In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Women in Colonial Economies

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For their part, as White New Englanders invested in and settled in early Maine, they mobilized kinship ties that structured colonial business and investing practices. Colonists drew on family wealth in order to invest, and familial bonds undergirded business partnerships. As a result, women necessarily assumed key roles in economic networks. Through marriage, women built connections, solidifying alliances and facilitating the transfer of wealth between families. In addition, daughters as well as sons inherited from their fathers, and widows inherited from their husbands both via their dower rights and additional bequests. Familial bonds and inheritance held particular importance among the sorts of Boston-area elites who founded the Kennebec and Pejepscot Proprietors. Elite Boston women not only stood to own property themselves, but also helped their families preserve dynastic wealth and status across generations.

At the same time, marriage law differently shaped men’s and women’s abilities to own and control land. Like other British colonies, Massachusetts, including the district of Maine, derived its legal system from its mother country. Within this framework, unmarried women possessed the same legal rights as men, including the abilities to independently purchase, own, or sell land. A small number of affluent widows and single women were therefore among those colonists who became landowners. In the 1670s, for instance, Bostonian Rachel Atkins purchased two tracts of land in Maine, one from the Wabanaki and one from an English colonist. For such women, land represented an important source of wealth and, potentially, income.(3)