The Last Will and Testament of Joseph Grover

This document illustrates how women in English society were economically marginalized by the common law practice of coverture.

The Last Will and Testament of Joseph Grover, 1/2

Joseph Grover, Last Will and Testament, 1688. New-York Historical Society Library.

The Last Will and Testament of Joseph Grover, 2/2

Joseph Grover, Last Will and Testament, 1688. New-York Historical Society Library.

Document Text


This last will and testament of Joseph Grover of Middletown in the county of Monmouth in the Province of East New Jersey, being in his right senses and perfect memory has disposed of his outward estate as follows Joseph asserts that he is writing this will when he is healthy and thinking clearly. If he dies, he wants his property to be given away in the following manner:
First, I give and bequeath all that tract of land and meadow with all the appurtenances that I now dwell upon that lies on the Northside of a small run or brook commonly called and known by the name of the Little Falls being a part of that first article of a patent bearing date the thirteenth day of June one thousand six hundred and seventy and six, unto my son James unto him and to his heirs and assigns forever.  First, Joseph gives all of the land he owns on the north side of the brook to his only son, James.
And if it so happen that the child which my Wife now carries proves to be a son then I give and bequeath all the remainder of the land and meadow with all the appurtenances that is specified in the aforesaid patent. All the land and meadows on the Southside of the aforesaid run or brook being the residence of the aforesaid first article of the aforesaid patent as also all that two hundred acres of land specified in the second article of the aforesaid patent as Also all that six acres of swamp or Meadow Specified In the fourth article of the abovesaid patent unto that Son and unto him and unto his heirs forever but if It shall happen to prove to be a daughter that then all the abovesaid land and Meadow with all and singular the privileges and appurtenances there unto belonging to him and to his heirs and assigns forever as hereafter follows Unto my son James as Above said. Joseph explains that his wife is pregnant. If the baby is a boy, that boy will inherit all of the land on the south side of the brook. If the baby is a girl, all of the land on the south side of the brook will be given to his son, James.
Secondly I give and bequeath unto my loving wife Hannah the whole and soul command and use of all the Aforesaid Land with the appurtenances and privileges, whatsoever until my Son James be one And twenty years of age and when my son is at the abovesaid age then I give and bequeath unto him half the said land at his whole and sole command and use with the Old House or little room and no more during the natural life of his mother but the other half of said land with the rest of the housing I give and bequeath unto my loving Wife during her natural life,  Second, Joseph gives his wife, Hannah, control of all his land and goods until their son, James, turns 21. When James turns 21, Hannah’s portion will be reduced to half of the family’s property until she dies.
but if it should happen that my said loving wife does or shall take another husband after my decease That then the one half of said land with the old house or little room as aforesaid at or before that very instant to return unto my son James or his assigns on guardian. If Hannah remarries, she loses all of her land, and it is given to James.
Thirdly, I give and bequeath unto my daughters all my whole purchase of the property which I bought with John Throckmorton from Robert Turner, a part thereof being laid out unto me at Crosswicks. I say again all the said property, both that which is laid and yet to lay out, I give and bequeath unto my daughters unto them and their heirs and assigns forever and to be equally divided between them quantity with quality. Third, Joseph sets aside a small piece of land that is not connected to the family farm for his daughters. They will divide the value of this land equally.
Fourthly I give and bequeath unto my son James two cows and working steers of four years old and his Sows for to brood up swine, and two horses, and a feather bed with furniture thereunto belonging and an axe and an hoe and a plow share and all these above named particulars to be delivered unto him when he is one and twenty Years of age by my executor or executors that shall be hereafter named. Fourth, Joseph gives all of the best household and farm goods to his son, James.
Fifthly, I give and bequeath all the rest of my moveable goods and chattels unto my loving wife and for to be at her dispossessing as she shall think nice or necessary and convenient Fifth, Joseph gives the rest of his household and farm goods to his wife, Hannah.
Lastly, I do hereby make my loving wife Hannah and her brother William Lawrence, Jr. for my whole sole and absolute and lawful executors. To pay all my just debts and to receive all that’s justly due unto me and for the acknowledgement of every of the above written articles to be my will and mind  Joseph ends his will by making his wife, Hannah, and her brother, William Lawrence Jr., responsible for carrying out all the instructions in this will, and settling any business he left undone at the time of his death.
I do here unto set my hand and fix my seal being the seventh day of December one thousand six hundred eighty and eight.
 –Joseph Grover Signed sealed and delivered in the presence of:
Peter Filson
William Lawrence
Daniel Applegott
William Leeds
Joseph signs and dates the will December 7, 1688.
March 26, 1689 then Approved before his William Lawrence(etc), And did testify That they see Joseph Grover sign Seal and acknowledge this within written testament to be his Last Will and testament there being in Sound and perfect memory On March 26, 1689, one day after Joseph died, four witnesses signed the will, stating that they knew he had made it when he was healthy and thinking clearly.

Joseph Grover, Last Will and Testament, 1688. New-York Historical Society Library.


In England and its colonies, women lived according to the common law practice of coverture. Coverture meant that married women were always under the legal and economic control of the men in their lives. This practice existed because it was widely believed that women were not intelligent or competent enough to appear in court or make business deals on their own. Before marriage, a woman’s interests were handled by her father. After marriage, that responsibility passed to her husband. This changeover was symbolized by a woman taking her husband’s last name. The hope was that this practice would allow married women to focus on tending their homes and raising their children without having to worry about the larger world around them. But it left women trapped in the roles of daughter and wife, with very few chances of following a different path. And if a woman was a widow or had an irresponsible male guardian, there was little she could do to make her life better.

Some husbands and fathers left their wives and daughters better off, but they had no legal responsibility to do so.

About the Resources

This 1688 will by Joseph Grover, an English landowner in New Jersey, shows how the inheritance laws and customs of English society left women and girls with little chance of breaking out of their status as subordinates to the men in their lives.


  • appurtenance: An object that is used with or for something.
  • assigns: People chosen to receive land.
  • bequeath: Pass on.
  • chattel: A personal possession; can sometimes be used to refer to enslaved people, but not always.
  • coverture: A common law practice where women fell under the legal and economic oversight of their husbands upon marriage.
  • decease: Death.
  • dispossessing: Disposal.
  • executor: Person assigned to carry out the terms of the will.
  • inheritance: The things a person receives from someone who has passed away.
  • patent: Deed.
  • seal: A wax stamp with the symbol of the person who wrote a document.
  • sow: A female pig.
  • steers: Male cattle.
  • swine: Pigs.
  • tract: Area.
  • will and testament: A legal document where a person describes how they want their belongings distributed after their death.

Discussion Questions

  • What does this will reveal about the status of women in the English colonies?
  • Why does the sex of Joseph and Hannah’s unborn child change their inheritance?
  • Why would Joseph favor his sons over his daughters in his will?

Suggested Activities

  • Couple this document with William Blackstone’s description of coverture, and ask your students to consider how this will (1) fits in with the common law practice of coverture, and (2) limits the prospects of Joseph’s wife and daughters.
  • Ask students to use the descriptions of Joseph’s family and property in this will to reconstruct what daily life looked like for a farmer in colonial New Jersey.
  • Compare and contrast the inheritance practices of the English colonists and their nearest colonial neighbors by combining this document with the life stories of Johanna de Laet and Weetamoo.
  • Teach this document along with Sybilla Masters’s patent for curing corn for a more holistic picture of how coverture practices inhibited women in the English colonies.
  • Women who fell outside the bounds of coverture—widows and unmarried women—were vulnerable to other forms of social control and coercion. Ask students to read this document along with the witchcraft trial of Jeane Gardiner and the life story of Dennis and Hannah Holland, and then write a paper about how the practice of coverture affected the lives of all women in the English colonies.
  • Compare and contrast the legal and economic rights of Colonial French, Spanish, Dutch and English women by coupling this document with the life story of Charlotte-Françoise Juchereau de Saint-Dennis, the marriage contract of Doña María del Pino Argote, and the life story of Johanna de Laet.



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