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Common Whores, Vertuous Women, and Loveing Wives

Free Will Christian Women in Colonial Maryland

Debra A. Meyers

Publication Year: 2003

Religious conflicts had a pronounced effect on women and their families in early modern England, but our understanding of that impact is limited by the restrictions that prevented the open expression of religious beliefs in the post-Reformation years. More can be gleaned by shifting our focus to the New World, where gender relations and family formations were largely unhampered by the unsettling political and religious climate of England. In Maryland, English Arminian Catholics, Particular Baptists, Presbyterians, Puritans, Quakers, and Roman Catholics lived and worked together for most of the 17th century. By closely examining thousands of wills and other personal documents, as well as early Maryland's material culture, this transatlantic study depicts women's place in society and the ways religious values and social arrangements shaped their lives. Common Whores, Vertuous Women, and Loveing Wives takes a revisionist approach to the study of women and religion in colonial Maryland and adds considerably to our understanding of the social and cultural importance of religion in early America.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Religion in North America

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pp. vii-ix

Debra Meyers’s book, with its somewhat provocative title, is in fact rather aptly named. In this work, Meyers offers readers an in-depth view of English women in the Maryland colony, mostly in the years from 1634 to 1713. That project may sound overly arcane and archeological at first glance (hence the countervailing title?). To the contrary, however, what Meyers has...

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pp. xi-xii

This study would not have been possible without the assistance and support of many institutions and individuals. I would like to thank Routledge for permission to reprint portions of my essay “Gender and Religion in England’s Catholic Province,” in Women and Religion in Old and New Worlds, edited by Susan Dinan and Debra Meyers (New York: Routledge, 2001), 213– 230. Early on...

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pp. 1-8

Nineteenth-century historian John Leeds Bozman once wrote that England in the 1630s was the “scene of the most tumultuous contest between three principal sects of the christian religion, the established church of England, the Roman Catholics, and the Puritans.” He argued that it was “a contest, not indeed for the supreme power merely, but each for its own existence.1 Bozman’s observation points to the importance of understanding religious beliefs and denominational power struggles in...

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1. Maryland’s Raison d’être

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pp. 9-38

For the past two hundred years colonial Maryland historians have agreed on one thing—George Calvert was the man responsible for the establishment of the modern religiously tolerant state of Maryland.1 He was the son of a Yorkshire gentleman, and by all accounts a successful English officeholder. Calvert’s statesmanship, honesty, and integrity gained him the respect of Sir Robert Cecil, who served both Queen Elizabeth and James I as principal secretary of...

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2. Private Lives

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pp. 39-70

Easter was a time to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with joyful celebrations in church followed by the consumption of bountiful portions of wine and good food in the company of family and friends. Yet Easter of 1659 was not so festive for Clove Mace, who lived on St. Clement’s Manor. After being beaten to a “bloudy” pulp, he raced to John Shanck’s home to seek aid. Clove begged Shanck and John Gee to go to his house and confront his attackers—Clove’s wife and...

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3. Religion in the New World

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pp. 71-100

...Although congregations dutifully painted over sacred symbols and hid or sold silver chalices, altar stones, and roods, some drew the line at destroying the churches’ elaborate and expensive stained glass, merely knocking out the small faces of saints from the pictures; this reservation leaves us wondering how committed to the ideas of the Reformation they truly were.2 Fortunately, English architecture in...

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4. Women and Religion

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pp. 101-127

...These spies relayed important information to the pope as they “intermedle[d] in matters of State” from their elevated positions within influential families instead of busying themselves with the “safety of their own & others souls, having to that purpose retired from the world.” According to this author there were “four sorts of Jesuits” strategically positioned to take over the western...

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5. Religion, Property, and the Family

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pp. 128-155

Under English common law, a woman’s legal identity was subsumed by her husband’s when she married. Being figuratively “covered” by her husband in coverture, a married woman could not enter into any legal contracts by herself and no one could sue her as an individual. As a feme covert, a wife ceded to her husband control of the property she had brought to the marriage (her dowry), and when he died she was entitled to one-third of her husband’s estate (her dower) to use during her lifetime....

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6. Free Will Christian Women’s Public Authority

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pp. 156-179

...In a poignant message to posterity, Ursula, with “due regard” and “true respect,” suggests that duty to one’s spouse, family, and community and to the proprietor of the province formed the essence of Free Will Christian marriage in early modern Maryland. That intimate bond also represented a union between at least two natal families, as well as the understanding that they would have to work together to meet their obligations...

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pp. 180-185

Free Will Christians—Arminian Anglicans, Quakers, and Roman Catholics—shared a fundamental view of salvation that tended to unify them more often than their professed differences divided them. They believed that all sinners had an equal opportunity to work toward eternal salvation—if they chose to do “good works.” Conversely, Maryland Particular Baptists, Presbyterians, Puritans, and other followers of John Calvin’s predestinarian beliefs perceived their world as corrupt, flawed, and...


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pp. 187-228

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 229-234

Source Names Index

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pp. 235-241

General Index

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pp. 243-250

E-ISBN-13: 9780253109743
E-ISBN-10: 0253109744
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253341938

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 3 b&w photos, 3 figures, 1 bibliog., 2 index
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Religion in North America