Migration to Maryland
Brent's status as a single woman was unusual in Maryland at that time, when men outnumbered women six to one. Her sister Mary also remained unmarried; together, they established an estate in Saint Mary's County named Sister's Freehold, where they grew tobacco and imported servants whose indentures they sold. Margaret Brent held additional property and a profitable mill on Kent Island. She handled her own business affairs, even appearing in court to represent her interests, and served as attorney for about a dozen other colonists, including her brother Giles. In 1641 Brent, along with Maryland governor Leonard Calvert, was named guardian of Mary Kittamaquund, the daughter of a Piscataway Indian tayac, or chief. Under Brent's influence and that of Jesuit missionaries, Kittamaquund converted to Christianity in 1642. She married Giles Brent around 1644. (In 1652, Mary and Giles had a son, also named Giles, who would participate in Bacon's Rebellion).
After the raid, several of Maryland's elite, including Governor Leonard Calvert, fled to Virginia. Brent, however, remained. In 1646 Governor Calvert, hoping to retake the colony, returned with a force of about twenty-eight men from Maryland and Virginia (including Richard Bennett). Calvert had recruited these men by promising to reward them for their service. Late in 1646, he reestablished control of the Maryland government, but had not yet paid out his men's wages. Calvert soon fell ill and died in June 1647. On his deathbed he named Brent his executrix, telling her, "Take all, and pay all."
This was easier said than done. The men who had fought with Calvert demanded the wages promised to them, threatening mutiny, but Calvert's estate proved insufficient to meet their demands. Calvert had also promised them food, but at that time corn was in short supply in Maryland. To resolve the shortfalls, Brent sold cattle owned by Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore, to pay the men their wages and imported corn from Virginia to feed them. Her actions pacified the mercenaries and preserved the Calvert family's power.
Migration to Virginia
But by this time the Brents (including Giles Brent, who had returned to Maryland from England) had fallen out of Baltimore's favor for good. Sometime after December 1648, Giles Brent abandoned his property in Maryland and moved across the Potomac River into Virginia. Margaret Brent and her sister Mary Brent followed, settling in Northumberland County in the Northern Neck.
Brent named her Virginia plantation Peace. In the 1650s and 1660s Brent and her siblings drew Maryland refugees, servants, and laborers to their settlement, establishing what is considered Virginia's first Roman Catholic community and increasing the area's population. Westmoreland County was established in this area in 1653, although that name does not appear in the records of Virginia's Council of State until 1655. Mary Brent died in 1658 and left her estate to her sister. When Margaret Brent wrote her own will in 1663, she bequeathed her property to her brother Giles Brent and her nephews Richard and George Brent. At the time of her death in 1671, she and her siblings allegedly held nearly 10,000 acres of land in Virginia.
ca. 1601 - Margaret Brent is born in Gloucester, England, to Richard and Elizabeth Brent.
November 22, 1638 - Siblings Margaret Brent, Fulke Brent, Giles Brent, and Mary Brent arrive in Maryland from England.
1639 - In Saint Mary's County, Maryland, Margaret and Mary Brent establish a sizable estate, Sister's Freehold, where they grow tobacco and import servants, selling their indentures.
1641 - Margaret Brent becomes the guardian of Mary Kittamaquund, the daughter of a tayac, or emperor, of the Piscataway. Kittamaquund is baptized in 1642, the year after her father's death.
ca. 1644 - Giles Brent marries Mary Kittamaquund, a Piscataway Indian who has been the ward of his sister Margaret Brent.
1645 - Richard Ingle, a Protestant ship's captain and tobacco trader, invades Saint Mary's City, Maryland, and plunders the homes of its Catholics. Many of the colony's Catholic residents, including Governor Leonard Calvert, flee to Virginia.
1646 - Richard Bennett organizes a mercenary Puritan army to assist the exiled governor of Maryland, Leonard Calvert, in ousting a gang of brigands from his capital at Saint Mary's City.
June 9, 1647 - On his deathbed Leonard Calvert, governor of Maryland, names Margaret Brent his executrix, instructing her to "take all, and pay all." He dies shortly thereafter.
January 21, 1648 - Margaret Brent asks Maryland's General Assembly for "a vote … and voyce" in the colony’s politics. As justification she points to her status as a landowner and as Lord Baltimore's attorney. In the latter role, she prevented a potential mutiny by unpaid mercenaries who had fought on behalf of Leonard Calvert during Ingle's Rebellion.
ca. 1649 - Having fallen out of favor with Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore and proprietor of Maryland, Giles Brent leaves Maryland and claims land in Virginia, near Aquia Creek.
ca. 1651 - Margaret Brent and Mary Brent move to Virginia and patent land on the Potomac River in the Northern Neck. There, Margaret Brent establishes a plantation she names Peace.
1663 - Margaret Brent writes her will, bequeathing her property in Virginia and Maryland to her brother Giles Brent and his children.
1671 - Margaret Brent dies at Peace plantation in Stafford County.
2004 - Margaret Brent Elementary School opens in Stafford.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Witkowski, M. C. Margaret Brent (ca. 1601–1671). (2016, November 14). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Brent_Margaret_ca_1601-1671.
- MLA Citation:
Witkowski, Monica C. "Margaret Brent (ca. 1601–1671)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 14 Nov. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: October 7, 2011 | Last modified: November 14, 2016
Contributed by Monica C. Witkowski, an independent scholar from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.