From the Junior Miss Department

If you have researched families in 17th and 18th century New England, you have probably learned that the label “junior,” when applied to a name, does not have the same meaning it does today.  Back then, “junior” signified that there was another, older person of that name, in the same community.  Unlike today, that older person need not be the father, or even a relative.  It could be an entirely unrelated person.  The point was to clearly distinguish the two men, in court records, tax records, etc.

The label could change over a person’s lifetime.  So, John Smith Junior might be called “John Smith” (without the junior) after the older John Smith passed away.  This can be an important clue.  For example, I had a case where land was sold by a Thomas Fowler, where he referred to the land as “that parcel which I by the name of Thomas Fowler Junbought.”  That suggested that Thomas Fowler Senior died (or moved away) sometime between when the land was bought and sold.

You do not typically, in the 18th century, see the junior/senior distinction applied to women.  Why not?  Generally, women had very limited ability to own property, to buy or sell land.  A woman’s economic and legal identity was subsumed into her father’s, and then with her husband’s.  Even though many girls were named after their mothers or grandmothers, the practice of calling the younger one “junior” had little legal necessity and never really established itself as a convention.

I know of only a single exception, before the 20th century, and that is Abigail Dean Junior of Exeter New Hampshire.  She was the second daughter named Abigail (the first died in infancy) of John and Abigail (Lord) Dean.  John was the son of Thomas Dean, Exeter’s first physician.  Abigail was born at Exeter, 13 July 1753 and died there on 13 March 1777, unmarried, at the age of 23.  Thus we see the odd case, the exception to the rule.  Abigail was, for a brief period of time, an adult woman who could own property, who had enough property to be worth accounting for, but who was not yet married.

Her will, written 5 February 1777 and proved 26 March 1777 (Rockingham County Probate, Old Series Papers No. 4329), gives a sense of what a young woman of her age and class might have owned and thought important:

In the name of god amen the Fifth day of February annoque Domini one thousand seven hundred and seventy seven, I Abigail Dean junior of Exeter in the province of New Hampshire and County of Rockingham being sick and week But of a sound mind and memory…

…give unto my honored mother all my wearing apparel.

to my brother Ward Clark Dean…all claim which I have…of that house which was my grandfather Deans where my said brother now lives.

to my brother John Dean…all my land called the oak lawn about six acres…being part of that land which my honored father bought of mr Thomas Lord…being set of to me as a part of my share in the Estate of my honored Father deceased… also that wharf…which my father owned in Newmarket…also all my other estate both real and personal…which I shall not other ways dispose of in this my Last will and Testament…

to my brother Thomas Dean that gold ring of mine which hath the date of my grandmother Deans Death on it…

to my brother Nathaniel Dean my gold ring on which the inscription on it [:] let virtue be thy guide

my brother Benjamin Dean my stone buttons

my brother Eliphalet Dean my silver buckles

my sister Elizabeth Dean[,] my brother Ward Clark Deans wife[,] my white stays.

little Deborah Dean[,] daughter to my brother Ward Clark Dean[,] my green silk gown.

a little Abigail Dean[,] if their [sic] should be one[,] my stone jewells

my brother John Dean of Exeter aforesaid sole Executor of this my will and last testament.

Witnesses: Samuel Gilman 4th, Nicholas Gilman Junr, Samuel Odiorne.

Have you come across a “junior miss” in your research? I’d be interested in hearing about other cases. Let me know in the comments.

1 thought on “From the Junior Miss Department”

  1. I have several ancestors who were hanged as witches in 1692 Salem, as well as a 9th great aunt named Ann (Carr) Putnam who testified against several witches, and her 13 year old daughter, Ann Putnam, Jr. who also testified. You can see the “Jr.” in the court records, which helped to specify which Ann was testifying – the mother or the daughter.

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