In 1755, what is the oldest age a minor child could be?

+4 votes
In a will in 1755, what is the oldest age a minor child could be?
WikiTree profile: Dola Acree
in The Tree House by Dola Acree G2G6 (7.2k points)
Dola, sorry I don't know the answer, but I think it will depend on where in the world you're talking about.  If you can provide the country you're interested in, it will be easier for someone to answer.
Sorry.  In 1755 in British Colonial America, what is the oldest age a minor child could be?
21 was the age of majority in British law until relatively recently, and this would have applied to the North American colonies at the time.
For a will, it means under 21 most of the time. There are a couple things where it could be different, like acting as a witness or being taxable.
Those under 21 would still have been minors even when they were regarded as of sufficient capacity to do certain legal things. Minors have long been, and still are, caught by taxation, and able to testify in court etc.
Michael, it depends on what the exact expression is. "Minor" isn't used very much in that context - "of age" is the most frequent term I've seen, and that can be dependent on the legal context. In a will, it usually implies 21, though better drafters tend to be specific about the number.

2 Answers

+5 votes
In most of Colonial America, a child reached majority at 21. It is possible some of the colonies were different.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (448k points)
Thank you, Doug.
+6 votes

Following is a partial answer provided by Bob's Genealogy Filing Cabinet, which has many interesting genealogy articles. The full article is here.

Actions Only Adults Could Perform

Under British common law, full majority was reached at the age of 21.  Anyone under 21 was legally an infant.  Only persons who had reached majority could perform certain legal actions:

  • Buy or sell land without restriction
  • Vote or hold public office
  • Patent land
  • Devise land in a will
  • Execute a bond or promissory note
  • Bring suit in one’s own name
  • Be sued in one’s own name
  • Serve on a jury
  • Act as a guardian
  • Marry without parental consent

Actions Minors Could Perform

Some legal actions did not require that a person be 21.  For some legal actions, the law merely required that the person be judged capable of discretion.  The age of 14 was generally accepted under common law as the age of discretion, and in rare individual cases (particularly females) it could be even lower.  A minor could be judged by courts to be capable, just as an elderly person or an idiot could be judged to be incapable.  Further, a father could give or withhold some or all of the rights of majority to a child, by “giving freedom”, though actually finding such a record is quite rare.

Generally speaking, children aged 14 and over could legitimately perform a variety of legal actions:

  • Choose their guardian, or replace an existing guardian
  • Apprentice themselves without parental consent
  • Bequeath personal property (but not real property) in a will
  • Witness deeds and contracts
  • Testify in court

Boys aged 16 and over were obliged to serve in militias and could obligate themselves to military service without the consent of parents in most of the colonies.

Children aged 17 and over could act as an executor so long as other actions by adults were not required.  (This is a relatively rare occurrence.)

by Jim Parish G2G6 Pilot (159k points)

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