Children and married women received great protection under the early California law. On some occasions this protection went to such limit as to constitute a great injustice to persons dealing with them. Take the following case.
In Contra Costa County that territory upon which is now located St. Mary's College was a part of the grant made by the Mexican Government to Joaquin Moraga, and which upon his death descended to his heirs, one of whom was his daughter Guadalupe Moraga, who received a one-tenth of the Moraga Ranch. She died in 1856 leaving her tenth interest to her two daughters, Merced and Francisca. This interest was subject to a long existing mortgage and after the death of Guadalupe, the mortgage holder threatened to foreclose as he wanted his money. The amount due was on $600 but the girls who now owned the property were having difficulty in raising the money. They both had married although they were still under 18 years of age, and their husbands suggested to them that possibly they could find someone willing to loan them the money on a new mortgage with which to pay the old mortgage.
A chap named Villar came along about this time and agreed to give them the $600 provided they executed a mortgage to him. So with all the formalities required by the law Merced and her husband and Francisca and her husband executed a mortgage to Villar and with the $600 cleared the property of the old mortgage. A little later Francisca and her husband being short of money went to a man named Granada and in exchange for $200 gave him a properly executed mortgage on Francisca's share of the Moraga Ranch. Mercedes, followed the example of the sister, and she and her husband executed a mortgage upon her share of the property to a man named Brown, like-wise for $200. So there were then three mortgages upon the property aggregating $1000 and all executed by the married Moraga girls, both of whom were still under 18 years of age.
In those days a girl became of age when she reached her 18th year. That is a girl arrived at her majority at 18 although a boy did not become of age until he was 21. When Mercedes and Francisca became of age they evidently had consulted an attorney well versed in the law for each of them immediately disaffirmed and refused to be bound by their mortgages, upon the grounds that they were under age at the time they signed them. The respective mortgage holders immediately commenced foreclosure suits, saying to the Court that they had given these girls an aggregate of $1000, in good faith upon the security of the mortgages signed by the girls and respective husbands, and they could see no reason why the mortgages should not be paid, or the property foreclosed against.
The girls answered saying "We were minors at the time you gave us the $1000, and therefore you should have known better than to do it and so it is just your hard luck. You will have to kiss the $1000 goodbye." The mortgagees said it is true you were under 18 but you were married and that made you considered as of age in the eyes of the law. But the eyes of the law were rather dim or else well blindfolded because the Court said a girl under 18 is a minor even though she be a married minor, and the law says a contract with a minor is void, therefore mortgage holders, your mortgages with these two minors, Mercedes and Francisca are void, no good and of no value, and you have no interest in the Moraga Ranch whatsoever. For your $1000 you get nothing but experience plus the fact that you were lucky that you didn't loan these two young Moragans any more than $1000.
Copyright © 2001-2017, Contra Costa County Historical Society, all rights reserved.