, and ecclesiastical jurisdictions --Part II.The family and society.Masters and mistresses, servants and slaves : patriarchy and subordinate agency in the household ;Wives and (unwed) mothers : women's claims for financial support ;Inheritance and family feuds : the legal power of elite women --Part III.The economy and equity.Economic expansion and the erosion of patriarchy.
This book offers an innovative, comparative approach to the study of women's legal rights during a formative period of Anglo-American history. It traces how colonists transplanted English legal institutions to America, examines the remarkable depth of women's legal knowledge and shows how the law increasingly undermined patriarchal relationships between parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives. The book will be of interest to scholars of Britain and colonial America, and to laypeople interested in how women in the past navigated and negotiated the structures of authority that governed them. It is packed with fascinating stories that women related to the courts in cases ranging from murder and abuse to debt and estate litigation. Ultimately, it makes a remarkable contribution to our understandings of law, power and gender in the early modern world