Martha Dean Clemmens Powell

Martha Dean Clemmens Powell

Appears in Records from 1671 — 1710

Martha Dean was the only woman among the 29 “First Proprietors” of Sakonnet. She inherited her right to purchase Sakonnet land from her stepfather, Joseph Beedle, who earned that privilege as one of the first English indentured servants in Plymouth. Because Martha was single or widowed during the first Sakonnet land purchases, she was able to conduct her own business and manage the property herself. Like the other First Proprietors, she acquired several hundred acres of Sakonnet land through joint purchases and land distribution lotteries. Martha probably never set foot in Sakonnet but ran her affairs from her farm in Marshfield, Plymouth Colony.

In 1676 Martha married her second husband Ralph Powell, and because of the law of coverture, Martha and her property immediately fell under the “authority and protection” of her husband. Ralph’s name appears on later purchases instead of Martha’s. Though husbands were legally in charge, the law still recognized wives’ ownership rights and required their consent before selling property. Aspects of coverture persisted in the U.S. until the 1960s.

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Outdoor exhibit panel from the 2020 special exhibition, The Little Compton Women’s History Project.