John Presbury died 1679 of Saco, now Maine, USA, but then Massachusetts Bay Colony. John left minor sons including William Presbury. John's estate was administered by others until his son, William, "came of age" in 1684; at that time administration of the estate was relinquished to the son.

The various information above and other bits of family history was originally derived from Sybil Noyes, Charles Thornton Libby and Walter Goodwin Davis, Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire (Portland, ME, USA: The Southward Press, 1928), p. 567-568, entries for John Presbury and William Presbury.

Although I have located many of the records from which Libby and others worked from, the record of John Presbury's probate file remains elusive, more because I seem to seek it when work is in process on the collections and/or archives. There is a fair chance that when I do locate the probate record, it will provide the same information that Libby did regarding William Presbury's age--he was granted administrator's rights because he had "come of age."

I'd really like a better understanding of how old William Presbury was in 1684 when he "came of age".

What resource would provide insight into the laws and customs of this region in the late 17th century as same pertains to age of majority and the administration of an estate?

Even better, can someone answer the question of what "coming of age" meant in the context of estate administration at Saco in 1684?

2 Answers 2


Via Google books I searched in A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, by Bryan A. Garner, Oxford University Press, 2001, On page 38 Garner lists age of capacity, age of consent, age of majority, and age of reason as terms which "share the general sense 'the age at which a person is legally capable (of doing something)'. But, over time, each term has assumed a specific sense in a particular context."

These are established by statute and may vary by jurisdiction, so it is proper to form the question as you have, as what that age was in that place and time.

Current usage for the age at which one is legally capable of executing a will is the age of capacity. That may not be the usage for the 1600s, but modern writers discussing changes in the law over time may use the term in their discussion of changes in the law, so it may be helpful to use it as a search term. Garner says that the modern age of capacity is usually 18.

I searched the blog of The Legal Genealogist. but a search for "age of capacity" and "coming of age" came up empty. She does have a place to submit questions on her blog if you'd like to ask there.

Typing 'massachusetts historical statutes' into Google brought up a suggestion of 'massachusetts statutory history' whose top search result was the site of the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries -- on that page, there is a link to a Guide to Massachusetts Legislative History at the state library.

The Massachusetts Probate Records page on the FamilySearch wiki cites:

Smith, William L. The Practice in Proceedings in the Probate Courts of Massachusetts, With an Appendix of Uniform Forms and Rules Approved by the Supreme Judicial Court. Sixth editon. Revised by John E. Abbott. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1903.

They note that this book is available in digital form on Internet Archive. It might be one place you could find out what the age of capacity is, and what changes in the law have taken place over time.

For a set of case studies similar to this question, see Judy G. Russell's webinar "How Old Did He Have to Be?" which is available for purchase on CD at the website of the North Carolina Genealogical Society.

  • Thank you for your efforts, Jan. Clarence Torrey (New England Marriages ...) estimated William's birth as 1664. There are legal concepts both "of age" and "of full age" as I understand from reading early English and Mass. Bay materials. So far, I have found nothing indicating one had to be "of full age" to handle the administration.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 12:18
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    Herber notes that if the deceased had property in England, you might also find records there, as well as in the Colonies. (For this period, that would be in the ecclesiastical courts rather than the civil courts.)
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 16:24
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    Thank you for your additional work, Jan Murphy. I had not reviewed Herber's work nor have I searched for property in England. Separately I have reviewed two sources referenced by Robert W. Baird, "Legal Age," Bob's Genealogy Filing Cabinet He's moved these pages to a new server, see: genfiles.com/articles/legal-age/#identifier_1_65. I'll add the further links to his references in another comment.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 17:03
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    Robert W. Baird, "Legal Age," Bob's Genealogy Filing Cabinet references (a) Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 7th ed, 4 vols (1775), 1:460+, "Of Guardians and Wards"; digital images, Hathi Trust_ (accessed 2013). There are other editions and/or versions of these works; some incorporate later dated scholarly interpretative comments. The 1775 version linked below hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433008579496?urlappend=%3Bseq=480 Transcribed version of Blackstone's work via Yale Law School, Avalon Project avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/blackstone.asp
    – GeneJ
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 17:42
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    Robert W. Baird, "Legal Age," Bob's Genealogy Filing Cabinet references (b) William Walter Hening, The statutes at large : being a collection of all the laws of Virginia, from the first session of the legislature ... 1619 … 13 vols, 1 (rev. ed., 1823):269-70; 4* (1820):223; digital images, Hathi Trust (accessed 2013). hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433081883302?urlappend=%3Bseq=295 hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433081883229?urlappend=%3Bseq=225 *Preface; 1st ed. copies "burnt ... fire … 1815." Transcription by Freddie L. Spradlin, Virginia GenWeb vagenweb.org/hening
    – GeneJ
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 17:48

Coming of age is regarded as a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood. Given the date of 1684, the age would have been their 21st birthday, having been the tradition brought from England.

  • 4
    Interesting! Do you have a source reference for this?
    – user47
    Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 14:27

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