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“and wife”

by Lynne Belluscio

It is a large piece of parchment, folded into thirds and then folded again and again.  I knew about it, but had never paid much attention to it, until I was planning for the exhibit, “Remember the Ladies.”  So I went up to the archives and pulled out the LeRoy family box and thumbed through the papers. The parchment is an indenture that records the transfer of 1399 acres of land in Livingston County, west of the Genesee River from Jacob LeRoy to his father Herman.  Actually, it is a transfer of land from Jacob LeRoy “and wife” to Herman LeRoy.  “And wife” is Jacob’s twenty-five year-old wife, Charlotte.  They had been married four years, and they already had two children.  When she married Jacob, she relinquished all of her rights to any personal wealth, property or inheritance, which at the time of the marriage became the property of her husband.  She also had no legal right over the custody of her own children.

 But it is curious to me, that Charlotte not only signed the indenture, but her signature was witnessed and attested that she was not coerced or persuaded to sign against her will.  According to New York State law, this was not necessary until 1848, when New York State enacted the “Women’s Property Act.”  This restored some rights to married women and in addition it required that married women be interviewed in a separate room, to determine if they had been coerced or persuaded to sign the papers. Prior to 1848, a husband could sell anything that belonged to his wife to settle his debts and he didn’t have to ask her permission.  He could sell anything owned or earned by his wife and not share it with her or their children.

 So I asked Paul Boylan, why did the LeRoys insist that the 1825 indenture be signed by Charlotte.    And what was the part about not claiming any thing for her heirs? It would be another 23 years before that was required by law. Paul said that it was to insure that she would not contest the sale of the property for either her or her children.  It was an iron-clad indenture.  They weren’t taking any chances. With huge land transfers, there was too much at stake.

 

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