History Timeline 1830s

Photo above: Independence Rock on the Oregon Trail. First mentioned by Parker in 1835, and carries an inscription on the rock with the names of early trappers and explorers. Photo William H. Jackson, circa 1870. Right: Painting by Percy Moran, 1912, reflects the intensity of the battle of the Alamo. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1830s

Conquering the West



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  • Timeline

  • 1839 - Detail

    February 15, 1839 - In Jackson, Mississippi, the first state law allowing women to own property is passed.

    Old Mississippi State Capitol

    It was a battle for women's rights at one of the earliest times and somewhat surprising that one of the initial forays into allowing women full rights in early United States society would happen in the deep south and would occur around the subject of property rights. But, yes, that's what happened. In Jackson, Mississippi, no less. Oh, there had been some property rights granted to women in other states; in Maine, a decade before, women abandoned by their husbands could own property. This was extended to women in Massachusetts in 1835 as well. But nowhere in the continental United States would a broad law establishing property rights to women be extended before 1839 in Hancock County, Mississippi. Of course, this wasn't as broad as one might hope. It only included married women.

    Why did this occur in Jackson? In 1821, Jackson had been established as the state capitol. It was a time of expansion after cessions of land by Indian tribes forced to move west. There was easy credit and bank speculation unchecked. When the Panic of 1837 hit, with specie payments needed for public money, bank deposits were drained.

    During the same period of time, two diverse cases that came into Mississippi courts and the legislature, one involving a woman of Chickasaw heritage, Betsy Love Allen, who married a white man. In Native American culture, the property rights of a woman remained with that woman even after marriage. Since Mississippi law recognized tribal law in marriage, they subsequently agreed, in "Fisher vs Allen" at the Supreme Court level of the state in 1837, that she could retain her property. On January 21, 1839, a law was introduced into the Mississippi legislature, noted as "An Act for the Preservation of the Rights and Property of Married Women." It was rumoured to have been influenced by a Jackson boarding house owner's wife, Piety Smith Hadley, who entertained and had the ear of legislators when in session. She was reported to give poor rations to those who did not listen to her ideas for new legislation. And there may have been an ulterior motive in Mrs. Hadley's mentions; her husband, Thomas, who was in the State Senate, was rumoured to be deep in debt and she wanted to keep her holdings safe from being used for those debts.



    Passage of the Bill

    Less than one month later, the bill passed the Senate after vibrant debate on February 11. Four days later it passed the House. One day later, Governor Alexander G. McNutt signed it into law. Women could now own property; in Mississippi, that also meant slaves. In fact, it was Betsy Love Allen's slave that had been the property siezed to pay her husband's debt in the "Fisher vs Allen" case in the first place.

    How did Mississippi's passage of this law affect other states on the question of married women and property rights. Five years later, two states followed suit; Michigan and Maine. Texas agreed in 1846; New York in 1848. Nearly thirty years later, the rights to own human beings as property would be eradicated by the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent amendments to the Constitution. Eighty years later, women's suffrage was granted.

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    Full Text, Mississippi Married Women's Property Law 1839


    "An Act for the protection and preservation of the rights of Married Women.

    Section 1. Be it enacted, by the Legislature of the State of Mississippi, That any married woman may become seized or possessed of any property, real or personal, by direct bequest, demise, gift, purchase, or distribution, in her own name, and as of her own property: Provided, the same does not come from her husband after coverture.

    Section 2. And be it further enacted, That hereafter when any woman possessed of a property in slaves, shall marry, her property in such slaves and their natural increase shall continue to her, notwithstanding her coverture; and she shall have, hold, and possess the same, as her separate property, exempt from any liability for the debts or contracts of the husband.

    Section 3. And be it further enacted, That when any woman, during coverture, shall become entitled to, or possessed of, slaves by conveyance, gift, inheritance, distribution, or otherwise, such slaves, together with their natural increase, shall enure and belong to the wife, in like manner as is above provided as to slaves wheich she may possess at the time of marriage.

    Section 4.And be it further enacted, That the control and management of all such slaves, the direction of their labor, and the receipt of the productions thereof, shall remain to the husband, agreeably to the laws heretofore in force. All suits to recover the property or possession of such slaves, shall be prosecuted or defended, as the case may be, in the joint names of the husband and wife. In the case of the death of the wife, such slaves descend and go to the children of her and her said husband, jointly begotten, and in cae there shall be no child born to the wife during such her coverture, then such slaves shall descend and go to the husband and to his heirs.

    Section 5. And be it further enacted, That the slaves owned by a feme covert under the provisions of this act, may be sold by the joint deed of husband and wife, executed, proved, and recorded, agreeably to the laws now in force in regard to the conveyance of the real estate of feme coverts, and not otherwise.

    Image above: Old State Capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi, 1936, James Butters, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Lithograph, "Sunny South," 1883, Calvert Lithograph and Engraving Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info Source: "The Mississippi Married Women's Property Act of 1839," Sandra Moncrief, Hancock County Historical Society; Text of Law from the University of Minnesota, U.S. Women's Legal History; Mississippi Encyclopedia; "Betsy Love and the Mississippi Women's Property Act," LeAnne Howe, Mississippi History Now; Wikipedia Commons; Library of Congress.

    Sunny South Lithograph

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