Category Archives: law

Legal Age under English Common Law

What was the legal age  to marry in colonial America? To buy and sell land? This question comes up often—especially in Southern research—because official birth records are difficult to locate, forcing researchers to estimate ages. However, English common law can help. See below:

“The ages of male and female are different for different purposes. A male at twelve years old may take the oath of allegiance; at fourteen is at years of discretion, and therefore may consent or disagree to marriage, may choose his guardian, and, if his discretion be actually proved, may make his testament of his personal estate; at seventeen may be an executor; and at twenty-one is at his own disposal, and may aliene his lands, goods, and chattels A female also at seven years of age may be betrothed or given in marriage; at nine is entitled to dower; at twelve is at years of maturity, and therefore may consent or disagree to marriage, and, if proved to have sufficient discretion, may bequeath her personal estate; at fourteen is at years of legal discretion, and may choose a guardian; at seventeen may be executrix; and at twenty-one may dispose of herself and her lands. So that full age in male or female is twenty-one years, which age is completed on the day preceding the anniversary of a person’s birth, who till that time is an infant, and so styled in law.”1

  1. Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books. Notes selected from the editions of Archibold, Christian, Coleridge, Chitty, Stewart, Kerr, and others, Barron Field’s Analysis, and Additional Notes, and a Life of the Author by George Sharswood. In Two Volumes. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1893). Vol. 1 – Books I & II. Chapter XVII.: Of Guardian and Ward; (http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/2140/198685 : accessed 2012-10-07).

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