Friday, November 21, 2014

Colonial Massachusetts deed signed by husband and wife

This 1774 deed confirms the sale of fifty acres of land around Worcester (in the then Massachusetts Bay Colony) from Artemas How to Bezeleel Hale to  “Have, Hold, Use, Occupy Possess and Enjoy.” The deed contains a description of the land that is almost as confounding and entertaining as it is long; the tract of land goes from “a heap of stones a corner of Holman Priests land…one hundred and forty three rods to a white Oak then southeast thirty seven rods by land of Eleazer[?] Johnson to a red oak and then southeasterly…” and so on for several more lines.

The document was witnessed and signed on the verso by the Justice of the Peace, John Whitcomb, who is perhaps the most interesting character in this story. Whitcomb became a lieutenant in his early thirties but was considered too old to fight by the time the Revolutionary War rolled around, soon after the execution of this deed. He ended up entering into battle anyway, since his militia refused to fight without him. He eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier-General but refused a later request from Washington to take charge of all the troops from Massachusetts. He then spent the rest of his life serving as Justice of the Peace and mining limestone. Artemas How, as well, served in the Revolutionary War and fought in the Battle of Lexington and Concord. However, it seems he never found his footing, let alone fortune, in the limestone industry.

The other signatory of interest is Artemas How’s wife, Abigail, who signed the deed right below her husband (only Artemas is listed in the covenant within the actual text). We have several other deeds in our Brooker Collection signed by husband and wife, so this was not unheard of. However, it is fascinating, as the property of married women came under the control of their husbands under the English doctrine of coverture. Did Abigail’s signature have any legal significance, or is it perhaps an indication of Artemas How’s respect for his wife?

 ~This post was written by Lexy Bader, our reference assistant in the BC Law Library. Many thanks to Lexy and the kind folks at Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscript for their helpful description.

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