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Working with 19th-century deeds, I often find the wife has executed the deed in what is described as an act of relinquishing her "right of Dower." (Corrections to the way I have described that execution are welcome.)

Below is an example of one such deed, ca1830. The relevant clause reads, "And I Asenath Preston wife of the said William Preston in consideration aforesaid do hereby relinquish my right of Dower in the before mentioned premises."

  1. I'm interested both in what Asenath was "relinquishing" and why.
  2. The deed obviously calls Asenath his wife, but is there any other meaning can be drawn from the wife's act to "relinquish her right of Dower."

As to the second part of the question, some context/back story. For ten years, we could not find evidence about how William Preston of Defiance, Ohio, had acquired the subject property interest in Rumney, New Hampshire.1 Knowing that William and Asenath had married in 1820, at one time I hoped Asenath's release of dower might provide a clue about when and/or in what hame the interest had been acquired.2

Graphic follows; click HERE to view a resizable version of the deed.

Dower call out

1 The 1829 sale (this deed) identified the underlying property only as "the lands which Jabes H. Weld & Oliver F. Weld conveyed to Daniel Easton by their deed dated 21st Nov A.D. 1803 & recorded in the Register of Deeds for [Grafton County book 37, p. 557]. Even intense research in the Grafton deed books did not provide any related transaction between William Preston and either the Welds, their business or Daniel Eaton.

2 At the time, I asked myself questions like this:

  • The entry for this deed in the registry book does not carry the wife's name (it reads, "William Preston to Collins Preston"). Is my understanding correct that she was not a "grantor" of the deed, even though her signature (or mark) appears? (Including that when I cite this source, the deed is described as "William Preston to Collins Preston," not "William and Asenath Preston to Collins Preston.")

  • Does "Dower" attach regardless of when the property was acquired (before or during a marriage), or would it only attached if the property had been acquired before the marriage? Only if acquired during the marriage?

  • If a wife releases her Dower, does that mean the property had been held by the husband as his "sole and separate" asset? Would the wife have had a right of Dower if she had been a co-owner? What if the couple had held the property as joint tenants (joint tenancy)?

  • What if the property had been held by the wife? Would the husband have been required to release his "dower?"

  • It might be best to split this into multiple questions. – American Luke Oct 23 '12 at 18:38
  • @Luke, I wondered about having only one question and using the introduction "for example" to prefacing the other "questions" in the list. I'll try that; let me know what you think. – GeneJ Oct 23 '12 at 21:01
  • @Luke Perhap only the first bullet point since it doesn't have much to do with relinquishing a right of dower – user47 Oct 23 '12 at 21:10
  • @JustinY I'll change the term in that first bullet to from maker to "grantor"; perhaps then its reason for inclusion will make more sense. – GeneJ Oct 23 '12 at 21:20
  • @GeneJ It sounds like you're not asking just about "relinquish my right to dower" but "right of dower" in general. Is that correct? If so, I think the title should be updated to reflect that. – user47 Oct 23 '12 at 21:23
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A Dower means that a Husband's estate or a portion thereof, could be assumed by a Wife and that she may be entitled to the use of said estate for her lifetime after the Husbands death. Generally, considered restitution for services rendered; such as, nurture and rearing of children. The amount of the Dower, or whether a Wife was entitled to it or not, was set by state statute.

The link provided below gives a broader legal perspective concerning a "Right of Dower."

http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/dower

A release of Dower would be considered a waiver of this right or claim, expediting an alternate plan for the said estate.

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  • In the last line, you wrote, "expediting an alternate plan for the said estate," but this is not an estate is it? – GeneJ Nov 19 '12 at 20:40
  • The estate as a whole. Land, crops, tools, buildings, accounts recievable, debt's owed, as well as agreements or contracts would all be in the estate. Say the right of dower being released so a son or a brother could oversee the affairs. That's the way I understood it. : } – Ezri Rediker Nov 20 '12 at 4:13
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    In this case, she is only releasing her right of dower on the assets that were part of the land transaction. If a second parcel of land were to be sold in a separate deed, she would have to release her "right of dower" on that parcel too, and so on. – GeneJ Nov 20 '12 at 12:42
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As US law was derived from English law, I suspect that in the 1830s New Hampshire/Ohio, married women could not be the legal owners of property. However, a married woman could still have interests in property such as dower, freebench, and widow's part. People other than the legal owner could also have interests in the property such as mortgage holders and trustees for minors. A purchaser would require a clear title to the property, so all parties with interests in the property as well as the legal owner would need to relinquish thier rights. That is why Asenath Preston relinquishes her right to dower in the deed.

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  • I have some wives names on deeds in Ohio, but I think you are probably correct that there was really nothing more to be interpreted by the act (of reliquishing the dower). She probably would have done the same whether the land had been acquired by him before or during the marriage. – GeneJ Oct 26 '12 at 18:54

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