Love in the 17th and 18th Centuries
February 20, 2014
Since February is the month of love, I thought I would mention a book titled Married Well and Often: Marriages of the Northern Neck of Virginia 1649-1800 by Robert K Headley, Jr. I was doing some research for one of my ancestors and found the title on the shelf. It was too catchy to pass up. I found some references to surnames I had been looking for. It also contained marriages for the counties of Lancaster, Northumberland, Old Rappahannock, Richmond, and Westmoreland and had the grooms listed in alphabetical order with an index to brides and others. Corrections of many published records and misspellings of names were made by comparing many references to one marriage. Mr. Headley included all of the marriage references from the licenses, bonds, and mentions in wills, deeds, orders, and bible records that he could locate.
From the earliest records, this area operated as one rather than five counties, and the choices of a marital partner were based on family position, church affiliation, and location of residence. Mr. Headley gives examples of letters from one party to the other with pleased or not so pleased replies to the news of the desired marriages, although for the most part there are no records of these responses. Sometimes a bequest in a will would be revoked until the undesirable spouse died. Laws were created to prohibit certain kinds of marriages. Examples include marriages between servants, a free man and a servant without the consent of the master or mistress, incest, needing consent from a guardian or father, penalties for having an illegitimate child, and prohibitions against any free white man or woman from marrying an African American or mulatto. If a servant was given consent to marry or had a child after the marriage, he/she might have to agree to remain in service for an extra year. During the 17th and 18th centuries, death rates were high, especially for men. Of the 7,358 marriages in this book, one fifth of them were widows (some several times). Mr. Headley also gives the figures for divorces (2), separations (6), runaway wives (2), desertions by husband (2), thirteen cases of adultery, and fourteen of fornication. Wow, obviously a far cry from today’s standards. I’m glad our society three and four centuries later is less restrictive in its attitude toward marriage. Happy Valentine’s Day to all you lovers and in most respects, thank your lucky stars you are living in this day and age.
Midwest Genealogy Center