Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Early 19th Century Women's Property Schedules in Itawamba County

Found in the old volumes of deed records in the Itawamba Chancery Court Clerk office in the courthouse in Fulton are many old property schedules of married women from the 1840s through the 1850s. These old schedules listed all property belonging exclusively to the wife in a marriage, and usually consisted of property the wife possessed in her own name before marriage. These schedules were a direct result of a lawsuit in neighboring Monroe County during 1837.

Passage of the first laws in America giving property rights to married women was in Mississippi during 1839. The Mississippi Act was inspired by a state Supreme Court ruling in the Fisher vs. Allen case during 1837, which held that Betsy Allen, a Chickasaw, could protect her property from her white husband's creditors because Chickasaw tradition granted married women independent property rights. Betsy Allen was born during 1790 in the Mississippi Chickasaw territory to Thomas and Sally Colbert Love. Sally Colbert Love was the daughter of James Logan Colbert and sister to Levi (Itawamba Mingo) Colbert. Both the Colbert and Love families were large land and slave owners. Betsy Love married James B. Allen (born North Carolina) in present-day northeast Mississippi around 1804.

John Fisher, a lawyer, sued Betsy’s husband during 1831 in Monroe County for two hundred dollars in a default judgment. Fisher had represented Allen in an earlier lawsuit and Allen had failed to pay him for his work. The circuit court ordered the sheriff of Monroe County to seize enough of the Love property to sell at public auction to cover the debt. The property included a slave named Toney. Betsy had owned many slaves prior to their marriage, including Toney. Under English law and later American and Mississippi law, all properties belonging to a woman prior to her marriage became her husband's property at the time of marriage. This concept is called coverture. An appeal was filed by the Allens because customs of the Chickasaw Indians were such that a husband and wife held property separate and that each contracted debts on their own. The case finally ended up in the Mississippi Supreme Court and the ruling was in the Allens’ favor. The Married Women's Property Bill was eventually passed on February 15, 1839, and signed by Governor Alexander G. McNutt the next day, making Mississippi the first state to grant property rights to married women. After the act was passed, several Itawamba County married women had their property schedules recorded in the probate court office (present-day Chancery Court Clerk’s office) in the courthouse in Fulton. Here is an example of such a property schedule:

Louisa E. Raymond Schedule of Property

The schedule of property owned and possessed by Louisa E. Raymond, wife of Alfred H. Raymond under the provisions of an act of the Legislature of the State of Mississippi, an act for the protection and preservation of the rights and property of married women, approved February 15th, 1839, and February 28th, 1846.

Towit: an undivided interest in a stock of goods in the town of Van Buren, Itawamba County in partnership with Winfield S.C. Walker and also an undivided interest in the books, notes and accounts of said store, all of which is worth Two Thousand Dollars, all which said personal property is claimed, held and possessed by the said Louisa E. Raymond, wife of said Alfred Raymond in her own separate right under the provisions of the above recited acts and this schedule of the above property wherein filed for in the office of the clerk of the probate of said county, under the provisions of said acts this the 27th day of August AD 1846.

Witness the hand and seal of said Louisa E. Raymond the day and date above written.

Louisa E. Raymond S E A L

Source: Deed Book 5, Page 366-367

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