On this day in 1777, Georgia formally adopts a new state constitution and becomes the first U.S. state to abolish the inheritance practices of primogeniture and entail.
Primogeniture ensured that the eldest son in a family inherited the largest portion of his father’s property upon the father’s death. The practice of entail, guaranteeing that a landed estate remain in the hands of only one male heir, was frequently practiced in conjunction with primogeniture. (Virginia abolished entail in 1776, but permitted primogeniture to persist until 1785.)
Georgians restructured inheritance laws in Article LI of the state’s constitution by abolishing entail in all forms and proclaiming that any person who died without a will would have his or her estate divided equally among their children; the widow shall have a child’s share, or her dower at her option.
The British colonies in North America, and particularly the southern colonies, were known as a haven for younger sons of the British gentry. Most famously, Benjamin Franklin announced in his autobiography that he was the youngest Son of the youngest Son for 5 Generations back. Moving to the colonies was an attractive option for younger sons like Franklin because there younger sons could take their monetary inheritance and build up their own estates, whereas primogeniture and entail prevented them from inheriting similar estates in the mother country.