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  • The Business of Marriage

    par Hannah Reece février 13, 2024 25 lire la lecture

    The Business of Marriage

    by Tyler Sherman

    Imagine meeting someone and experiencing that feeling of overwhelming attraction. You know you want to court and maybe even marry this person, but it isn’t that simple. In colonial America, the process of courting, and ultimately marriage, was somewhat complex and didn’t always come down to love. In some respects, marriage was more of a business contract among families than a relationship based solely on love. To parents, love was less critical than what could be gained or what they could afford. The latter half of the 18th century and early 19th century saw a massive shift in courtship and marriage, as parents lost much of their influence over the children’s choice of spouse. For much of the 18th century, however, marriage was the elephant in the room for any budding relationship, and parents played a vital role in the decisions made regarding one’s romantic life. 

    Courting for Marriage 

    In the early 18th century, colonial American parents viewed marriage as a business deal more than a relationship between two people. The Puritans believed that love followed marriage if arranged successfully. The keys were religious piety, economic status, and commonality. But the business deal was paramount, leading them to treat courtship in much the same manner as the marriage itself. 

    Due to common laws brought over from Britain, a young woman was under the control and influence of her father until she married. Only after marriage did guardianship pass from father to groom. This guardianship afforded a father the ultimate say in who his daughter courted and even married. However, while a child as young as 7 could be betrothed, there was usually a certain amount of discretion held by a young woman in choosing her partner (and vice versa) so long as they followed the rules. In the case of betrothal, the agreement could be nullified any time before the age of consent -- between 10 and 12 years old -- was reached by either party. As for choice, the same applied to men. If a man met a woman he fancied, he would call upon her father and ask permission to court her. A failure to do so could result in restrictions placed on the couple’s inheritance if they were to marry without permission. Further, a father could sue the man under the law for inveigling the woman’s affections. 

    If a young man did pluck up the courage to approach a woman’s father and was given permission, what ensued would be part romance and part interview. The man was permitted to write letters to his love interest and she to respond in kind. An example is a letter from John Adams to his future wife, Abigail: “Miss Adorable, By the same Token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 OClock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account: This Order, or Requisition call it which you will is in Consideration of a similar order Upon Aurelia for the like favour, and I presume I have good Right to draw upon you for the Kisses as I have given two or three Millions at least, when one has been received, and of Consequence the Account between us is immensely in favour of yours, John Adams.  

    Such correspondence continued from 1762 until the couple married in 1764, revealing the depth of affection they held for one another. The letters illustrate perfectly that love was not utterly absent in the process of courtship and marriage 

    If the prospective couple lived relatively close to each other, they would often be permitted social visits to determine their compatibility. Courtship was a private event as far as society was concerned, but far from intimate when it came to parents’ involvement.  Rather than taking place in public, visits were usually limited to a parlor or the porch of the daughter’s family home, where her father could keep a watchful eye. In more rural areas, however, it was common for couples to share a bed.  Of course, particular countermeasures, such as a bundling bag, were taken to ensure no wrongdoing; parents placed a heavy sack over one or both of the couple individually, varying from being tied just at the waist to wrapping their entire bodies and tying them at the neck. Other countermeasures included placing a board between them or ensuring they remained fully dressed -- “bundling.” One can imagine these measures were easy for the couple to overcome if so inclined, and evidence shows that over time couples were indeed apt to ignore the countermeasures their parents had set in place. 

    Pregnancy before marriage was not as common at the beginning of the century. However, there was a peak in the middle of the 18th century among all classes, especially during the Revolutionary War. This shift was one of many large changes that resulted in a difference in the way courtship and marriages were handled. 

    A Century of Change 

    At the beginning of the 18th century, marriage was a transaction in which families could combine property and wealth, ensuring their status and continuation. This concept was adopted by British settlers and had been in practice for centuries. Parents played a vital role in the marriages of their children. In particular, fathers had sole control over a family’s wealth and property. However, as the century unfolded, their role in their children’s marriages and the control they once held changed dramatically.  

    An example of this shift is seen in the spike of premarital pregnancies that occurred around the middle of the 18th century. During much of the 17th century and early 18th century, courting couples were carefully observed by their fathers, who had the support of the church and the courts. Some statistics state that the number of marriages in which the bride was pregnant was as low as 10 percent during this period, though other reports suggest spikes as high as 25 percent, especially among the lower class. This number rose significantly as the century progressed, and by the middle of the 18th century, between 30 and 40 percent of brides were pregnant at the time of their weddings, some visibly so.  

    These statistics are surprising, considering that not all sexual encounters resulted in pregnancy. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the stigma around premarital intercourse started to fade as the century wore on. With the rise of premarital sex came a shift in how laws were designed to prevent it. Punishments shifted from corporal to monetary, and offenders were often given a choice between a fine or whippings. Further, there was a decline in bundling, which by the latter half of the century was waning in most colonies. Contempt for the practice is described in an anonymous poem titled “A New Bundling Song; Or a reproof to those Young Country Women, who follow that reproachful Practice, and to their Mothers for upholding them therein.”   

    Though most of these premarital pregnancies led to marriage, there were, of course, incidents in which a man would run off or refuse marriage. In John Collett’s painting “The Affiliation (after William Hogarth),” a pregnant woman swears on a Bible before the magistrate that the man in question is indeed the father. This painting is a perfect representation of such an event, with the mother trying to avoid not only the stigma but the unfortunate possibility of her child falling under what was known as the Bastardy law. Adopted from English common law, it stated that bastard children were considered illegitimate and had no standing within society. These children had no right to inherit from their families, and their parents could be charged with fornication for having children out of wedlock.  

    There also came a shift in how inheritances were passed down. The Puritans of New England tended to follow, if a bit loosely, a certain rule of inheritance whereby the oldest son would inherit the most; the younger down the line one was, the less he got. This practice often caused families to hold off on marrying their sons. This, in turn, allowed for the oldest son to marry into a wealthy station while the younger sons wouldn’t necessarily do so. In the 18th century, fathers started to equally divide their property among their sons, meaning the realm of suitors was similar, too. This resulted in greater freedom among sons to choose their future brides or the ability to marry up if the father was willing to dish out a bit more, as well as the erosion of the father’s parental authority to hold off marriage until a son was in his late 20s. A father had complete discretion as to when he wanted to dole out an inheritance, and it was common to wait until his son was a bit older before agreeing to the marriage to prepare for the inheritance in the marriage settlement. With greater freedom in choice of suitor came a greater freedom in the timing of marriage.  

    The erosion of parental influence over the choice of suitors spread like wildfire among men and women alike.  It became more common for a daughter to outright reject the suitors her father had found and to make her own decisions regarding her love life. Parents who did not agree with the marriage often forced their children to marry in secret. Known as clandestine or fleet marriages, these unions were seen by the public as a stain on the family and in some states even considered illegal. This pressured parents to be more understanding and to allow their children to choose their spouses-to-be.  

    Despite these changes, there was still a system that many refused to disobey for fear of what society might say. While there was much more freedom for those in the lower and middle classes, those in the upper class of wealth were ruled by status and reputation. 


    Class and Marriage 

    In marriage, class played an important role in the decisions made regarding a suitor. Even with the drastic changes in the 18th century surrounding marriage and the selection of a suitor, some rules must be disobeyed. Yet for others these rules seldom existed in the first place, and for them the views of society only eased as the ideas around marriage softened. 

    Women of status and wealth were expected to find proper suitors to maintain the status of their families and expand their wealth. In the first part of the century, it was not uncommon for a father to find a companion suitable to his daughter’s station and to deny anyone of interest who was not. As time went on, women of status also saw greater freedom in choosing their suitors and rejecting those their fathers had chosen. Yet they were still expected to choose from among those that would benefit the family and allow her to keep her status in society.  

    Also, women of status were held to a different standard when it came to premarital relations. Chastity was considered one of a bride’s most prominent attributes, as it was believed that women who had been involved in affairs of a more physical nature were no longer innocent and needed a man’s control. Furthermore, suitors wanted to know the children were theirs and not the offspring of another man. Not until late in the century did this way of thinking shift, as society started to view upper-class women as above this level of degradation. They were too fair to be affected by the tendrils of lust. Still, chastity was considered vital unless there was a question of fertility. 

    Similarly, men were expected to court and marry women at or above their station, if possible, to gain more wealth and status. While there are reports of men having a bit more leeway in this, society might still cast a certain amount of shame on the family’s name. Another important difference was the view of premarital relations. While chastity cast more of a sinister shadow on women, men were often not held to the same standard. Under the Bastardy laws, women could not avoid the accusation of fornication when they had children outside marital bonds, while men had a better chance of getting away with it unless they were accused of being the father.  

    The middle class, on the other hand, had more freedom all around. Virtually nonexistent in the early half of the 18th century, the upper and lower middle class grew in the latter half, and had more freedom of choice in marriage. Men of the middle class seemed to have complete authority in choosing their suitors. While most tended to stay within the middle class or tried to shoot for the upper class to obtain more wealth and status, it was a bit harder for them, as women of the upper class were expected to stay within their realm, not step down to a lower class. As the century progressed, this relaxed a bit as love started to trump wealth, but not by much. Middle-class women, however, were still very much expected to find someone who would bring more wealth to the family than what it possessed. Again, there was a bit more freedom, but it was considered to be more of a stain on the family if a daughter did not marry into wealth than a son.  

    The lower class saw the biggest change in freedom. In essence, it is a silly notion that poverty can pass poverty to another family via marriage. Because wealth and status were not an issue among the lower class of colonial America, the men and women of this class had far more freedom in choosing partners. In Puritan America, it was far more important among the lower class to have a “helpmate” who could share equally the responsibilities in maintaining a family and property. While this concept was true to an extent among all classes, it was considered vital among those of the lower class, as they had to rely completely on each other to maintain their households. Premarital relations were considered somewhat normal among both the poorer and middle classes once the couple was committed to each other. Because of their class, status among the social elite was relatively nonexistent and therefore unimportant to the majority of the poorer population. This, in turn, provided lower-class men and women with a freedom that those stuck in the vicious chaos of the wealthier class were not afforded.  

    Even so, parents did play a role in the choice of suitors as their right by common law, though their influence was much diminished in the eyes of their children. In the upper echelons of society, fathers often played a more vital role in ensuring their families’ status and wealth were kept in check; among the lower class, this issue was almost nonexistent. As such, a man asking a father for permission to court and eventually to marry his daughter was more a respectful tradition than anything else. After all, due to common laws adopted from Britain, a father still had a certain level of control over his daughter until she married, allowing for some power. A father could deny a marriage if he felt the need, and so young men often held to tradition and asked for permission before engaging in either activity. If a father deemed a boy a worthy companion from sound stock, the relationship would commence.  

    If all went well, no matter the couple’s class, a young man would once again ask her father’s permission for her hand in marriage. Thus began the often long and drawn-out process of the marriage settlement, in which families essentially bought their way into a beneficial alliance before their children committed to a marriage contract. 

    Contracts and Settlements 

    While marriages were happening among couples more out of love than ever before, the matter of status and wealth lurked like a dark shadow. Once the happy couple was permitted to marry, the arrangements often turned over to the parents of both the son and the daughter so that they might hash out the grittier details of the union. A man was expected to bring an inheritance of a property that the young couple would receive from his father. Meanwhile, the daughter’s father was expected to pay a dowry, which normally amounted to about half the total value of the land provided. Of course, the daughter’s family could pay the equivalent in land or other such items, and vice versa depending on the source of its wealth. The point of a dowry was for the family to provide a certain amount of wealth that would be used to take care of their daughter for life and in the case that she became a widow.  

    These heated debates sometimes resulted in what was called a marriage settlement. The settlement covered several different topics, often starting with the contributions of land and wealth from both families and a dowry that would provide for the bride. In addition, the families would set up their estates for inheritance. The father of the groom would set up what is sometimes referred to as a strict settlement, in which he would lay out the inheritance of his children from his estate. In the 18th century, the idea of trustees had become the normal mode of setting up the contingent remainders to ensure that all the father’s children were accounted for without the eldest son meddling. The trust could be laid out in such a way that the estate could not be broken down or sold, ensuring that his children and future family would be taken care of. Oftentimes, the eldest son was to become the life tenant, or owner of the property, until death. In other words, the life tenant could control the estate so long as he stayed within the terms in which the trust was created, eventually renewing the agreement to care for his children.  

    A dowry was another way that the daughter’s family could assure she was taken care of. Dowries were paid by the daughter’s family to ensure that, in the case of her husband dying, she as a widow would have a sum of money on which to survive, as she was entitled to little else. Negotiations in concern to the dowry could sometimes result in the husband being paid a certain amount upfront while the rest was put in a trust or into the estate for later use. It was also a way for the family to ensure her continued welfare throughout the marriage The process of paying off this dower in the event of the husband's death was often hashed out with a deadline set by which the estate had to pay her. The dower on the other end of widowhood often consisted of a third of the estate that her husband owned if there were children and a half if there were not due to inheritance. This distribution of property was called a “life estate” and was not actually owned by the widow but was set aside to provide for her in place of her husband. Upon her death, the property would revert to the proper heirs of the estate unless money was owed to creditors. Of course, the husband might leave more to his widow if he was so inclined but could never leave less than what was owed in the dower.  

    In turn, any property the wife brought into the contract was usually meant to stay within the family. Thus, it was determined within the negotiations that while the wife may not directly own the property, she must consent to it being sold. This would allow for her to decide between keeping the property in the hands of her children. In Puritan New England, this idea went directly against their moral understanding of the family unit. Puritans believed that for such a unit to be strong, the husband must be in control and make the decisions in the best interest of his family. While there were measures in place to ensure that the wife was not coerced into signing documents via a private audience with a judge, these methods were not favored. However, in colonies such as New York, their beliefs followed the lines of a partnership and therefore were more stringent on ensuring that coercion was nonexistent in these sales.  

    Marriage settlements could often last days, and it was not uncommon for the bride and groom to not even be present during the negotiations. After all, they did not hold the wealth and therefore had very little say. More often than not, the fathers of each made the necessary decisions to ensure the financial security of their families and the stability of their grandchildren.  

    A strong example of what the negotiations might look like is seen in William Hogarth’s painting “The Marriage Settlement,” appropriately. The painting is the first in a series titled “Marriage A-la-Mode”. The National Gallery describes it this way: “The Earl of Squander is negotiating the marriage of his son to the daughter of a rich Alderman of the City of London. The Alderman’s family will acquire an aristocratic title through the marriage; the Earl will get his hands on ready cash, which has already been emptied out from the money bags onto the table. 

    The Earl’s son and Alderman’s daughter have no interest in each other or the marriage. A foxhound and bitch, chained together round the neck, anticipate the bonds of matrimony that will soon tie them together. The large black spot on the groom’s neck and his fashionable French dress suggest he has picked up syphilis, known as the French disease, on his travels.” 

    While the painting is of English nobility, it is a clear representation of what transpired among the wealthy, even in colonial America. In the case of this couple, the marriage was not about love at all, but rather about wealth and status among the elite. While arranged marriages did happen, they were not as commonplace as one might be led to believe. Far more often the parents in colonial America were likely to listen to the protests of their children and seek elsewhere for a possible suitor, provided that they follow the rules. 

    Once the negotiations were done and the marriage settlement concluded, the actual ceremony could take place. For the lower class, common-law marriages were easy to perform and required little preparation. This particular type of marriage ceremony was a spoken marriage contract, which did not require witnesses or even a figurehead to officiate the vows. However, it was considered prudent to have witnesses as proof that the vows did take place in case one party in the coupling later tried to renege on the marriage. This spoken marriage, which followed the settlers from their motherland of England, was known as hand-fasting. Another form of spoken contract was spousal engagement, in which the couple promised to take their vows at a future date. If pregnancy occurred during this period, however, the marriage immediately came into effect.   

    Further, marriage banns were also a requirement before being married, and in some colonies used as an unofficial way by which a couple was married. Marriage banns were an announcement to the community of the couple’s intention to marry. If the couple came from two different parishes, banns must be placed in both to ensure that all known members had a chance to hear it. It was intended that anyone who had legal grounds to oppose the marriage may have the knowledge and time to do so. Though the laws surrounding banns varied between colonies, the concept was often the same. Banns could be posted to the door of the church in the community, read aloud in the church or even be announced by the couple. These announcements lasted for three consecutive meetings of the church before the marriage could take place and was oftentimes a requirement to receive a marriage certificate to assure there were no legal objections such as not being of legal age, one of the pair still being married, or close relation. In some colonies, such as North Carolina, banns were an unofficial way for the lower class to be married, as they could not afford a marriage certificate. It wasn't until the mid-18th century that North Carolina created a statute that allowed these banns to result in marriage so long as they were read aloud by a clergyman of the Church of England.  

    In places where the couple was not well known, the groom could get a marriage bond. This bond was designed to fill the void as couples began to venture out from their homes into the frontier and seldom knew anyone. The groom signed a document and paid a set fee, attesting that there were no legal grounds for the couple to not be wed. If in fact there was reasoning, the fee from the bond was forfeited and the marriage was thrown out.  

    If the couple did decide to have a ceremony and seek a marriage certificate, they were required to pay a fee. This was one reason that many opted out of formal marriages and instead resorted to hand-fastings or common-law marriages when legal.  Ceremonies were often in the brides parents home with kin and neighbors. Depending on location and religious beliefs, a priest might be asked to officiate and give his blessing on the union. Blacksmiths were also asked on occasion, using the anvil as a symbol of the forming of a bond. Puritans often had governing officials presiding over weddings, seeing a marriage more as a contract and therefore being official business. They allowed for a religious entity to provide a sermon dedicated to the couple if so desired.  

    For the upper echelon of society, it was often the case that the wedding was more of an affair. It was common for a date to be planned in the winter months, as much of the elite were living closer together during this time before escaping to their country estates when the weather was fairer. These affairs were far more grandiose than their poorer counterparts. There were feasts and dancing after the vows were taken. A bride often wore a colorful dress imported for the occasion, though the dress would see much use in future social functions. Marriages became more and more a time of celebration, and even the Puritans began to partake in the festivities of marriage. 

    Laws and Expectations 

    Despite class, there were certain expectations in a marriage that centered on gender roles. A man was expected to have dealings in business, war, and politics. He was the head of the family unit, and as such, was expected to make the important decisions and bring home the wealth and status of the family. It was also the man that handled all of the internal finances of the household. Oftentimes, he would dole out a certain stipend to his wife to be used within certain time intervals. This was because a woman in a marriage was guaranteed a life beneficial to the station of the family. A husband could not leave his wife destitute or force her to live in a way that was beneath their wealth. After all, a dowry was given by the family of the wife to ensure that she was taken care of in such a manner.  In the lower classes, the men often worked the fields, sometimes with their children. In the Dutch and German communities, it was not uncommon to find wives working the field as well.  

    In contrast, the role of the wife in colonial America had largely to do with the family unit itself. Reproduction was the main task as a wife, and to be unable to have children was seen as a failure, unclean, and a punishment by God. Society's view could be very harsh on a wife that could not produce heirs. If a family was had, however, then it was up to the wife to raise the children appropriately in both the eyes of society and the church. Other duties that befall a wife of the time could include animal husbandry, cooking, cleaning, mending of clothes, and any other tasks of a household nature. A wife of wealth often had servants to maintain several of these tasks, but it was up to her to ensure that the servants were completing their jobs. She would throw social functions when necessary to keep in good standing, maintain the children's education and ensure the image of a proper lady of the time.  

    In the lower class, a wife was the catch-all for everything that the husband did not do. It is why the Puritans often believed so fervently in finding a "helpmate" that would be nothing but beneficial to the household. It was very much a partnership to ensure their survival and the continuation of their family, regardless of status or circumstance. In some cases, these wives would work as servants to higher class families to bring in extra income. It was often up to the wife to ensure that the family's budget was adhered to. In other instances, it was not uncommon for wives to manufacture homemade goods to bring in extra money such as dairy products or sewing projects among other things. While the wife would make these products, it was up to the husband to sell them and collect the money.  

    These roles were unwritten laws that flowed seamlessly within the communities of colonial America much like the common laws that were brought over by the English settlers. Many of the laws that governed marriage and even the day-to-day lives of the citizens of the colonies were not written, but rather simply existed within society. It did not make it any less law, however. Coverture was one such law that was adopted by the colonists from England. The law dictated that a woman was subservient to her husband and that they were identified legally as one person. In other words, in the eyes of the law, a woman did not exist outside of his identity. So when it came to the law, there was little that a woman could do without her husband: she could not sue or be sued, make a will, own property, or even keep the wages that she earned. It created a dependence on their husbands for almost every aspect of their lives.  

    Property that was theirs before marriage was no longer in their control, although colonies did put policies in place to ensure that this was not ill-treated. Property and estate that was given as a dowry or own before marriage would come into control of the husband upon marriage, but in many of the colonies, it could not be sold without the signature of the wife as well. This was due in part to marriage settlements and trusts as this wealth was meant to stay within the family. Similarly, this idea covered properties that the husband brought in as well. Though she did not own them, these properties were meant to sustain the family, especially in the case of a husband's death. But when it came to personal property, a wife had little rights. She had the right to live in a manner equal to the status of her husband's wealth. However, if her husband were to come into debt, her personal property could be seized to cover the debts. She would be allowed to keep a bed, two dresses, and the necessary items to cook meals, but little else.  

    Widows and unmarried women had more rights than that of a married woman in colonial America under the laws of coverture. While coverture covered unmarried women as being under their father, they still had their own legal identity to an extent and were able to do many of the things that a married woman could not such as sue and be sued or make a will. Widows, similarly, restored many of these rights. However, these women were seen as ill-favored and sad with little in the way of opportunities. Because of this, most young women married despite the nature of the laws, and most widows remarried. 

    It wasn’t until the 1760s that the laws of Coverture were written and became readily adopted. William Blackstone was the first to transcribe these laws into being, adopting much of the English common law which would become the standard law of a new America after the revolutionary war. In his book, “Commentaries on the Laws of England”, Blackstone wrote, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing; and is therefore called in our law-French e feme-covert.foemina viro co-operta; is said to be covert baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture. 

    Many of the colonies stood behind this adoption of the common law, writing it into their law as "reception statutes.” It was not surprising considering that most of the colonies had been following common-laws like coverture since first settling in America.  

    Age was another factor in a marriage that was covered in the law, though children were seldom married at a young age. A marriage could be arranged by the parents of a child as young as seven, though they had until the age of consent to end the engagement if they so choose. English civil law declared that a girl could be as young as twelve while a male was to be fourteen at the age of marriage. Like most English laws, they found their way into the colonies with the settlers and became the minimum marrying age in colonial America as well. However, it was rarely the case that any persons were married so young. The average marrying age for women during this period was in their early twenties while men were a bit older in their later twenties. The average age of men being higher was due to a few reasons. One reason was due to indentured servitude. If the male child was given over to an apprenticeship, this servitude often lasted for seven years in which he was ineligible for marriage. Another reason was that it was often up to the father when he was going to dole out inheritance as part of the marriage settlement. Parents often held off on their son's marriages for some time until they were ready to provide their sons with property and land.  

    Death of a Marriage 

    Marriages could and often did end in colonial America by death. It was not uncommon in the eighteenth century for women to die in childbirth, leaving the husband to not only handle his end of the bargain but to handle the domestic side as well. It was not uncommon for a widower to remarry to provide his children with a caretaker and his home with a watchful eye. For the widow, however, it was an entirely different story. A widow regained her ability to control certain aspects of her life after the death of her husband. Also, a widow was entitled to one-third of her husband's estate and the safeguard of her dower, which provided a financial means of survival. Unless destitute, it was not uncommon for a widow to take some time to remarry, though most did at some point as they only had control up until a point. After all, while they did receive their inheritance, they only had control as a life estate. Upon their death, everything that she had would revert to her husband's heirs or his creditors if needed.  

    But death was not the only way for a marriage to fail, and there were other options. Divorce, while not all that common, was a solution to a marriage that had gone sour. There were a few reasons that one could get a divorce such as adultery and abuse. Puritans, despite their reputation as being strict, played a leading role in divorce in colonial America. While it was not a solution that was lightly taken, the Puritans were willing to pave the way to allow it under certain circumstances. After all, they viewed marriage as a civil contract between husband and wife rather than religion. It would be up to a court whether or not to grant this petition to separate. While it was accepted, it was far easier for a man than a woman to file for divorce in the case of a withering relationship. The very first case of a divorce in the colonies was in 1639 when James Luxford of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was accused of bigamy or married to two wives at the same time. The laws would vary state by state, with some allowing remarriage of the innocent party to just a separation.  

    The south was one such place where we saw laws that allowed for divorce from bed and board. This allowed the couple to live in separate households with alimony, but not a complete divorce in which they could remarry. A large part of this wide array of laws concerning divorce depended on religious involvement within marriage and the colony and or state.  

    Many of these changes which allowed for divorce happened after the American Revolution when the country began to discern their laws in each state and as a whole. Divorce was not allowed and looked on with disdain in England, which directly affected the ruling of the colonies. While many, like the Puritans, wanted progression, there was a certain reticence to go against their ruling country. With the revolution, the defiance against Britain brought about more progressive ideas and a need to move away from some of their mother country's harsher concepts. While many of the English common laws were kept, there was less restriction on divorce even if it remained strictly regulated.  This is also the time where abuse was starting to be addressed. While it was considered a means by which a divorce petition can be filed, we started to see laws come into place that disallowed or restricted the abuse of your wife. In Massachusetts, it was illegal to beat your wife unless your life was threatened. In much of the south, however, it was only illegal to beat your wife if it resulted in death or permanent physical injury. In all of colonial America, however, it was not something that was taken lightly and often required the approval of a higher authority, and not all were approved.  

    Marriage was a complex animal in colonial America, from the laws and restrictions to how it was conceived. After the Revolutionary War, America started to see many changes set in motion, such as marriage for love that would ultimately lead us to where we are today.  

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