For years I wrongly concluded that Sarah Greenleaf was someone's widow, having been married before. A closer look, however, reveals something different.
"Mrs.," an abbreviated form of mistress, was defined in Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary1 as follows:
A woman who governs: correlative to subject or to servant.
A woman who possesses faculties uninjured.
A woman skilled in any thing.
A woman teacher.
A woman beloved and courted.
A term of contemptuous address.
A whore; a concubine.
Notice marital status was not included! Further research shows Sarah Greenleaf was the unmarried daughter of Joseph and Thomasin (Mayo) Greenleaf, a family of prominence in Newbury, Essex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay. In this instance, the term "Mrs." clearly recognized Sarah's position in society!