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Durant's Neck attorney beat the odds as a woman

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By Becky Stiles
Columnist

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Quite often I’m asked if I live in Durant’s Neck, and too many times to count, I’ve received mail that is addressed to Durant’s Neck instead of Hertford. I do not, in fact, live in Durant’s Neck, but I’m not too far from the peninsula in Perquimans County. I’m not a North Carolina native, having been born and raised in Virginia, and upon my high school graduation moved with my parents to Hertford, N.C., which is not Durant’s Neck.

I’ve been working with the Museum of the Albemarle for five years now, and I can honestly say that I’m still learning new things everyday about the Albemarle region, more specifically Perquimans County. Did you know Perquimans County means “The Land of Beautiful Women” or that Perquimans is not pronounced “Perky Mans.”

After being mistaken for living in Durant’s Neck for so long, I’ve decided to learn a little more about the people after whom Durant’s Neck is named. George Durant, who is sometimes called the “Father of North Carolina,” was an attorney general and speaker of the House of Burgesses in the Province of Carolina. Together with Nathaniel Batts, a fur trader, and Richard Batts, a sea captain, they explored the Albemarle Sound. By 1622, he was living in Virginia on a piece of property adjacent to the Albemarle Sound, which became part of the Carolina colony in 1665, and would subsequently become known as Durant’s Neck.

The more interesting part of George Durant’s life is who he married. Ann Marwood married George Durant on Jan. 4, 1659, and along with her husband, settled on the peninsula of Durant’s Neck. Although George Durant was a significant part of North Carolina history, this writer thinks Ann Marwood Durant was just as significant. On May 25, 1673, she would become the first woman acting in capacity of an attorney in North Carolina. According to one source she became an attorney without attending law school or taking the bar exam; neither was required in 1673. Women have been fighting for their rights for a very long time: the 19th Amendment gave voting rights to women in 1920; in 1964, the 24th Amendment outlawed poll taxes, removing major barriers to the African-American vote. But in 1673, Ann Durant was beating a lot of odds stacked against her to become the first woman attorney in North Carolina.

Being an attorney wasn’t her only responsibility, because in George’s frequent absence, she ran their household, providing accommodations for officials attending meetings for the Assembly and Council often held at their residence. It was at Durant’s Neck, right at their settlement, that the first public structures in North Carolina, such as stocks and pillories, were built. Prisoners were sometimes held at the Durant’s settlement as well. On top of her own work, and running her and her husband’s household, she raised their nine children. Women are capable of a lot, and if anyone proved that time and again, it was Ann Marwood Durant.

In the bit of research and articles I skimmed through to write this article, I found that there wasn’t much in historical record about Ann Durant outside of being an attorney, running an intense household, and raising nine children. It is stated that she did outlive her husband, but only by a year. Ann Durant often appeared in court on her own behalf, usually to sue for debts owed to her, or as a defendant in suits against her. She fought for herself constantly, and stood her own ground when the time called for it, because at the end of the day the only person you can rely on is yourself.

Becky Stiles is an administrative assistant at Museum of the Albemarle.

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