Deborah Moody

Memorial in Lady Moody Square, Gravesend, Brooklyn

Deborah, Lady Moody (born Deborah Dunch) (1586–1659?) was the only woman to start a village in colonial America; she was the first female landowner in the New World.[1] She had an unusual influence in a society dominated by men, and was described by contemporaries as "a dangerous woman."


Deborah was born in London in 1586, the daughter of Walter Dunch of Avebury Manor in Wiltshire and his wife, Deborah, the daughter of James Pilkington, Bishop of Durham. Walter's father was Sir William Dunch, the Auditor of the Royal Mint. Deborah married Sir Henry Moody, a marriage that granted her the formal title of Lady. She became a widow by 1629.[2]

Lady Moody left England in 1639 due to religious persecution having adopted Anabaptist beliefs.[3] She settled first in Saugus, Massachusetts, but left there in 1643 after being admonished by the Puritan leaders for failing to conform to their religious beliefs. Many others with the same religious beliefs left with her.

She led her group of religious dissenters fleeing persecution to found the town of Gravesend in 1643 in the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The people from Gravesend were granted religious freedom, which was unusual for that period, and the Quaker faith took root among them. Deborah Moody became influential in New Netherland and had good relations with governor Peter Stuyvesant. She died at Gravesend in 1659 and is believed to be buried in Old Gravesend Cemetery.[4] Today, the area is part of Brooklyn in New York City with the original town square still evident in the street layout.

In 2014, Moody was recognized for her work founding the town of Gravesend in a winning site of Built by Women New York City,[5] a competition launched by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation during the fall of 2014 to identify outstanding and diverse sites and spaces designed, engineered and built by women.


  1. Waisman, Charlotte S.; Jill S. Tietjen (2008). Her Story. Collins. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-06-124651-7.
  2. Cooper, A Dangerous Woman: New York's First Lady Liberty, Heritage Books, 1995.
  3. "Lady Deborah Moody". National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.
  4. Bradley T. Frandsen; Joan R. Olshansky; Elizabeth Spencer-Ralph (December 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Registration:Old Gravesend Cemetery". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-02-20.
  5. "Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation Hosts Leadership Awards Gala, Kicks off Built By Women Exhibition". Architectural Record. Retrieved March 8, 2015.

Further reading

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