Deed, Samuel and Sabrina Davenport Canfield, to Emma Smith, 1 October 1836
Samuel Canfield and Sabrina Davenport Canfield, Deed for property in , Geauga Co., OH, to , 1 Oct. 1836. Version copied [ca. 1870–ca. 1898] in copy of Geauga Co., OH, Deed Records, 1795–1921, vol. 23, pp. 92–93; unidentified handwriting; Geauga County Archives and Records Center, Chardon, OH; microfilm at Family History Library.
In the nineteenth-century , married women were not legally allowed to own land because of the common law principle of coverture, also known as unity of person. Under coverture, when a woman was married her legal identity was subsumed under her husband’s, and all property that had belonged to her came under her husband’s control. A married woman could not own land, earn money for herself, or enter into contracts or litigation without her husband’s approval and involvement. Married women’s ability to own land began to change in the 1840s as laws were passed in some states granting this right, but such laws were not in place in or during JS’s lifetime.
Although statutes in and prohibited married women and minor children from owning land, JS and many of his contemporaries in the had land deeded to their wives. On rarer occasions, they deeded land to their children or to another man’s wife or children. Occasionally, a man might ask that, as part of a land transaction, the deed be made in his wife’s name. Some land transactions appear solely in a married woman’s name, and it is unclear in many of those instances if she was the purchaser or if the transaction was simply done in her name. The reasons for these actions are not specified in contemporary records, but transactions like this may have been a means of providing for a wife and children as a form of inheritance in case of death. Alternatively, such transactions may have been initiated to make it hard for creditors trying to seize property for unpaid debts.
There were a number of deeds made in and in which JS’s wife or their children were named as the owners of the transferred or purchased property. In these instances, the legal principle of coverture meant that even though the property was in Emma’s or the Smith children’s names, it was ultimately JS’s property. Given his legal right to sell or transfer the property as he saw fit, the Joseph Smith Papers includes these deeds with the other land transactions featured on the project website.
“Coverture,” in Bouvier, Law Dictionary , 1:392; Salmon, Women and the Law of Property, 14–18.
Bouvier, John. A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America, and of the Several States of the American Union; With References to the Civil and Other Systems of Foreign Law. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Philadelphia: T. and J. W. Johnson, 1843.
Salmon, Marylynn. Women and the Law of Property in Early America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.
This becomes clear in a few cases where the property may have been purchased or transferred to Emma Smith or one of the Smith children, but JS then sold or transferred it.
And I having fully made known and explained to the said Sabina Canfield the contents of the above deed and having likewise explained her separate and apart from her said husband she declared that she did of her own free will and accord voluntarily sign, seal and acknowledge and as her free act and deed deliver the same without the force coercion or compulsion of her said husband and that she is still satisfied therewith. Before me October 1. A. D. 1836.
Recd Oct. 29th. and Recorded Novr. 12th. A. D. 1836.