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Vol. I 















who made it possible 


Preface 9 

I Old World Origins -the wider Background . 13 

II Old World Origins - specific Sources ... 29 

III Courtship and Marriage in colonial New Eng- 

land 51 

IV The New England Family - Prestige and Func- ^ — 


• V The Position of Women in the New England ^ 

colonial Family . 83—-, 

VI The Status of Children in the New England 

colonial Family 105 A"^ 

• VII Sex Sin and Family Failure in colonial New ^ 

\ England 129 ^ 

yill Sex and Marriage in colonial New York . 
"iX Family Life and Problems in colonial New 

York 167 

X Colonial New Jersey and Delaware . . . 185 

XI The Family in colonial Pennsylvania . . 199 

XII The Family Motive in southern Coloniza- 

tion 215 

XIII Familism and Home Life in the colonial ^^' 

South 229 '•'' 

XIV Southern colonial Courtship and Marriage as 

social Institutions 245 

XV Regulation and Solemnization of Marriage in 

THE southern Colonies 259 

XVI Woman's Place in the colonial South . . 273 

8 Contents 

XVII Cmi.DHdOD IN THE C()L(1NIAL SoUTH . , . 285 

• XVIII Family Pathdlogy and social Censorship in 


XIX Ser\itude and Sexuality in the southern 

Colonies 313 

XX French Colonies in the West . . . . 331 
Bibliography 337 


The three volumes of which this is the first are an 
attempt to develop an understanding of the forces that 
have been operative in the evolution of family institu- 
tions in the United States. They set forth the nature of 
the influences that have shaped marriage, controlled 
fecundity, determined the respective status of father, 
mother, child, attached relative, and servant, influenced 
sexual morality, and governed the function of the fam- 
ily as an educational, economic, moral, and spiritual 
institution as also its relation to state, industry, and so- 
ciety in general in the matter of social control. The 
work is primarily a contribution to genetic sociology. 

Not until such an investigation, as lies back of these 
volumes, has been undertaken is it possible to realize 
the absolute dearth of connected and systematic mate- 
rial on the general history of the American family as a 
social institution in relation to other social institutions 
and to "the social forces." In this as in so many other 
vital fields of human interest and action, everything has 
hitherto been taken for granted. In view, therefore, of 
the increasing attention given in recent years to the 
problems of the modern family, such as conditions of 
marriage, the birth-rate, the waning of home activities, 
the insurgency of the child, the economic independence 
of woman, sexual morality, divorce, and general family 
instability, it seems that the main lines of family evolu- 
tion in the United States should be made accessible not 
merely to the professional student of sociology but also 

lO The American Family -Colonial Period 

to the thinking public. The present work is in answer 
to that realized need. 

The first volume of the series covers the colonial 
period and sets forth the germination of the American 
family as a product of European folkways, of the eco- 
nomic transition to modern capitalism, and of the dis- 
tinctive environment of a virgin continent. Usages 
imported from Europe are detailed and their gradual 
modification or overthrow under the influence of eco- 
nomic progress and the sway of the wilderness is exhib- 
ited. Variations between the geographical sections are 
traced to mesological and population differences but the 
general similarity of North and South is affirmed as a 
preliminary to the study of their divergence in the na- 
tional period. In general, the colonial family is pre- 
sented as a property institution dominated by middle 
class standards, and operating as an agency of social 
control in the midst of a social order governed by the 
interests of a forceful aristocracy which shaped religion, 
education, politics, and all else to its own profit. The 
characteristics of the family in the English colonies re- 
ceive accentuation from a brief view of the French 
settlements by the Gulf. 

In the second volume, the period from Independence 
through the Civil War is covered under five main 
heads: the influence of pioneering and the frontier, the 
rise of urban industrialism, the growth of luxury and 
extravagance, the culmination of the regime of slavery, 
and the consequences of the Civil War. Cleavages be- 
tween East and West and between North and South are 
made manifest in this volume and the interaction of 
their several influences is noted. It is also made evident 
that all the alarming problems that to-day portend fam- 
ily disintegration or perversion were present in some 

Preface 1 1 

degree in ante-bellum days and were even dwelt upon 
with alarm. 

The third volume analyzes the factors that have con- 
summated the revolution of the family during the past 
fifty years. Stress is laid on the advance of industrial- 
ism, urban concentration, the growth of the larger cap- 
italism, the immigrant invasion, the passing of the 
frontier, the intensification of the struggle for the stan- 
dard of living, the movements of rebellion and revolu- 
tion represented by such manifestations as feminism and 
socialism, the development of volitional control of fam- 
ily evolution, and the outlook for a democratic future. 
At no previous point save in the last stages of chattel- 
dom in the South does the economic factor extrude so 

In common with the best recent historical works, due 
place has been given to "the Economic Interpretation," 
but with studied avoidance of fantastic exaggeration. 
The true claims of the dispassionate historical spirit 
have been held steadily in view. If it seem to the 
reader that undue attention has been given to patho- 
logical abnormalities, he should bear in mind that the 
American history with which most readers are familiar 
has been written by litterateurs or historians with little 
perspective save that which inheres in loyalty to the 
established order, in the attenuated atmosphere of the 
middle class, or in the desire to glorify the past, it may 
be of New England with its ancestral worthies, or of 
some other section in the romantic days. Those trained 
in the literature of such shallow schools naturally find 
it hard to put aside prepossessions and to refrain from 
confounding the disclosures of science with the product 
of the muck-raker. 

Years of research, analysis, and rumination have gone 

12 Preface 

into the preparation of these volumes. Exhaustive in- 
vestigation of source writings and secondary works to- 
gether with painstaking reconstruction and interpreta- 
tion of the course of events warrant the assurance that 
the present work is the most complete, fundamental, 
and authoritative treatment of the field that it covers. 
It is given to the public in the hope that it will call 
forth a vital interest in the further development of this 
aspect of our social history. 

To William E. Zeuch, of Clark University, I am 
indebted for valued assistance. I also acknowledge 
special indebtedness to the libraries of the State His- 
torical Society of Wisconsin, the University of Wiscon- 
sin, and the University of Tennessee for access to the 
principal sources of my material, and to my wife for 
assistance and inspiration in the progress of the manu- 
script. I shall also be under obligation to such critics 
of the work as shall point the way to intrinsic improve- 
ment in the presentation of so momentous a theme. 

Arthur Wallace Calhoun. 
Clark University, November, 1916 


American family institutions are a resultant of three 
main factors: the complex of medieval tradition evolved • 
through the centuries on the basis of ancient civilization 
plus the usages of its barbarian successor; the economic 
transition from medieval landlordism to modern cap- 
italism; and the influence of environment in an unfold- - 
ing continent. It is necessary to begin this study with 
a survey of the European background.^ 

Medieval thought on the sex relation was inconsistent. 
Women were regarded, sometimes as perils, again as 
objects of worship. The extremes embodied themselves 
in celibacy and in the minne-cult. Which was the more 
pregnant of depravity it would be hard to say.^ 

Military mores are always, at bottom, disdainful of ' 
women. Chivalry with its sentimental immorality gave 
women hyperbolic praise in place of justice. Material 
advantage was the gist of medieval marriage. Women 
were an incident to their fiefs to be disposed of in love- 
less marriage. In the fifteenth century, cases of wives 
prostituted for gain to themselves and husbands were 
alleged in argument against matrimony. In the larger 

^ Compare Goodsell, History of the Family, chapters vii-viii. The ap- 
pearance of this work warrants brevity in the introductory chapters of the 
present treatise. 

2 In introduction, see Bebel, JVoman and Socialism, chapters i-iv; Cooke, 
IVoman in the Progress of Civilization, chapters i-iii; Dealey, The Family, 
chapters i-iv; Goodsell, History of the Family, chapters i-ix. 

8 Compare Cornish, Chivalry, chapter xii. 

14 The American Family -Colonial Period 

medieval cities there were official brothels -municipal, 
state, or church perquisites. Strangers of note were 
supplied prostitutes at municipal expense. The woman 
who in despair killed her child was put to cruel death, 
while the seducer perhaps even sat among the judges. 
Adultery of wives met severe punishment.* 
/ It may be that marriages turned out as well in the 

Middle Ages as now and that adultery was not more 
frequent. There was not wanting certain appreciation 
of woman as wife and mother. But over against mod- 
ern divorce laxity may be set medieval ecclesiastical 
jugglery which sold divorces while pretending to pro- 
hibit them. In like manner ecclesiastical impediments 
to marriage could be removed for a fee. 

It is impossible to harmonize medieval "love" with 
the strong emphasis laid by feudalism on female chas- 
tity. The desire for concentrated transmission of feudal 
estates to legitimate offspring tended to monogamy and 

• wifely purity. Chastity became woman's main virtue. 
The wife's highest duty was to furnish a legitimate male 

• heir to the family perquisites. Even the peasant sought 
marriage distinctly as a means of getting heirs. Chas- 
tity was not incumbent on men. A kind of restraint 
was, indeed, incumbent on the males of the nobility so 
far as women of their own class were concerned; for 
male relatives would visit swift punishment on the man 
that ruined a girl's prospects of becoming the brood- 
mare to some noble house. But women of the working 

- class were legitimate prey of the contemptuous bestial- 
ity of the nobles.*^ 

The master-class encouraged and controlled marriage 

*Bebel. Woman and Socialism, 73-75. 

•^ On this paragraph, compare Meily, Puritanism, 33-35; Bebel, IVoman 
and Socialism, 80. 

Old World Origins 15 

among the menials as a means of propagating serfs and 
securing fees. The lord's power of intercourse with 
women of servile rank found expression mthQJus primcB 
noctis which existed even into modern times. 

It must be admitted that feudal days gave to women 
of the nobility a certain prestige and dignity. As chate- 
laines they even won military distinction in cases of 
siege. Prolonged separations emphasized the mutual 
needs of the two sexes. Life in the family remote from 
males of equal rank softened patriarchal asperities. 
The isolation of noble ladies exposing them somewhat 
to the lusts of base-born men required all knights to be 
their champions. Chivalry had, forsooth, its fairer 
side and performed a substantial service in grafting 
upon sex passion that romantic love which, distorted 
and perverted as it was by a sickly atmosphere in an 
age highly favorable to emotion rather than to reason, 
has become the basis of all that is fairest in sex relations 
to-day and holds the key to the future. 

In the Middle Ages woman was in general an unre- 
corded cipher lost in obscure domestic toil and the bear- 
ing and rearing of numerous children. She generally 
welcomed a suitor at once for her one recourse was to 
lose her identity. Military slaughter tended to disturb 
the balance of the sexes and magnify the value of men. 
Perhaps the witch delusion which operated unbeliev- 
ably to decimate the ranks of women was to their sex a 
blessing in disguise. But women in the Middle Ages 
probably enjoyed more equality with men than most of 
the time since. ** Some held responsible positions and 
displayed executive ability. In Saxon England women 
could be present at the local moot and even at the na- 

<> Compare Position of IVomen: Actual and Ideal, 46-47; Abram, English 
Life and Manners in the later Middle Ages, 44. 


i6 The American Family - Colonial Period 

tional Witanagemot. Norman rule reduced woman's 
rights, yet under feudalism women could hold high 
state office in default of male heirs. 

In artisan circles, when the revival of commerce 
brought a wider market for the products of household 
industry, the patriarchal head of the family owned the 
product of all its toil. The standard of living in the 
home depended solely on his will. But gilds admitted 
women, and women often engaged in commercial pur- 
suits along with their husbands or as their successors. 
In fourteenth century England, a married woman was 
permitted by law to act in business as if single in spite 
of her being under tutelage. In the craft gilds wife 
and daughters worked with husband and father at his 
craft. Journeymen could not marry but the master 
must have a wife of approved descent. The gild super- 
vised the training of children; they were expected to 
follow their parents' craft. Some gilds forbade em- 
ployment of wife and daughters and in the last days of 
the gilds this prohibition became a general rule. Girls 
were helped with money to marry or go into a religious 
house as they chose. ^ 

Woman's subordinate position in marriage came 
down through old Teutonic usage. In the old days of 
ordeal she was incapable of appearing in the lists in her 
own defense and had to be represented by a protector 
who, in case of wives, was of course the husband. Even 
late in the Middle Ages "ein Weib zu kaufen" was the 
stock expression for getting married. The idea of sale 
was gone but its place had been taken by the notion of 
the transfer of authority. A woman was always under 
, guardianship; the natural warden was the father; at 

'' On gild privileges for women, see Brentano, History and Development 
of Gilds, cxxxii; Lipson, Introduction to the Eoromic History of England, 
vol. j, 316-318. 

Old World Origins 17 

marriage the wardship passed to the husband. The 
common law is voiced thus by a dramatic character: 
"I will be master of what is mine own. She is my 
goods, my chattels; she is my house, my household stuff, 
my field, my barn, my horse, my ox, my ass, my any- 
thing." The wife was merged in the husband; legally 
she did not exist. 

Our traditional common law in cases of children 
and real estate left without a will gave a son, tho 
younger, inheritance before a daughter. In case of a 
daughter's seduction, her father's only recourse was on 
the ground that she was his servant and that the seducer 
had trespassed on his property and deprived him of the 
benefit of her labor. In nearly all the Teutonic codes 
the husband had the right to beat his wife. "Justice 
Brooke affirmeth plainly that if a man beat an outlaw, 
a traitor, a pagan, his villein, or his wife it is dispunish- 
able, because by the Law Common, these persons can 
have no action."^ "Wives in England," says an Ant- 
werp merchant, 1599, "are entirely in the power of their 
husbands, their lives only excepted." Even in the 
eighteenth century, wife trading was an English cus- 
tom.^ Until the reign of George IV burning at the 
stake was the legal penalty for wives that murdered 
their husbands.'" 

Doubtless the reality of English life was less bar- 
barous than the law; yet we are describing a man-made 
world in which economic dependence held woman in 
general to a servile level. Her training corresponded 
to her sphere. In medieval Europe peasant girls were 
taught to work in house and field, accept the conven- 
tional piety, barely to read and write, and then marry. 

8 Brace. Gesta Chrisii, 285-290. 

^ Earle. Colonial Dames and Goodivi'ves, 26, 29. 

^° Yonge. Site of Old "James Toivne," 138. 

1 8 The Anwrican Family -Colonial Period 

All girls were taught the textile arts. Daughters of 
wealthy burghers had tutors and after the fourteenth 
century there were schools for them in most cities. 
Women in i:he castles had enjoyed the same education 
as men. The convents, also, had provided training for 
women. But the rise of the universities, boisterously 
masculine, detracted from the education of women and 
a studied contempt for women developed. 

Many Renaissance writers gave woman a new recog- 
nition. At the Renaissance the position of women un- 
derwent a marked transformation. Some women be- 
came professors in Italian and Spanish universities." 
Erasmus wrote of and for women, though not with en- 
tire approval of equal educational opportunities for 
them. He said the wise man is aware that nothing is 
of greater advantage to woman's morals than worthy 
knowledge. Toward the close of feudalism girls were 
sent from castles or wealthy burgher homes to the castles 
of high nobles to acquire polish. In the fifteenth cen- 
tury an increasing number of women -often of the pros- 
perous middle class -found opportunities, though lim- 
ited, for literary and classical education. Sir Thomas 
More believed that education may agree equally well 
with both sexes. Agrippa (in a work published in 
1530) asserted woman's superiority over man and point- 
ed to man's tyranny as the reason for woman's dearth of 

Like women, the younger children of the medieval 
dignitary were subordinate. Feudal lands were limited 
in area; hence title, property, rank, and power passed 
to one child -the oldest male. The family line was of 
huge social importance: status and worth depended on 

11 Position of fFoman: Actual and Ideal, 53. 

12 Compare Cooke, Woman in the Progress of Civilization, chapter vi. 

Old World Origins 19 

what one's forebears had done. Exaltation of the family 
in linear extension rather than expanse was vital to the 
prosperity of the landed class. In Germany, where the 
law of primogeniture was too lax, where all of a noble's 
children were noble and his estates free from entail, the 
continual multiplication of titles and subdivision of ter- 
ritories reduced most houses to relative poverty. The 
German noble might provide for younger sons by se- 
curing them appointment to some rich benefice but this 
practice augmented social unrest. 

As chivalry sank in decadence the cities flourished 
and in them the busy, prosaic middle class whose rise 
burst forth in the Reformation. Bourgeois wives found 
complete satisfaction around the domestic hearth. In 
modest bourgeois circles small attention was given to 
the mental culture of children. Girls generally grew 
up under the sole supervision of their mothers, or at 
best enjoyed convent training directed to piety and do- 
mestic accomplishments, in which they became very pro- 
ficient. Girls married even in their fourteenth year. 
Fathers attached no small importance to practical ad- 
vantages in matrimony, and the longing of maidens for 
rich knights was widespread. It came to be no dis- 
grace for a prince to marry a girl of the middle class, 
for such a match might serve as a means of reviving 
fading fortunes. Aeneas Sylvius (afterwards Pope Pius 
II) said of Germany about the middle of the fifteenth 
century: "Where is the woman (I do not speak of the 
nobility, but of the bourgeoisie) who does not glitter 
with gold? What profusion of gold and pearls, orna- 
ments, reliquaries." By the sixteenth century, the cas- 
tled knights saw the burghers living in houses that, to 
the dwellers in uncomfortable castles, seemed the height 
of luxury. The knights' ladies coveted the princely 

20 The American Family -Colonial Period 

silks and velvets and jewels that decked the vs^omenfolk 
of the bourgeoisie. Even when the medieval sumptu- 
ary laws forbidding the burghers to wear pearls and 
velvet were not disobeyed, the wives and daughters of 
the middle class could solace themselves with silks and 
diamonds. And to the noble lady, the exclusive privi- 
lege of wearing pearls and velvet was small comfort in 
default of the means of procuring them. The knights' 
attempts to rival the burghers brought on ruin. Switz- 
erland saw a similar riot of conspicuous consumption. 

Morals were lax. For the satisfaction of vanity and 
desire for enjoyment, the daughters of citizens often al- 
lowed themselves to be drawn aside from the path of 
womanly honor. In cases of seduction, where the suitor 
broke his word and tried to back out after betrothal, the 
practical father exacted rich compensation. The men 
were continually complaining against the women. In 
fifteenth century Germany children born out of wedlock 
were frequent, growing up in their father's house along 
with their half brothers and sisters; and for a long time 
no disgrace attached. Why should it in bourgeois cir- 
cles, where there was no noble estate to be conserved?^' 

In the fifteenth century, with improved hygienic con- 
ditions and favorable material conditions, there were, 
not uncommonly, families of twelve, fifteen, or even 
more children. A chronicle gives the city of Erfurt an 
average of eight to ten children per family. Idealism 
was not wanting. Albrecht von Eyb, in his treatise 
Whether a man ought to take a wife or not, printed in 
1472, seems to speak for the Germany of his day when 
he says : 

Marriage is a useful wholesome thing: by it many a conflict and 

13 See Richard, History of German Civilization, 224; KuUurgeschichte des 
Mittelalters, 573-574. 

Old World Origins 21 

war is quieted, relationship and good friendship formed, and the 
whole human race perpetuated. Matrimony is also a merr)% 
pleasurable, and sweet thing. What is merrier and sweeter 
than the names of father and mother and the children hanging 
on their parents' necks? If married people have the right love 
and the right will for one another, their joy and sorrow are 
common to them and they enjoy the good things the more mer- 
rily and bear the adverse things the more easily. 

Yet the position of woman was not high: her sphere, 
was the home, and she was seldom mentioned. 

The Protestant Revolution changed markedly the old ' 
order of life. The movement that is known as the 
Reformation had a strong economic element." It sig- 
nified the rise to power of a new sovereign -the indus- 
trial, mercantile, commercial middle-class -which had 
long been falling heir to the power slipping from the 
hands of a decadent feudal aristocracy. Since the 
Reformation, the moneyed type has dominated the 

Where this economic class was not strong enough, the 
Reformation proved abortive and spelled tragedy to the 
families that accepted it. Thus, in France, the Hugue- 
nots were forbidden to train their children in the faith. 
A royal decree in 1685 required that every child of five 
years and over be removed by the authorities from his 
Protestant parents. Protestant marriages were illegal 
and the offspring illegitimate. Girls were carried away 
to shame and parents had no power to interfere. Co- 
ligny was at first reluctant to publish his faith because 
of the suffering that would be entailed on his wife and 
household; but she preferred to be bold, so he avowed 

^* Adams. Laijj of Civilization and Decay, 187-208; Patten. Develop- 
ment of English Thought, 102-105, 117; Forrest. Development of JVestern 
Civilization, 291-298 ; Stille. Studies in Medieval History, 443-445 ; Traill and 
Mann. Social England, vol. iii, 59 ; Pollard. Factors in Modern History, 46- 
50; Seignobos. History of Medieval and Modern Civilization, 283, 290-292. 

22 The American Family -Colonial Period 

his religion and held worship daily in his family. Not 
all families in the riven lands enjoyed such unison. 

An understanding of the significance of this great 
social revolution is essential, both on account of its gen- 
eral influence on the European institutions from which 
our civilization is derived and from the fact that it was 
this revolutionary middle-class, stern, sober, prudential, 
industrial, driven into exile by temporary triumphs of 
reaction or coming freely in pursuit of opportunity and 
economic gain, that made America. 

Feudal militancy had subordinated family life to the 
afifairs of war. With the passing of the old chivalric 
notions a good deal of false sentiment died away and 
the attitude of men toward women was markedly al- 
tered. The Reformation developed a rather matter-of- 
fact view. The bourgeoisie may well claim the honor 
of being first to assert that romantic love is the ideal 
basis of marriage; but the constraints of private wealth 
have always operated to frustrate this ideal. Though 
suppression of convents curtailed woman's opportunity, 
the Reformation did remove the stain put on marriage 
and the family by the law of celibacy. Celibates began 
to marry. Luther, by word and example, glorified mar- 
riage and the family. He said: "O! what a great rich 
and magnificent blessing there is in the married state; 
what joy is shown to man in matrimony by his descend- 
ants!"^^ His recognition of the normal sex impulse 
to propagation appears in this utterance: "Unless 
specially endowed by a rare, divine grace, a woman can 
no more dispense with a man, than . . . with food, 
drink, sleep, and other natural needs. In the same way 
a man cannot do without a woman." ^* 

15 Richard. History of German Civilization, 253-255 ; Painter. Luther on 
Education, 113-116. 

16 Bebel. Woman and Socialism, 78. 

Old World Origins 23 

Luther gave woman no chivalric admiration; yet, 
while emphasizing motherhood, he did not regard 
woman as a mere bearer of children. Marriage sig- 
nified to him the moral restraint and religious sanctifi- 
cation of natural impulse. None should marry unless 
competent to instruct their children in the elements of 
religion. He emphasized the nurture of children, 
stressing honor to parents and reverence to God and 
making no distinction between boys and girls as to need 
of education nor between men and women as to right to 
teach. Home should be made a delight but firmness 
must not be sacrificed. According to him the wife's 
union to the husband is a fit symbol of the soul's union 
to Christ by faith. Whatever Christ possesses, the be- 
lieving soul may claim as its own." 

It might be supposed that such liberal views, coming 
at a time when society thrilled with the longing to estab- 
lish more firmly the individual personality by means of 
marriage and family life, would mean an era of eman- 
cipation for woman. But this did not immediately fol- 
low. The reformers did not recognize woman as in all 
points equal to man. "Let woman learn betimes to , 
serve according to her lot" was their opinion. She was 
to be trained to faith and for the calling of housewife 
and mother. The home under the Reformation con- 
tinued under the old laws. Woman was to be under • 
obedience to the male head. She was to be constantly 
employed for his benefit. He chose her society, for he 
was responsible for her, and to him as a sort of Father 
Confessor she was accountable. Neither talent nor . 
genius could emancipate her without his consent. At 
about the time of the Reformation it was said, "She that 

^^ Compare Scherr, Geschichte der deutschen Frauenivelf, Band ii, 19-21; 
Vedder, Reformation in Germany, 124; Cooke, IVoman in the Progress of 
Civilization, 358-359; Painter, Luther on Education, chapter vi. 

24 The American Family — Colonial Period 

knoweth how to compound a pudding is more desirable 
than she who skillfully compoundeth a poem." It was 
the maxim of Luther that "no gown or garment worse 
become a woman than that she will be wise." Aboli- 
tion of convents brought a period of two or three cen- 
turies in northern lands during which the intellectual 
training of women largely ceased. Luther pictures the 
real German housewife -a pious, God-fearing woman, 
domestic toiler, comforter of man, a rare treasure- 
trustworthy, loving, industrious, beneficent, blessed. 
"When a woman walks in obedience toward God," says 
Luther, "holds her husband in love and esteem, and 
brings up her children well -in comparison with such 
ornament, pearls, velvet, and tinsel are like an old, torn, 
patched, beggar's cloak." It is evident that the faith- 
ful, unobtrusive, industrious German Hausfrau is the 
ideal woman of the Reformation.^* 

The reformers had large problems to solve. The 
Reformation spelled individualism and the decay of 
the modern family can be traced back to this source. 
The reformers were not fundamentally to blame. Mar- 
riage had been regarded in Germany as a civil contract, 
yet mystical elements were present such as the notion 
that marriage would purge away crime, in consequence 
of which view felons condemned to death would be re- 
leased if some one would marry them." At the time of 
the Reformation there was growing up a church theory 
which treated unblest marriages as concubinage.^" Con- 
fusion arose from prevalent usage. It became custom- 
ary in one town for betrothed to live together before 

18 Compare Scherr, Geschichte der deutschen Frauenivelt, Band ii, 22-23 I 
Otto, Deutsches Frauenleben, 94; Gage, Woman, Church, and State, 146-147; 
Cooke, Woman in the Progress of Civilization, chapter iv, 47. 

18 Baring-Gould. Germany, Present and Past, vol. i, 159, 162, 163. 

20— Idem. 

Old World Origins 25 

marriage. The consistory held such cohabitation to be 
true marriage. Luther wrote, 

It has often fallen out that a married pair came for me, and 
that one or both had already been secretly betrothed to another: 
then there was a case of distress and perplexity and we confess- 
ors and theologians were expected to give counsel to those tor- 
tured consciences. But how could we? ^^ 

Luther had slight thought of human interdependence. 
He looked at morals in a superficial way, as scarcely 
more than a department of politics belonging to the 
care of the state. Consequently he followed the secular 
theory of marriage. He said, 

Know that marriage is something extrinsic as any other worldly 
action. As I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, ride, and deal with 
any heathen, Jew, Turk, or heretic, so to one of these I may 
also become and remain married. Do not observe the laws of 
fools that forbid such marriages. In regard to matters of mar- 
riage and divorce ... let them be subject to worldly rule y 
since marriage is a worldly extrinsic thing.^^ 

Of course Luther desired that the civil authority should 
be "pious." But not till the end of the seventeenth cen- 
tury was religious ceremony considered necessary to 
legal marriage among Protestants. Till then "con- 
science [common-law] marriage" sufficed." Luther 
and other reformers also opposed restrictions to mar- 

For a time the new era threatened to return to pagan 
laxity and licentiousness. The reformers did not al- 
ways avoid immorality in their loose handling of mar- 
riage. For instance, Luther says. 

If a healthy woman is joined in wedlock to an impotent man 
and could not, nor would for her honor's sake openly choose 

21 Baring-Gould. Germany, Present and Past, vol. i, 147, 154. 

22 Bebel. Woman and Socialism, 78-79. 

23 — . Idem, 79. 

26 The American Family -Colonial Period 

another, she should speak to her husband thus: "See, my dear 
husband, thou hast deceived me and my young body and en- 
dangered my honor and salvation ; before God there is no honor 
bet\veen us. Suffer that I maintain secret marriage with thy 
brother or closest friend while thou remainest my husband in 
name. That thy property may not fall heir to strangers; wil- 
lingly be deceived by me as you have unwillingly deceived me." 

The husband should consent. If he refuses, she has a 
right to leave him, go elsewhere, and remarry. Simi- 
larly, if a woman will not perform her conjugal duty, 
the husband has the right to get another woman, after 
telling his wife his intention.^* 

Of course the author of such views was in favor of 
permitting divorcees to remarry. He even sanctioned 
bigamy. ''I confess," he says, "for my part that if a man 
wishes to marry two or more wives, I cannot forbid him, 
nor is his conduct repugnant to the Holy Scriptures." 
Melanchthon advised Henry VHI. to commit bigamy 
rather than divorce Catherine. He and Luther, as a 
matter of shrewd politics, connived in the disgraceful 
bigamy of Philip of Hesse. Luther forgot all honesty 
in trying to cover the trail of this infamy, which he was 
unwilling for the "coarse peasants" to imitate. Catho- 
lics could well say, "Behold the fruits of the Reforma- 
tion!" Kolde says, "It is highly probable that the be- 
ginning of the decline of Protestantism as a political 
power coincides with the marriage of the Prince of 

Such laxity as the reformers exhibited correlates with 
the economic basis of the Protestant Revolution. Un- 
like feudal landed estates, bourgeois personalty was not 
especially appropriate to concentrated hereditary trans- 

2* On Luther's radicalism, see idem, 79-80. 

25 On Luther and biganny, see Gage, IVoman, Church, and State, 399; 
Vedder, Reformation in Germany, 350-355. 

Old World Origins 27 

mission, as its items were transient and indefinitely in- 
creasable. Primogeniture, and even a closely restricted 
progeny, were no longer necessary to the perpetuation 
of class domination. The economic reason for the ir- 
refragable feudal marriage was gone. Divorce found 
a lodgment in bourgeois theory and practice. As we 
have seen, a certain recognition began to be bestowed 
on illegitimates. As under Roman law, subsequent 
marriage of parents became a means of legitimizing 

It is not to be assumed that sex life in the Reforma- 
tion period was purer than ordinary. The code of 
Charles V. was severe against sexual transgression and 
the sharp penalties denounced upon seduction, adultery, 
incest, unnatural lust, abortion, infanticide, etc. indi- 
cate the prevalence of these practices. Court records of 
the sixteenth century afford confirmatory evidence. 
The Protestant clergy declaimed zealously against sex- 
ual excess. Prostitutes were harassed and "fallen" 
women were relentlessly persecuted. 

The Reformation was not in all particulars so radical 
as in its handling of the sex relation. For instance, 
Luther kept children within the pale of collective re- 
ligion by accepting the view that faith of sponsors suf- 
fices for infants in baptism. It was left for more thoro- 
going sectaries to apply individualism to this rite also 
and abolish the baptism of infants. 

In so short a space as can be given to this initial chap- 
ter it is impossible to harmonize all seeming contradic- 
tions in medieval and early modern sex and family life 
or to give an adequate perspective. It may suffice to 
remember that out of medieval confusion of thought 
and practice, out of a feudal society of class privilege 

28 Meily. Puritanism, 57-58. 

28 The American Family -Colonial Period 

and exploitation, arose by economic process a new social 
order which stressed the individual and his freedom 
and revolved around industry and commerce rather 
than around land ownership. This change of economic 
base demanded a revolution in thought and morals and 
new standards evolved to meet the emergency. A sur- 
vey of England in this period of transition leads to the 
threshold of American colonization. 


The Paston Letters introduce us to fifteenth century 
England. In them marriage seems to be in the main a 
matter of mercenary calculation and withal the chief 
business of family life. A girl informs her suitor how 
much her father will give her; if the amount is unsatis- 
factory he must cease his suit. When Margaret made 
a love match with a servant in the family her mother 
cut her ofif from inheritance tho she did leave twenty 
pounds to her grandson by this marriage. John Paston 
sometimes had two matrimonial projects on hand at 
once. After seeking his brother's advice in a number 
of cases he finally made a love match with an ardent 
young lady whose mother was favorable but whose 
father's economic sense made him hard to satisfy. One 
precocious youth begs his brother for help in wooing a 
young lady. "The age of her is by all likelihood eigh- 
teen or nineteen at the furthest. And as for the money 
and plate, it is ready whensoever she were wedded, and 
as for her beauty judge you that when you see her, and 
specially behold her hands." 

Kindly feelings were not wanting. Marital relations 
seem to have been comfortable. There were close rela- 
tions between brothers and when one Paston married, 
his mother wrote her husband to buy the new daughter 
a gown "goodly blue" or "bright sanguine." The rear- 
ing of children and their start in life were matters of 
grave concern. Judge Paston's marriageable daughter 

27 Compare Goodsell, History of the Family, chapter ix. 

30 The American Family — Colonial Period 

was generally beaten once or twice a week by her 
mother, sometimes twice in one day, and her head was 
broken in two or three places. When her brother aged 
sixteen was in school at London the mother sent instruc- 
tions for the master as follows, "If he hath nought do 
well, nor wyll nought amend, pray hym that he wyll 
trewly belassch hym, tyll he wyll amend; and so did the 
last master, and the best that ever he had, at Cam- 
bridge." Such stringencies shadow the bright episodes 
of Paston affairs. The ill-treated daughter was anxious 
for a husband as refuge from maternal tyranny. Doubt- 
less many an English maid felt like eagerness, for bru- 
tality seems to have been usual with British matrons in 
high life. Elizabeth Tanfield (1585-1639), Lady Falk- 
land, while speaking to her mother always knelt before 

The Tudor age found England busy with foreign 
enterprises, discovery of new worlds, commerce, trade - 
building up a solid basis of wealth and progress -ab- 
sorption in economic and intellectual activities that left 
no time for "chivalry." The man ushered in by the 
revolution we have already traced was the modern ap- 
proximation of the "economic man" -a type to whose 
senses women make a relatively mild appeal. The men 
of the sixteenth century were somewhat of modern men 
and regarded woman as a participant in the burdens 
and pleasures of life, not a being to be worshiped or 

English women enjoyed rather more freedom than 
some of their continental sisters. A Dutchman of the 
sixteenth century writes to that effect concerning wives, 
noting also their fondness for dress and ease. He adds: 
"England is called the paradise of married women. 
The girls who are not yet married are kept much more 

Old World Origins-Specific Sources 31 

rigorously and strictly than in the Low Countries." 
The Duke of Wirtemberg who was in England about 
1592 remarked on the great liberty accorded women 
and recorded their fondness for finery; so "that, as I am 
informed, many a one does not hesitate to wear velvet in 
the street, which is common with them, whilst at home 
perhaps they have not a piece of dry bread." One ob- 
server says, "The females have great liberty and are al- 
most like masters." ^^ 

Foreign observers tend to confine their attention to 
the middle and upper classes. The condition of the 
lower class, nevertheless, is of equal importance at least. 
Europe had been slipping toward the starvation point. 
Firewood was becoming a luxury in many parts of 
western Europe. Especially in England had the price 
of building materials risen to what seemed a very high 
point. Vagabondage was repeatedly the subject of 
cruel legislation. Any one might take the children of 
vagabonds and keep them as apprentices. In Henry 
VIII. 's day the culture of wool had desolated many 
homes. In order to extend pasturage greedy men re- 
sorted to force and fraud and ejected the husbandmen, 
occasioning thereby poverty, misery, and crime among 
those deprived of employment. 

By the middle of the sixteenth century, castle architec- 
ture was being superseded. Even in the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries domestic arrangements had shown a 
tendency to improve. There was more desire for pri- 
vacy. The sixteenth century revolutionized domestic 
architecture. Dissolution of the monasteries threw 
property into hands concerned more with pleasure than 
with defense. 

28 Traill and Mann. Social England, vol. iii, 785-786; Hill. Women in 
English Life, vol. i, 115-118. 

32 The American Family -Colonial Period 

In Elizabethan England peasant cottages usually had 
but two rooms, one for the servants, the other for the 
family. Substantial farmers had houses with several 
rooms. For some time housing had been a problem in 
London. The crowded condition of the city made it an 
unpleasant abode. Vacated palaces were transformed 
into tenements that would hold a score or more of fam- 
ilies. Elizabeth issued an edict against the housing of 
different families in the same building but the proc- 
lamation was of course mainly futile. Even the people 
of the better class seem to have had no notion of privacy 
of daily home life. Rooms opened into one another. 
Often half a dozen rooms were so connected that some 
of them could be reached only by passing through sev- 
eral or all of the others. This was the case even with 
bedrooms. Frequently a large room was converted 
into several sleeping quarters by means of curtains. 

The lure of the city was already felt. People flocked 
to London and wasted their substance in revels. 

When husband hath at play set up his rest, 
Then wife and babes at home a hungry goeth. 

The master may keep revel all the year, 
And leave the vv'ife at home like silly fool. 

It seems that country dames did not often share their 
husbands' trips to the capital. The wife of the city 
burgess also found ample employment in looking after 
the multitudinous duties of her household. Little at- 
tention was given to improving the education of women 
of the middle class. Sir Thomas Overbury's poem, 
"A Wife," expresses the sentiment of the age: 

Give me next good, an understanding wife, 
By nature wise, not learned much by art. 

Old World Origins -Specific Sources 33 

Some knowledge on her part will all my life 
More scope of conversation impart. 

A passive understanding to conceive, 
And judgment to discern I wish to find. 

Beyond that all as hazardous I leave ; 

Learning and pregnant wit in woman-kind, 

What it finds malleable maketh frail, 

And doth not add more ballast but more sail. 

Domestic charge doth best that sexe befit, 
Contiguous businesse so to fix the minde, 

That leisure space for fancies not admit, 
Their leisure 'tis corrupteth womankinde. 

Else, being placed from many vices free. 

They had to heaven a shorter cut than we. 

Books are a part of man's Prerogatives . . • 

In the words of Gervase Markham [died 1637] also^ 
appears the ideal for the English housewife: 

Next unto her sanctity and holiness of life, it is meet that 
our English housewife be a woman of great modesty and tem- 
perance, as well inwardly as outwardly; inwardly as in her be- 
havior and carriage towards her husband, wherein she shall 
shun all violence of rage, passion, and humour, coveting less to 
direct than to be directed, appearing ever unto him pleasant, 
amiable and delightful ; and, tho' occasions of mishaps, or the 
misgovernment of his will may induce her to contrary thoughts, 
yet virtuously to suppress them, and with a mild sufferance 
rather to call him home from his error, than with the strength 
of anger to abate the least spark of his evil, calling into her 
mind, that evil and uncomely language is deformed, tho uttered 
even to servants; but most monstrous and ugly when it appears 
before the presence of a husband ; outwardly as in her apparel 
and diet, both of which she shall proportion according to the 
competency of her husband's estate and calling, making her 
circle rather straight than large. 

She should avoid fantastic fashions and remember that 

34 The American Family -Colonial Period 

diet should be nutritive rather than epicurish. He says 
the housewife ought to understand medicine and nurs- 
ing, cookery, gardening, care of poultry, making of but- 
ter and cheese, cutting up of meat, distilling, and the 
care of wool and flax. The average Elizabethan house- 
wife was proficient in all these duties. Even if she did 
not have to perform them it was often necessary to train 
household servants. Their numerous retinue consti- 
tuted a veritable familia-z burden of responsibility to 
mistress and master. For instance, John Harrington in 
1566 drew up rules for his servants requiring them 
among other things to attend family prayers under pen- 
alty of two pence fine. 

With the passing of convent life marriage was more 
essential to woman than ever. There were not hus- 
bands enough to go round. Girls that failed to find 
mates had a dark outlook -perhaps as drudges for their 
relatives. For an old maid the Elizabethans could 
think of no better employment than "to lead apes in 
hell;"^^ so a younger sister was rarely permitted to 
marry first. Girls married very young; unmarried 
daughters were undesirable members of the household. 
A poet makes a girl of fifteen lament that she has not 
found a husband ; and he was probably not exaggerating. 
Fifteen or sixteen was a common age for marriage in 
Shakespeare's day. The maiden of twenty was regard- 
ed as a confirmed spinster. Sometimes girls were mar- 
ried so young that it was necessary to wait several years 
before they were old enough for actual wives. This 
may have been shrewd business but much immorality 
resulted from this child-marriage common in fashion- 
able life. 

29 Compare Katherine in Shakespeare, "Taming of the Shrew," act ii, 
scene i. 

Old World Origins - Specific Sources 35 

Courtship in the England of Elizabeth was bolder 
and ruder than to-day. It was, however, improper to 
propose to the girl before obtaining the parents' consent 
and as often as not it was they that conveyed the pro- 
posal to the girl. Old plays contain more references to 
the necessity of the lover's trying to win the mother's 
aid than the father's. A girl rarely dared, however, 
withstand the father's will for a marriage, and few 
lovers would risk the loss of a marriage portion through 
failure to obtain paternal assent to their suit. Lyly 
presents the situation vividly in these words : 

Parents in these days are grown peevish, they rock their chil- 
dren in their cradles till they sleep, and cross them about their 
bridals until their hearts ache. Marriage among them has be- 
come a market. What will you give with your daughter? 
What jointure will you make for your son? And many a match 
is broken off for a penny more or less, as tho they could not 
afford their children at such a price ; when none should cheapen 
such ware but affection, and none buy it but love. . . Our 
parents . . . give us pap with a spoon before we can speak, 
and when we speak for that we love, pap with a hatchet. 

He adds, "I shall measure my love by mine own 
judgment, not my father's purse or peevishness. Nature 
hath made me his child not his slave." The Elizabethan 
girl that opposed her father's choice was indeed treated 
like a slave. "Romeo and Juliet" and the "Two Gen- 
tlemen of Verona" reflect this fact and Ophelia's im- 
plicit acquiescence in her father's despotism shows 
what was expected of a well-bred English girl in Shake- 
speare's day. 

Ceremonial betrothal often preceded marriage. It 
took place before a responsible witness, preferably a 
priest. After the ceremony the terms husband and 
wife could be applied and possibly the privilege of the 

36 The American Family - Colonial Period 

marriage bed might be enjoyed. A like usage will be 
noted in the American colonies. 

In a way children seem to have been esteemed in six- 
teenth century England. Bonfires were often built in 
celebration of a wife's pregnancy. Births were cele- 
brated similarly and by other public rejoicing. But 
children among all classes were treated with severity. 
A Venetian noble who accompanied an ambassador 
from Venice to the English court in the sixteenth cen- 
tury wrote: 

The want of affection in the English is strongly manifested 
toward their children [,] for having kept them at home till they 
arrive at the age of seven or nine years, they put them out, both 
males and females to hard service in the homes of other people, 
binding them generally for another seven or nine years. And 
these are called apprentices, and during that time they perform 
all the most menial offices; and few are born who are exempted 
from this fate, for every one, however rich he may be, sends 
away his children into the homes of others; whilst he in return 
receives those of strangers into his own. 

This sounds like a rigid system yet \\t find children 
described as "most ongracious graflftes, ripe and ready 
in all lewd libertie" through the fault of the parents 
and schoolmasters "which do nother teach their chil- 
dren good, nother yet chasten them when they do evill." 
Between the Reformation and the Civil War lay a cen- 
tury of peace. Men had time to know their children. 
Little ones figure prettily in memoirs, letters, and art. 
These children seem to have led happy lives for the 
most part. 

In the seventeenth century, people looking back re- 
gretted the passing of the time when daughters were 
obsequious and serviceable, when 

There was no supposed humiliation in offices which are now ac- 
counted menial, but which the peer received as a matter of 

Old World Origins -Specific Sources 37 

course from the gentlemen of his household, and which were 
paid to the knights and gentlemen by domestics chosen in the 
families of their own most respectable tenants; whilst in the 
humbler ranks of middle life it was the uniform and recognized 
duty of the wife to wait on her husband, the child on his 
parents, the youngest of the family on his elder brothers and 

With the seventeenth century and the Puritan move-' 
ment we come to the immediate sources of New Eng- 
land family institutions. It is particularly to the tradi- 
tions and standards of the middle class, especially of the 
Puritan type, that we must look for the genesis of north- 
ern colonial life. Moreover in the southern colonies 
this class was stronger and the "cream of society" was 
weaker than southerners of aristocratic tastes like to ad- 
mit. The New World environment, too, favored the 
standards of the middle class from which the immi- 
grants came. This concurrence of geographic and so- 
cial influences gives us our distinctive civilization. Our 
modern ideal of monogamy with equality and mutuality 
is not of aristocratic lineage. It comes up apparently 
from the "lower" classes where econotnic conditions 
forbade polygamic connections. Sumner says: "It is 
the system of the urban-middle-capitalist class. . . 
In the old countries the mores of the middle class have 
come into conflict with the mores of peasants and nobles. 
The former have steadily won."^^ Naturally so inas- 
much as this bourgeoisie, drawing into itself the more 
enterprising sons of the peasantry and grasping the 
power that economic change wrested from the nobility, 
has dominated modern society. 

Puritanism was an economic phenomenon. ^^ The in- 

30 Hill. Women in English Life, vol. i, 125. 

31 Sumner. Folkways, 375-376. 

32 Compare Parce, Economic Determinism, 98, 102, no; Patten, Develop- 
ment of English Thought, 81-98, 124-134; Meily, Puritanism, chapter iil. 

o . 

38 The American Family -Colonial Period 

fluence of the Renaissance had spread a belief in the 
pleasures of this world and a regard for the life of the 
flesh as good in itself. Such a view is the spiritual re- 
flection of the increased comfort and plenty arising 
from even the limited economic progress of the middle 
ages. The inventions and changes of the fifteenth cen- 
tury made indoor life less barren and more agreeable 
and a new type of man was the result- a man that dis- 
liked the open country and became attached to home. 
Elizabeth introduced many new food plants from Italy. 
Domestic comfort began to enter the homes of the poor. 
They began to provide their cottages with chimneys. 
The use of window glass spread and pillows appeared 
on the beds of the common people. The new conditions 
made real family life possible. The home became the 
center of pleasurable activities. To have a wife a home- 
maker -one that could change into comforts the neces- 
sities that man produced -was so much the more de- 

Under earlier conditions enjoyment had been sought 
in group festivities, which were likely to be unrestrained 
and licentious. The development of the modern home 
caused a divide in social life and gave those that were so 
disposed a more refined way of satisfying their desire 
for pleasure. Those in whom the bonds of morality 
and the ties of family life were strongest gradually with- 
drew from the coarser community revelry. The Protes- 
tant Reformers extolled family life and denounced com- 
munal pleasures, attributing their moral degeneration 
to the Catholic church. New economic conditions with 
their numerous luxuries offered a strong temptation to 
depart from ancestral simplicity and brought about a 
market for indulgences among those that desired to 
reconcile their moral feelings with conflicting economic 

Old World Origins -Specific Sources 39 

tendencies. The bettering of economic conditions in 
the fifteenth century had, then, increased the evils of 
communal pleasures and also strengthened and intensi- 
fied family life. Europe was at the parting of the ways. 
The "Puritan" was ready for a moral crusade against >. 
the growing dissipation and vice that threatened the 

In the opening years of the seventeenth century re- 
fined English ladies preferred rural seclusion to the dis- 
soluteness of the court of James I. Charles purified 
the court; yet the ladies stayed in the country. 

It should be remembered that while Puritanism was 
of English growth the continent had a Puritanism of its 
own. The ordinary Dutchman of the seventeenth cen- 
tury stayed at home three hundred and sixty days in the 
year spending his time in the ancestral dwelling that his 
grandfather had built for him. In Germany, says 

The merry, life-loving townsman of the middle ages became a 
bigoted, austere, sombre Philistine. . . The honorable citi- 
zen with his stiff cravat, his narrow intellectual horizon, his 
severe but hypocritical morality, became the prototype of soci- 
ety. Legitimate wives who had not favored the sensuality tol- 
erated by the Catholicism of the middle ages, were generally 
better pleased by the Puritan spirit of Protestantism. 

The Puritan emphasis on sexual restraint was of a 
piece with the general gospel of frugality so appropri- 
ate among a class of people trying to accumulate capital 
in an age of deficit. Urgent economic interests fur- 
thered the novel virtue of male chastity. The neces- 
sity of accumulation led the Puritan to reprobate all un- 
profitable forms of sin including markedly licentious- 
ness, that prodigal waster. But male chastity, being 
less important than female in safeguarding legitimate 

40 The American Family -Colonial Period 

inheritance, never has attained the sanctity enforced 
upon females. 

The Puritan concept of home was negative. A home 
was made mainly by abstaining from other social rela- 
tions. As we have seen, communal pleasures were mor- 
ally dangerous or at least were so considered. Thus 
the Maypole had been associated with sex excitement 
and indulgence. Accordingly in 1644 the Puritan par- 
liament forbade Maypoles. The Puritans also con- 
demned music as one of Satan's snares and ruled it out 
of the family. They were too short-sighted to glimpse 
the remoter connections between rhythm and efficiency. 
The Puritan Englishman was unsociable, independent, 
full of biblical traditions which cultivated reverence for 
paternal authority and a desire for abundant paternity. 

English families were among the largest in the world. 
The manor house, the parsonage, the doctor's and the 
lawyer's homes were swarming with children. The 
women married young and very frequently died in their 
youth from sheer exhaustion by child-bearing. Second 
marriages and double sets of children were found every- 
where. Infant mortality was high. 

The later Puritanism distorted childhood. Milton's 
father, tho a strict Puritan, was not harsh to his children, 
but the poet was the embodiment of unreasonableness 
and cruelty. The seventeenth century in Europe was 
an age of precocity. The Puritans, as we shall see in 
the colonies, were ready to promote this tendency. The 
fear of infant damnation made necessary the earliest 
possible conversion of the child. In seventeenth cen- 
tury England it was in Puritan households that the rod 
was most favored ; for were not the little ones until con- 
version children of wrath requiring to have the devil 
well whipped out of them? Calvinism retarded, thus, 

Old World Origins -Specific Sources 41 

what had been a promising movement away from the 
rod. If the Puritan wife "obeyed her husband, calling 
him Lord" she required at the same time strict obedi- 
ence and honor at the hands of her children. 

Nevertheless in some homes of much religious strict- 
ness the children were most tenderly dealt with. The 
fact that so many mothers died young may have been a 
factor in causing women to train their infants pre- 

A man's family included his entire household from 
chaplain to kitchen boy, and for their welfare -soul and 
body- the master considered himself accountable. He 
ruled at least the lower of them with the rod. 

Girls of the seventeenth century, like their predeces- 
sors, married early. While daughters were yet at school 
or even in the nursery, careful parents were already 
pondering the selection of husbands. Children were 
often married at thirteen. Daughters were usually al- 
lowed at least the right of refusal but they do not seem 
to have been prone to make objection. Both Puritans 
and cavaliers were ready to advise their children, "Let 
not your fancy overrule your necessity," "Where pas- 
sion and affection sway, that man is deprived of sense 
and understanding." Mercenary marriages were in 
keeping with the nature of the hard-headed middle- 
class that took to Puritanism. It is surprising that the 
majority of the seventeenth century marriages of which 
we hear seem to have turned out so well. 

Under the early Stuarts the education of women 
continued to be seriously regarded but it is doubtful 
whether the high standards of the Tudor ladies were 
preserved save in select circles. A volume published 
in London in 1632 declares that "the reason why women 
have no control in Parliament, why they make no laws. 

42 The American Family -Colonial Period 

consent to none, abrogate none, is their original sin." 
The Cromvvellian period brought no improvement in 
the condition of woman. Ministers still preached her 
responsibility for the fall, and warnings were thundered 
against her extreme sinfulness. Milton's views were 
derogatory of woman. He says: "Either . . . 
polygamy is a true marriage, or all children born in 
that state are spurious, which would include the whole 
race of Jacob, the twelve tribes chosen by God. . . 
Not a trace appears of the interdiction of polygamy 
throughout the whole law, not even in any of the proph- 
ets." Paradise Lost inculcated many views inimical 
to woman. Milton was a tyrant over his own house, 
unloved by any of his series of wives or by his daugh- 
ters. He did much to strengthen the idea of woman's 
subordination to man: "He for God; she for God in 
him;" or as Eve puts it-"God thy law, thou mine." 

The idea that learning was a waste of time for a 
woman was beginning to assert itself but did not meet 
with universal acceptance. The education of women 
was generally neglected: some women of high rank 
could not write. The mother was generally found at 
home superintending the education of her daughters. 
As housewife she was supposed to order thoroly her 

We must not suppose that the Puritan husband was 
always a despot. There were many happy marriages.^^ 
Cromwell's wife wrote to him: "My life is but half a 
life in your absence, did not the Lord make it up in 
Himself." He wrote to her: "Thou art dearer to me 
than any creature, let that suffice." Colonel Hutchin- 

33 Traill and Mann. Social England, vol. iv, 220; Byington. The Puri- 
tan in England and New England, 222-231; Coxe. Claims of the Country on 
American Females, vol. ii, 15; Young. Chronicles of the First Planters of 
the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, from 1623 to 1636, 432. 

Old World Origins -Specific Sources 43 

son, one of the Ironsides, was a model husband, full of 
tenderness and devotion. The age shows many illustra- 
tions of beautiful family relations. John Winthrop 
writes to his wife thus: "My only beloved spouse, my 
most sweet friend, and faithful companion of my pil- 
grimage, the happye and hopeful supplye (next Christ 
Jesus) of my greatest losses." He addresses her at va- 
rious times as -"My truly beloved and deare wife. . . 
My sweet wife. . . My most deare and sweete 
spouse. . . My deare wife, my chief love in this 
world." Mrs. Winthrop declared that her husband 
loved her; and "she delighted to steal time from house- 
hold duties to talk with her absent lord." John Cotton 
addresses his wife as "Dear wife and comfortable yoke- 
fellow . . . sweetheart." 

The seventeenth-century lady who, owing to her 
shortage of money or to other disability, had failed of 
marriage enjoyed none of the present recourses. She 
could not properly set up bachelor quarters. It was 
customary for the mistress of a house to have a gentle- 
woman as assistant and such a position afforded a nat- 
ural occupation for an unmarried relative or friend tho 
the "position was often not much better than that of a 
superior lady's maid." "Even before their marriage, 
if they had no homes, and in the hard and troublous 
times of the Civil War, girls not infrequently accepted 
an ofifer of this description."^* 

While the spirit of Puritanism drew sharp lines 
around the family and strengthened its stakes, there 
were Reformation influences, as we have seen, that 
tended to unsettle the family (along with other social 
institutions). The Renaissance and the Reformation 

3* Bradley. The English Housewife in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth 
Centuries, 24, 

44 The American Family -Colonial Period 

worked out in the elevation of the individual and tended 
to cause the decline of the family as a social unit. Every 
man was to stand on his own feet. Laxity of opinion 
and teaching on the sacredness of the marriage bond 
and in regard to divorce goes back to continental Prot- 
estants of the sixteenth century. It was reflected in the 
laws of Protestant states in Europe and in the codes of 
New England. The Reformation was not immediate- 
ly a great ethical force. The effect of Protestant lib- 
erty was at first bad because it set men free to violate 
social standards. Rights were magnified; duties ap- 
proached zero. Reformers' later writings lament hor- 
rible moral deterioration of the people. 

Strange sects arose. In 1532 John Becold of Leyden 
arrived at Miinster with a great number of believers. 
He pretended to receive revelations, one of which was 
that God willed that a man should have as many wives 
as he pleased. John had fifteen and encouraged poly- 
gamy among his followers. It was counted praise- 
worthy to have many wives and all the good-looking 
women in Miinster were besieged with solicitations. 
(It is noteworthy that there was a surplus of woman in 
Miinster at the time. Such a situation favors poly- 
gamy.) A later leader, Jan Wilhelms, had twenty-one 

Save at Miinster polygamy was never even proposed 
by Anabaptists. Nevertheless dangerous influences 
were spreading. It was at Norwich among an ofifshoot 
of Anabaptists that Brown (Separatist) established his 
first congregation. In the eyes of the Brownists mar- 
riage was only an ordinary contract requiring neither 
minister nor magistrate. Francis Johnson, third chief 
of the Brownists, justified bundling with other men's 
wives. The Pilgrims were Brownists. Robertson at- 

Old World Origins -Specific Sources 45 

tributes the Plymouth communism to Brownist influ- 
ence. It may be that some of the sexual looseness and 
trouble with people marrying themselves (in New Eng- 
land) was a reflection of the extravagances of the Eu- 
ropean sectaries. 

To some the doctrines and practices of the Friends 
seemed dangerously loose. This sect believed mar- 
riage to be an ordinance of God, not requiring the in- 
tervention of a clergyman. The bride and the groom 
took each other in presence of the meeting and signed 
a certificate which was then signed by the audience. 
For a time such marriages were illegal but in 1661 a 
decision was rendered in their favor. This was an im- 
portant victory as enemies were raising questions as to 
legitimacy and property under such marriages. Fox 
claimed scripture in support of the Friends' practice. 
"Where do you read," he says, "from Genesis to Revela- 
tion that ever any priest did marry any?" 

But the Friends found it necessary to censor marriage. 
Fox says, "Many had gone together in marriage con- 
trary to their relations minds; and some young, raw 
people, that came among us had mixt with the world. 
Widows had married without making provision for 
their children by their former husbands," etc. So it 
was ordered that all bring their marriages before the 
meetings. Fox opposed marriage of too near kindred, 
hasty remarriages, and child marriages. He advocat- 
ed a register of marriages. None were to marry with- 
out parents' or relatives' certificate. The Quakers in 
England were demanding (1655) equal rights for wo- 
men, abolition of lewd sports, and establishment of 
civil marriage. The Quakers were a species of Super- 

Had the unsettling, secularizing, individualistic ten- 


46 The American Family -Colonial Period 

dencies of the Protestant movement gone altogether 
without counteraction the family would doubtless have 
approached a stage of disintegration comparable to 
that of to-day. Milton's liberal divorce ideas are no- 
torious. Puritan advocacy of divorce was stimulated 
by the trading-class opposition to feudalism. ^^ Indis- 
soluble marriage, vital to feudalism, was a convenient 
point of attack. (Present outcry against "the divorce 
evil" comes chiefly from the ritualistic churches, them- 
selves survivals of feudalism.) But the original ground 
of monogamy- the necessity of restricted and ascer- 
tained progeny as heirs- remained and monogamy was 
consequently retained with divorce as a loophole. An 
additional support of monogamy continued in the fact 
that the order of exploitation established by the bour- 
geoisie like its feudal predecessor kept most men too 
poor to afford a plurality of wives. 

There was sufficient canniness in the Calvinist to pre- 
vent excess of riot. The Puritans were men of business 
and where the financial pawn is at stake marriage is 
likely to be relatively stable. The significance of Cal- 
vin's position (for the purpose of this study) will be 
very evident if we remember the make-up of the colo- 
nial population. Through all the colonies ran the creed 
of Calvin whose doctrines lived in the Puritan, the 
Dutch Reformed, the Huguenot, the Scotch-Irish. It 
may be well therefore to cite the position of this man 
whose teachings influenced so deeply the foundations 
of America. 

From our point of view at least, Calvin's doctrine of 
marriage lacks consistency and, judged by present no- 
tions, his conception of the marriage relation is by no 
means a high one. True, he does liken the conjugal 

35 Meily. Puritanism, 58. 

Old World Origins -Specific Sources /\rj 

relation to that existing between Christ and the believer 
and insists that it must be supported by mutual fidelity 
but when all is said marriage is, according to his teach- 
ing, simply a vent to passion, a last resort when self- 
control fails. (The Westminster larger catechism 
enumerates among "the duties required in the seventh 
commandment . . . marriage by those that have 
not the gift of continency.") Woman, wife, thus be- 
came a channel for lust, tho even in matrimony due re- 
straint and moderation were to be observed. 

Children were to be kept in strict subjection. "Those 
who violate the parental authority by contempt or re- 
bellion, are not men but monsters. Therefore the Lord 
commands all those who are disobedient to their parents 
to be put to death." '^ 

Obviously this stern doctrine of the family was cal- 
culated to develop an institution under paternal su- 
premacy with the wife a mere adjunct to her lord's 
desires and the children minor slaves of his will. Such 
results are easier to secure than the masculine fidelity 
with which Calvin idealized his teachings. It will be 
found that, in broad outline, the colonial family re- 
flected the type approved by Calvin, tho not without 
mollifications induced by fatherly love or by the limits 
of wifely and filial patience, or imposed by the sense of 
the community. 

Inasmuch as the first English colony of the North 
was formed by sojourners from Holland it is well be- 
fore proceeding to the study of colonial life to examine 
the influences to which the Pilgrims were subject dur- 
ing their stay in the low countries. 

In Leyden the (Dutch) people generally were be- 
trothed or married very young. Sometimes the be- 

2^ On Calvin, see his Institutes, vol. i, 344-345, 360, 364-367. 

48 The American Family -Colonial Period 

trothal was of considerable duration and the betrothed 
pair enjoyed great liberty. At the end of the sixteenth 
century marriage was solemnized in church, tho some- 
what privately, but inside of ten years it became almost 
entirely a civil ceremony, celebrated in presence of the 
magistrate. Pastor Robinson agreed "that the cere- 
monies of marriage and burial, being common to all 
men, whether Christian or heathen, were no part of the 
services of the church, and should be performed . . . 
by a civil magistrate." 

Some other features of Dutch life seem to have in- 
fluenced American life through the Pilgrims. One was 
the high position of women. The women of Nether- 
lands in the sixteenth century were distinguished by 
beauty of form and vigor of constitution. Unconfined, 
travelling alone and unafraid, they had acquired man- 
ners more frank and independent than women in other 
lands, while their morals were pure and their decorum 
undoubted. The women of the Dutch Netherlands in 
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were more high- 
ly educated, better protected by the laws, and more 
prominent in station than any of their contemporaries." 
On the wife's judgment, prudence, foresight, everything 
hinged. In business, women's opinions were sought 
and valued. They often engaged unquestioned in busi- 
ness independent of their men-folk. Holland was the 
only country where boys and girls were educated alike 
in the same schools. In most cities husband and wife 
were responsible for each others' debts. According to 
Moryson the husbands were veritable slaves and he tells 
of one wife who said that her husband "had newly asked 

37 Compare Van Rensselaer, The Goede Vrouiu of Mana-ha-fa, i6og-jy6o, 
10-13; Motley, Rise of the Dutch Republic, vol. i, 98; Cockshott, The Pil- 
grim Fathers, n6, 117. 

Old World Origins -Specific Sources 49 

her leave to goe abroade." "I may boldly say," he re- 
marks, "that the women of those parts, are above all 
others truly taxed with this unnatural domineering over 
their husbands." The high position of woman was not 
approved by English writers. Guicciardini, also, 
writes: "The Women governe all, both within doors 
and without, and make all bargains, which joyned with 
the natural desire that Women have to bear rule, mak- 
eth them too imperious and troublesome." 

The rights of wife and children were very carefully 
secured. A wife could bequeath her dowry as she 
pleased and, if childless, could will to her kin, after her 
husband's death, half of what he had acquired after 
marriage. Should husbands "either break in life-time, 
or be found banckerouts at death the wives are pre- 
ferred to all debtors in the recovery of their dowry." 
The influence of this usage on Plymouth law will be 
suggested in the study of that colony, as also the influ- 
ence of the Dutch law of inheritance which provided 
for far greater equality among members of the family 
than prevailed in England. 

In Holland estates were usually left to be divided 
equally among all the children. Thus few received 
enough for maintenance and it was necessary to learn 
self-support. A son could not be disinherited save for 
certain causes approved by law and a father must leave 
at least one-third his estate for his children. More- 
over, upon the death of their mother the children could 
require their father to divide his goods with them "lest 
he should waste all." 

Dutch influence had something to do with the broad 
liberal policy of the first generation of Pilgrims. More- 
over, the Pilgrims had during their twelve years in Hoi- 

50 The Anur'uan Family - Colonial Period 

land an excellent experience in family training. The 
schools were Dutch and home training was necessary. 

Conditions in Holland were not sufficiently favorable 
to invite permanent residence. 

¥oT [says Bradford] many of their children, that were of best 
dispositions and gracious inclinations, having learned to bear 
the yoke in their youth, and willing to bear part of their parents 
burdens, were oftentimes so oppressed with their heavy labors, 
tho their minds were free and willing, yet their bodies bowed 
under the weight of the same and they became decrepit in their 
early youth. . . Many of their children . . , were 
drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous 
courses, getting the reins off their necks, and departing from 
their parents. 

This was one of the considerations that led to migra- 
tion to America. 


In essentials the marriage usages of the United States 
run back to the period before the Revolution. The 
American colonist of English stock was a home-builder 
from the beginning. It was because the hazards of 
life at home made it impossible to gather a competence 
for their children that the religious enthusiasts sought 
a settled habitation over seas.^^ These sturdy English- 
men came, not as individual adventurers, but as fam- 
ilies. If men came alone it was to prepare the way for 
wife and children or sweetheart by the next ship and 
they came to stay. The success of English colonization 
as contrasted with the more brilliant but less substantial 
French and Spanish occupation of the new world is due 
to its family nature. 

The white colonial population of New England was 
pure English save for some Scotch-Irish in New Hamp- 
shire and Huguenots in Massachusetts and Rhode Is- 
land. This homogeneity of the North Atlantic colonies 
makes it possible to study them as a group and simpli- 
fies the understanding of their cultural lineage. 

Marriages began at an early date in the new world. 
Love-making must have been a welcome pastime on the 
interminable voyages of those days and chaperonage 
seems to have been unknown in colonial life. Men 
took long rides with the damsel on the pillion behind 
them. Certainly the Puritans, sharply struggling, fru- 

^** Smythe. Conquest of Arid America, 12, 14. 

52 The American Family -Colonial Period 

gal, and homekeeping, did not multiply social functions 
as means for intercourse of youths and maidens. Till 
the singing-school came to save the day, regular oppor- 
tunities for young New Englanders to become acquaint- 
ed with prospective mates were apparently few. But 
even in New England, maidens enjoyed large liberty, 
for the neighborhoods were at first composed of ap- 
proved families and in any case it was impossible in the 
; wild, rough, new land, where every hand was needed 
for urgent labor, to think of secluding girls. To such 
influences we may trace the liberty of the modern Amer- 
ican girl. Untoward results sometimes ensued, even in 
supposedly staid colonial days, before the primitive 
simplicity was adequately safeguarded. 

Love and marriage at first sight brought romantic in- 
terest to the wilderness life where existence without 
home connections offered no attraction to serious men. 
In more than one instance a lonely Puritan came to the 
door of a maiden he had never seen, presented creden- 
tials, told his need of a housekeeper, proposed marriage, 
obtained hasty consent, and notified the town clerk, all 
in one day. On one occasion a bold fellow removed a 
rival's name from the posted marriage notice, inserted 
his own, and carried off the bride. After his death she 
married the first lover. Another Lochinvar kidnapped 
a bride-to-be on the eve of marriage. 

In some parts of Connecticut courtship was carried 
on in the living-room in the presence of the family. 
Sara Knight, who journeyed from Boston to New York 
and back in 1704, notes the Puritanism of people along 
the way who would not allow harmless kissing among 
the young people. An earlier English traveller gives 
a cheering glimpse of Boston: ''On the South there 
is a small but pleasant common, where the gallants, a 
little before sunset, walk with their Marmalet-Madams 

Courtship and Marriage in New England 53 

till the nine o'clock bell rings them home to their re- 
spective habitations." 

In at least one noteworthy case the maiden did the 
courting. Cotton Mather writes: 

There is a young gentlewoman of incomparable accomplish- 
ments. No gentlewoman in the English Americas has had a 
more polite education. She is one of rare witt and sense; and 
of a comely aspect ; and . . . she has a mother of an extra- 
ordinary character for her piety. This young gentlewoman 
first addresses me with diverse letters, and then makes me a visit 
at my house; wherein she gives me to understand, that she has 
long had more than an ordinary value for my ministry ; and that 
since my present condition has given her more of liberty to think 
of me, she must confess herself charmed with my person, to such 
a degree, that she could not but break in upon me, with her 
most importunate requests, that I should make her mine, and 
that the highest consideration she had in it was her eternal sal- 
vation, for if she were mine, she could not but hope the effect of 
it would be that she should also be Christ's. I endeavored faith- 
fully to set before her all the discouraging circumstances at- 
tending me, that I could think of. She told me that she had 
weighed all those discouragements but was fortified and resolved 
with a strong faith in the mighty God for to encounter them 
all. . . I was in a great strait how to treat so polite a gen- 
tlewoman. . . I plainly told her that I feared, whether her 
proposal would not meet with unsurmountable opposition, from 
those who had a great interest in disposing of me. However I 
desired that there might be time taken. . . In the mean- 
time, if I could not make her my own, I should be glad of being 
any way instrumental, to make her the Lord's. . . She is 
not much more than twenty years old. I know she has been a 
very aiery person. Her reputation has been under some disad- 
vantage. What snares may be laying for me I know not. [The 
gossip that arose about this case became such a nuisance that] 
all the friends I have . . . persuade me, that I shall have 
no way to get from under these confusions but by proceeding 
unto another marriage. Lord help me, what shall I do? ^^ 

39 Mather's Diary (Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, seventh 
ser., vol. vii), part i, 457-458, 477, 

54 The American Family -Colonial Period 

The fathers seem to have relied much on the Lord 
ill their courtship. On the occasion of his widowhood 
Mather wrote: "1 have committed unto my Lord 
Jesus Christ the care of providing an agreeable consort 
for me, if my support in the service of his church . . . 
render it necessary or convenient." Later he thinks 
that the Lord is arranging things tho the people are 
worrying him about matches. It would be hard for 
them to tell, one might suppose, how much had been 
done by divine agency, inasmuch as match-makers were 
common. Thus Sewall writes of his second wife: ". . . 
My loving wife, who was the promoter of the match 
[of daughter Judith] and an industrious contriver of 
my daughter's comfortable settlement" has died. "I 
need your prayers that God . . . would yet again 
provide such a good wife for me, that I may be able to 
say I have obtained favor of the Lord ; or else to make it 
best for me to spend the remnant of my life in a wid- 
owed condition." 

Parents had, of course, a profound interest in their 
children's matrimonial outlook. We find Judge Sewall 
craftily and slyly endeavoring to ascertain whether his 
daughter Mary's prospective suitor had previously 
courted another girl. Later we read: "In the even- 
ing Sam Gerrish came not; we expected him; Mary 
dress'd herself; it was a painfull disgracefull disapoint- 
ment." A month later the delinquent lover returned 
and finally married Mary, who died shortly and thus 
opened the way for a speedy remarriage to his first love. 

Zeal for parental authority shows itself in legal at- 
tempts to restrain eager suitors from their unauthorized 
courting of "men's daughters and maids under guard- 
ians . . . and of mayde servants." As late as 1756, 
Connecticut recognized the right of parents to dispose 

Courtship and Marriage in New England 55 

of children in marriage. In New Haven, 1660, Jacob 
Minline went into the room where Sarah Tuttle was, 
seized her gloves, and then kissed her. "They sat down 
together; his arm being about her; and her arm upon 
his shoulder or about his neck; and hee kissed her, and 
shee kissed him, or they kissed one another, continuing 
in this posture about half an hour." Father Tuttle 
sued Jacob for inveigling his daughter's affections. 
When asked in court whether Jacob inveigled her affec- 
tions she answered "No;" so the court fined Sarah rath- 
er than Jacob, calling her a "bould virgin." She 
answered "she hoped God would help her to carry it 
better for time to come." At the end of two years her 
fine was still unpaid and half of it was remitted. 

In spite of all the seeming parental tyranny that pre- 
vailed in colonial days young women seem to have exer- 
cised considerable independence in love affairs. Betty 
Sewall, to her father's dismay, refused several suitors. 
Once he writes urging her to think well before she dis- 
misses a certain suitor but telling her, nevertheless, that 
if she can not love, honor, and obey the man, her father 
will say no more. 

Parents were not, indeed, legally supreme over their 
children's espousal. The general authority pursued its 
own ends and might work against the parental authority 
as well as with it. In a new country, needing popula- 
tion, it was natural that pious authorities should frown 
upon any discouragement of legitimate increase. The 
interests of the community took precedence over the pri- 
vate interests of parents, guardians, and masters. Mar- 
riage was normally undelayed. Appeal to a magistrate 
was in order in case of unreasonable opposition by those 
in charge of the young people. Thus unruly parents 
could be brought to terms. . 

56 The American Family -Colonial Period 

Parents could be held to account for evil results of 
unreasonable opposition. In 1679 a couple being con- 
victed of fornication before marriage, the case was held 
over and parents summoned to show why they denied 
the young couple marriage so long "after they were in 
order thereto." Such a decision would be distasteful 
to those that regarded as a divine gift the parental pow- 
er to dispose of a child in marriage. We can imagine 
how it would impress the colonial gentleman who once 
expressed the opinion that "virgin modesty . . . 
should make marriage an act rather of obedience than 
choice . . . and they that think their friends too 
slow-paced in the matter give certain proof that lust is 
the sole motive." 

Breach of promise sometimes occurred. Suits seem 
to have been rare; but cases were sometimes brought 
against both men and women and there are instances of 
damages assessed in behalf of men as well as for women. 
Such episodes suggest the economic element in mar- 

The European tendency to mercenary marriage car- 
ried over to the new world. Capital was naturally in 
urgent demand. Marriage was accorded matter-of- 
fact treatment. No sentiment was presupposed and it 
was easy for marriage to degenerate into a mere bar- 
gain. Emanuel Downing, one of the ablest Puritans, 
writes in 1640 of his matrimonial projects for children 
and niece, for which maiden he had secured a "varie 
good match," a member of the church with an estate of 
four hundred or five hundreds pounds. Governor Win- 
throp was Mrs. Downing's brother and guardian to the 
little orphan girl, Rebecca Cooper, "a verie good 
match," an "inheritance" on whom Downing and his 
wife had pitched as a fit wife for their son. Without 

Courtship and Marriage in New England 57 

speaking to the girl they wrote to the governor. He 

For the present, for these grounds. First: The girle desires 
not to mary as yet. Secondlie: Shee confesseth (which is the 
truth) hereself to be altogether yett unfitt for such a condition, 
shee being a verie girl and but fifteen yeares of age. Thirdlie: 
When the man was moved to her shee said shee could not like 
him. Fourthlie: You know it would be of ill reporte that a 
girl because she hath some estate should bee disposed of soe 
young, espetialie not having any parents to choose for her. . . 
If this will not satisfy some, let the court take her from mee 
and place with any other to dispose of her. I shall be content. 
Which I heare was plotted to accomplish this end. 

There was doubtless point to the Massachusetts law of 
1646 that no female orphan during her minority should 
be given in marriage except with the approbation of 
the majority of the selectmen of her town. 

Luce Downing was persuaded by her mercenary par- 
ents' statement of pecuniary benefits to wed Mr. Norton 
to her father's delight, who wrote: "Shee may stay 
long ere she meet with a better unless I had more monie 
for her than I now can spare." But the girl's affections 
were vacillating; she seemed to be proposing to jilt 
Norton. His brother wrote a pointed letter to the gov- 
ernor about her vagaries. More liberal settlements 
were made; so she married Norton. The crassly mon- 
etary philanderings of Sewall" illustrate splendidly 
the mercenary spirit pervading the match-making of 
the New Englanders. 

The useful function of widows in colonial economics 
appears in the frank words of one worthy who says, 

Our uncle is not at present able to pay you or any other he owes 
money to. If he was able to pay he would ; they must have pa- 
tience till God enable him. As his wife died in mercy near 

*" Summarized in Goodsell, History of the Family, 360-363 ; Earle, Cus- 
toms and Fashions in Old Nnv England, 43-56. 

58 The American Family -Colonial Period 

twelve months since, it may be he may light of some rich widow- 
that may make him capable to pay; except God in this way 
raise him he cannot pay you or any one else. 

Benjamin Franklin, in the New England Courant 

of December 11, 1721, lampoons economic marriage 



A Swarm of Sparks, young, gay, and bold, 
Lov'd Sylvia long, but she was cold ; 
Int'rest and pride the nymph control'd, 
So they in vain their passion told. 
At last came Dulman, he was old. 
Nay, he was ugly, but had gold. 
He came, and saw, and took the hold. 
While t'other beaux their loss consol'd. 
Some say, she 's wed ; I say she 's sold. 

Speculating fops are hit in the Courant of January 
29, 1722: 

Adv. Several journeymen gentlemen (some foreigners and 
others of our own growth), never sully'd with business, and fit 
for town or country diversion, are willing to dispose of them- 
selves in marriage, as follows, viz: Some to old virgins, who, 
by long industry have laid up £500, or proved themselves 
capable of maintaining a husband in a genteel and commendable 
idleness. Some to old or young widows, who have estates of 
their first husband's getting, to dispose of at their second hus- 
band's pleasure. And some to young ladies, under age, who 
have their fortunes in their own hands, and are willing to main- 
tain a pretty', genteel man, rather than be without him. 

N.B. The above gentlemen may be spoke with almost any 
hour in the day at the Tick-Tavern in Prodigal Square, and 
will proceed to courtship as soon as their mistresses shall pay 
their tavern score. 

The genuine matrimonial advertisement put in its 
appearance in 1759. In the Boston Evening Post^ Feb. 
23, 1759) appeared: 

To the ladies. Any young lady betvveen the age of 18 and 23 
of a midling stature; brown hair, regular features and a lively 

Courtship and Marriage in New England 59 

brisk eye: of good morals and not tinctured with anything that 
may sully so distinguishable a form possessed of £300 or 400 
entirely her own disposal and where there will be no necessity 
of going through the tiresome talk of addressing parents or 
guardians for their consent: such a one by leaving a line directed 
for A.W. at the British Coffee House in King Street appoint- 
ing where an interview may be had will meet with a person 
who flatters himself he shall not be thought disagreeable by any 
lady answering the above description. N.B. Profound secrecy 
will be observ'd. No trifling answers will be regarded. 

We have ample evidence that fashionable courtship 
was permeated by a constantly economic spirit. Hap- 
py husbands were ready to sue their fathers-in-law if 
they proved too tardy or remiss in the matter of the 
bridal portion." For years Edward Palmer worried 
the Winthrops about their sister's (his first wife's) 
dowry, long after he had taken a second wife. In 1679 
James Willet, who had married Lieutenant Peter 
Hunt's daughter Elizabeth, claimed that the father had 
promised one hundred pounds as inducement. He 
sued for payment but lost and had to pay costs. Still 
the marriage seems to have been honorable and happy. 
Judge Sewall after his daughter's death higgled with 
her father-in-law over her dowry and grief did not dull 
his shrewdness. 

As has already been suggested, the entrance to matri- 
mony was well guarded in colonial New England. The 
law required previous publication, parental consent, and 
registration. Throughout New England except in New 
Hampshire the law enforced for nearly two centuries 
the publication of the banns three times preliminary to 
marriage. Sometimes consent of parents was included 
in the notice of banns. New Hampshire law, breezy 

*^ Earle. Customs and Fashions in Old Neiv England, 62. 

6o The American Family - Colonial Period 

foreshadowing of western recklessness, made possible 
''unpublished" marriage for such as would pay two 
guineas for a license. Considerations of revenue were 
the spring of this radicalism. Sometimes parsons kept 
a stock of these licenses on hand for issue to eloping 
couples at a profit."^ Runaway marriages without pub- 
lication were not considered very respectable; strict- 
ness in regard to marriage was as much in the interest 
of the state as for the satisfaction of parents. 

New England called a halt to the growing tendency 
to make marriage an ecclesiastical function. Marriage 
was declared to be a civil contract, not a sacrament, and 
to require no priestly intervention. In the early period 
the Puritans were ordinarily more careful than Calvin 
who called the conjugal relation "sacred." They were 
satisfied with calling it "honorable." The publication 
of banns was ordinarily set for a public lecture or train- 
ing day rather than on the Sabbath. The administra- 
tion of the marriage law was a local function, per- 
formed by town officers. The Pilgrims had adopted 
the views of the Dutch Calvinists as to marriage ; they 
held that neither Scripture nor the primitive Christians 
had ever authorized clergymen to perform marriage 
services, but that marriage with its civil obligations and 
connection with property rights as well as its impor- 
tance in a business way to the state should be a strictly 
civil contract to be entered into before a magistrate. 
Thus William Bradford writes: 

May 12 was the first marriage in this place; which according to 
the laudable custom of the low-cuntries, in which they had 
lived, was thought most requisite to be performed by the magis- 
trate, as being a civill thing upon which many questions about 
inheritances doe depende with other things most proper to their 
cognizance, and most consonante to the Scriptures. 

•*2 Earle. Customs and Fashions in Old Neiv England, 76. 

Courtship and Marriage in New England 6i 

Civil marriage was not only the custom; it was the only 
legal form. Winthrop reports an interesting case. 

There was a great marriage to be solemnized at Boston. The 
bridegroom being of Hingham Mr. Hubbard's church, he was 
procured to preach and came to Boston to that end. But the 
magistrates . . . sent to him to forbear. The reasons : . . . 
For that his spirit had been discovered to be averse to our ec- 
clesiastical and civil government; and he was a bold man and 
would speak his mind. 2. We were not willing to bring in the 
English custom of ministers performing the solemnities of mar- 
riage, which sermons at such times might induce; but if any 
ministers were present, and would bestow a word of exhorta- 
tion, etc., it was permitted. 

Opposition to a religious ceremony existed at a late 
date. A Huguenot clergyman was haled to court in 
1685 for solemnizing marriages in Boston. He agreed 
to desist but presently forgot his promise. For some 
reason he saw fit to depart the same week for New York. 

In the early years of the colonies the English usage 
of ceremonial betrothal persisted. In Plymouth this 
observance was known as pre-contract. Cotton Mather 
says : "There was maintained a solemnity called a con- 
traction a little before the consummation of a marriage 
was allowed of. A pastor was usually employed and a 
sermon also preached on this occasion." One minister 
preached from Ephesians, vi, 10, 11, in order "to teach 
that marriage is a state of warfaring condition." The 
moral tendency of this half-way marriage must have 
been bad. 

In many towns disorderly marriages -many of them, 
doubtless, between Quakers-were punished. Cases of 
self-betrothal seem to have been frequent and an ob- 
server writes that "there are those who practice no 
formality of marriage except joining hands and so live." 

62 The American Family -Colonial Period 

The possible connection of such laxity with Brownism 
has already been suggested. Clandestine marriages 
were frequent enough to be troublesome. The second 
generation at Plymouth developed radicalism. One 
fancy was the performance of marriage by unauthor- 
ized persons. Some couples dispensed with celebrant 
altogether. Men were fined for disorderly marriage. 
In Boston in 1641, Governor Bellingham gave scandal 
by suddenly marrying a woman who was about forming 
a contract with another. The banns had not been legal- 
ly published and he married himself. He was prose- 
cuted but refused to leave the bench of the court. Amid 
excitement the case was postponed and it was not again 
called up. Some couples were fined every month till 
they were properly married. 

A Rhode Island act of 1647 outlaws the simple mar- 
riage by agreement. The Rhode Island colony records 
contain the case of a couple who had married them- 
selves before witnesses. The woman had been legally 
separated from her husband, who got away with most 
of her estate. So she took up with George Gardener 
for her maintenance but was oppressed in spirit because 
she judged him not to be lawfully her husband. She 
petitioned to have her property and live apart. The 
assembly stigmatizes her as an abominable fornicator. 
The pair had owned each other as man and wife for 
eighteen or twenty years. Each was fined twenty 
pounds and ordered "not to lead soe scandalose life." 
Thereafter such marriages were to be proceeded against 
as for fornication. Due rules for marriage should be 
observed. Exception was made in favor of those then 
irregularly living as man and wife. They must live 

A New London scapegrace insisted on taking up 

Courtship and Marriage in New England 63 

with a woman and making her his wife without cere- 
mony. The affair was a scandal to the community. A 
magistrate, meeting the couple on the street, accosted 
them thus: "John Rogers, do you persist in calling 
this woman, a servant, so much younger than yourself, 
your wife?" "Yes, I do," retorted John. "And do 
you, Mary, wish such an old man as this to be your 
husband?" "Indeed I do," she said. "Then, by the 
laws of God and this commonwealth," was the discon- 
certing reply, "I, as a magistrate, pronounce you man 
and wife." 

Such were the difficulties that beset the fathers in 
their attempt to steer a safe middle course between cere- 
monial and common law marriage. 

During the "tyranny" following 1686 the laws re- 
quiring marriage by civil magistrate were abrogated. 
Referring to Charlestow^n, Mr. Edes writes that the 
Reverend Charles Morton "was the first clergyman in 
this place to solemnize marriages, which previously to 
1686 were performed only by civil magistrates." 

As it became apparent that the Reformation church 
was a safe constituent of the new economic order, dis- 
trust of ecclesiastical functionings faded. In 1692 (the 
year Plymouth was merged in Massachusetts) the 
clergy were first authorized by the new province to per- 
form marriages. The following is found for Connecti- 
cut in 1694: 

This court for the satisfaction of such as are conscientiously de- 
sireous to be marryed by the minister of their plantations do 
grant the ordayned ministers of the severall plantations . . . 
liberty to joyne in marriage such persons as are qualified for 
the same according to law. 

Opposition to religious ceremonial abated and presently 
ministers of all denominations were allowed to perform 

64 The American Family -Colonial Period 

the ceremony. Neal in his History of New England 
wrote : 

All marriages in New England were formerly performed by the 
civil magistrate, but of late they are more frequently solemnized 
by the clerg}', who imitate the method prescribed by the church 
of England except in their collects, and the ceremony of the 

Nevertheless the Puritan contention has prevailed. 
Marriage was secularized and brought under control 
of the civil law and to-day when a minister performs the 
ceremony it is as an agent of the state that he acts. 

The settlers in the New World gradually introduced 
more ceremony and gayety into their weddings. As- 
ceticism could not outlive the age of deficit. In wealthy 
families a handsome outfit was usually provided for the 
adornment of the bride. Rude merriment attended 
New England weddings. There was sometimes a 
scramble for the bride's garter. The winner was sup- 
posed to gain luck and speedy marriage. In Marble- 
head the bridesmaids and groomsmen put the newly 
married pair to bed. It is said also that the bridal 
chamber was the scene of healths drunk and prayers 
offered. Judge Sewall was slighted on one occasion. 
He says that "none came to us" (after he and his elder- 
ly bride had retired) . This usage of visiting the bridal 
chamber was doubtless a reminiscence of the day when 
every marriage w^as a tribal concern whose issue was 
vital to group life. 

It was customary to allow the bride to choose the text 
of the sermon on the Sabbath when she appeared as 
bride. Brides were sometimes commendably clever in 
this matter. Thus Asa Somebody and his bride were 
edified by a discourse on the words: "And Asa did 
that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord 
his God." Another favorite was: "Two are better 

Courtship and Marriage in New England 65 

than one; because they have a good reward for their 
labor. For if they fall the one will lift up his fellow; 
but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he 
hath not another to help him up." In some places the 
bride and groom seated themselves prominently in the 
gallery and in the midst of the service rose and rotated 
slowly several times for the edification of the congrega- 

Even the small number of negroes in New England 
was a problem. In 1705 in Massachusetts we find that 
intermarriage between a white person and a negro or 
mulatto was forbidden by statute and a fine of fifty 
pounds fixed upon any person officiating at such mar- 
riage. It was also ordered that "no master shall un- 
reasonably deny marriage to his negro with one of the 
same nation." Masters were responsible for the fines 
incurred by their slaves for sex offences ; hence it might 
be less trouble to allow regular wedlock. Common- 
law marriage seems to have been valid but there were 
public legal marriages among Massachusetts slaves. 
Their banns were published in regular form. 

The dependence of negro marriage on the master's 
good will is illustrated by a bill of sale of a negress in 
Boston in 1724 which recites that "Whereas Scipio, of 
Boston . . . free negro . . . purposes mar- 
riage to Margaret, . . . servant of . . . Dor- 
cas Marshall: now to the intent that the said intended 
marriage may take efi^ect, and that the said Scipio may 
enjoy the said Margaret without any interruption," etc. 
she is duly sold with her apparel for fifty pounds. 

The later Massachusetts act (1786) prohibiting the 
marriage of whites to Indians, negroes, or mulattoes 
and declaring such marriages void was not repealed 
till 1843. 

66 The American Family -Colonial Period 

There were throughout New England regular mar- 
riages of white men with Indian women. In slavery 
days in Massachusetts it was to the advantage of ne- 
groes to take Indian wives for the children of such 
unions would be free. 

That economic interest was stronger than moral sense 
in the hearts of the fathers is shown in a formula for 
slave marriage" prepared and used by Reverend Sam- 
uel Phillips of Andover (1710-1771) : 

You S. do now in the presence of God, and these witnesses, take 
R. to be your wife ; promising that so far as shall be consistent 
with the relation which you now sustain, as a servant, you will 
perform the part of a husband towards her; and in particular 
3'ou promise that you w^ill love her; and that, as j^ou shall have 
the opportunity' and ability you will take a proper care of her in 
sickness and health, in prosperity and adversity; and that you 
will be true and faithful to her, and will cleave to her only, so 
long as God in his Providence, shall continue your and her 
abode in such place (or places) as that you can conveniently 
come together. 

Similar words were repeated to the woman. 

*3 Howard. History of Matrimonial Institutions, vol. ii, 225-226. 


To the Pilgrim and the Puritan the home and the 
church were preeminent treasures. Yet it is hard to 
say whether family or property constituted the Puritans' 
chief treasure. The two interests interacted. 

The early Puritans married young. Madam Knight 
wrote (1704) of Connecticut youth : "They generally 
marry very young, the males oftener as I am told under 
twenty years than above." Girls often married at six- 
teen or under. Old maids were ridiculed or even de- 
spised. A woman became an "antient maid" at twenty- 
five. But there is no evidence that child marriages, so 
common in England at the time, were ever permitted in 

A man or woman, however, without family ties was 
almost unthinkable. Such an anomaly could not be 
tolerated. Even apart from the weight of this senti- 
ment, it is easy to see that marriage would be almost 
the only honorable refuge for a woman. But New 
England family policy pressed as heavily upon the un- 
attached man as on the isolated woman. Bachelors 
were rare and were viewed with disapproval. They 
were almost in the class of suspected criminals. They 
were rarely allowed to live by themselves or even to 
choose their places of abode but had to live wherever 
the court put them. A Massachusetts act of 1631 for- 
bade hiring any person for less than a year unless he 
were a "settled housekeeper." In Hartford solitary 

68 The American Family - Colonial Period 

men were taxed twenty shillings a week. A New 

Haven law runs thus: in order to 

Suppress inconvenience, and disorders inconsistent with the 
mind of God in the fifth commandment, single persons, not in 
service or dwellinjj; with their relatives are forbidden to diet or 
lodge alone; but they are required to live in "licensed" families; 
and the governors of such families are ordered to "observe the 
course, carriage, and behavior of every such single person, 
whether he or she walk diligently in a constant lawful employ- 
ment, attending both family duties and the public worship of 
God, and keeping good order day and night or otherwise. 

Similar measures are found in the other colonies. 
Bachelors were under the special espionage of the con- 
stable, the watchman, and the tithing-man. There was, 
moreover, a positive premium on marriage in addition 
to the freedom gained. Many towns assigned building 
lots to bachelors upon marriage. It is not strange that 
bachelors were scarce. 

Old maids, too, were rare and hard-off. The ques- 
tion of the "aimless and homeless" condition of single 
women troubled the selectmen. Grants seem to have 
been made of "maid's lots" but the policy was ques- 
tioned. In 1636 we find this entry: "Deborah Holmes 
refused land, being a maid (but hath four bu. of corn 
granted her. . .) and would be a bad precedent to 
keep house alone." Later we find the Bay Colony al- 
lowing single women to follow approved callings. But 
marriage was, normally, prompt. A man writing from 
the Piscataqua colony says, "A good husband, with his 
wife to attend the cattle and make butter and cheese will 
be profitable, for maids they are soone gonne in this 

There were, however, a few notable spinsters. The 
Plymouth church record of March 19, 1667, notes the 
death of "Mary Carpenter sister of Mrs. Alice Brad- 

The New England Family 69 

ford, wife of Governor Bradford, being newly entered 

into the ninety-first year of her age. She was a godly 

old maid never married." 

John Dunton wrote in glowing terms of one ideal 


It is true an old (or superannuated) maid in Boston is thought 
such a curse, as nothing can exceed it (and looked on as a dismal 
spectacle) yet she by her good nature, gravity, and strict virtue 
convinces all (so much as the fleering Beaus) that it is not her 
necessity but her choice that keeps her a virgin. She is now 
about thirty years (the age which they call a thornback) yet she 
never disguises herself, and talks as little as she thinks of love. 

This maid must have been very singular to deserve as 
much space as she received. The eulogist dilates at 
length on her modesty and propriety. "She would 
neither anticipate nor contradict the will of her par- 
ents" and "is against forcing her own, by marrying 
where she can not love; and that is the reason she is still 
a virgin." 

Taunton, Massachusetts, was founded by an "ancient 
maid" of forty-eight. Winthrop's Journal for 1637 
contains this item: "This year a plantation begun at 
Tichcutt by ... an ancient maid, one Mrs. Poole. 
She went late thither and endured much hardship and 
lost much cattle." 

In case of the decease of husband or wife remarriage . 
was prompt. The first marriage in Plymouth colony 
was that of Edward Winslow, who had been a widower 
only seven weeks, to Susanna White who had been a 
widow not twelve weeks. The case was exceptional 
but in the new land there was no place for ceremonial 
mourning in such a case. It was fitting that Winslow 
should be at the head of a household and the White 
children needed a father especially as their mother was 
taken up with the care of an infant. Later the governor 

70 The American Family - Colonial Period 

of New Hampshire married a lady whose husband was 
but ten days dead. Such frequent and hasty espousals 
were not altogether due to the impossible condition of a 
man or woman without a partner in the midst of a wil- 
derness with all the families fully occupied in caring 
for their own. They were common in England. 

A few concrete cases of colonial remarriage will 
make the usage vivid. Peter Sargent, a rich Boston 
merchant, had three wives. His second had had two 
previous husbands. His third wife had lost one hus- 
band, and she survived Peter, and also her third hus- 
band, who had three wives. His father had four, the 
last three of whom were widows. One reverend gentle- 
man, facing death, confidently told his wife that she 
would soon be well provided for. "She was very short- 
ly after very honorably and comfortably married unto a 
gentleman of good estate" and lived with him nearly 
two score years. 

"Mistress" was attached to the names even of young 
girls. This usage makes it hard sometimes to ascer- 
tain whether a bride was a widow. But it is certain 
that widows were at a premium in colonial days. Per- 
haps the principal reason for this fact was the one in- 
dicated in the previous chapter in the discussion of ec- 
onomic marriage. It is hard to explain otherwise-^hy 
men passed by the maidens and took the widows. And 
among these there was room to choose, for the number 
of colonial widows was huge. In 1698 it was said that 
Boston was full of widows and orphans, many of them 
very helpless. It is safe to say that the helpless ones 
went longest desolate. Their miserable condition em- 
phasized again the importance of normal family con- 
nections. So we need not be surprised to find a choice 
widow whose love for her departed husband was reput- 
ed to be "strong as death" speedily marrying again. 

The New England Family 71 

So important was proper family relation that persons 
living apart from their spouses were sometimes ordered 
to get their partners or clear out. The well-being of 
the community was conceived to depend on rigid fam- 
ily discipline and if a man had no family he must find 
one. Thus New England law provided that "married 
persons must live together, unless the court of assistants 
approve of the cause to the contrary." In Rhode Is- 
land in 1655 we find it "ordered that Thomas Gennings 
shall go and demand his wife to live with him, but in 
case she refuse, he shall make his addresse to the Gen- 
erall Court of Commissioners for redresse in the case." 
In 1660 the Connecticut court ordered 

That noe man or woman, within this colony who hath a wife or 
husband in forraigne parts, shall live here above two years, upon 
penalty of 40s. per month upon every such offender and any that 
have been above three years already, not to remaine within this 
colony above one yeare longer upon the same penalty, except 
they have liberty from the General Court. 

It was not uncommon for immigrants to leave their 
spouses in Europe. Sometimes, as we shall see later, 
this was simple desertion, but by no means always. 
Thus a letter from England to Mr. Gibb in Piscataquay 
reads : 

I hope by this both your wives are with you according to your 
desire. I wish all your wives were with you, and that so many 
of you as desire wives had such as they desire. Your wife, 
Roger Knight's wife, and one wife more we have already sent 
you and more you shall have as you have wish for them. 

Occasionally a wife was disinclined to come to Amer- 
ica. Governor Winthrop wrote to England in 1632: 

I have much difficultye to keepe John Galope heere by reason 
his wife will not come. I marvayle at her womans weaknesse, 
that she will live myserably with her children there when she 
might live comfortably with her husband here. I pray per- 
swade and further her coming by all means. If she will come 

72 The American Family -Colonial Period 

let her have the remainder of his wages, if not let it be bestowed 
to bring over his children for soe he desires. 

Reverend Mr. Wilson had a hard time persuading his 
wife to cross. Even a cleverly interpreted dream did 
not avail. He sent back comfortable reports, and fi- 
nally recrossed the ocean after her. Then, after much 
fasting and prayer, she finally agreed to "accompany 
him over an ocean to a wilderness." These cases were 
not typical. Wives were ordinarily willing to try the 
new world. 

It is evident that the family w^as regarded as an in- 
strument to be used deliberately by the community for 
social welfare. 

In the colonial records of Connecticut (1643), it is 
declared that 

The prsprit\' and well being of Comon weles doth much dep>end 
vvpon the well gouerment and ordering of prticuler Familyes, 
wch in an ordinary way cannot be expected when the rules of 
God are neglected in laying the foundation of a family state. 

In Massachusetts during the period between 1660 
and 1672, it was ordered that 

[The] selectmen of every town, in the several precincts and 
quarters wher they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their 
brethren and neighbors to see, first that none of them shall 
suffer so much barbarism in any of their families, as not to 
endeavor to teach . . . their children and apprentices so 
much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English 
tongue and knowledge of the capital laws. 

Once a week children and apprentices are to be cate- 
chized "in the grounds and principles of religion" and 
they are to be bred and brought up in some honest law- 
ful calling "profitable for themselves and the common- 
wealth," if their parents "will not or can not train them 
up in learning to fit them for higher employments." 
Neglect of parental duty "whereby children and ser- 

The New England Family 73 

vants become rude, stubborn and unruly" is penalized 
by the removal of the children into better hands until 
they come of age. It seems that the law was for a time 
unenforced, "sin and prophaness" increased "and the 
ensnaring of many children and servants by the disso- 
lute lives and practices of such as do live from under 
family government." The laws were ordered enforced 
and a list to be made of young persons living "from un- 
der family government, viz., do not serve their parents 
or masters as children, apprentices, hired servants, or 
journeymen ought to do, and usually did in our native 
country, being subject to their commands and disci- 
pline." Masters and heads of families were to take 
effectual care that their children and servants did not 
violate the Sabbath laws. Selectmen were to see to it 
that parents educated their children, for "many parents 
and masters are too indulgent and negligent of their 

Plymouth also took action : "Forasmuch as the good 
education of children and youth is of singular benefit 
and use to any commonwealth; and whereas many par- 
ents and masters either through an over respect to their 
own occasions and business or not duly considering the 
good of their children and servants, have too much 
neglected their duty in their education," parents are to 
be watched so that they properly teach their children. 
If after admonition and repeated fine negligent parents 
did not improve, the children were to be taken away 
and placed with masters where they would receive 
training and government. It should be remembered 
in this connection that the Plymouth people for a long 
period were in bondage to the capitalists that financed 
the original expedition, and consequently had to absorb 

74 The American Family -Colonial Period 

all their energies in a sordid struggle for material inter- 
ests. But pioneer life puts a damper on culture. 

In the records of Connecticut (1665-1677) we find 
the following: 

Whereas reading the Scripture, cattechizing of children and 
dayly prayer with giueing of thanks is part of God's worship and 
the homage due to him, to be atended conscientiously by euery 
Christian family to distinguish them from the heathen whoe 
call not upon God, and the neglect of it a great sin . . . 
this court do solemnly recommend it to the ministry in all 
places, to look into the state of such famalyes, convince them of 
and instruct them in their duty [etc. Townsmen were to as- 
sist ministers] but if any heads or gouernors of such famalys 
shall be obstinate and refractorie and will not be reformed, that 
the grand jury present such person to the county court to be 
fined or punished or bownd to good behavior, according to the 
demeritts of the case. 

The tithing-man was the censor of New England 
family life. His power entered every home. He 
looked after family morals and saw to the main- 
tenance of family government, that all single per- 
sons were attached to some family, that children and 
servants were properly taught and trained at home and 
kept from disorderly and rude practices abroad. By a 
town order of Dorchester in 1678 it was required "that 
the tithing men in their severall precincts should in- 
spect all inmates that do come into each of their pre- 
cincts either single persons or families, and to give 
spedy information thereof unto the selectmen from time 
to time or to some of them that order may be taken 
about them." 

Under such supervision it was a risky thing to have 
visitors. The harboring of strangers, even relatives 
from other places, often brought difficulty between citi- 
zens and magistrates and frequently caused arbitration 
between towns. Thus, in Connecticut, "Goodman Hunt 

The New England Family 75 

and his wife, for keeping the counsels of the said Wil- 
liam Harding, baking him a pasty and plum cakes, 
and keeping company with him on the Lord's day, and 
she suffering Harding to kiss her," were ordered to be 
sent out of town "within one month after the date here- 
of, yea, in a shorter time if any miscarriage be found in 
them." A Dorchester widow was not allowed to enter- 
tain a visiting son-in-law. Another woman was fined 
in 1671 "under distress" for housing her own daughter 
tho the latter (a married woman) said the bad weather 
kept her from home. 

This prying authority would have been resented by 
as keen a people as the New Englanders had it been im- 
posed by external authority. In later days they quickly 
remembered the English maxim, "every man's house 
his castle." James Otis in his speech on writs of assis- 
tance said, "One of the most essential branches of Eng- 
lish liberty is the freedom of one's house. A man's 
house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet is as well 
guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ would 
totally annihilate this privilege." One can imagine the 
indignation when an officer whom Justice Walley had 
summoned for breach of the Sabbath used his power to 
search that dignitary's house from cellar to attic. Prob- 
ably even the building laws imposed by the local au- 
thorities for fire-protection would have been looked at 
askance if they had been imposed by an alien power. 

The reader has, of course, noted the religious cast of 
the family function. The fathers adopted the maxim 
that "families are the nurseries of the church and the 
commonwealth; ruin families and you ruin all." The 
maintenance of family religion was universally recog- 
nized in early New England as a duty and was seriously 
attended to in most families. Daily the scriptures were 

76 The American Family -Colonial Period 

read and worship was offered to God. Fathers sought 
for their children, as for themselves, "first the kingdom 
of God and His righteousness" (which, somehow, un- 
fortunately for morality, seemed to sanction forms of 
sin that filled the pocketbook). The religious influence 
pervaded family, school, society. Yet as early as 1679 
a ''Reforming Synod" at Boston said, "Family Worship 
is much neglected" and by 1691 a lament arose over the 
decay of piety and family religion. This was just one 
year after the appearance of the New England Primer 
which w^as certainly calculated to stem such a tide of 
evil. Catechism learning was enforced by law. But 
even in 1716 Mather thought it necessary, in the assem- 
bly of ministers, to "propose a motion . . . that no 
family in the country be without a Bible and a cate- 
chism; and that all children of a fitt age, be found able 
to read." 

Theophilus Eaton, first governor of New Haven, was 
a shining example of the true patriarch. 

As in his government of the commonwealth, so in the govern- 
ment of his family, he was prudent, serious, happy to a wonder ; 
and altho he sometimes had a large family, consisting of no less 
than thirty persons, yet he managed them with such an even 
temper, that observers have affirmed that they never saw a 
house ordered with more wisdom. He kept an honorable and 
hospitable table; but one thing that made the entertainment 
thereof the better, was the continual presence of his aged mother, 
by feeding of whom with an exemplary piety till she died, he in- 
sured his own prosperity as long as he lived. His children and 
servants he mightily encouraged in the study of the scriptures, 
and countenanced their addresses to himself with any of their 
inquiries ; but when he saw any of them sinfully negligent about 
the concerns either of their general or particular callings, he 
would admonish them with such a penetrating efficacy, that they 
could scarce forbear falling down at his feet with tears. A 
word from him was enough to steer them. 

The New England Family 77 

Special laws for the further safeguarding of the fam- 
ily may be mentioned. For years the general court of 
Massachusetts acted as guardian of widows and or- 
phans. The Body of Liberties decreed that "no man 
shall be deprived of his wife or children . . . un- 
less by virtue of some express law of the country estab- 
lished by the General Court and sufficiently published." 

But the laws were not solely in the interest of the in- 
dividuals afifected. The Plymouth colony ordered that 
"no one be allowed to be housekeepers . . . till 
such time as they be allowed and approved by the gov- 
ernor and councill;" also "no servant coming out of his 
time or other single person [is] suffered to keep house 
or be for him or themselves till . . . competently 
provided of arms and ammunition according to the 
orders of the colony." In case of certain youthful 
offenders Massachusetts ordered (1645) that "their 
parents or masters shall give them due correction and 
that in the presence of some officer if any magistral 
shall so appoint." Again, 1668, 

This court taking notice, upon good information and sad com- 
plaints, that there are some persons in this jurisdiction, that 
have families to provide for, who greatly neglect their callings, 
or misspend what they earn, whereby their families are in much 
want, and are thereby exposed to suffer, and to need relief from 
others, This court for remedy of these great and unsuflferable 
evils, do declare that . . . such neglectors of families are 
comprehended among [such idle persons as are subject to the 
house of correction]. 

Such legislation is an interesting rival of maximum 
wage laws as is also the provision of 1703- 1704 that 
children of parents unable to maintain them are to be 
bound out. 

In spite of legal subordination and occasional actual 
sacrifice to the public interest the New England family 

78 The American Family -Colonial Period 

was not without individuality. One of the causes of 
the failure of the early communism lies right here. 
The yong-men that were most able and fitte for labor and 
service did repine that they should spend their time and strength 
to work for other men's wives and children without any recom- 
pense. . . And for men's wives to be commanded to do ser- 
vice for other men, as dressing their meate, washing their 
cloathes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slaverie; neither could 
many husbands well brooke it. 

After assignments of land were made to each household 
"Women and children helped plant the family lots, 
altho they would have considered it a great hardship to 
work in the common field." 

The Puritan censorship of family life was enforced 
by the arm of the law. But the Quakers, who could 
not control the civil power, maintained ecclesiastical 
oversight in behalf of moral training, sectarian sol- 
idarity and exclusiveness, parental control over court- 
ship, and general propriety as in the following query: 
"Do no widows admit proposals of marage too early 
after the death of their former husbands, or from wid- 
owers sooner after the death of a former wife than is 
consistent with decency?" 

The New England aristocracy possessed marked 
pride of family. Sumptuary laws were designed to 
maintain the distinction between rich and poor. One 
law provided that the wearing of gold or silver orna- 
ments, silk ribbons, etc. should cause assessment at one 
hundred fifty pounds. The law exempted families of 
magistrates or "such whose quality and estate have been 
above the ordinary degree tho now decayed." 

Ministers' families almost constituted a nobility. 
John Adams, who was only the son of a small, middle- 
class farmer, met with opposition from members of the 
flock of the minister whose daughter he was courting. 

The New England Family 79 

The Adams family was thought scarcely fit to match 
with the minister's daughter, the descendant of so many 
worthies. It so happened that her father was well dis- 
posed to the young man and after the ceremony had oc- 
curred saw fit to deliver an "Apology" from the text, 
"John came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, 
and ye say: 'He hath a devil.'" 

True to their noble rank the reverend families tended 
to marry into each other. For a century and a half 
such marriages were very numerous. It seemed to be 
according to social propriety for ministers' sons to 
marry ministers' daughters. Pastors often married into 
the family of their predecessors -often the daughter, 
sometimes the widow. Many families may be cited as 
exhibits of interrelationship among ministers. The 
"Mather Dynasty" is a conspicuous case in point. Rich- 
ard Mather's second wife was the widow of John Cotton. 
Their children, Increase Mather and Mary Cotton, 
were as brother and sister but were married and became 
the parents of Cotton Mather. The sons, grandsons, 
and great-grandsons of Richard Mather entered the 
ministry. The girls in the same generations married 
ministers. Thus the Mather blood fertilized the re- 
mote quarters of New England. 

Family integrity reached beyond death. Much so- 
licitude was felt by the New England people for the 
salvation of kindred. In many communities each fam- 
ily had a burying-place on the home-farm. Thus the 
dust of the dead consecrated the family devotion and 
the ancestral home of the living. Sewall considered a 
visit to the family tomb and the sight of the cofiins in it 
an "awful yet pleasing treat" and Joseph Eliot said 
"that the two days wherein he buried his wife and son 
were the best he ever had in the world." 

8o The American Family - Colonial Period 

In the rapid expansion of New England families 
there developed a tendency to the formation of patri- 
archal clans. Aubury noted the great number of half- 
finished houses. A man would build and occupy half 
of the structure; when his son married, the new couple 
finished and moved into the other half. The families 
were thus separate, yet united by the common shelter- 
ing roof. Often, too, as already suggested, the family 
circle was expanded into a real "familia." In the 
household of the prosperous Massachusetts merchant 
were indentured servants, male and female, generally 
young, working out their time. Wage employees, even 
those used in his business, commonly ate at his family 
table, and lived under his roof. All such were, of 
course, under the paternal care of the house-father. 
Besides these, were unattached female relatives, who 
often lived with their kindred. 

Careful as the new Americans were of their own 
families, and censorious as the aristocracy was of the 
families of the hard-pressed plebeians, they found them- 
selves unable (or unwilling) to safe-guard the family 
relations of their slaves. Slavery can scarcely respect 
the family integrity of the servile class. Aside from 
the lust of males of the master race, is the economic mo- 
tive that severs families for business reasons. Sewall, 
who was sufficiently cool-blooded in his own matri- 
monial ventures, was distressed at the thought of "how 
in taking negroes out of Africa and selling of them 
here, that which God has joined together men do boldly 
rend asunder; men from their country, husbands from 
their wives, parents from their children." Nor did the 
process end with the voyage from Africa. There was 
really no protection of marriage or sanction of marital 
or parental rights and duties. Who could be depended 

The New England Family 8 1 

on to vindicate the slave if the whim of a master ''un- 
reasonably" denied marriage? The owner of a valu- 
able female slave had to consider the risks of mother- 
hood as compared with the accession of a slave child 
which would be little worth. And as for males Sewall 
refers to the well-known temptation masters have to 
connive at their fornication lest they should have to find 
wives for them or pay their fines. And it is certain that, 
in spite of Puritan regard for parenthood and the care 
of children, they separated mothers from their off- 

One Massachusetts town hands down in tradition the 
memory of "raising slaves for market."" But the 
breeding of slaves was not, in general, regarded favor- 
ably in that colony. It seems to have been unprofitable. 
Negro children were, indeed, sold by the pound but the . 
market was sadly sluggish, for negro babies were adver- 
tised in Boston to be given away like puppies and some- ' 
times money was offered to any one that would take 
them.*^ Thus economic interest hoodwinked the Cal- 
vinist conscience as it always hoodwinks or swamps the • 
conscience of the master class in matters of class dom- 

Some show must, of course, be made of approxi- 
mating the relations of the disinherited to those of the 
privileged class. Thus in 1745 a negro slave obtained 
a divorce for his wife's adultery (with a white man) 
and in 1758 the Superior Court decided that a child of 
a female slave "never married according to any of the 
forms prescribed by the laws of the land" by another • 
slave who "had kept her company with her master's 

** Moore. Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts, 69. 
*° Earle. Customs and Fashions in Old Neiv England, 89; Moore, op. cit., 

82 The American Family -Colonial Period 

consent" was not a bastard. The reader will recall the 
mockery of slave marriage previously mentioned. 

Slavery never took deep root in New England. The 
climate was against it. The fewness of the negroes 
tended to make race questions less urgent than in the 
South. Some of the farmers ate with their slaves. 
Madam Knight complained that in Connecticut slaves 
were allowed to sit and eat with the masters. "Into the 
dish goes the black hoof as freely as the white hand." 
Hawthorne says concerning the slaves of New England : 

They were not excluded from the domestic affections; in fam- 
ilies of middling rank, they had their places at the board; and 
when the circle closed around the evening hearth its blaze 
glowed on their dark shining faces, intermixed familiarly with 
their master's children. 

But the system was evil at best, and did violence to 
the fundamentals of morality. There might be cause to 
wonder that the subordinating of the marital interests 
and family ties of the servile class to monetary consid- 
erations did not demoralize the family institutions of 
the masters, were it not that bourgeois marriage is 
itself an economic institution subordinating love to 
money, and further that in a society marked by class 
cleavage each social level preserves its own ethic, more 
or less distinct and insulated from that of the other 
classes. And we need only note the present-day phe- 
nomenon of "the divided conscience" in order to appre- 
ciate the incongruities that economic interest can per- 
petrate. The colonial conscience was able to witness 
even the shocking system of white servitude with its 
ruinous effects. Massachusetts tried to sell children of 
Quakers to Barbadoes but could find no shipmaster base 
enough to take them.*'' 

*^ Moore, op. cit., 33. 


The rigors and dangers of pioneer life constit 
colonial New England a man's world. Life condi 
allowed a type of patriarchism that found affinity in the/ 
Old Testament regime. Views as to proper relation* 
between husband and wife, parent and child, or be- 
tween man and maid before marriage, came directly 
from the scriptures, as for example Calvin's views 
quoted in an introductory chapter. Byington thinks 
that "The Courtship of Miles Standish" gives us a very 
correct picture of the social and family life of the Pil- 
grims. The proxy wooing suggests the patriarchal 
story of Isaac. 

Inasmuch as the husband was the patriarch, woman | 
found in matrimony but limited freedom. Sewall re- | 
ports a wedding address by Mr. Noyes in which he said 
that: "Love was the sugar to sweeten every condition 
in the married relation." It is to be feared that there 
was no superabundance of sugar in the Puritan domestic 
economy. An excess of male despotism is more prob- 
able. One man that abused his wife asserted in good 
ancestral phrase that she was his servant and slave. 

Woman was indeed "a sweet sex" but her sphere was 
narrow. Altho it was a woman that gave the first plot 
of ground for a free school in Massachusetts, education 
even in common schools was withheld from girls until 
it was found necessary to allow them to attend during 
the summer (while the boys were busy fishing) in or- 

84 The American Family - Colonial Period 

der to hold school moneys.*' One Connecticut town 
voted not to "waste" any of its money in educating 
girls.''* One small maiden sat for hours daily on the 
schoolhouse steps in order to catch as much as possible 
of the lessons going on inside. By the middle of the 
eighteenth century girls were sometimes sent to the city 
to finishing school. In 1788 Northampton voted not 
to spend any money on the education of girls. It was 
well into the nineteenth century before the New Eng- 
landers thought education for girls desirable. Mrs. 
John Adams said: "It was fashionable to ridicule fe- 
male learning. . . Female education in the best 
families went no further than writing and arithmetic; 
in some few and rare instances, music and dancing." 
Woman's only chance for much intellectual improve- 
ment was to be found in occasional contact with the 
learned, and in the families of the educated class. The 
only useful instruction in practical afifairs was received 
from the mother. When Governor Winthrop's wife 
lost her mind her Puritan women friends attributed the 
calamity to her desertion of her domestic duties and 
meddling in man's sphere. Governor Winthrop be- 
lieved that the young wife of the governor of Connec- 
ticut had gone insane "by occasion of giving herself 
wholly to reading and writing." Had she "not gone 
out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as 
are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she 
had kept her wits, and might have improved them use- 
fully and honorably in the place God had set her." 

There were, indeed, during the colonial period some 
women conspicuous for their brilliancy and mental at- 
tainments; but their field was cramped. The principal 

*'■ Gage. Woman, Church, and State, 407. 
*^ Scribner's Magazine, vol. 1, 762. 

Women in the New England Family 85 

charge against Mrs. Hutchinson was that she had, con- 
trary to Paul, presumed to instruct men. Anne Brad- 
street, daughter of Govejrnor Dudley and wife of a gov- 
ernor, the mother of eight children, and a faithful per- 
former of household and social duties, felt the pressure 
when she essayed to write poetry. She says : 

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue ^ 

Who says my hand a needle better fits, 

A poets pen all scorn I should thus wrong, 
For such despite they cast on female wits : 

If what I do prove well, it won't advance, 

They'l say it 's stoln, or else it was by chance. 

Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are 
Men have precedency and still excell, 

It is but vain unjustly to wage warre: 
Men can do best, and women know it well 

Preheminence in all and each is yours; 

Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours. 

In such an atmosphere it is not strange if, as Fisher says 
of the colonies in general, "Married women usually be- 
came prudes and retired from all amusements and 

Mrs. Adams writing in 1778 says: "I regret the 
trifling, narrow, contracted education of the females of 
my own country." She quotes some writer thus: 

If women are to be esteemed our enemies, methinks it is an ig- 
noble cowardice, thus to disarm them, and not allow them the 
same weapons we use ourselves ; but if they deserve the titles of 
our friends, 'tis an inhuman tyranny to debar them of the priv- 
ileges of ingenuous education, which would also render their 
friendship so much the more delightful to themselves and 
us. . . Their senses are generally as quick as ours; their 
reason as nervous, their judgment as mature and solid. . . 
Nor need we fear to lose our empire over them by thus improv- 
ing their native abilities; since, where there is most learning, 

86 The American Family - Colonial Period 

sense, and knowledge, there is always observed to be the most 
modest}^ and rectitude of manners. 

John Adams expressed his belief in the education of 
women. He said that great characters usually have 
some woman about them and that much of their larger 
success and the greatness of their lives is due to her 
influence. But in his opinion femmes savantes are 
contemptible. Mrs. Adams thought however that "if 
we mean to have heroes, statesmen, and philosophers, 
we should have learned women." 

One writer waxes poetic in his portrayal of the ideal 

woman. "Mrs. R had a round and pretty face, 

with gentle manners; kept her house well, her only 
pride to be neat and orderly. . . The hyacinth fol- 
lows not the sun more willingly than she her husband's 
pleasure." Dunton remarks, in like vein, of Mrs. Stew- 
art of Boston: "Her pride was to be neat and cleanly, 
and her thrift not to be prodigal, which made her sel- 
dom a non-resident of her household." It was a hard 
life -full of drudgery and of daily monotony. In old 
letters we find great rejoicing over small luxuries or 
labor-saving contrivances that found their way to the 
busy housekeeper. 

Among the Puritans no spirit of chivalry prevailed. 
The Massachusetts colony had a law that women sus- 
pected of witchcraft be stripped and their bodies scru- 
tinized by a male "witch-pricker" to see if there was 
not the devil's mark upon them. When in 1656 two 
Quaker women came to Boston from Barbadoes the 
deputy-governor apprehended and jailed them. They 
were in prison five weeks -till a ship was ready to de- 
port them. Endicott would have had them flogged. 
At Hartford, 1645, a man was fined "for bequething his 

Women in the New England Family 87 

wyfe." A Boston paper of 1736 contains the following: 

The beginning of last week a pretty odd and uncommon ad- 
venture happened in this town, between two men about a certain 
woman, each one claiming her as his wife, but so it was, that 
one of them had actually disposed of his right in her to the 
other for fifteen shillings this currency, who had only paid ten 
of it in part, and refus'd to pay the other five, inclining rather to 
quit the woman and lose his earnest ; but two gentlemen happen- 
ing to be present, who were friends to peace, charitably gave 
him half a crown apiece to enable him to fulfil his agreement, 
which the creditor readily took, and gave the woman a modest 
salute, wishing her well and his Brother Stirling much joy of 
his bargain. 

The reader will recall what was said in a previous 
chapter about the usage of wife-sale in England. 

On woman rested the burden of interminable child- 
bearing. Large families were the rule. Families of 
ten and twelve children were very common. Families 
of from twenty to twenty-five children were not rare 
enough to call forth expression of wonder. Josselyn 
(1673) remarks: "They have store of children." 

"Steeped in the Old Testament" where they read, 
"Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord : and the fruit 
of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of 
a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy 
is the man that hath his quiver full of them," and living 
in an empty land, the springs of fecundity were strong. 
Large families were eagerly welcomed. Boston had as 
little land to spare as any New England town but in the 
allotments women and children received a full share. 
In Brookline the early allotments were in proportion to 
the size of the family. As bait for immigrants, Gabriel 
Thomas wrote of the new world : 

The Christian children born here are generally well-favored 
and beautiful. . . I never knew any to come into the world 

88 The American Family — Colonial Period 

with the least blemish . . . being in the general . . . 
better-natured, milder, and more tender-hearted than those born 
in England. 

Equal praise was given to the children of Virginia. It 
was also asserted that the average family was larger in 
America. The question of pioneer fecundity receives 
larger attention in the next volume but it is cited here 
in order to emphasize the burden laid upon woman 
by primitive standards. 

Some specific illustrations may be of service. Speak- 
ing of a worthy, Mather said: 

He was twice married. By his first wife, the vertuous daugh- 
ter of parents therein resembled by her, he had six children. 
But his next wife was a young gentlewoman whom he chose 
from under the guardianship and with the countenance of Ed- 
ward Hopkins Esq., the excellent governor of Connecticut. . . 
By the daughter of that Mr. Launce, who is yet living among 
us, Mr. Sherman had no less than twenty children added unto 
the number of six which he had before. . . One woman [in 
New England] has had not less than twenty-two children: 
whereof she buried fourteen sons and six daughters. Another 
woman has had no less than twenty-three children by one hus- 
band; whereof nineteen lived unto men's and women's estate. 
A third was mother to seven-and-twenty children: and she that 
was mother to Sir William Phips, the late governor of New 
England, had no less than twenty-five children besides him; 
she had one and twenty sons and five daughters. Now unto the 
catalog of such "fruitful vines by the sides of the house" is this 
gentlewoman Mrs. Sherman to be enumerated. Behold thus 
was our Sherman, that eminent fearer of the Lord, blessed of 

Green, the Boston printer, had thirty children. Wil- 
liam Rawson had twenty by one wife. The reverend S. 
Willard, first minister of Groton, was one of seventeen 
children and himself had twenty. The reverend Abijah 
Weld of Attleboro, Massachusetts, had fifteen children. 

Women in the New England Family 89 

The reverend Moses Fisher had sixteen. Of Mrs. 
Sara Thayer, who died in 1751, a local poet wrote: 

Also she was a fruitful vine, 

The truth I may relate, - 
Fourteen was of her body born 

And lived to mans estate. 

From these did spring a numerous race, 

One hundred thirty-two; 
Sixty and six each sex alike, 

As I declare to you. 

And one thing more remarkable, 

Which I shall here record: 
She'd fourteen children with her 

At the table of our Lord. 

One worthy colonist died in 1771 leaving a progeny of 
one hundred eight children, grandchildren, and great- 
grandchildren. Another Massachusetts man died about 
the same time, leaving one hundred fifty-seven issue 
alive, including five great-grandchildren. 

In the seventeenth century, in spite of early marriage 
and very high birth-rate, increase was offset by fright- 
ful mortality of children; so that the slaughter of 
womanhood in incessant child-bearing was relatively 
vain. Significant is the inscription on a Plymouth 

grave-stone: "Here lies with twenty small 


Perhaps there is danger of overdrawing the harsh 
lines in colonial family life. There was real affection 
in many cases between Puritan husbands and wives. A 
few love letters ofTer proof. And the New Englanders 
wrote many eulogies of their wives. Ministers sounded 
in tedious sermons the piety of colonial women and 
poets sang their charms. A colonial writer (supposed- 

90 The American Family - Colonial Period 

ly President Clap of Yale, 1740- 1766) pays this trib- 
ute to his wife : 

[The Lord had apparently supplied his want of a woman of 
serene temper, and piety.] And if it happened at any time that 
we seemed not altogether to agree in our opinion or inclination 
about any lesser matter we used to discourse upon it, with a per- 
fect calmness and pleasancy ; but she did not choose to debate 
long upon any such thing but was always free and ready enough 
to acquiesce in the opinion or inclination of her husband. And 
such was her kind and obliging carriage to me, that I took great 
pleasure in pleasing her in everything that I could. . . And 
if at any time she had any just and necessary occasion to correct 
her children or servants she would do it with a proper and 
moderate smartness so as effectually to answer yet without the 
least passion or ruffle of mind. . . [If her husband was re- 
miss in anything, she gently intimated it to him, and (he says) 
she was usually right.] She always went through the difficul- 
ties of childbearing with a remarkable steadfastness, faith, pa- 
tience, and decency. . . Indeed she would sometimes say to 
me that bearing, tending and burying children was hard work, 
and that she had done a great deal of it for one of her age, (she 
had six children, whereof she buried four, and died in the 24 
year of her age.) yet would say it was the work she was made 
for, and what God in his providence had called her to, and 
she could freely do it all for Him. 

Minister Clap in his diary speaks thus of his wife: 

She exceeded all persons that ever I saw, in a most serene, pleas- 
ant, and excellent temper and disposition, which rendered her 
very agreeable and lovely to me, and all that were acquainted 
with her. I lived with her in the house near eleven years, and 
she was my wife for almost nine, and I never saw her in any 
unpleasant temper. Indeed I took great pleasure in pleasing 
her in everj'thing which I thought I conveniently could ; and if 
she erred in anything of that nature, it was sometimes in not in- 
sisting upon her own inclination so much as a wife may mod- 
estly do. [When he concluded to marry again he prayed:] If 
it be thy holy will and pleasure, I entreat thou wouldst bestow 
upon me one who is of a healthy constitution, chaste, diligent, 

Women in the New England Family 91 

prudent, grave and cheerful - one who is descended from cred- 
ible parents, who has been well educated in the principles of 
religion, virtue, industry, and decent behavior. And may be 
the desire of mine eye, as well as the delight of my heart. 

Back in the seventeenth century, the century of Puri- 
tanism, Anne Bradstreet wrote 

To MY Dear and Loving Husband 

If ever two were one, then surely we. 
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee; 
If ever wife was happy in a man, 
Compare with me ye women if you can. 

I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold. 
Or all the riches that the East doth hold. 
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench, yc 

Nor ought but love from thee, give recompence. 

Thy love is such I can no way repay. 
The heavens reward thee manifold I pray. 
Then while we live, in love lets so persever. 
That when we live no more, we may live ever. 

Thomas Shepherd, pastor at Cambridge from 1636 
to 1649, wrote on the death of his second wife that the 
Lord mixes mercy and affliction. 

My dear, precious, meek, and loving wife [has died in child- 
birth leaving two dear children. The Lord threatened to pro- 
ceed in rooting out my family like Eli's.] I saw that if I had 
profited by my former afflictions of this nature, I should not 
have had this scourge. . . This loss was very great. She 
was a woman of incomparable meekness of spirit, toward my- 
self especially, and very loving; of great prudence to take care 
for and order my family affairs, being neither too lavish nor 
sordid in anything, so that I knew not what was under her 
hands. . . The death of her first-born . . , was a 
great affliction to her. . . She . . . was the comfort 
of my life to me. . . When her fever began . . . she 
told me . . . we should love exceedingly together because 

qz The American Family -Colonial Period 

we should not live long together. . . Thus God hath 
much scourged me for my sins, and sought to wean me from this 

It was not prudent for the Puritan husband to be 
publicly demonstrative. Captain Kemble of Boston sat 
two hours in the public stocks (1656) for his "lewd and 
unseemly behavior" in kissing his wife "publicquely" 
on the Sabbath upon his doorstep when he had just re- 
turned from a voyage of three years.*^ 

Even such a scandalous wight as Captain Underbill 
had some regard for wifely wisdom. Against his will he 
had been prevailed upon by his wife to wear his helmet 
to battle against the Indians and it had saved his life. 
So he writes : 

Let no man despise advice and counsel of his wife, tho she be a 
woman. It were strange to nature to think a man should be 
bound to fulfil the humor of a woman what arms he should 
carry; but you see God will have it so that a woman should 
overcome a man. What with Delilah's flattery and with her 
mournful tears, they must and will have their desire, when the 
hand of God goes along in the matter. . . Therefore let the 
clamor be quenched I daily hear in my ears, that New England 
men usurp over their wives, and keep them in servile subjec- 
tion. The country is wronged in this matter as in many things 
else. Let this precedent satisfy the doubtful for that comes 
from the example of a rude soldier. If they be so courteous to 
their wives, as to take their advice in warlike matters, how 
much more kind is the tender affectionate husband to honor his 
wife as the w^eaker vessel? Yet mistake not. I say not that 
they are bound to call their wives in council, tho they are bound 
to take their private advice (so far as they see it make for their 
advantage and their good). 

On his trips with circuit court John Adams used to 
keep his wife regularly informed of his experiences. 
She does not appear to have often replied to these let- 
ters. To do so would have been difKcult, in that day of 

■*» Earle. Colonial Dames and Goodivives, 136. 

Women in the New England Family 93 

slow post, with him on the move. She was in closest 
sympathy with the development of his mind toward the 
Revolution. She bids adieu to domestic felicity, per- 
haps until they shall meet in another world. By her 
prudence during her husband's period of preoccupation 
in public afifairs, she saved him the embarrassment of 
poverty in later years. She was a moderating influence 
upon his fieriness. 

It is evident that practice in the best families in re- 
spect to woman's place outstript legal theory as implied 
in such a law as that of Massachusetts to the effect that 
"any conveyance or alienation of land or other estate 
whatsoever, made by any woman that is married, any 
child under age, ideott or distracted person, shall be 
good if it be passed and ratified by the consent of a gen- 
erall court." The pater familias was not absolute in his 
authority, even in the eyes of the law. Massachusetts 
provided that ''no man shall strike his wife, nor any 
woman her husband, on penalty of such fine, not ex- 
ceeding £10 for one offence, or such corporall punish- 
ment as the county court shall determine." The Ply- 
mouth law was the same. The Body of Liberties ( 1641 ) 
ordained that "everie marryed woeman shall be free 
from bodily correction or stripes by her husband, unless 
it be in his own defence upon her assault. If there be 
any just cause of correction complaint shall be made to 
authoritie assembled in some court, from which only 
she shall receive it." 

Wives enjoyed large protection from early laws. A 
man was not permitted to keep his wife on remote and 
dangerous plantations but must "bring her in, else the 
town will pull his house down." A man might not 
leave his wife for any length of time nor "marrie too 
wifes which were both alive for anything that can ap- 

94 The American Family - Colonial Period 

pear otherwise at one time." Nor must he even use 
''hard words" to her.^° 

The question of wifely subjection was not in all cases 
a simple one. In Rhode Island Mr. Verin's wife used 
to go out the back way to the adjoining house of Roger 
Williams to listen to his religious talks. Verin forbade 
her and the matter came up to the council. It was ob- 
jected that a motion to censure Verin would mean that 
"men's wives and children and servants could claim 
liberty to go to all religious meetings, tho never so 
often." One Arnold asserted that 'Svhen he consented 
to that order" for religious liberty, "he never intended 
it should extend to the breach of any ordinance of God, 
such as the subjection of wives to their husbands," etc. 
One Green replied "that if they should restrain their 
wives etc, all the. women of the country would cry out 
of them, etc." Arnold alleged that the desire to be 
gadding about was not prompted altogether by woman's 
conscience. Governor Winthrop notes that some mem- 
bers of the church at Providence suggested that if 
Goodman Verin would not allow his wife entire liberty 
to attend meeting on Sunday and weekly lectures as 
often as she desired "the church would dispose her to 
some other man who would use her better." The final 
action condemned Verin (1638). "It was agreed that 
Joshua Verin, upon the breach of a covenant for re- 
straining of the libertie of conscience, shall be withheld 
from the libertie of voting till he shall declare the con- 
trarie." He soon left Providence. Williams wrote of 

He hath refused to hear the word with us (which we molested 
him, not for this i2month) so because he could not draw his 
wife, a gracious modest woman, to the same ungodliness with 
50 Earle. Customs and Fashions in Old Neiu England, 68. 

Women in the New England Family 95 

him, he hath trodden her underfoot tj'rannically and brutishly; 
which she and we long bearing, tho with his furious blows she 
went in danger of her life, at the last the major vote of us dis- 
card him from our civil freedom, or disfranchise. 

Women's property interests received a measure of 
legal protection. It was enacted in Plymouth in 1636 
(perhaps under the influence of Dutch law) that when 
lands were seized to satisfy the creditors of a deceased 
man the part reserved for the support of wife and chil- 
dren could not be touched. In 1646 the consent of the 
wife was made necessary to the sale of houses or lands. 
This measure was reenacted in 1658. Massachusetts 
(1647) allowed the widow one-third of her husband's 
estate as dowry. Previously the Body of Liberties had 
provided that "if any man at his death shall not leave 
his wife a competent portion of his estate, upon just 
complaint made to the general court she shall be re- 

In Connecticut "when any man dieth intestate leav- 
ing an estate his widdow" shall have besides the third 
part of his real estate during her life "a part also of his 
personall estate equall to his eldest child, provided it 
exceed not a third part of the sd personall estate, which 
said part of her husband's personall estate shall be her 
own forever" (1696). The records of Connecticut 
show that "in the first settlement of the colony land was 
of little value in comparison with what it now [1723] 
is, by which means it became a general custom, that the 
real estate of any person" descending to his daughters 
"became . . . the proper and sole estate of their 
husbands, and might be by him alienated or disposed of 
without the knowledge or consent of such wives; and a 
great number of estates having been thus settled and so 
remain at this day. . ." Hereafter such real estate is 

96 The American Family - Colonial Period 

not to be alienable without the wife's consent. In 
Rhode Island the dower right was used as a check on 
wives. It was ordained that a married woman "that 
elopeth with her adventurer" should lose her dower of 

The reasonableness of provision for the widow is ex- 
pressed in the case of a woman of Plymouth colony 
thus: "Joane Tilson her husband dying without will, 
and forasmuch as she hath bine a true laborer with 
him . . . that shee shall have £30 sterling out of 
the said estate." 

In Rhode Island, 1671, Mr. R. Waterman died in- 
testate. The town council allotted the widow the en- 
joyment of house and lot, other lands and meadows, 
w^ith the cattle, for her "maintenance and the bringing 
up of the orphans five small children." In December, 
1699, a curious agreement was made between George 
Potter and Rachel, his wife. She had with his 

Consent and in hope of more peaceable Hveing, withdrawn her- 
self and removed to Boston for some time: and now finding it 
uncomfortable so to live and I being desirous to come together 
againe, doe here for her further incouragement and to prevent 
after strifes and alienations propose these Artikles. I. She has 
given some things to her children. I shall never abraid her 
nor seek a return to them. 2ly. Our house and land, if I dye 
before my wife, she shall have it during her widowhood and 
bearing my name. In case of marriage she shall enjoy 1/3, 
other 2/3 to my nearest relations- at her decease her 1/3 to re- 
turn. 3ly. I will not sell or mortgage any house or lands. 
4ly. I promise to dwell in all loving and quiet behavior. All 
moveables she shall possess at my desease. 5ly. I Rachel Potter 
if it appear I have desposed of more than one bed since our de- 
parture, said bed shall be returned. 

Such an agreement suggests an approach to equality, 
freedom, and mutuality between husband and wife. 
A few instances of bequests to wives may reflect in a 

Women in the New England Family 97 

measure the regard of husband for wife. Thomas Man 
gives his wife the use of all the household goods so long 
as she remains a widow. If she remarried, three- 
fourths of the goods should go to the daughters, one- 
fourth to the mother. In 1787 John Potter made con- 
siderate provision for his wife. A good riding beast, 
saddle and bridle with one good cow was to go to either 
son with whom she might choose to live. Firewood 
was to be brought to her room and she was to have 
everything to make her happy. If she should marry, 
these bequests were to go to the daughters. This con- 
ditioning of bequests on abstinence from remarriage 
illustrates the concept of the wife as an annex to the 
husband rather than as an individual personality. 

Intestate settlements are an index of public opinion. 
This fact makes significant such a case as that when 
William Turpin died intestate in 171 1, leaving a widow 
and three children. The son William agrees with his 
"mother-in-law" [step-mother?] to allow her the room 
now occupied by her in his father's house for life with 
benefit of fire, etc. If she needed a physician the ex- 
pense was to be borne out of her own estate. 

Tho the home was not sacred from the invasion of the 
state in case of parental unfitness, nevertheless, in the 
normal home domestic ties were manifold and strong 
in these simple days before economic evolution had 
banished or even considerably weakened home indus- 
tries. The normal home was an almost self-sufficient 
unit. The wife attended to all manner of household 
manufactures after the fashion set by the virtuous 
woman in the last chapter of Proverbs. 

But the impression that the colonial dame performed 
Herculean labors is a myth. These tours de force were 
rarely performed by a one-woman household. The 

98 The American Family -Colonial Period 

wife bore and reared children and superintended the 
house; but she did not do the heavy work if there was 
need of her services in other lines. Some families had 
numerous trained and capable servants. In the country 
daughters not needed at home worked in neighbors' 
households until married. Many families in town and 
country took bound children to raise for the returns 
from their labor. They were generally children of 
neighbors or friends. They were not always well treat- 
ed. The commonest helpers were the unmarried sis- 
ters of husband or wife. Moreover, most of the large 
families of earlier times were the offspring of at least 
two mothers," and the later wives had fewer children. 
The first wife would get quickly six or seven children 
and die exhausted by maternity and labor. The next 
wife, young and sturdy, would take hold and bring up 
the family, some of whom were likely old enough to be 
of help. She would have three or four children, per- 
haps at longer intervals. If a third wife supervened 
she had a strong corps of assistants. The number of 
women that actually performed unaided the fabled 
tasks while bearing and rearing many children was 
probably not much greater than now. Many children 
died before their rearing was much of a tax. The typ- 
ical family included several adult unmarried women, 
unpaid servants of their kindred. Often they filled a 
place of honor and esteem but in many cases they la- 
bored bitterly in dishonor- "old maids" in the sense 
that made the term one of intense reproach. These toil- 
ing spinsters are forgotten and their toils have been put 
down to the account of their married sisters. The exis- 
tence of such a supply of high-class cheap labor de- 

si Compare Hall and Smith, Marriage and Fecundity of Colonial Men 
and fVomen, in Pedagogical Seminary, vol. x, 275-314. 

Women in the New England Family 99 

pressed the wages of domestic servants, and formed a 
tradition that has remained unto this day as a weight 
upon household service." 

The presence of a number of unmarried females in 
the household gave grounds for the enforcement of the 
Mosaic prohibition of marriage within forbidden de- 
grees. We can imagine that the home would not have 
been very harmonious if the wife had felt that her sis- 
ters living in the same house were potential rivals and 
successors. In colonial days the family connections 
were closer than now and it was not unreasonable that 
persons related even by marriage should have been pro- 
hibited from marrying each other. Such restrictions 
would make less constrained and precarious the inter- 
course of large groups of kinsfolk. Whether or not the 
colonists were conscious of this reason for the "forbid- 
den degrees" it is tolerably sure that these restrictions 
would not have lingered had they been altogether an- 

In fact the barriers could scarcely be maintained. 
In 1 69 1 Hannah Owen and Josiah Owen were adjudged 
to be "within the line of kindred or affinity forbidden" 
and ordered to cohabit no more. Hannah "owned that 
she was said Josiah's own brother's relict." To Josiah, 
who had brought about the marriage, nothing was done. 
The woman was ordered to "make a public acknowl- 
edgement of her sin and evil before the congregation at 
Braintree on their Lecture Day, or on the Lord's Day." 
Samuel Newton of Marlborough married his uncle's 
widow and had two children by her. The marriage 
was declared void "by the word of God as also by the 
law of England;" and they were forbidden to continue 

''2 MacGill. "Myth of the Colonial Housewife," in the Independent, vol. 
Ixix, 1318-1322. 

lOO The American Family -Colonial Period 

in their "incest." In Massachusetts, 1695, ^ bill against 
incest was passed by the slight margin of twenty-seven 
to twenty-four. 

The ministers gave in their arguments yesterday in writing; 
else it had hardly gone, because several have married their 
wives' sisters, and the deputies thought it hard to part them. 
'Twas concluded on the other hand that not to part them were 
to make the law abortive, by begetting in people a conceipt that 
such marriages were not against the law of God. 

This law forbade marriage with wife's sister or niece. 
A few years later Samuel Sewall wrote to his cousin 
who had asked advice about a proposed marriage to the 
widow of his cousin-german. Samuel advised against 
the marriage on the ground of doubtful degrees and 
cited the Assembly's annotations on Leviticus^ xviii. The 
gist of this is that as far as the ties of kindred love reach, 
so far the prohibition of marriage extends. Marriage 
should be with more remote persons "that so charity 
might be more diffusive; and not so contracted to one's 
kindred as it was among the Jews." Sewall says the 
Indians seldom marry so near as cousins-german and 
surely we ought not to have to go to school to them. 
Besides the saints disapprove. How much the Con- 
necticut saints disapproved of what they considered in- 
cest is apparent from the law that he who married a 
sister-in-law was punished (and the wife too) with 
forty lashes on the bare back and forced to wear a letter 
"I" sewed on the outside of arm or on the back. 

But not all women were content to constitute domestic 
problems. The spirit of self-reliance was, in case of 
necessity, as quick and steady in women of at least the 
later colonial period as now. But even in the early 
days, as suggested in our reference to the exploits of 
"ancient maids," women could do things. Governor 

Women in the New England Family loi 

John Winthrop Junior's afifairs in New Haven seem to 
have been placed in the care of Mrs. Davenport, wife 
of the Reverend John. There even were women voters 
in the New England colonies.^^ Advertisements from 
1720 to 1800 show that women were teachers, embroid- 
erers, jelly-makers, cooks, wax-workers, japanners, 
mantua makers, dealers in crockery, musical instru- 
ments, hardware, farm products, groceries, drugs, wines 
and spirits; and Hawthorne noted one colonial woman 
that ran a blacksmith shop. Peter Faneuil's account- 
books show dealings with many Boston tradeswomen, 
some of whom bought thousands of pounds' worth of 
imported goods in a year. On the list of Salem con- 
spirators against taxation may be found the names of 
five women merchants. Women also published news- 
papers.^" Most of these took charge on the death of a 
husband, brother, or son who had been editor. Some- 
times they substituted for their male relatives in case of 
sickness or press of affairs. Women in New England 
coast towns were urged to participate actively in for- 
eign commerce by sending a "venture" when a vessel 
departed with a cargo. Mrs. Grant, a business woman 
of Newport, who assumed charge of the business on her 
husband's death, found out that her lawyer was a rascal ; 
so she rushed into court, pleaded a case for herself, and 
won the verdict. For nearly a century and a half after 
the landing of the Pilgrims there were practically no 
women wage-earners, however, outside of domestic ser- 

Colonial women were not altogether out of the "great 
world," the world of fashion. There were no fashion 
papers in the old days, but dolls dressed in the latest 

•'•^ Bjorkman and Porritt. fVoman Suffrage- History, Arguments, Re- 
sults, 5 ; Stanton, et al. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. i, footnote 208. 
•''* For details see Stanton et al., History of IVoman Suffrage, vol. i, 43-44. 

I02 The American Family -Colonial Period 

styles were exhibited. The following is a New Eng- 
land advertisement of the eighteenth century: 

To be seen at Mrs. Hannah Teats', a baby drest after the new- 
est fashions. . . Lately arrived from London. Any ladies 
that desire to see it may either come or send. . . If they 
come . . . two shillings, and if she waits on 'em it is seven 

Back in the early days Nathaniel Ward, minister at 
Ipswich (1634-1636), expressed disgust with extrava- 
gant fashions. 

Writers tell us in glowing terms of woman's high 
position in colonial New England. Elliot says in The 
New England History: "In New England, women 
were never made the slaves, or inferiors of men; they 
were co-equal in social life, and held a position superior 
to that held by them in England." Dexter tells us that 

The Plymouth colony w^as the first in this country if not in the 
whole world, to recognize and honor woman. From the very 
outset, she had her rightful place at her husband's side as her 
children's head. And the Plymouth wives and mothers . . . 
were worthy of the men by whose side they stood. They rep- 
resented in character and experience the best type of woman- 
hood of that age. The same thing was true of the colony of 
Massachusetts Bay. 

Warfield writes: 

There was material for Hawthorne's masterpiece even in Mass- 
achusetts Bay . . . but the current ran deep and strong 
through simple lives, finding their inspiration and happiness in 
the family, its home life, its bonds of affection, its widening 
circuit as younger generations cut their way westward through 
the forest. The familiar picture of the Puritan father [which 
Warfield seems to think overdrawn] is that of a man burdened 
with the responsibilities of life for himself and for his children. 
The companion piece is a mother who is a shield and a com- 
forter, sharing the faith of her husband but manifesting its 
gentler aspects; not less anxious for the moral conduct of her 

Women in the New England Family 103 

offspring, but more confident of the value of a ministry of 
love. . . Throughout the colonies for the greater part of 
their history, the wife and mother dominated the home, ruling 
it with a light hand and a loving sway. The home life was 
very simple. The home training was reduced to a narrow field 
of purpose. The boys were to be fitted to go forth and earn a 
living, setting up homes for themselves as soon as possible. The 
girls were trained to become housewives. 

Of course such generalizations partake of idealiza- 
tion. These pictures of the matriarchate of love are too 
idyllic. Warfield's generalization would be rather 
poetic even for our day. 


If one were to infer the colonial attitude toward chil- 
dren from the prevalent fecundity he might guess that 
children were held in great esteem. The inference 
would be only partly correct. Dependent on men for 
the opportunity to live, women were the instruments of 
male gratification and did not realize their degrada- 
tion. They were the vicarious sacrifice to the peopling 
of a continent. The children were providential acci- 
dents, prized, indeed, in a rather instinctive fashion by 
a people soaked in Hebraism, and living close to the 
line of annihilation, or, if more prosperous, requiring 
heirs that their hoard of goods might pass on with dis- 
tinction and men to occupy the continent against all 

Colonial childhood is largely hidden in obscurity. 
Letters and diaries contain little mention of the chil- 
dren save the record of births and deaths and maladies 
and the like. Children were "to be_ ^en not heard, ^V 
and not seen too much either. There was no purpose to 
make the child appear valuable or noteworthy to him- 
self or others. Scientific child study was a thing of the 

Yet the family of moderate means was in many ways 
better off in America than in England and children 
profited by the improvement. It was difficult at first to 
rear children in the new country. In the bareness and 
cold of Massachusetts, mortality of infants was fright- 

io6 The American Family - Colonial Period 

ful. One man had sixteen children. The first was 
only a year and a half old when the second was born. 
When the baby was four days old the older child died. 
This calamity was five times repeated. Married nine 
years the mother had one child living and five dead. 
With freezing homes, bad diet, and Spartan treatment 
it does not seem strange that a large proportion of sev- 
enteenth century children died in infancy. This was 
the case even in the most favored families; thus of Cot- 
ton Mather's fifteen children only two survived him 
and of Judge Sewall's fourteen only three outlived their 

This curtailment in face of the vacancy of a limitless 
continent enhanced the value of children. This in- 
creased esteem is obvious in colonial laws and children 
began to acquire that growing sense of their own im- 
portance that has at length illumined "the century of 
the child." 

The colonists still believed in astrology; hence the 
very minute of the child's birth was recorded. Parents 
searched for names of deep import, and this with a view 
to their influence on the child's life. Quack medicines 
and vile doses were in evidence even tho it seems that 
Locke's Thoughts on Education published in England 
in 1690 was popular in the new world. It occurs on 
many old library lists in New England and among the 
few volumes on the single book shelf. His precepts 
were diffused on the pages of almanacs, the "best sell- 
ers" (save the Bible) of all eighteenth century books. 
From him came such practical suggestions as "always 
wetting children's feet in cold water to toughen them; 
and also have children wear thin-soled shoes that the 
wet may come freely in." It was urged that boys 
should go hatless and nightcapless as soon as they had 

Children in the New England Family 107 

hair. Josiah Quincy at three years was taken from his 
warm bed, winter and summer, carried to the cellar 
kitchen, and dipped three times in water just from the 
pump. He said that in his boyhood he sat more than 
half the time with wet feet without ill effects. Many 
Revolutionary heroes grew up under Locke's strenuous 
rules of dietary and sleeping. If his embargo on 
"physic" was too little followed, it was a cause for re- 
gret. But less beer was consumed in America than in 
the Old World, and more milk -a change beneficial to 
colonial children. 

Nothing was allowed to interfere with due observance 
of religious form. The infant must be taken to the fire- 
less church for baptism on the first Sabbath after birth 
no matter if ice had to be broken in the font. He went 
in the arms of the midwife- a great colonial dignitary. 
One parson practiced immersion till his own children 
nearly succumbed under the ordeal. It is said that the 
meeting-house contained sometimes a little wooden 
cage or frame to hold babies too young or feeble or 
sleepy to sit up. One would suppose that the inter- 
minable sermons in icy churches must have been re- 
sponsible for many deaths. 

The century of colony-planting, the seventeenth, was, 
in Europe, an age of precocity. The same atavism 
characterized the American colonies. A stern theology 
contributed to this distortion of childhood. Michael 
Wigglesworth, "the most popular versifier of early 
New England Puritanism," in his Day of Doom, which 
countless children had to learn, represents children de- 
ceased in infancy as pleading with the judge that if 
Adam, the author of original sin, is saved, they should 
also be. Christ tells them that if Adam had stood true 
they would have been glad to enjoy the reward ; so they 

io8 The American Family -Colonial Period 

ought to be satisfied to take the penalty. Edwards, in a 
sermon, describes parents in heaven "with holy joy 
upon their countenances" at the torment of their little 
ones. This view of the depravity of child nature made 
it necessary to seek infantile conversion. Children 
from their earliest years were confronted with the ter- 
rors of hell from which they could escape only by fol- 
lowing what they were taught and abstaining from 
everything they would naturally want to do. Cotton 
Mather writes: 

I took my little daughter Katy [aged four] into my study and 
there told my child that I am to dy shortly and she must, when 
I am dead, remember everything I now said unto her. I sett 
before her the sinful! condition of her nature and charged her 
to pray in secret places every day. That God for the sake of 
Jesus Christ would give her a new heart. . . I gave her to 
understand that when I am taken from her she must look to 
meet with more humbling afflictions than she does now she has 
a tender father to provide for her. 

This was thirty years before he died. 

Judge Sewall records the distress of his daughter 
Betty who burst out in a sudden cry, fearing she would 
go to hell. 

She was first wounded by my reading a sermon of Mr. Nor- 
ton's; text "Ye shall seek me and shall not find me." And 
those words in the sermon "Ye shall seek me and die in your 
sins" ran in her mind and terrified her greatly. And staying 
at home she read out of Mr. Cotton Mather, "Why had Satan 
filled thy heart," which increased her fear. Her mother asked her 
whether she prayed. She answered "yes" but feared her prayers 
were not heard because her sins were not pardoned. . . 
[Two weeks later he wrrites:] Betty comes in as soon as I was 
up and tells me the disquiet she had when wak'd. Told me 
she was afraid she should go to hell ; was like Spira not elected. 
Ask'd her what I should pray for, she said that God .would 
pardon her sin and give her a new heart. I answered her fears 

Children in the New England Family 109 

as well as I could, and prayed with many fears on either part. 
Hope God heard us. 

Jonathan Edwards tells of Phebe Bartlet who at four 
was greatly affected by the talk of her brother converted 
a little before at about eleven. Her parents were not 
used to directing their serious counsels to their chil- 
dren, especially not to her as they thought her too 
young. But they watched her after her brother's talk 
listen earnestly to the advice they gave to the other chil- 
dren. She retired to pray several times daily. She 
one day told her mother her fear she should go to hell. 
Her mother quieted her, told her she must be a good 
girl and pray every day and that she hoped God would 
give her salvation. Later the child experienced salva- 
tion. When questioned she said she loved God better 
than father or mother or sister or anything. Then she 
cried for fear her sister would go to hell. At church 
she did not spend her time in child fashion. She went 
once with bigger children to a neighbor's lot to get 
plums. Her mother reproved her gently for taking 
them without leave. She had not known it was wrong. 
Distressed over her sin she retained her aversion to the 
fruit for a considerable time tho the other children were 
not much affected. 

Anne Dudley at six or seven tells her grief at her 
"neglect of Private Duteys" in which she is too often 
lax. At sixteen recognizing herself as "carnall and 
sitting loose from God" she accepts the smallpox as a 
"proper rebuke to her pride and vanity." Nathaniel 
Mather tells us in his diary: 

When very young I went astray from God and my mind was 
altogether taken with vanities and follies, such as the remem- 
brance of them doth greatly abase my soul within me. Of the 
manifold sins which then I was guilty of, none so sticks upon 

iio The American Family -Colonial Period 

me, as that, being very young, I was whittling on the Sabbath 
Day, and for fear of being seen I did it behind the door. A 
great reproach of God ! a specimen of that Atheism I brought 
into the world with me. 

Children on the streets mouthed the current phrases 
and during the Hutchinson trial jeered at one another 
as believers in the "Covenant of Works" or in the "Cov- 
enant of Grace." 

In many cases parental zeal for education over- 
stimulated and forced baby minds. One of the most 
precocious w^as a girl born in Boston in 1708. In her 
second year she knew her letters and "could relate many 
stories out of the Scriptures to the satisfaction and 
pleasure of the most judicious." At three she knew 
most of the catechism, many psalms, many lines of 
poetry, and read distinctly; at four she asked many 
astonishing questions about theology. (Her father was 
president of Harvard.) A letter of Jonathan Edwards 
written at twelve sounds like the work of a grown man. 
Boys entered Boston Latin School as young as six and a 
half. They often began Latin much younger. Infants 
of three were sometimes taught to read Latin words as 
soon as English. One minister used to throw the book 
at a child of five for his slowness in learning Latin. 
Timothy Dwight is said to have committed the alphabet 
in a single lesson and could read the Bible before four 
and taught it to his comrades. At six he wanted to 
study Latin. Being denied he went at it alone and 
studied through the Latin grammar twice. He would 
have been ready for college at eight if the grammar 
school had not closed. In 1799 a boy of fourteen was 
graduated at Rhode Island College. 

In other respects than education and religion pre- 
cocity was taken for granted. Until the Revolution 

Children in the New England Family in 

boys became men at sixteen, paid taxes, and served in 
the militia. Girl orphans were permitted at fourteen 
to choose their own guardians. When Governor Win- 
throp's son John was only fourteen, the governor made 
the boy executor of his will. He evidently considered 
a boy of fourteen or fifteen mature.^^ Such curtailment 
of infancy as colonial precocity exhibits evidences the 
simplicity of colonial civilization. It was a crime 
against childhood. Children of to-day would be nervous 
invalids if they were driven by uncanny fear to morbid 
introspection such as afflicted the young Puritans. 

Those that survived infancy, tho probably as dearly 
loved as are children to-day, were denied all the normal 
sources of joy and happiness. Childish manners were 
formal and meek. Parents were addressed as "esteemed 
parent" or "honored sir and madam." A pert child 
was generally thought to be delirious or bewitched. 
One son of a stern Puritan said that "he never ventured 
to make a boy's simple request of his father, to ofifer so 
much as a petition for a knife or a ball without putting 
it into writing in due form." Children were now and 
then favored with a visit to some sainted person who 
would bless them or warn them to flee from the wrath 
to come. Everybody went to funerals. There was a 
dire scarcity of anything worthy to be called children's 
literature. The children of to-day would hardly be at- 
tracted by such advertisements as these: "Small book 
in easey verse Very Suitable for Children, entitled the 
Prodigal Daughter or the Disobedient Lady Re- 
claimed: adorned with curious cuts, Price 6d." "A 
Token for Children. Being the exact account of the 
Conversation and Holy and Exemplary Lives of several 

■'^ Compare Earle, Child Life in Colonial Days, chapter ix, "Childish 

112 The American Family -Colonial Period 

Young Children." Or Mather's work, "Some Examples 
of Children in whom the Fear of God was remarkably 
Budding before they died ; in several Parts of New Eng- 
land." How glad the children, after the first quarter 
of the eighteenth century, must have been to get Mother 
Goose\ Of course to the stern Puritan, inexorably 
utilitarian, what afiforded amusement seemed sinful. 
Child nature being depraved and wicked must be dam- 
pered. Play instincts were inexcusable. 

The sense of parental responsibility was strong. 
When Cotton Mather's child fell into the fire the father 
wrote : "Alas for my sin, the just God throws my child 
into the fire!" A similar disaster led him to preach on 
"What use ought parents to make of disasters befalling 
their children?" Again he was led to preach on "What 
parents are to do for the salvation of their children." 

Home discipline was relentless. Stern and arbitrary 
command compelled obedience, submissive and gen- 
erally complete. Reverence and respect for older per- 
sons were seldom withheld. Adults believed in the rod 
as an instrument of subjugation. John Robinson, the 
Pilgrim preacher, said. 

Surely there is in all children (tho not alike) a stubbernes and 
stoutnes of minde arising from naturall pride which must in 
the first place be broken and beaten down that so the founda- 
tion of their education being layd in humilitie and tractable- 
ness other virtues may in their time be built thereon. It is 
commendable in a horse that he be stout and stomackfull being 
never left to his own government, but always to have his rider 
on his back and his bit in his mouth, but who would have his 
child like his horse in his brutishnes? 

A little book of etiquette apparently widely circu- 
lated in colonial days contains directions for the table 
behavior of children: 

Never sit down at the table till asked, and after the blessing. 

Children in the New England Family 113 

Ask for nothing; tarry till it be offered thee. Speak not. Bite 
not thy bread but break it. Take salt only with a clean knife. 
Dip not the meat in the same. Hold not thy knife upright but 
sloping, and lay it down at right hand of plate with blade on 
plate. Look not earnestly at any other that is eating. When 
moderately satisfied leave the table. Sing not, hum not, wriggle 
not. Spit nowhere in the room but in the corner. . . When 
any speak to thee, stand up. Say not I have heard it before. 
Never endeavor to help him out if he tell it not right. Snigger 
not; never question the truth of it. 

Some children were indulged and parents did the 
best they could for them and grieved at their death. 
Touchingly significant is the brief note left by one: 
"Fifty years ago today died my little John, Alas!" 
Giles Corry refused to plead on the charge of witch- 
craft because he had been informed that if convicted of 
felony the inheritance of his children would be forfeit 
to the crown. Even the discipline of eminent Puritans 
reveals kindliness of spirit. Cotton Mather writes: 
"My children are with me. I have now three of them 
(and my wife's kinswoman) at my table. . . I will 
have my table talk facetious as well as instructive, and 
use much freedom of conversation in it. . . I will 
sett before them some sentences of the Bible." He pub- 
lished a booklet (which was "much desired") on A 
family Well-ordered; or an Essay to Render Parents 
and Children Happy in one another. He tries to train 
his children in goodness and piety. 

I first beget in them a high opinion of their father's love to 
them, and of his being best able to judge, what shall be good for 
them. Then I make them sensible, tis a folly for them to pre- 
tend unto any witt and will of their own . . . my word 
must be their law. . . I would never come to give a child a 
blow; except in case of obstinacy or some gross enormity. To 
be chased for a while out of my presence I would make to be 
looked upon, as the sorest punishment in the family. . . The 

114 Tilt' American Family -Colonial Period 

stanch way of Education, carried on with raving and kicking 
and scourging (in schools as well as families) tis abominable; 
and a dreadful judgment of God upon the world. . . [He 
prays with his children; sets before them heaven and hell, etc. 
He would use their games to make them think of piety and 
goodness.] I would put my children upon chusing their sev- 
eral ways of usefulness, and enkindle in them as far as I can, a 
mighty desire of being useful in the world, and assist them unto 
the uttermost." 

It was a child of this man that, dying at two years and 
seven months, "made a most edifying end in prayer and 

The reverend Jonathan Edwards of Northhampton 
was careful and thoro in his paternal discipline but 
his children reverenced, esteemed, and loved him. 

He took the utmost care to begin his government of them when 
they were very young. When they first discovered any degree 
of self-will and stubbornness, he would attend to them until he 
had thoroly subdued them, and brought them to submit. Such 
prudent discipline, exercised with the greatest calmness, being 
repeated once or twice, was generally sufficient for that child, 
and efiEectually established his parental authority, and produced 
a cheerful obedience ever after. [He conversed with his chil- 
dren] singly and closely about the concerns of their souls. 
In the evening after tea, he customarily sat in the parlor with 
his family, for an hour, unbending from the severity of study, 
entering freely into the feelings and concerns of his children, 
and relaxing into cheerful and animated conversation, accom- 
panied frequently with sprightly remarks, sallies of wit and hu- 
mor. But before retiring to his study, he usually gave the con- 
versation by degrees a more serious turn, addressing his children 
with great tenderness and earnestness on the subject of their sal- 
vation. . . He was utterly opposed to everj^thing like unrea- 
sonable hours on the part of young people, in their visiting and 
amusements, which he regarded as a dangerous step toward cor- 
rupting them and bringing them to ruin. And he thought the 
excuse ofifered by many parents for tolerating this practise in 
their children - that it is the custom, and that the children of 

Children in the New England Family 115 

other people are allowed thus to practise, and therefore it is dif- 
ficult and even impossible to restrain them — was insufficient and 
frivolous, and manifested a great degree of stupidity-. . . He 
allowed none of his children to be absent from home after nine 
o'clock at night, when they went abroad to see their friends and 
companions; neither were they allowed to sit up much after 
that time, in his own house, when any of their friends came to 
visit them. If any gentleman desired to address either of his 
daughters, after the requisite introduction and preliminaries, he 
was allowed all proper opportunities of becoming thoroly ac- 
quainted with the manners and disposition of the young lady, 
but must not intrude on the customary hours of rest and sleep, 
nor on the religion and order of the family. 

We are expected to believe that the Edwards young 
people went betimes cheerfully to bed. Incidentally 
the passage throws significant side-light on the relaxing 
of the hold of Puritanism. Many a stern Puritan fam- 
ily in America succumbed to the easier ways of the 
Church of England. 

The letters of John Adams are full of interest from 
the standpoint of family training at the end of the 
colonial period. Thus in 1774, he writes to his wife: 
Let us . . . my dear partner, from that affection which we 
feel for our lovely babes, apply ourselves, by every way we can, 
to the cultivation of our farm. . . Above all cares of this 
life, let our ardent anxiety be to mould the minds and manners 
of our children. [Again] : Pray remember me to my dear 
little babes, whom I long to see running to meet me and climb 
up upon me under the smiles of their mother. . . For God's 
sake make your children hardy, active, and industrious', for 
strength, activity, and industry will be their only resource and 
dependence. [Once more] : Remember my tender love to little 
Abby; tell her she must write me a letter. . . I am charmed 
with your amusement with our little Johnny. Tell him I am 
glad to hear he is so good a boy as to read to his mamma for 
her entertainment, and to keep himself out of the company of 
rude children. Tell him I hope to hear a good account of his 
accidence and nomenclature when I return. . . The educa- 

ii6 The American Family -Colonial Period 

tion of our children is never out of my mind. Train them to 
virtue. Habituate them to industr,v, activity, and spirit. 

Later he is distressed at illness of the family, and la- 
ments the death of his mother-in-law. He says the 
children were better for her influence. John Quincy, 
aged seven, writes a bright little letter to his father tell- 
ing of his lessons and reading and hope to see his father. 
When the boy is ten, the father writes to him recom- 
mending certain formidable historical reading. His 
letters to his wife refer repeatedly to the need of train- 
ing the children in good habits. She says on one 

I often point them to their sire - 

engaged in a corrupted state, 
wrestling with vice and faction. 

These letters disclose a human interest and spirit in fam- 
ily life, which, while not lax, is remote from fanaticism. 
In addition to home training the New Englanders 
provided schools. Each town had a school. By 1649 
some degree of education was compulsory in every 
New England colony except Rhode Island. School in 
New England ran seven or eight hours a day. Chil- 
dren took a live interest if we may judge by a juvenile 
couplet - 

New teachers, new laws, 
New devils, sharp claws. 

Pioneering caused school interest to wane. In conse- 
quence of the loss of six hundred men in King Philip's 
War, schools were abandoned. 

From Judge Sewall and Jonathan Edwards comes 
the impression that Puritan children were priggish, 
morbid, and doleful. Thanks to these w^orthy men the 
odd little creatures whose pictures have descended to us 
figure in our fancy as intolerable theologs. But the 
evidence is ample that the children of the Puritans no 

Children in the New England Family 117 

more relished the weary sermons beyond their depths, 
with their lurid threats of hell, than children of to-day 
relish the imprisonment of the rigid schoolroom or the 
tedium of Sunday clothes. Boys and even girls at 
church were a pest to the parson and had to be put un- 
der town surveillance. Laws passed at the close of 
King Philip's War confessed that the war was a judg- 
ment on the colony for the "disorder and rudeness of 
youth in many congregations in time of the worship of 
God, whereby sin and profaneness is greatly increased." 
John Pike of Dedham received sixteen shillings in 1723 
for "keeping the boys in subjection six months." When 
rehired he exacted twice as much. Similar episodes 
took place every^vhere. In Harwich, it was voted 
"that the same course be pursued with the girls" as with 
the boys, and at Farmington in 1772: 

Whereas indecencies are practised by the young people in time 
of Publick Worship by frequently passing and repassing by one 
another in the galleries; intermingh'ng sexes to the great dis- 
turbance of many serious and well minded people - Resolved 
that each of us that are heads of families will use our utmost 
endeavor to suppress the evils. 

One might suppose that the corralling of the boys on 
the back benches at church promoted the "Rude and 
Idel Behavior" which a Connecticut justice entered in 
his note-book thus: 

Smiling and larfing and intlseing others to the same evil. . . 
Pulling the hair of his nayber Veroni Simkins in the time of 
public worship. . . Throwing Sister Penticost Perkins on 
the ice on the Sabath day between the meeting hows and his 
place of abode. 

But in spite of strict family discipline human nature 
in the colonies was much like human nature elsewhere. 
The amusements of the young were sometimes scandal- 
ous. There are numerous accounts of "mixt dancings, 

ii8 The American Family -Colonial Period 

unlawful gamings, extravagance in dress, light be- 
havior" and such-like offences. As early as 1657, Bos- 
ton deemed it wise to pass a law as follows: 

Forasmuch as sundry complaints are made that several persons 
have received hurt by boys and young men playing at football in 
the streets, these therefore are to enjoin that none be found at 
that game in any of the streets, lanes or enclosures of this town 
under the penalty of 20s. for every such oifence. 

Sewall writes on one occasion : 

Joseph threw a knop of brass, and hit his sister Betty on the 
forehead so as to make it bleed and swell; upon which and for 
his playing at prayer time, and eating when return thanks, I 
whipped him pretty smartly. 

But tho the judge could manage his own children his 
graceless grandchildren were a sore trial. Sam Hirst, 
the son of timid Betty, lived with his grandfather for 
a while. On April i, 1719, the Judge wrote: 

In the morning I dehorted Sam Hirst and Grendall Rawson 
from playing idle tricks because 'twas first of April: They 
were the greatest fools that did so. [March 15, 1725]: Sam 
Hirst got up betime in the morning, and took Ben Swett with 
him and went into the Comon to play Wicket. Went before 
anybody was up, left the door open : Sam came not to prayer 
at which I was much displeased. [Two days later] : Did the 
like again, but took not Ben with him. I told him he could 
not lodge here practicing thus. So he log'd elsewher. 

"What little hope of a happy generation after us," 
runs a seventeenth century plaint, "when many among 
us scarcely know how to teach their children man- 
ners!" Extreme Puritanism, indeed, did not last long 
in full strength. The reverend Ezekiel Rogers, a Pur- 
itan preacher who lived at the time when extreme Puri- 
tanism was waning, wTote in 1657: 

Do your children and family grow more godly? I find great- 
est trouble and grief about the rising generation. Young people 

Children in the New England Family 119 

are little stirred here ; but they strengthen one another in evil by 
example and by counsel. Much ado have I with my own 

Just before the Revolution a little girl of eight came 
from the Barbadoes to her grandmother in Boston to 
attend school. The young lady left her grandmother's 
roof in great indignation because she was not allowed 
wine at all her meals. Her parents took her part say- 
ing that she had been reared as a lady and must have 
wine when she wished it. Thus imported looseness, 
together with the economic advance that relegated as- 
ceticism to the rear, contributed in the later days to the 
decline of Puritan rigor. 

Colonial law upheld, of course, paternal authority. 
A Massachusetts law reads thus : "Forasmuch as it ap- 
peareth by too much experience, that divers children 
and servants do behave themselves disobediently and 
disorderly, towards their parents, masters, and govern- 
ors [and this not many years after the founding of Mas- 
sachusetts!] to the disturbance of families, and discour- 
agement of such parents and governors," authority is 
given to magistrates to summon offenders and have 
them punished by whipping or otherwise. Further- 
more, "upon information of diverse loose, vaine, and 
corrupt persons . . . which insinuate themselves 
into the fellowship of the young people . . . draw- 
ing them both by night and by day from their callings, 
studyes, and honest occupations and lodging places to 
the dishonor of God and grief of their parents, masters, 
teachers," therefore "persons under government not to 
be entertained in common houses." New Haven made 
persons trading with or abetting minors, etc., liable to 
punishment. Massachusetts in 1694-1695 made a furth- 
er law: "Whereas complaint has been made by sundry 

120 The American Family - Colonial Period 

inhabitants of this province that have sustained great 
damage by their sons and servants deserting their ser- 
vice without consent of their parents or masters," being 
encouraged aboard ships, a penalty is imposed on ship- 
masters for entertaining sons or servants without leave. 
Massachusetts had a law against excess of apparel on 
children and servants. ''Also if any taylor shall make 
or fashion any garment for such children and serv- 
ants . . . contrary to the mind and order of their 
parents and governors; every such taylor shall for the 
first ofifence be admonished; and for the second . . . 
forfeit double the value of such apparel or garment." 

The law had to take cognizance of the fact that Amer- 
ica was a sort of reformatory for parents in the old 
country to use. As early as 1647 a law was passed as 
follows: "Whereas sundry gentlemen of quality and 
others, ofttimes send over their children unto this coun- 
try, to some friends here, hoping (at least) thereby to 
prevent their extravagant and notoris courses," but they 
manage to get credit and go on in extravagance to the 
grief of friends, therefore merchants giving credit with- 
out authority shall lose the debt. 

For incorrigible disobedience to parents the colo- 
nists, in accordance with Moses and Calvin, prescribed 
the death penalty. The Connecticut statute reads: 
Forasmuch as incorrigibleness is also adjudged to be a sin of 
death, but noe law yet amongst us established for the execution 
thereof . . . it is ordered, that whatsoever child or serv- 
ant . . . shall be convicted of any stubborn or rebellious 
caridge against their parents or gouernors, wch is a forerunner 
of the forementioned evell, the gouernor or any two magistrats 
haue liberty and power fro this court to commit such prson or 
prsons to the house of correction, and there to remayne under 
hard labor and severe punishment, so long as the court or the 
major part of the magistrats shall judge meet. 

Children in the New England Family 121 
The Piscataqua colony had the following law: 

If any child or children above 16 yrs. old of competent under- 
standing, shall curse or smite their natural father or mother, he 
or they shall be put to death unless it can be sufficiently testi- 
fied that the parents have been very unchristianly negligent of 
the education of such children. , . If any man have a re- 
bellious or stubborne son of sufficient years and understanding, 
viz. 16 years of age or upwards, wch shall not obey the voice of 
his father or the voice of his mother, yt when they have chas- 
tened him will not hearken unto them . . . such son shall 
be put to death, or otherwise severely punished. 

The Bay Colony statute was to the same effect. The 
capital laws of Connecticut recognize an additional 
mitigating circumstance in case of the smiting, etc., of 
parents : "unless . . . the parents . . . so pro- 
voke them by extreme and cruell correction that they 
have been forced thereunto to preserve themselves from 
death, maiming." This law is buttressed with proof 
texts. There is no record of the actual infliction of the 
death penalty in Massachusetts and probably none else- 

Regarding the distribution of property among chil- 
dren we find that the Puritan colonists legally repudiat- 
ed the feudal principle of male preference and primo- 
geniture, tho granting a double portion to the eldest 
son (in some colonies). In 1627 De Rasures, a visitor 
to Plymouth, found that "In the inheritance they place 
all the children in one degree, only the eldest son has 
an acknowledgement for his seniority of birth." The 
Massachusetts law of 1641 provides that 

When parents die intestate, the elder sonne shall have a double 
portion of his whole estate reall and personal!, unless the gen- 
eral court upon just cause alleged shall judge otherwise. When 
parents die intestate having noe heirs male of their bodies their 
daughters shall inherit as copartners, unless the general court 
upon just reason shall judge otherwise. 

122 The American Family - Colonial Period 

Connecticut law of 1699 directs that children shall share 
equally in the estate of intestates. An example of the 
principle of equality is found in the Plymouth records. 
The court ordered in the case of a man dying without 
will that after the wife's share was deducted "the young- 
er children bee made equal to the elder in what they 
have had, and for the remainder, after that is done, that 
it bee equally devided amongst all the children in equall 
proportions." The special privilege of the eldest son 
did not last long. 

The usage of equal distribution may be derived from 
"the custom of Gavelkind in Kent" from which region 
many of the first colonists of New England, especially 
Connecticut, came. Campbell, however, traces back 
to Dutch law our principle of equal division of land 
among the children of an intestate."*^ His interpretation, 
tho suggestive, is too superficial. The decline of male 
primogeniture is essentially a phenomenon of the pass- 
ing of feudalism -a system of society based on the own- 
ership of land, limited in quantity and demanding mil- 
itary service of the holders. As soon as society ceased 
to center in military land-holding, the foundation of 
male primogeniture crumbled. In America land was! 
too abundant to become an insignium of nobility. In! 
the North the aristocracy was based on the ownership 
of increasable commodities and commerce rather than 
of land; society was only incidentally and temporarily 
military; so there was no need of limiting inheritance 
to the first-born male. Campbell's account of Dutch 
usage itself hints at the connection of primogeniture 
with feudal institutions. Our interpretation gets to the 
bottom of that association. 

58 Campbell. The Puritan in Holland, England, and America, vol. ii, 

Children in the New England Family 123 

In so far as the old aristocracy lingered English tra- 
ditions as to primogeniture retained their hold inas- 
much as parents could use their discretion if they made 
a will. Not always were estates divided evenly in New 
England. Usually the sons were set above the daugh- 
ters. The larger the estate the greater was likely to be 
the discrimination. The father of Sir William Pep- 
perell left his daughters five hundred pounds each in 
addition to previous advances. Then, after a few be- 
quests, the whole large estate went to the future baronet, 
whereat the daughters and sons-in-law were greatly dis- 
appointed. It was the theory in Rhode Island that the 
father should provide for his sons and thus for other 
men's daughters. 

Disinheritance was sometimes used as a means of dis- 
cipline. The marriage of a daughter with an unwel- 
come swain was often prohibited by will : "not to suffer 
her to be circumvented and cast away upon a swagger- 
ing gentleman." 

One might wonder how parents could provide for 
twelve, eighteen, or twenty-four children let alone have 
anything to leave them. But children of that period 
were soon able to contribute to the family store. When 
a host of the children were boys it was doubtless a relief 
to the weary mother when a lot of them went to sea, as 
in an eighteenth century news item from Portsmouth, 
New Hampshire: 

There are now livinjz; in this town, a lady and gentleman who 
have not been married more than twenty years, and yet have 
eighteen sons ; ten of whom are at sea, and eight at home with 
their parents. 

But it must have been a problem for the reverend Abi- 
jah Weld to rear his fifteen children on his salary 
of about two hundred and twenty dollars, tho he had 

124 ^^'^' ^nierican Family - Colonial Period 

a small farm. Moreover he entertained freely and 
gave to the poor. Reverend Moses Fisher with his 
sixteen children and a salary never over ninety pounds, 
usually only sixty pounds paid mainly in corn and wood, 
managed to send three sons to college and he married 
off all his daughters. 

But high fecundity and child labor are consorts. The 
colonial home was a little world within whose bounds 
woman found her life, under whose roof the children 
could, if need were, learn all that was necessary for their 
future careers. The Puritans, as has been seen, were 
strong for the training of children for their duties here 
and beyond. Higgeson in New England's Plantation 
(1629) tells that "Little children here by setting of 
corne may earne much more than their own mainte- 
nance." Less than a decade after Higgeson's rejoicing 
at the possibilities of child labor in agriculture, John- 
son was praising the people of Rowley who "built a 
fulling mill and caused their little ones to be very dili- 
gent in spinning cotton wool." The ruling element 
was not disposed to allow idleness among the poor. In 
Plymouth in 1641 it was ordered "that those that have 
relief from the townes and have children and doe not 
ymploy them that then it shal be lawful for the Towne- 
ship to take order that those children shal be put to 
worke in fitting ymployment according to their strength 
and abilities or placed out by the Townes." In Massa- 
chusetts, 1641, "it is desired and expected that all mas- 
ters of families should see that their children and serv- 
ants should be industriously implied so as that morn- 
ings and evenings and other seasons may not bee lost as 
formerly they have bene." In 1642 the orders were 
more definite. To keep cattle, alone, was not to be in- 
dustrious in the Puritan sense of the word, and such 

Children in the New England Family 125 

children are also to "bee set to some other impliment 
withall as spinning upon the rock, knitting, weveing 
tape, etc." The same year it was decreed that all un- 
ruly poor children were to be bound out for service. A 
law of the general court of 1643 authorizes constables 
to whip runaway bound boys. New England's First 
Fruits (1642) appeals to Englishmen to stir up "some 
well-minded to cloath and transport over poore chil- 
dren, boyes and girles, which may be a great mercy to 
their bodies and soules." 

In 1656 Hull records that "Twenty persons, or about 
such a number, did agree to raise a stock to procure a 
house and materials to improve the children and youth 
of the town of Boston (which want employment) in the 
several manufactures." It was considered a public 
duty in Massachusetts to provide for the training of 
children in learning and in "labor and other employ- 
ments which may bee profitable to the commonwealth." 
It was probably scarcity of clothing that led to the law , 
"that all hands not necessarily imployed on other occa- 
sions as women, girls, and boyes, shall . . . spin ) 
according to their skill and ability, and that the select- ; 
men in every town, do consider the condition and ca- 
pacity of every family, and accordingly do assess them 
at one or more spinners." The town of Boston in 1672 
notified a number of persons to "dispose of their severall 
children . . . abroad for servants, to serve by in- 
dentures according to their ages and capacities," and if 
they neglect so to do "the selectmen will take their said 
children from them and place them with such masters 
as they shall provide according as the law directs." The 
children are both girls and boys from eight years up. 
The records of many towns go to show that the practice 
of binding out the children of the poor was wide-spread. 

126 Tlw American Family -Colonial Period 

In Boston, 1682, a workhouse was ordered built to em- 
ploy children who "shamefully spend their time in the 
streets." Gabriel Harris died in 1684, leaving four 
looms; his six children took part in the work. Boston in 
1720 appointed a committee which recommended that 
twenty spinning-wheels be provided for such children 
as should be sent from the almshouse and a Massachu- 
setts act of the same year provided that all children of 
the poor whose parents, whether receiving alms or not, 
were unable to maintain them were to be set to work or 
bound out by the selectmen or overseers, the males till 
twenty-one, the females till eighteen. Fifty years later 
William Molineux, of Boston, asked the legislature for 
assistance in his plan for "manufacturing the children's 
labor into wearing apparel" and "employing young 
females from eight years old and upward." 

The Connecticut system of dealing with the children 
of the poor was similar to that of Massachusetts. 

Probably children were very much over\vorked in 
these early days before the factory system. But in do- 
mestic industries on isolated farms their condition was 
less conspicuous than when, later, children came to be 
massed in great factories. The custom of giving all 
Saturday as school holiday seems to have grow^n out of 
the need of children at home to make Puritanical prep- 
aration for Sabbath. 

The industries of children were varied and impor- 
tant. Some have been already mentioned. There was 
much work on the farm even for small children. They 
sowed seed, weeded flax fields, hetchelled flax, combed 
wool. Girls of six could spin flax. The boy had to 
rise early and do chores before he went to school. He 
must be diligent in study and in the evening do more 
chores. His whole time out of school was occupied 

Children in the New England Family 127 

with bringing in fuel, cutting feed, feeding pigs, water- 
ing horses, picking berries, gathering vegetables, spool- 
ing yarn. There was sawing and wood chopping, and 
the making of brooms for which he got six cents each. 
Splitting shoe pegs was another job; setting card teeth, 
etc. Such work provided a phase of education that 
modern educators find it hard to replace now that in- 
dustry has forsaken the home. 

In putting the boys early to some useful handicraft 
the Puritans imitated their favorite model, the He- 
brews. In Puritan ethics, idleness was a serious sin. 
But colonial child labor was fundamentally a response 
to a condition rather than to a theory. It was a com- 
pliance with the exigencies of the case. The rigor of 
the struggle for existence in early New England made 
impossible the prolongation of infancy that marks high 
civilization. Work was abundant ; but real wages were 
low, as prices were comparatively high. Colonial in- 
dustry was far from being a poor man's paradise. The 
starvation line and the debtors' prison loomed large. 
Child labor was, at least seemingly, a colonial neces- 
sity, aggravated of course by the existence of an ex- 
ploiting aristocracy. The introduction of children 
into the early factories was a natural sequence of the 
colonial attitude regarding child labor and of the Puri- 
tan belief in the sin of idleness. 


Sexual irregularities both before and after marriage 
gave considerable concern. Part of the trouble was 
associated with bundling, an antique folkway that found 
new life in the New World. 

Bundling" prevailed to a very great extent in New 
England from a very early time. It was originally 
confined to the lower classes or to those that were under 
the necessity of strict economy in firewood and candle 
light. Many of the early dwellings consisted of but 
one room. The wayfaring friend must be accommo- 
dated, if only with half a bed. The Abbe Robin, who 
was in Connecticut in 1788, says, "The Americans of 
these parts are very hospitable; they have commonly 
but one bed in the house, and the chaste spouse, al- 
though she were alone, would divide it with her guest, 
without hesitation or fear." If this remarkable asser- 
tion be true it is not strange that careful mothers saw 
no impropriety in the custom of allowing young men 
and women to lie together (without undressing) . Evi- 
dently the usage was distinctly an economic phenom- 
enon. Harsh economic conditions denied leisure for 
more seemly courtship and afforded but inadequate fa- 
cilities for keeping houses warm. 

Bundling was carried further in Connecticut and 

^'' Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, second ser., vol. vi, 503- 
510; Low. The American People, vol. i: Planting of a Nation, 346-3+9; 
Fisher. Men, JVomen, and Manners in Colonial Times, vol. i, 284-290; 
Stiles. Bundling. 

130 The American Family -Colonial Period 

Massachusetts than elsewhere. In Massachusetts this 
trustful innocence did not confine itself to the lower 
classes it would seem. The Connecticut forefathers 
tolerated it complacently. In early times in New Eng- 
land, if we may believe numerous authorities, bun- 
dling brought very few unfortunate results. The advo- 
cates of the custom maintained that mishaps in connec- 
tion with it were rarer than in higher circles with dif- 
ferent methods of courtship. But at no time did it win 
universal approval. It is easy for those in comfortable 
circumstances to reprobate as vices the makeshifts of 

Bundling lingered long in some places. It is de- 
scribed in western Massachusetts as late as 1777. It 
was said to be in some measure abolished along the 
sea-coast but there a like usage called "tarrying" was 
practiced. Charles Francis Adams believes that bun- 
dling continued even in eastern Massachusetts and the 
towns adjoining Boston until after the Revolutionary 
disturbance and probably till the beginning of the nine- 
teenth century. Mrs. John Adams writes, 1784, of an 
ocean voyage: "What should I have thought on shore to 
have laid myself down in common with half a dozen 
gentlemen? We have curtains it is true, and we only 
in part undress -about as much as the Yankee bun- 
dlers." It is alleged, indeed, that the practice has not 
altogether passed away yet. 

The menace of the old usage became apparent after 
the French and Indian wars when the young men, hab- 
ituated in camp and army to vice and recklessness, 
stripped bundling of its innocence. At last the custom 
became such a scandal that the church was forced to 
proceed to its suppression. Jonathan Edwards attacked 
it in the pulpit and other ministers, who had allowed 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 131 

it to go unnoticed, joined in its suppression. At Ded- 
ham, only ten miles from Boston, the reverend Mr. 
Haven, alarmed at the number of cases of unlawful 
cohabitation, preached at least as late as 1781 "a long 
and memorable discourse" in which he dealt with the 
"growing sin" publicly from his pulpit attributing "the 
frequent recurrence of the fault to the custom then prev- 
alent of females admitting young men to their beds 
who sought their company with intentions of marriage." 
In 1785 the reformers published in an almanac (then 
the only method of reaching great numbers of plebe- 
ians) some homely verses calculated to influence the 
lower classes. This campaign made them self-con- 
scious in the matter. They began to think that they 
were despised for their conduct. Counter verses were 
not permanently effective. But it is easy to imagine the 
vividness of the contest from such stanzas as 

It shant be so, they rage and storm 

And country girls in clusters swarm, 
And fly and buzz like angry bees, 
And vow they'll bundle when they please. 

Some mothers, too, will plead their cause. 

And give their daughters great applause, 
And tell them, 'tis no sin nor shame, 
For we your mothers did the same. 

If I wont take my sparks to bed 
A laughing stock I shall be made. 

But where's the man that fire can 

Into his bosom take, 
Or go through coals on his foot soles, 

And not a blister make? 

But last of all, up speaks romp Moll 

And pleads to be excused, 
For how can she e'er married be 

If bundling be refused? 

132 The American Family -Colonial Period 

The decline of bundling is to be attributed largely to 
the increase of wealth which made possible larger 
houses and less rigorous conditions of life. 

Pre-contract probably tended to fornication. New 
England betrothal was a solemnity of moment- a half- 
way marriage. Incontinence of betrothed might be 
punished as adultery tho if the ofifence was with each 
other the penalty was diminished. 

The matter of fornication before marriage was given 
shameful notoriety. Not even matrimony long pre- 
vious to the discovery of the transgression was consid- 
ered complete satisfaction. Fear of infant damnation 
was a stimulus compelling young married people to 
shameful public confession. Groton church records 
show that until 1803 whenever a child was born less 
than seven months after marriage a public confession 
had to be made before the whole congregation. Thus, 
at Roxbury, 1678, Hanna Hopkins was censured in the 
church for fornication with her husband before mar- 
riage and for fleeing from justice into Rhode Island. 
The Braintree Records for March 2, 1683 show that 

Temperance, the daughter of brother F , now the wife of 

John B , having been guilty of the sin of fornication with 

him that is now her husband, was called forth in open congre- 
gation, and presented a paper containing a full acknowledge- 
ment of her great sin and wickedness, publickly bewailed her 
disobedience to parents. . . She was solemnly admonished 
of her great sin. 

In 1728 

Joseph P and Lydia his wife made a confession before 

the church which was well accepted, for the sin of fornication 
committed with each other before marriage. 

The cases of premarital fornication by husband and 
wife were evidently numerous. The experience of 
Braintree was by no means singular among the Massa- 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 133 

chusetts towns of the eighteenth century. The records 
of the Groton church show that of two hundred persons 
owning the baptismal covenant there from 1761 to 1775, 
no less than sixty-six confessed to fornication before 
marriage. From 1789 to 1791 sixteen couples were 
admitted to full communion; of these nine had con- 
fessed to fornication. The greater part of the Brain- 
tree confessions of incontinence were between 1726 and 
1744, the period of the Great Awakening. Discipline 
probably stiffened about 1725. Perhaps confession in- 
creased with the rise of religious enthusiasm. It may 
be that sex excitement was concomitant with the reli- 
gious frenzy. 

Every means was employed to check the evil of in- 
continence which even in the earliest days of the Massa- 
chusetts colonies was a grievous trouble. In Rhode Is- 
land, according to Weeden, "the hardest municipal 
task -beyond early theological differences or proprie- 
tors' disputes for lands -was in the control of sexual im- 
morality." In that colony, 

Illegitimacy was a not uncommon offence ... at any « 
time in the first century of our colonial history. . . A young 
woman's prospect of marrying respectably and of moving there- 
after in respectable society, do not seem to have been seriously 
impaired by her already having shown herself qualified to dis- 
charge the functions of a wife and mother.^® 

As regards Rhode Island in 1655 the Lord Protector 
"hath lately received complaints against us that we 
abound with whoredom" and steps were taken to check 
lasciviousness. In 1642 Governor Bradford bewailed 
conditions at Plymouth, "not only incontinence between 
persons unmarried, for which many both men and 
women have been punished sharply ,^|iough but some 

58 Field. State of R. I. and Providence Plantations at the End of ihe Cen- 
tury, vol. iii, 397. 


134 ^^'"' American Family - Colonial Period 

maried persons also." A reforming synod at Boston, 
1679, laments "hainous breeches of the seventh com- 
mandment." Numerous cases of church confession 
might be cited. At Dedham for twenty-five years be- 
fore 1 78 1 twenty-five cases of unlawful cohabitation 
were publicly acknowledged. Between 1756 and 1803 
the number of cases increased alarmingly. Apparent- 
ly the cases of church discipline publicly administered 
on the ground of sexual immorality were infrequent in 
Roxbury (as in Dedham and Braintree) before 1725. 
Lord Dartmouth, secretary for the colonies, referred to 
the commonness of illegitimate offspring among the 
young people of New England as a thing of accepted 
notoriety and Governor Hutchinson did not refute the 

Hawthorne says in The Scarlet Letter: 
Morally as well as materially there was a coarser fibre in those 
wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding than in 
their fair descendants separated from them by a series of six or 
seven generations. 

Charles Francis Adams wrote regarding New Eng- 
land (1883): 

The illegitimate child was more commonly met with in the last 
than in the present century and bastardy cases furnished a class 
of business with which country lawyers seem to have been as 
familiar as they are with liquor cases now.^^ 

In these North Atlantic colonies even sodomy was not 
uncommon and buggery occurred and had to be dealt 

These manifestations of carnality so alien to the tradi- 
tional picture of Puritanism demand explanation. 
Doubtless the bleak barrenness and economic dearth 

5^ Compare Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, second ser., vol. 
vi, 477-516. 

^° Elliott Newj England History, vol. i, 392-393. 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 135 

j that oppressed the first settlers helped to reduce life to 
elemental levels. As Lamb put it, "Poor men's smoky 
cabins are not always porticoes of moral philosophy." 
Moreover, where wealth was scant, questions of legiti- 
macy and inheritance were less urgent. Besides, the 
settlers had brought from England a fund of coarse 
sensuality, veneered it might be with modish asceticism, 
yet certainly demanding to be heard. The form of sex 
indulgence that developed may have been due in part to 
the stern morality that did not allow for a class of rec- 
ognized prostitutes. Brownist influences are also sug- 
gested. In extenuation of the incontinence of eight- 
eenth century New England it should be remembered 
that much of it was not promiscuous and it is hard to 
accept Adams's opinion that "in the matter of sexual 
morality, vice in the nineteenth century as compared 
with the seventeenth or the eighteenth has lost some 
part of its evil in losing much of its grossness." For 
whatever surface improvement there has been is prob- 
ably due largely to the development of organized pros- 
titution and the practice of prevjention and criminal 
abortion at which present day society is adept. 

It c;an not be doubted that the publicity accorded 
to cases of sex errancy was an unwholesome influence 
that tended to augment the evil by creating a kind of 

'* social hysteria. Such sensationalism was of the nature 
of suggestion. Living under terrible repression -en- 
vironmental and social -the New Englanders found 
morbid satisfaction in conscience-prying and soul-dis- 
play. The detailed descriptions of their offences that 
adulterers gave in church outwent the wildest flights 
of modern sensationalism as an enrichment of the ser- 
vice and doubtless brought and held a large audience. 
The various civil penalties irnpTosed can not have been 

136 The American Family -Colonial Period 

much more wholesome. Dunton tells us that there 
hardly passed a court day in Massachusetts without 
some convictions for fornication and tho the penalty 
was fine and whipping, the crime was very frequent. At 
Plymouth in several cases of premature birth the hus- 
band was publicly whipped while his wife sat in the 
stocks as witness. In their zeal for the sanctity of mar- 
ried life several codes prescribed capital punishment 
for adultery. Plymouth substituted whipping and the 
scarlet letter. In Rhode Island the penalty was whip- 
ping with payment of costs. It is obvious that the pun- 
ishment of such offences involved an unwholesome pub- 
licity. Moreover, with the prevalence of extreme pen- 
alties there went reluctance to urge conviction for adul- 

In marked contrast to the abnormal stimulation of the 
sex function by morbid publicity was the attempt to 
suppress like stimulation in the way of social amuse- 
ment. In New England, as in the home country, the 
Puritans attacked the Maypole. Specific happenings 
suggest reason for rigor. A Plymouth court record 
shows that one Mary Rosse exercised an "intfiewsiastic- 
al power" over a certain married man who pleaded 
that "he must doo what shee bade him." The charmer 
was publicly whipped and sent home to her mother. 
The victim was also whipped. In New Hampshire 
Margery Riggs for luring George Palmer was ordered 
severely whipped while her avowedly helpless victim 
was only pilloried. In New Haven Mrs. Fancies 
seemed able to captivate nearly every man with whom 
she chanced in contact. She was a sore perplexity to 
the magistrates. It were hard to tell how far undue 
censorship of sex relations plus pathological publicity 
were responsible for the epidemic of sickly sentimen- 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 137 

tality that for many years seemed to prevail throughout 
America with excessive talk on love, matrimony, and 
"Platonicks" even between comparative strangers." 

Moreover, the remedies tried for sex sin proved rela- 
tively unavailing. Church discipline was not always 
efficacious even in respect to the person in question. 

On one occasion a committee reported that E. M 

owned to them that she had had two bastard children 
since she confessed fornication. After promising to 
make satisfaction to the church she failed to come and 
was sentenced to suspension and admonition. 

A more successful case of discipline was that of Cap- 
tain Underbill. As early as 1638 he was suspected of 
incontinency with a neighbor's wife. "The woman 
being young and beautiful and withal of a jovial spirit 
and behavior, he did daily frequent her house, and was 
divers times found there alone with her, the door being 
locked on the inside." He said she was in trouble and 
temptation and they were praying together. He was 
accused "by a godly young woman to have solicited 
her chastity under pretence of Christian love [this 
smacks of Brownism], and to have confessed to her, 
that he had his will oftentimes of the cooper's wife, and 
all out of strength of love." In 1640, Underbill 
Confessed also in the congregation, that tho he was very fa- 
miliar with that woman, and had gained her affections, etc., 
yet she withstood him six months against all his sollicitations 
(which he thought no woman could have resisted) before he 
could overcome her chastity, but being once overcome, she was 
wholly at his will. And to make his peace the more sound, he 
went to her husband . . . and fell upon his knees before 
him in presence of some of the elders and others, and confessed • 
the wrong he had done him, and besought him to forgive him, 
which he did very freely, and in testimony thereof he sent the 
captain's wife a token. 

^^ Earle. Colonial Dames and Goodtvi'ves, 190-191. 

138 The American Family -Colonial Period 

Discretion was not always mixed with the sentences. 
Witness the case of Polly Baker of Connecticut who 
w^as seduced and deserted and when her child was born 
was punished, various times whipped, fined, and im- 
prisoned. Once she spoke to the court: 

I cannot conceive my offence to be of so unpardonable a nature 
as the law considers it. ,. . I readily consented to the only 
offer of marriage that ever was made me. I have deluded no 
young man, nor seduced aw^ay any woman's husband. 
You have already excluded me from the communion ! You 
believe I have offended heaven and shall suffer everlastingly! 
Why then will you increase my misery by additional fines and 
whippings? Compel [the bachelors] either to marry, or to pay 
double fines. What must poor young women do? Custom 
forbids their making overtures to men; they cannot, however 
heartily they wish it, marry when they please. 

The court discharged her without punishment for that 
time, the lawyers made her presents, and her seducer 
afterwards married her. 

• Women were more sternly dealt with than men. In 
1707 a woman was sentenced at Plymouth to be set on 
the gallows, receive thirty stripes upon her naked back, 
and forever after to wear the capital A. The man was 
acquitted with no assignment of reason. ^^ We are re- 
minded that the man of the Reformation knew no chiv- 
alry when we read of a woman condemned to stand in 
the market place in Boston and to wear a placard: 
"Thus I stand for my adulterous and whorish car- 

It seems from some cases that the offence of unchas- 
tity was, after all, a formal one that the civil power 
might overlook, provided no burden of supporting il- 
legitimate children was imposed on the community."' 

^2 Howard. History of Matrimonial Institutiorts, vol. ii, 175. Compare 
Gage, Woman, Church, and State, 282. 

63 Early Records of the Toivn of Providence, vol. iv, 41 ; Field. State of 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 139 

The weight of economic considerations is evident in the 
law that "the father of a bastard, convict, shall main- 
tain it, or allow the mother what the court thinks fit." 
The mere oath of the woman makes him liable to this 
charge tho not to punishment imposed by law for forni- 
cation and adultery. If circumstances throw doubt 
the court may acquit him. Forced marriage was one 
of the penalties of fornication. In Rhode Island wo- 
men with children were ordered off, very likely for the 
reason that the community feared expense, for a woman 
guilty of bastardy was dismissed on showing her ability 
to keep her child. 

In Connecticut Chastellux noticed what seems to be 
a cognate phenomenon. In one pleasing family a 
daughter was confined to her room having been se- 
duced and betrayed. She was kindly treated and the 
family seemed to have no hesitation in telling her story 
to travellers. It might be judged, as the English trans- 
lator who had travelled in America said, that "it was 
the custom of the country to regard such accidents not 
as irretrievable ruin, but as misfortunes which could 
be remedied." The translator further said that such 
young women lost no social rights; "their mistake was 
lamented rather than condemned; and they could after- 
wards marry and take as good a position as ever, al- 
though their story was neither unknown nor attempted 
to be concealed." In the case mentioned the lover re- 
turned and all was well. 

Later the Frenchman found a similar case in Con- 
necticut. Again he was impressed with the complete 
innocence and frankness of all concerned and their 
willingness to support and take care of a young woman 

Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century, vol. 
">, 395- 

140 The American Family -Colonial Period 

that had so gone astray. He suggests a possible explan- 
ation of the situation, viz. that citizens are so precious 
in a new country that a girl, by rearing her child, seems 
to atone for the initial sin. He found such slips among 
very young people quite common but the repetition of 
them exceedingly rare. 

Financial means evidently served to render unchas- 
tity less heinous. Stories of scandal in high society can 
be found in the histories of all old Nev^ England towns. 

Thus the w^idow B , presented for a second offence 

in having a child born out of wedlock, the father of 
both being a married man, was sentenced to pay the 
usual fine of five pounds and also to w^ear on her cap a 
paper on which her offence was written, as a warning 
to others, or else pay fifteen pounds. The man in the 
case, a Harvard alumnus, a man of wealth, found an- 
other man of wealth to go on her bond and later mar- 
ried the widow. The descendants of the bastards are 
now a prominent family.®* 

Sir Christopher Gardiner seems to have been a 
source of much trouble through his relations with wo- 
men. Then there was the notorious case of Sir Harry 
Frankland which showed that even social prestige can 
not wipe out all standards. In 1741 he was made col- 
lector of the port of Boston. (He had with him an il- 
legitimate son.) After educating and patronizing a 
handsome scrub girl he took her as his concubine in 
spite of her religious instructor, the president of Har- 
vard. The resultant outburst in Boston society drove 
them to move to another town. Later on he w^as caught 
in the Lisbon earthquake and vow^ed to marry her. 
After doing so he returned with her to Boston. 

A common offence was for an immigrant that had 

^* Giddings. Natural History of American Morals, 34, 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 141 

left a spouse in England to attempt a new alliance in 
the colonies. A letter dated Bristol, last of August, 
1632 tells of a man with two wives who had gone off to 
New England with a harlot and lived there. Later, 
fearing trouble when news of his doings reached Amer- 
ica he tried to escape to the Dutch but was apprehend- 
ed and brought back. Later a man married "this 
Gardner's wench." Massachusetts in 1647 passed a 
law as follows: 

Whereas divers persons both men and women, living within 
this jurisdiction, whose wives and husbands are in England, 
or elsewhere, by means whereof they live under great tempta- 
tion here, and some of them committing lewdness and filthiness 
here among us, others make love to women and attempt mar- 
riage and some have attained it, some of them live under sus- 
picion of uncleanness and all to the great dishonor of God. . . 
All such married persons . . . shall repaire to their said 
relatives by the first opportunity of shipping, upon paine or 
penalty of £20, except they can show just cause to the con- 
trary to the [court] . . . provided this order doe not ex- 
tend to such as are come over to make way for their families, or 
are [transient]. 

New Haven ordered spouses to repair to their partners 
in England or elsewhere with similar exception. Win- 
throp tells of \Villiam Schooler, an adulterer, who had 
left his wife "a handsome, neat woman" in England. 
Strictness of marriage law seems to have been aimed 
partly at such cases. Thus the Earl of Bellomont 
writes (1700) : 

The truth is, as I have been informed, some loose people have 
sometimes come from England and married in New England, 
tho they had left wives behind them in England, and this law 
was calculated chiefly for prevention of such marriages. If a 
minister of the church of England will be at the pains of 
going to any town or place to marry people, nobody will hinder 

142 The American Family -Colonial Period 

The disposition to illicit cohabitation, which was 
treated in a former chapter, is further illustrated in 
the case of Richard Bates who appeared, April 25, 
1683, having "a woman abiding with you." Both 
were ordered off July 25. He with the woman 
was cited for contempt and obtained an extension 
till October 21. In December the time was extend- 
ed to March 31. Thomas Cooper attempted mar- 
riage but was forbidden because he had "manifested 
himself a person infamous in that he hath forsaken a 
sober woman who is his wife." His intended appears 
again "entertained by Thos. Cooper." Her time of re- 
moval was set; "not to live with Thomas Cooper mean- 

In at least one instance the General Court tried to 
compel husband and wife to stick together. The rev- 
erend S. Batchelder of Lynn, at nearly ninety years of 
age married a third wife. Trouble ensued. In 1650 
the general court ordered that 

Mr. Batchelor and his wife shall lyve together as man and wife, 
as in this court they have publiquely professed to do, and if 
either desert one another, then hereby the court doth order that 
ye marshal shall apprehend both and bring them forthwith to 
Boston, here to be kept till the next quarter court. 

But he got away, went to England, and remarried. 

Family peace and safet}^ were of conspicuous social 
interest. A father might be called to account by church 
or magistrate. Thus a man is fined for beating his 
daughter with a flail and John Veasey is put under 
recognizance in the sum of five pounds "for detaining 
his child from the public worship of God, said child 
being about eleven years old." A number of cases of 
court procedure are on record against men that abused 
their wives. One man was fined for slandering his 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 143 

In October, 1691 Ephraim Pierce of Rhode Island 
repeated a warning to all not to have dealings with or to 
entertain his wife. At town meeting a complaint had 
been entered "made by Hannah Pierce unto the town 
that her husband hath locked her out of doors and hath 
sold his farm shee desireing the town's assistant." It 
was decided to order Ephraim to appear at next quar- 
ter day and answer. The record runs: 

Whereas there hath been and still is a difference fallen out 
betweene Ephram Pierce and his wife whereby themselves, 
family and estate is like to fall to ruin and thereby the towne 
is like to have charge fall upon them . . . therefore [Eph- 
raim contracts with the town not to sell or mortgage within a 
specified time house or land without consent of certain men, 
previous acts as to mortgaging to be null.] ^^ 

It is evident from this as from previous evidence that 
social control of family relations was in part due to a 
desire to avoid possible burdens on the community. 

The importance attached to public opinion as a fam- 
ily censor is apparent in various advertisements of de- 
linquent spouses published in colonial papers."'' Some 
of them were introduced by the awesome admonition: 
"Cursed be he that parteth man and wife and all the 
people shall say Amen." It was alleged of some Con- 
necticut wives that they were rude, gay, frivolous, lazy 
housewives, poor cooks, fond of dancing and worthless 
conversation, unloving consorts. 

These libels were not all prosaic or masculine. Some 
were in rhyme, and wives presented their grievances. 
One, owing to the niggardliness of her husband had to 
use "Indian branne for Jonne bred," and never tasted 
good food. Another complained that her husband 
"cruelly pulled my hair, pinched my flesh, kicked me 

'''•'Early Records of the Totjun of Providence, vol. xvii, 139-140. 

88 Compare Earle, Customs and Fashions in Old New England, 66-68. 

144 -^^''' American Family - Colonial Period 

out of bed, dragM me by my arms and heels, flung ashes 
upon me to smother me, flung water from the well till 
I had not a dry thread on me." 

But women were not altogether dependent on law or 
public opinion for protection. It was even thought 
necessary to legislate for the protection of husbands. 
Thus one law provided that no wife dared lift her hand 
or use "a curst and shrewish tongue" to her husband 
under pain of stocks or pillory. Cotton Mather, who 
in March, 1716 wrote in his diary: 

Very much inculcate in the children the lessons of thankful- 
ness to the glorious God, for having provided so marvellously 
for them, when he had made them orphans, and now bestowing 
an excellent mother upon them [was compelled to add as a se- 
quel about three years later:] The dreadful distresses which a 
furious and froward step-mother brings upon my family, as 
they oblige me to lay upon the children the most solemn charges 
of all possible dutifulness unto her, so, they furnish me with op- 
portunities, mightily to press all piety upon them. . . Oh ! 
my poor, distressed family. 

In Maine and New Hampshire women sometimes 
smote their husbands. In Plymouth colony Joan Mil- 
ler was presented for "beating and reviling her husband 
and egging her children to healp her, bidding them 
knock him on the head, and wishing his victual might 
choake him." One shrew for "vncivill carriages to her 
husband" was pilloried. Dorothy Talbye of Salem 
was ordered chained to a post. Later she was whipped, 
and then hanged for killing her child. (Evidently she 
was insane.) In 1683 Daniel Abbot wrote of his wife: 

Through her maddness of folly and turbulency of her corrupt 
will destroying me root and branch putting out one of her own 
eyes to put out both mine. And is since departed takeing away 
my children without my consent and plots to rifle my house to 
accomplish her divellish resolution against me. 

He forbade bargaining and contracting with her. 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 145 

It is, of course, impossible to tell what proportion the 
untoward phenomena bear to the instances of serene 
domestic life. But making allowance for the proba- 
bility that sensational incidents, as at present, received 
more attention than quiet family purity, it seems prob- 
able that sexual morality was not appreciably higher in 
Puritan times than to-day. As for domestic bliss our 
day can no doubt hold its own in comparison with the 
colonial centuries. 

The harshness of the lines in the colonial family was 
as much due to social pressure as to individual perver- 
sity. Thus domestic enjoyments were supposed to be 
omitted on the Sabbath. Some ministers refused to 
baptize children born on the Sabbath, because of a 
theory that such infants were conceived on Sabbath. 
One of the ministers most strenuous in this line kept up 
his rigor till on a Sabbath his wife gave birth to twins. 

As compared with Europe the colonial New Eng- 
landers were probably relatively free from sex sin. 
Chastellux was impressed with American freedom from 
infidelities among married people and the Abbe Robin, 
who was in Connecticut in 1781, says: 

There is such a confidence in the public virtue that, from Bos- 
ton to Providence, I have often met young vv^omen travelling 
alone on horseback, or in small riding chaises, through the 
woods, even when the day was far upon the decline. 

The French at Newport undertook intrigues with mar- 
ried women (during the Revolution). The Abbe tells 
of one husband equal to the occasion. 

He became more assiduous and complaisant to her than ever; 
with sorrow and despair in his soul, he showed a countenance 
serene and satisfied. He received at his house with attention 
and civility the very officer who was the author of his misfor- 
tune; but by a friend's aid, so contrived matters as to hinder him 
from private meetings with her. The repeated disappointments 

146 The American Family -Colonial Period 

seemed to the Frenchman mere chance mishaps. But he grew 
sullen and peevish under the strain, and thus became less at- 
tractive to the lady, while her husband became more amiable in 
her eyes than ever. Thus her lingering virtue recalled her to 
her allegiance. Such a procedure in so delicate an affair exhibits 
great knowledge of human nature, and still greater self-control. 

New England took the lead in a liberal civil divorce 
policy." The Puritans brought English law with them 
but parted from it in respect to divorce by adopting, as 
they thought, the rules of the New Testament. By fol- 
lowing what they construed to be the spirit of the book, 
rather than the letter, they spread out from adultery 
and desertion as the only causes of divorce and by an- 
alogy included certain kindred offences until their leg- 
islation became broadly tolerant. The canonical de- 
cree of separation from bed and board was practically 
tho not entirely, dispensed with. On the other hand 
dissolution of the marriage bond was freely granted 
for a variety of causes, such as desertion, cruelty, or 
breach of the vow. Generally, tho not always, husband 
and wife received equal treatment at the hands of the 
law. The disposition of some to ignore legal process 
and part at will was not favored. Thus Rhode Island 
had a law that "if any persons in this colonic shall part 
themselves and marry again without the authority of 
the Court of Commissioners, or be convicted of carnal 
copulation with any other, they shall be punished as in 
case of adultery." 

In Massachusetts, 1639, James Luxford, being pre- 
sented for having two wives, his last marriage was de- 
clared void 

Or a nullity thereof and to be divorced, not to come to the sight 
of her whom he last took, and he to be sent away for England 

^^ Compare Woolsey, "Divorce," in Ne^ Englander, vol. xxvii, 519; How- 
ard, History of Matrimonial Institutions, vol. ii, 330. 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 147 

by the first opportunity: and all that he hath is appointed to her 
whom he last married, for her and her children ; he is also fined 
£100 and to be set in the stocks an hour upon the market day 
after the lecture. 

He was probably one of the recreant husbands that left 
their legal wives in England. 

In 1 66 1 in Plymouth Elizabeth Burge was divorced 
from Thomas on scriptural grounds. He was severely 
whipped twice and soon left the colony. 

In 1665 in Rhode Island Peter Tollman applied for a 
divorce from his wife on the ground of adultery. She 
confessed. The petition was at once granted and she 
was arraigned for sentence. The penalty was a fine and 
whipping. She was condemned to pay ten pounds and 
to receive fifteen stripes at Portsmouth on the following 
Monday and the next week fifteen more at Newport. 
On her petition for mercy the court, strangely enough, 
examined her as to whether she would return to her 
husband. She refused and was accordingly remanded 
for punishment. 

At Plymouth, 1668, Goodwife Tubbs had eloped 
from the colony. The court gave her husband a di- 
vorce. On one occasion a certain W. Tubbs sought a 
divorce and, after patriarchal style, W. Peabody gave 
him a writing of divorcement with two witnesses. The 
General Court treated the document as a nullity and 
fined Peabody five pounds and each witness three 
pounds. In 1670 in Connecticut Hannah Huitt "hav- 
ing declared that she had not heard from her late hus- 
band, Thomas Huitt, for eight years and better, was 
declared to be at liberty to marry again as God shall 
grant her opportunity." In Plymouth colony, 1675, a 
peculiar decision was rendered. Edward Jenkins had 
petitioned for a divorce for his daughter because her 

148 The American Family -Colonial Period 

husband had been out of the colony and made no pro- 
vision for her during seven years or more. The de- 
cision was : The court "sees no cause to grant a divorce, 
yet they do apprehend her to be no longer bound, but 
do leave her to her liberty to marry if she please." 

In one of the colonies in 1676, Elizabeth Rogers ob- 
tained a divorce from John. She was also "permetted 
to have her two children with her, because the said 
John R. had renounced all visible worship of New 
England, and declared against the Christian Sabbath." 
Some property that he owned was appropriated to the 
benefit of his children. In 1678 Hope Ambrose ob- 
tained a divorce from Daniel Ambrose for desertion, 
non-support of herself and children, and keeping a 
woman in Jamaica. Ambrose's mistresses appear in 
the record in unminced terms. When James Shift's 
wife went off with another man, tho the deserted hus- 
band was not in Plymouth jurisdiction, the general 
court of that colony certified to his having a divorce 
from his own court. In 1683 John Warner, a deputy 
from Warwick, was divorced on petition of his wife for 
adultery and criminal violence to her and expelled 
from the Rhode Island Assembly. 

When Sara Knight made her journey between Boston 
and New York in 1704 she found divorces plentiful in 
Connecticut. She writes: 

These uncomely standaways are too much in vogue among the 
English in this indulgent colony as their records plentifully 
prove, and that on very trivial matters of which some have been 
told me but are not proper to be related by a female pen. 

Various conditions contributed to liberal divorce in 
the colonies: rejection of the sacramental theory of 
marriage, the establishment of marriage as a civil rite, 
assimilated to a business contract, the numerous cases 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 149 

of men that had left their wives in the old country, the 
great difficulty of leading the new life without wives 
and husbands, probably the feeling that population 
ought to be increased and family life promoted. 

But not all applications for divorce were granted. 
The civil power aimed also to forestall the necessity 
for divorce. Thus in Plymouth colony on one occa- 
sion the court warned Edward Holman not to frequent 
the house of Thomas Shrieve and that Goodwife 
Shrieve should not frequent the house or company of 
Holman at their peril. This warning proved ineffec- 
tual and the next year they were ordered to avoid each 
other or be whipped. This threat seems to have suf- 
ficed. John Robinson, grandson of the Leyden pastor, 
was bound over once to carry himself properly toward 
Thomas Crippen's wife. 

Sexual irregularity occasioned by slavery was suf- 
ficiently noteworthy. A Massachusetts law of 1705 
condemns negroes and mulattoes guilty of improper in- 
tercourse with whites to be sold out of the province. 
The presence of the Indian race was also a temptation. 
Morton, in his "New England Canaan" tells of an In- 
dian infant with gray "eies" whose 

Father shewed him to us and said they were English mens eies, 
I tould the father that his sonne was . . . bastard, hee re- 
plied . . . hee could not tell; his wife might play the 
whore and this child the father desired might have an English 
name, because of the likeness of his eies which his father had in 
admiration, because of novelty amongst their nation. 

The servant problem had already begun to be a 
source of family troubles. All the early travelers note 
the lack of good servants. Some resorted to Indians. 
The reverend Peter Thatcher of Milton, Massachusetts 
bought an Indian girl in 1674. One duty was to care 

150 The American Family -Colonial Period 

for the baby. "Came home," he writes, "and found 
my Indian girl had liked to have knocked my Theo- 
dorah on the head by letting her fall. Whereupon I 
took a good walnut stick and beat the Indian to purpose 
till she promised to do so no more." We find sad ac- 
counts of the desertion of aged colonists by their Indian 
servants. One tells that he took his "Pecod girle" as 
a "chilld of death" when but two years of age, reared 
her kindly, cared for her when she was sick, and finally 
was deserted by her in his time of need. Sewall had a 
free negro man -a devoted, faithful servant. By 1687 
a French refugee wrote: "There is not a house in Bos- 
ton however small may be its means, that has not one or 
two" negroes. 

Some "help" was early hireable. Children of well- 
to-do citizens worked in domestic service.*'* Roger 
Williams writes of his daughter's desiring to spend 
some time in service. Members of the rich Sewall's 
family lived out. Sons of Downing and Hooke went 
with their relative, Governor Winthrop, as servants. 
Children were bound out at eight, so that people could 
rear their own servants. The pious colonists felt great 
responsibility for their servants' souls. 

But the problem was vexatious in spite of native, 
negro, and apprentice service. Downing wrote home 
to England to try to get good servant girls. Mary 
Dudley, daughter of Winthrop, writes of a very re- 
fractory bad maid. Reverend Ezekiel Rogers wrote 
in 1657, when extreme Puritanism was fading: 

Hard to get a servant that is glad of catechizing or family 
duties. I had a rare blessing of servants in Yorkshire, and 
those that I brought over were a blessing, but the young brood 
doth much afflict me. Even the children of the godly here, 
and elsewhere make a woful proof. 

^^Earle. Customs and Fashions in Old Neiu England, 86-87. 

Sex Sin and Family Failure in New England 151 
In Hartford 

Susan Coles for her rebellious cariedge towards her mistres is 
to be sent to the house of correction, and be kept to hard labour 
and coarse dyet, to be brought forth the next lecture day to be 
publicquely corrected and so to be corrected weekly until order 
be given to the contrary. 

There are many like records. The head agent of a 
London company at a settlement in Maine defended his 
wife to the powers at home for beating a worthless, idle 
maid. Thus it is evident that, as now, the servant p rob- /f , ^- 
lem was an apple of discord in family life, as indeed it *■ ". )i^ h 
will continue to be so long as a part of the population /^ ^^ 
demands personal, menial attention from others in the V-^ v^)*^ 
capacity of house servants. ^ 




The middle colonies were startlingly heterogeneous 
in population. Owing to diversity in respect to nation- 
ality and religion each colony possessed an individual- 
ity that makes it inadvisable to study them as a unit. 
Only a few large generalities are in order. 

Slighter attention was given there than in New Eng- 
land to the regulation of domestic life. Greater ampli- 
tude and fertility of soil and geniality of climate tended 
to soften the rigor of life and to make family life more 
kindly. Diversity of population and multiplicity of 
minor sects tended to clannishness but forced broad 
tolerance inasmuch as it was hard for any one group to 
gain unrestrained expression in the form of law. In- 
troduction of continental blood and customs worked 
toward the softening of the hard lines of life. The 
Huguenots, for instance, coming from a land more ad- 
vanced in some ways than Holland or England, estab- 
lished a home life different from that of the other col- 
onists. Their home life was pleasant in contrast to 
much of the severer life around. Children were in- 
structed with more gentleness and consideration than 
among the English and Dutch. Warfield notes the 
"esprit of the Huguenot women." There were Hu- 
guenots in both the middle and the northern colonies. 
They were numerous in New York, where Dutch in- 
fluence was also strong. The Dutch were a milder 

154 ^^^^' American Family -Colonial Period 

species of the genus to which the Puritans belonged."® 
New York, like New England, recalls the fact that 
the racial endowment of sex is more than sufficient for 
race perpetuity when relatively civilized conditions ob- 
tain. In Dutch days "improper conduct" with women 
was a frequent occurrence, ranging from the darkest 
crimes to words and acts that are not now subjects of 
law. In the later years of the Old Dutch rule, "sins of 
sensuality" were frequent. One case was hushed up in- 
asmuch as the woman was an unmarried daughter of 
Dominie Schaats of Albany. Her paramour was a 
married man. Stuyvesant wrote bitter words about the 
afifair. In the early English days his half-sister Mar- 
griet had a child by a rich bachelor to whom she was 
affianced but whose sudden demise forestalled the mar- 
riage. This incident does not seem to have disgraced 
her, for she soon found a husband. It may be that a 
less happy event is indicated in the complaint of a farm 
wife in 171 6 at Court of Sessions at Westchester that 
"a travelling woman who came out of ye Jerseys who 
kept school at several places in Rye parish, hath left 
with her a child eleven months old, for which she de- 
sires relief from the parish." 

The Dutch custom of long betrothal seems to have 
had evil results. Some persons had delayed the cere- 
mony even for months after banns. Apparently couples 
had been living together after banns without marriage. 
It was accordingly ordered in 1658 that no man and 
woman should keep house together as man and wife 
until they were legally married; and a fine was to be 
the penalty for any violation of the order. The Dutch 
passed a law requiring the consummation of marriage 
within a month after publication had been completed 

69 A review of the closing pages of Chapter II will prepare the reader 
for a study of this colony. 

Sex and Marriage in New York 155 

unless there was legal opposition. Bundling was prac- 
ticed but finally came under prohibition of the au- 
thorities. Accounts of scandal in high society can be 
found in the histories of all old New York towns.^° 
Tho strict regulation of marital relations was attempted 
by the Dutch colonists and severe sentences were pro- 
vided for adultery, sexual transgressions were not treat- 
ed with so great rigor as in New England. Neither 
death nor the scarlet letter was inflicted. 

We have noted the custom of civil marriage in the 
low countries. Marriage by justice of the peace was 
made lawful by the States General of Holland from 
1590. The laws of the Netherlands were, indeed, not 
uniform and in the Dutch American colony it would 
seem that the ceremony had to be performed by a min- 
ister with religious rites tho there is difiference of 
opinion on this point. An authorized celebrant, at 
least, was essential: the principle of English common 
law marriage did not obtain. 

In the Netherlands, usually parental consent and 
often publication of banns was made essential. A ma- 
jority of the early settlers of New Netherlands hailed 
from Guilderland and the marriage laws of that prov- 
ince naturally prevailed. There a marriage was void 
if the express consent of the father, or if he were dead, 
the mother, had not been obtained before the marriage 
of a son. With regard to daughters the law was still 
more rigorous; even marriage with parental consent 
did not release a girl from parental authority in case 
her husband died while she was still under age. Gov- 
ernor Stuyvesant of New Netherlands was strict in his 
application of the law of parental consent and due no- 
tice. Proper forms had to be observed. 

In violation of the law as to banns, etc., a sheriff of 

■'o Giddings. Natural History of American Morals, 34. 

156 The American Family - Colonial Period 

Flushing married a widower to a girl against her pa- 
rents' consent and contrary to law. On April 3, 1648, 
the officer was fined, dismissed from office, and the mar- 
riage annulled. The groom was fined and required to 
have the marriage again solemnized after three proc- 

In 1654 the court of Gravesend had set up and af- 
fixed banns between Johann van Beeck and Maria Ver- 
leth of New Amsterdam. The action of Gravesend 
was thought to prepare 

A way whereby hereafter some sons and daughters unwilling to 
obey parents and guardians will, contrary to their wishes, 
secretly go and get married in such villages or elsewhere. . . 
It is usual according to the custom of our Fatherland, that 
every one shall have three publications at the place where his 
domicile is, and then he may go and be married wherever he 

The magistrates of Gravesend appealed to their charter 
by which they were guaranteed against "molestation 
from any magistrate or minister that may extend juris- 
diction over them." Van Beeck appeared to urge his 
case. The New Amsterdam council noted 

Who in the beginning instituted marriage ; also what the apostle 
of the Gentiles teaches therein. . . The proper and at- 
tained ages of Johannes van Beeck and Marya Verlith. . . 
The consent of the father and mother on the daughter's 
side. . . The distance and remoteness of places between this 
and our fatherland together with the dififerences between Hol- 
land and England. . . The danger that in such circum- 
stances matters by long delay might come to be disclosed be- 
tween these aforesaid young people, which would bring dis- 
grace on both families, i . We think . . . that by a 
proper solemnization of marriage (for the Apostle to the 
Hebrews calls the marriage bed honorable) the lesser and 
greater sins are prevented. 

Accordingly banns should be proclaimed. But some 

Sex and Marriage in New York 157 

trouble arose and the young people, eloping to New 
England, were married by a farmer in Connecticut. 
This marriage was of course unlawful. Stuyvesant 
writes : 

Johannes van Beeck had affixed a poster that his marriage con- 
tracted contrary to his father's prohibition to marry abroad 
has been declared lawful and proper by the council of New 
Amsterdam, we want information. 

Finally the marriage was recognized as legal. 

In 1674, the year of the Dutch Restoration, Ralph 
Doxy was indicted for unlawfully entering 

Into the married state with Mary van Harris, making use, for 
that purpose, of a forged certificate, and that Deft, hath still a 
wife alive who resides in New England; therefore, [the pros- 
ecution] concludes that the Deft, ought to be conveyed to the 
place where justice is usually executed, severely whipped, and, 
furthermore, banished the country forever, with costs. Deft, 
denies ever having been married to a woman before; acknowl- 
edges his guilt as regards the forged certificate; says, that 
through love for Mary Harris he had allowed it to be executed 
by a certain Englishman now gone to the Barbadoes and there- 
fore prays forgiveness. Whereas parties, on both sides, are ex- 
pecting further proofs, the Governor General and Council or- 
der the case . . . continued. 

Later the marriage was declared 

Unlawful, inasmuch as it was solemnized by Jacobus Fabricius, 
who had no legal power so to act, and without his engagement 
having been published three several times according to the laws 
and customs of the government; but finding the charge against 
him of having a second wife in New England unfounded, he is 
therefore permitted to confirm himself in wedlock with the 
above-named Mary, according to the laws of the government; 
in regard to the forged certificate . . . he is pardoned for 
this time on his promise of improvement, and request for for- 
giveness; and finally, they condemn the Deft, in the costs in- 
curred herein. 

The celebrant, Fabricius, a "late" Lutheran minister, 

158 The American Family -Colonial Period 

was suspended from office of the ministry for one year 
for performing the ceremony without legal authority. 

The same year in case of a man requesting leave of 
marriage with "Jane Rause, widow of Edward Rause, 
who died about two and a half years ago at Carolina" 
it was "ordered: that the magistrates of Rustdorp in- 
quire as to the certainty of said Edward Rause's death 
and report their conclusions." This incident recalls 
New England experience with deserting spouses. Big- 
amists were not uncommon at New Amsterdam. 

The English conquest did not much disturb the 
smooth run of life. Dutch household customs were re- 
tained as far as practicable. But contract de presenfi 
proved by witnesses and followed by cohabitation now 
constituted a legal marriage. Ceremonial marriage 
was at first celebrated by justice of the peace (as al- 
lowed by "the Duke's Laws") or clergy, on the gov- 
ernor's license or publication of banns thrice in some 
place of worship. Clergy of all denominations offici- 
ated. In 1678 Governor Andros reported that "minis- 
ters have been so scarce and religions so many that no 
acct. cann be given of children's births or christenings." 
"Scarcity of ministers and law admitting marriages by 
justices no acct. cann be given of the number marryed." 

In some cases the minister gave a certificate of per- 
mission for marriage. Thus at Flatbush: 

Isaac Hasselburg and Elizabeth Baylis have had their procla- 
mation in our church as commonly our manner and custom is, 
and no opposition or hindrance came against them, so as that 
they may be confirmed in ye banns of Matrimony, whereto we 
wish them blessing. , . March 17th, 1689, Rudolph Var- 
rick, minister. 

This voucher was probably in order to authorize the 
performance of the ceremony in another parish. Se- 
vere penalties were fixed during the British regime for 

Sex and Marriage in New York 159 

ministers violating the law requiring license or pub- 

Marriage fees in colonial days were not very large 
and it seems that they were not always kept by the min- 
ister. In one pastor's account we find him paying over 
to the consistory seventy-eight guilders and ten stuyvers 
for fourteen marriage fees. This was in the Dutch 

After the conquest the Church of England tried to 
gain headway. In numerous governors' commissions 
we find such instructions as: 

You are to take especial care, that a table of marriages estab- 
lished by ye canons of the Church of England, bee hung up in 
all orthodox churches and duly observed. 

Governor Hunter is urged to try to get a law passed if 
not already done for the strict observance of said table. 
An English clergyman writing in 1695 complains of 
the performance of many marriages by justices. In 
1748 through Episcopal influence the wording of the 
license which previously had run "to all Protestant 
ministers" was altered to "all Protestant ministers of 
the gospel." Smith in the History of New York says: 
The Episcopal missionaries ^ . . not many years ago, at- 
tempted by a petition to the late governor Clinton, to engross 
the privilege of solemnizing all marriages. A great clamor 
ensued and the attempt was abortive. Before that time the 
ceremony was even performed by justices of the peace, and the 
judge at law determined such marriages to be legal. The 
governor's licenses now run to "all Protestant ministers of the 
gospel." Whether the justices act still when the banns are 
published in our churches, which is customary only with the 
poor, I have not been informed. [As a matter of fact, justices 
no longer meddled except in counties where clergy were 
scarce.] Marriages in a new country ought to have the highest 
encouragements, and it is on this account, perhaps, that we 
have no provincial law against such as are clandestine, tho they 

i6o The American Family -Colonial Period 

often happen, and in some cases, are attended with consequences 
equally melancholy and mischievous. 

The Quakers had some trouble with marriage regula- 
tions and on one occasion petitioned for remission of 
fine imposed ''for suffering our daughters to marrie 
contrary to their law." Later Quakers were permitted 
to use their own marriage ceremony. 

In 1679 a lamentable irregularity occurred, as re- 
corded in a letter of Luke Wattson against Captain 
John Avery, a magistrate: 

He tooke upon himselfe to marry the widdow Clament to one 
Bryant Rowles, without publiquecation notwithstanding she was 
out aske at least a month to another man, namely Edward 
Cocke; the which when the said Cocke heard that she was 
marryed to another man said that it would be his death and 
presently went home, fell sick, and in fortyeight hours after 
dyed, he left it on his death that her marrying was the cause 
of his dyeing. . . Hee took upon him to grant a licence to 
Marry Daniel Browne to Sussan Garland widdow, without 
any publiqueation, which marriage was effected, notwithstand- 
ing it is generally known or at least the said Daniel confesses 
that he knows no other but that he have a wife living in Eng- 

As already suggested, license from the governor was 
an aristocratic resort for people that could afford thus 
to purchase exemption from publication of banns. It 
offered a convenient loophole for corruption. The 
Earl of Bellomont wrote in 1700 to the Secretary of the 
Board that during his absence in Boston 

Mr. Smith the chaplain . . . comes to the lieutenant gov- 
ernor and desires him to sign a blank licence, pretending the per- 
sons to be married were desirous to have their names concealed. 
The lieutenant governor suspecting Smith's knavery refuses to 
sign the blank licence. Afterward Smith brings a licence filled 
up with the names of Adam Ball and the maiden name of a 

71 Documents relating to Colonial History of the State of New York, vol. 
xii, 624-625. 

Sex and Marriage in New York i6i 

married woman ; he afterwards adds a sillable to the mans name 
in the licence (after the lieutenant governor had signed it) 
and then it was Baldridge the pirate. . . and the woman 
was the wife of Buckmaster a pirate. , . Being askt why he 
married Baldridge to another man's wife, he answered she had 
made oath to him that she was never married to Buckmas- 
ter. . . It appears Buckmaster was married to the woman 
by a justice of the peace in one of the Jerseys which is their 
way of marrying there.'^^ 

It is easy to see the possibilities of evil in the administra- 
tions of the less scrupulous governors. 

During the century between the British conquest and 
the war of the Revolution most marriages of genteel 
folks were performed by executive license. It was con- 
sidered very plebeian, almost vulgar, to be married 
under publication or posting of banns as was done in 
New England without violence to fashionable stan- 
dards. An item from a New York paper of 1765 shows 
the prevalence of aversion to the publication of banns: 

We are creditly informed that there was married on last Sun- 
day evening ... a very respectable couple that had pub- 
lished three different times in Trinity church. A laudable 
example and worthy to be followed. If this decent and for 
many reasons proper method of publication was once generally 
to take place, we should have no more of clandestine marriages ; 
and save the expense of licenses, no inconsiderable sum these 
hard and depressing times. 

A copy of the New York Gazette and Postboy of about 
the same time contains this item: 

As no licenses for marriage could be obtained since the first of 
November for want of stamped paper, we can assure the public 
several genteel couples were published in the different churches 
of this city last week ; and we hear that the young ladies of this 
place are determined to join hands with none but such as will to 
the utmost endeavor to abolish the custom of marriage with 
license which amounts to many hundred f)er annum which 
might be saved. 

^2 Documents relating to Colonial History of the State of Neiv York, vol. 
iv, 766. 

i62 The American Family - Colonial Period 

It will be remembered also that the governor's income 
from this source made the colonial expedient of with- 
holding the salary of refractory governors less potent 
in New York. 

The marriage ceremony in old New York usually 
took place at the home of the bride's parents. Wed- 
dings were great events. They furnished occasions to 
take collections or subscriptions for worthy purposes." 
In some towns the pastor required written consent of 
the parents on both sides before the words were said. 
A riotous charivari followed the wedding. On Long 
Island the groom's parents often kept open house on the 
day after the bride's. There was no bridal tour but 
sometimes the bridal party was entertained successive 
days by friends for miles around. In New York the 
groom's friends called for several days to drink punch. 
It was customary in this colony, as in New England, 
for the new couple to appear in church on the Sabbath 
following the marriage. Often they entered late for 

Such ostentatious recognitions of the importance of 
marriage as these customs furnish seem normal to us. 
They are a survival of the struggle for tribal existence 
which puts such a premium on fecundit\'. An almost 
grewsomely contrasting relic, outlandish to us, betokens 
more vividly the importance of every man as a sire in 
the hazardous days of tribal struggle. The episode re- 
calling this primitive urgency occurred in New York 
in 1784. A condemned malefactor about to be exe- 
cuted was reprieved and set free by his marriage on the 
gallows to a woman clad only in a shift.'* 

The same conditions as furthered marriage and 
fecundity in New England were operative in this 

"3 Earle. Colonial Days in Old Ne<w York, 63-64. 

"* Earle. Customs and Fashions in Old A'e<w England, 79. 

Sex and Marriage in New York 163 

neighbor colony. Men and women married early and 
remarried promptly and repeatedly. The great lack 
of hired service that rendered a fatherless or mother- 
less home well-nigh impossible magnified the marital 
relation. Family life was honored as the only fit con- 
dition. Second and third marriages were sufficiently* 
common among the early New Netherlanders. At 
Gravesend a desolate widower became enamored of a 
milkmaid on first sight as she milked her father's cows. 
He proposed on the spot, posted to town for a license, 
and carried off the fair Grietje. The first of the New 
York Livingstons came in obscure poverty to the bed- 
side of a Rensellaer in Albany to prepare his will. 
"Send him away," said the dying man to his beautiful 
wife, "he will be your second husband." And the 
prophecy was fulfilled." One man, a German, appears 
in the chronicles as the fourth husband of his first wife 
and the third husband of his second wife who had been 
previously married to a Dane and to a Dutchman.^" 

Nearly all the first settlers at New Amsterdam were 
young married people. Their children grew up to 
marriageable years and in the latter part of the Dutch 
regime the place was celebrated for its marriageable 
folk and its betrothals. Early mating was facilitated 
by the innocent simplicity of society that dispensed 
with chaperons. Travelers sought good wives here and 
found them. 

Emigrant wives brought with them maids to serve 
three years for their passage. The numerous girls of 
marriageable age that came over were soon appropri- 
ated by young Dutchmen and housewives had to bewail 
the maids snatched away before their time was up. In 
1642 the patroon of Staten Island sued the parents of a 

^^' Earle. Colonial Days in Old Netu York, 6i. 

""^ Van Rensellaer. History of the City of New York, vol. ii, 142. 

164 The American Family -Colonial Period 

girl for the loss of her services through her marriage. 
The bride told the magistrates that her first acquaint- 
ance with the young man was when her mother and an- 
other person brought him to see her. After rejecting 
him several times she had eloped with him in a boat. 
She offered to render as compensation the handkerchief 
that her husband had presented as wedding gift. In 
1656 Hans Fromer demanded that Madame Van der 
Douck "give lawful reason why she forbid the bond of 
matrimony between him and Maeyken Huybertson." 
The defendant's son showed the maid's service contract, 
but the authorities released the girl and let her marry, 
which laxity encouraged all maids to rebel. Service 
contracts proved less sacred than the social need of in- 
crease in population. Madame Judith Varlith next 
had to release her maid and pay her much wampum 
and linen. The wives of the councillors rebelled at 
such outrage; so arrangements had to be made to im- 
port cargoes of young women from Holland under 
rigid contracts which the dignitaries had pledged them- 
selves in private to hold sacred." 

Breach of promise cases sometimes marred the calm 
of Old New York. Stuyvesant himself intervened in 
the case of a maid deceived by promise of marriage. In 
1654 Grietje Waemans produced a marriage ring and 
letters promising marriage as grounds on which Daniel 
de Silla be "condemned to legally marry her." It was 
vain for him to plead intoxication as defense. Frangois 
Soleil swore he would rather cast in his lot with the 
Indians than marry his abandoned Rose. Pieter Koch 
and Anna van Voorst were unwilling to carry out an 
agreement to marry. The burgomasters and schepens 

^^ Van Rensellaer. The Goede Vrouio of Mana-ha-ta, 16-17; Earle. Co- 
lonial Days in Old Netu York, 52-53. 

Sex and Marriage in New York 165 

decided that the promise held and forbade either to 
marry another person without permission of the be- 
trothed and the court. Anna flagrantly married an- 
other man without asking any one's leave. A young 
widow, plaintiff in a breach of promise suit, offered as 
proof a shilling, her second lover's gift. (Untying the 
marriage knot in which a piece of money was tied and 
presented signified consent to speedy marriage.) 

In New York the economic element in marriage re- 
ceived due attention. As the Dutch women were as 
keen traders as the men the bargaining was on a more 
equal footing than in other colonies, where ladies usu- 
ally got the worst of the deal. This equality of bargain- 
ing power between the sexes in New York may have 
covered some of the sordidness of economic marriage. 

Bachelors were not in good standing among the 
Dutch, at least in Albany. The colony had no laws, as 
in New England, to regulate these misfits and they 
shared in the benefit of Dutch tolerance toward mis- 
guided folk. But where marriage was so spontaneous, 
bachelors were almost pariahs. They did manage to find 
shelter but not home. Mrs. Grant describes them as 
passing in and out like silent ghosts and seeming to feel 
themselves superior to the world. Their association was 
almost exclusively with one another tho sometimes one 
took part in the affairs of the family with which he 
lived. Fisher is reminded by them of rogue elephants. 
'Tn colonial times," he says, "we often find the people 
living such a simple life that they instinctively fol- 
lowed some of the primitive laws which have peopled 
the earth." 

The different strains of continental blood blended by 
marriage into one predominantly Dutch. Then inter- 
marriage preserved such racial integrity that many 

i66 The American Fatnily- Colonial Period 

rural families and many notable city families continued 
till recent times with little or no infusion of British 

At the hejjinning of the i8th century the little isolated 
community of New Harlem consisted of half a hundred 
homes. , . "Intermarriage," says Rilcer, "among the resi- 
dent families was the rule, and he was thought a bold swain 
truly who ventured beyond the pale of the community to woo a 
mate." . . Fifty years after the village was settled, or about 
the end of the first quarter of the eighteenth century, there was 
scarcely one of the families of the patentees that was not re- 
lated to every other of the twenty-five or thirty families that 
first settled the village.''^ 

Doctor Douglass, in colonial days, had a visionary 
scheme for affiliation with the Indians. He said : 

Our young missionaries may procure a perpetual alliance and 
commercial advantage with the Indians, which the Roman 
Catholic clergy cannot do, because they are forbid to marry. I 
mean our missionaries may intermarry with the daughters of 
the sachems and other considerable Indians, and their progeny 
will forever be a certain cement between us and the Indians. 

William Johnson married a German girl by whom 
he had several children. After her death he had sev- 
eral mistresses of whom the favorite was a beautiful 
Indian girl, Molly Brant, sister of Joseph Brant. She 
bore him eight children and he lived with her until his 

The presence of the negroes also suggested mis- 
cegenation. But in some regions at least this practice 
must have been tabooed by the colonists if we are to 
believe the assertion that after the Revolution the path 
of the British army could be traced by the presence of 

^^ Van Rensellaer. History of the City of Neiu York, vol. ii, 142. 
^» Pierce. Ne<w Harlem Past and Present, 313. 

80 Fisher. Men, Women, and Manners in Colonial Times, vol. ii, 96. 
"— Idem, 118. 


The marriage ritual among the Dutch was full of 
realism. The groom was told to lead, instruct, com- 
fort, protect, and love his wife and maintain his home 
honestly. The bride was warned against lording it 
over her spouse. Domestic life in the colony was in 
the main quiet and commonplace. Family troubles 
seldom came to court. Mrs. Grant testifies to the hap- 
piness of marital life in Albany: 

Inconstancy or even indifference among married couples was un- 
heard of. . . The extreme affection they bore their mutual 
offspring was a bond that forever endeared them to each other. 
Marriage in this colony was always early, very often happy, 
and very seldom, indeed "interested." 

The Dutch women were strongly influential, active 
in affairs, and respected by their husbands. In Dutch 
neither party is married to the other: bride or groom 
marries with the other. In New Netherlands both 
sexes received education and men and women were 
more equal than later under the English fashion. (In 
New York, 1780, the men monopolized the seats on the 
mall leaving the ladies to stand. )^^ To the end of the 
colonial period the enjoyment by women of greater in- 
dependence than in communities of English origin at- 
tested the Dutch sources of New York."'' The wife was 
her husband's equal in the eyes of the law which rec- 

^2 Earle. Colonial Dames and Goodiuives, 200. 

83 Van Rensellaer. History of the City of Neiv York, vol. ii, 157. 

i68 The American Family -Colonial Period 

ognized a community in possessions if there was no 
ante-nuptial contract.'' Such a contract often provided 
that tlic wife and husband should inherit absolutely 
from each other. Often joint wills of like tenor were 
made. This was a distinctively Dutch usage. Such 
wills are significant of the mutuality that characterized 
married life in the New York colony. But in church 
the seats of husband and wife were ordinarily separate. 
Women's high ambition was to be able housewives. 
Married women were distinguished from maidens by 
their dress. They stayed at home, read their Bibles 
and managed. Every good housewife made the ap- 
parel of her family. The wife was the head of the 
household, the sovereign of domestic affairs. Smith, 
writing after nearly a century of the English regime, 

The ladies . . . are comely and dress well, and scarce any 
of them have distorted shapes. Tinctured with a Dutch edu- 
cation, they manage their families with becoming parsimony, 
good providence, and singular neatness. 

Marriage had a sedative effect on men. In Albany 
when a man married he was supposed to lose two pleas- 
ures, coasting and pig- and turkey-stealing. Nothing 
was allowed to disturb the serenity of Dutch house- 
keeping or the spotless order of the parlor. For a time 
New Netherlands experienced lack of servants; so wife 
and daughters performed the work of house and dairy. 
Mrs. Grant says: "A woman in very easy circum- 
stances, and abundantly gentle in form and manners, 
would sow, and plant, and rake incessantly." Home 
w^as home. Irving says: "Dinner was invariably a 
private meal, and the fat old burghers showed incon- 
testable signs of disapprobation and uneasiness at being 

8* Van Rensellaer. History of the City of Neiu York, vol. i, 480. 

Family Life and Problems in New York 169 

surprised by a visit from a neighbor on such occasions." 
Especially did wives resent the visits of fire-prevention 
inspectors to their homes, and abuse these men. Sol- 
diers, often billeted in private homes, were a nuisance. 
One citizen wrote that "they made him weary." 

It was in the home and in business that woman shone 
rather than in intellectual afifairs. Women teachers' 
and girl-scholars were not eminent in New York in 
early days. But women were active as shop-keepers, 
merchants, ship-owners, Indian traders. It was com- 
mon for a wife to hold her husband's power of attorney 
in his absence, to help him in business, or to carry on 
the business after his death. It is said that widows in 
New Amsterdam often assumed the management of 
considerable estates. Widow DeVries carried on her 
deceased husband's Dutch trade making repeated trips 
to Holland as supercargo on her own ships. She mar- 
ried Frederick Phillipse and by her keenness, thrift, 
and profitable business helped to make him the richest 
man in the colony. Widow Provoost enjoyed equal 
success at the beginning of the eighteenth century. She 
had a huge business correspondence. New York re- 
cords other noteworthy examples of woman's ability. 
Jane Colden was a distinguished botanist and "She 
makes the best cheese I ever ate in America." ^'^ Sev- 
eral women in New Amsterdam were tavern-keepers 
and tapsters. 

The court records of Brooklyn contain a scandalous 
instance of female militancy: Mistress Jonica Schampf 
and Widow Rachel Luguer assaulted Peter Praa, the 
captain of the militia, when he was at the head of his 
troops on training day in 1690. They pulled his hair 
and beat him and their "Ivill Tnormities" brought him 

85 Earle. Colonial Dames and GoodivweSy 86-87. 

lyo The American Family -Colonial Period 

within an inch of his life.'" Among the Dutch, people 
were brought before the court for saying of another 
such uncomplimentary things as "He hath not half a 
wife." One couple sued a woman for saying that the 
wife in crossing a muddy street raised her petticoats too 

Pioneer conditions- the emptiness of the country and 
the shortage of hands -put a premium on large fam- 
ilies. Besides in 1650 the West India Company ofifered 
one year's exemption from tenths for each child con- 
veyed to or born in New Netherlands. There was no 
"race suicide" among the colonists tho children seem 
to have been less numerous than in New England. We 
are told that in New Harlem at the beginning of the 
eighteenth century ''the small two-story Dutch homes 
generally sheltered each a half-score or more of sturdy 
youngsters." But this was a small isolated community. 
At Albany the Dutch had fewer children than had the 
people in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Dutch 
kept a record of births in the family Bible and also a 
church register. But by the time of the English regime 
the heterogeneity of the population left gaps in the 
record. In 171 2, Governor Hunter reported to the 
Lords of Trade: "As to births and burials has never 
been any register kept that I can hear of." 

It may be that the absence of Puritan rigor allowed 
a larger proportion of children to survive and that ac- 
cordingly the Dutch had settled to a lower fecundity. 
But the repeated marriages guaranteed a sufficient pos- 
terity. Dongan had heard of one woman "yet alive" 
who had "upwards of 360 living descendants." Small 
families were rare. Mothers nursed their offspring 
and they flourished. Irving says: 

8^ Fisher. Men, IVomen, and Manners in Colonial Times, vol. ii, 57. 

Family Life and Problems in New York 171 

To have seen a numerous household assembled around the fire, 
one would have imagined that he was transported back to happy 
days of primeval simplicity. The fire places were of a truly 
patriarchal magnitude. 

The midwife's calling was much respected. The 
New Amsterdam midwife had a house provided by the 
government. The profession was licensed. Some of 
the less capable had been refusing to aid the poor; so rn 
Albany one good woman who helped the poor free of 
charge was appointed along with one other to have a 
monopoly save in emergency.^^ Births were announced 
by hanging pincushions on the door-knockers. These 
cushions were generally handsome ones and handed on 
as heirlooms. As soon as the mother was strong enough 
there was a grand reception to women friends. 

The sources from which we may learn of the life of 
children in colonial New York are meager tho chil- 
dren were an important factor in colonial calculations 
and life. In the plan for the colonization of New 
Netherlands we read: 

Permission should be obtained from the magistrates of some 
province and cities, to take from the almshouses or orphan 
asylums 300 @ 400 boys and girls of 10, 12, to 15 years of age 
with their consent, however. . . It must be, further, de- 
clared that said children shall not remain bound to their mas- 
ters for a longer term than 6 or 7 years, unless being girls, they 
come, meanwhile, to marry, in which event they should have 
the option of hiring again with their masters or mistresses, or 
of remaining wholly at liberty and of settling there, on condi- 
tion that they be allowed so much land as the director shall 
consider it proper each should have for the support of [a fam- 
ily] free from all rents and exemptions for the term of 10 years 
after entering on such land. 

In Stuyvesant's time several cargoes of children from 
the Dutch almshouses were sent to America to enter 

^^ Earle. Colonial Days in Old New York, 91. 

172 The American Family -Colonial Period 

service."' The official correspondence shows much 
kindiv thought and interest in them. Vice-director 
Al ricks wrote to the commissioners of the colony on 
the Delaware River: 

The children sent over from the almshouses have safely arrived 
and were in sufficient request, so that all are bound out with one 
and the other; the oldest for two years, the others, and the 
major portion for three years, and the youngest for four years, 
earning 40, 60, and 80 guilders during the above period, and at 
the end of the term will be fitted out in the same manner as 
they are at present. . . Please to continue sending others 
from time to time; but, if possible, none ought to come less 
than fifteen years of age and somewhat strong, as little profit 
is to be expected here without labor; but from people with 
large families or many small children, little is to be expected. 
When the men die they do not leave a stiver behind. The pub- 
lic must provide the coffin, pay all the debts, and feed, or main- 
tain, those who survive. 

In New Netherlands servitude was not considered 
demeaning. The servant was often from a family of 
station equal to that of the mistress. ^^ In case of inden- 
ture the chief parental rights passed to the employer 
but if the children were mistreated, parents or guar- 
dians would take the matter to court. If the child ab- 
sented himself without leave from the master, even to 
visit home, the act constituted a breach of the engage- 

There was much binding out of children and youth 
in old New York. Children of paupers were sold as 
apprentices. That the ruling class wanted hands rather 
than souls is suggested by the slowness to provide care 
for orphans and schools for youth. In a remonstrance 
by people of New Netherlands Of the Reason and 
Cause of the Great Decay of New Netherlands we find 

88 Earle. Colonial Days in Old Nenu York, 84. 

89 Singleton. Dutch Netv York, 143-147. 

Family Life and Problems in New York 173 

complaint that there is no asylum for aged and orphans. 
And there ought to be a public school 

So that the youth, in so wild a country, where there are so 
many dissolute people, may, first of all, be well instructed and 
indoctrinated not only in reading and writing, but also in the 
knowledge and fear of the Lord. . . There ought to be, 
likewise. Asylums for aged men, for orphans, and similar in- 

The next year the West India Company directed that 
the governor and council should have jurisdiction of 
matters pertaining to minors, widows, and orphans. 
Secretary Van Tienhoven wrote in answer to the Re- 
monstrance : 

'Tis also denied and cannot be proved, that any of the inhabit- 
ants of New Netherlands have, either voluntarily nor when 
requested, contributed or given anything for the building of an 
asylum for orphans, or for the aged. . . If the people re- 
quire institutions as above stated, they must contribute towards 
them as is the custom in this country. 

New Netherlands was no more than other colonies 
in the interest of the general welfare. It is of interest 
to note the assertion that the slave children of the 
negroes emancipated by the company in return for long 
service were "treated the same as Christians." Colonial 
days witnessed the practice of binding children, with- 
out parent's consent into a servitude that made them the 
cattle of their owners. Such was the fate of the Pala- 
tines. Whether the Dutch had in mind any such prac- 
tices when they explained the case of the negro children 
is hard to say. Perhaps such rigors belong exclusively 
to the degenerate English days. In at least one of the 
settlements nearly every Dutch family of any means 
had negro house-servants, who were treated kindly, 
brought up in the family religion, and often as attached 
to their masters as sons or daughters were. When the 

174 The American Family -Colonial Period 

negro child was tliree years old it was given to one of 
the children of the family. This child presented it a 
coin and a pair of shoes and thereafter they were mas- 
ter and servant. Every member of a respectable fam- 
ily was supposed to have a personal servant. 

As early as 1585 Holland had schools for children of 
all classes. The charter of New Netherlands patroons, 
1 630- 1 635, provided for education. In 1642 marriage 
contracts included the promise "to bring up their chil- 
dren decently, according to their ability, to keep them 
at school, and to let them learn reading, writing, and a 
good trade." For a while the establishment of public 
schools lagged. Then came a forward movement and 
before the end of Dutch rule common schools flour- 
ished, supported by the towns and state aid. Under 
English rule these non-conformist agencies were suf- 
fered to decline. A Church of England school started 
in New York City (1704) did not appeal to the Dutch, 
who clung to the mother tongue and their own rude 
schools. Just before the Revolution Burnaby found in 
New York "a very handsome charity school for sixty 
poor boys and girls." 

In spite of artificial restrictions and curtailment of 
opportunity new-world conditions afforded opportuni- 
ties for children to rise above their parents' social level. 
Lieutenant-governor Colden wrote in 1765 here "the 
most opulent families, in our own memory have risen 
from the lowest rank of the people." 

The tradition of paternal authority was as strong as 
in New England. Dutch children were respectful and 
subdued in their manner toward their parents and filial 
obedience was impressed by ministers and magistrates. 
In English days came the New England sternness of 
law. But the Dutch were less stringent than the New 

Family Life and Problems in New York 175 

Englanders in the matter of paternal sovereignty. In 
Holland, as Bradford tells us, the "great licentiousness 
of youth" was one of the things that led to the Pilgrim 
migration, and, as Blok, writing of the middle years of 
the century, notes, all foreign observers were amazed 
at the freedom of children and servants. In the new 
world the Dutch retained the old ways in large meas- 
ure. The ordinances of Stuyvesant'S and of early Eng- 
lish days show that on Manhattan children were not 
subject to stricter discipline than in Holland. Chil- 
dren in Dutch New York were not held under such 
stern restraint as among the Puritans. They were on 
more familiar terms with their parents and had ample 
amusement. Schoolmasters complained of youthful 
insubordination and of maternal complicity in the chil- 
dren's mischief; also that boys were taken from school 
too soon in order to learn an occupation. 

The magistrates found it necessary to censor youthful 
sports. In New Orange in 1673, 

If any children be caught in the street playing, racing, and 
shouting previous to the termination of the last preaching, the 
officers of justice may take their hat or upper garment, which 
shall not be restored to the parents until they have paid a fine 
of two guilders. 

In New Amsterdam the boys plagued the patrol at 
night, setting dogs on him, etc. In 1713 the Albany 
legislators passed this act: 

Whereas ye children of ye sd city do very unorderly to ye 
shame and scandall of their parents ryde down ye hills in ye 
streets of the sd city with small and great slees on the lord day 
and in the week by which many accidents may come, now for 
pventing ye same it is hereby published and declard yt it shall 
and may be lawful for any constable in this city or any other 
person or persons to take any slee or slees from all and every 
such boys and girls rydeing or offering to ryde down any hill 
within ye sd city and breake any slee or slees in pieces. 

176 The American Family -Colonial Period 

In 1728 Albany children were still pestered and fined 
tor slidini^ down on ''sleds, small boards, or otherwise." 

Mrs. Grant tells of a peculiar usage in Albany. The 
children were divided into groups, each containing as 
many boys as girls and obeying a boy and a girl as 
"heads." Brothers and sisters of different ages be- 
longed to difTferent groups. The function of these com- 
panies was social amusement. Each child had the priv- 
ilege of entertaining his group on his birthday and one 
other day. The parents went away and left them un- 
der the eye of some old servant. Good things to eat 
were abundant and the children amused themselves as 
they pleased. Albany seems to have been unique 
among the towns in this grant of freedom. 

The Dutch did not recognize the rights of primo- 
geniture and daughters inherited equally with sons. 
Says Irving: Around the fire 

The whole family, old and young, master and servant, black and 
white . . . enjoyed a community of privilege. [But at 
tea-parties] the young ladies seated themselves demurely in their 
rush bottom chairs and knit their own woolen stockings; nor 
ever opened their lips except to say "yah Mynheer" or "yah 
yah Vrow" . . . behaving in all things like decent well- 
educated damsels. 

Chatteldom of women still prevailed in spite of 
Dutch liberalism. The old Dutch wills seem distrust- 
ful of a widow with regard to second marriage. Usu- 
ally, in this colony, attempts were made to restrain 
wives by wills ordering forfeiture of property in case of 
remarriage. Nearly all the wills are more favorable 
to the children than to the wife. Restraints placed by 
wills on remarriage were commonly in behalf of chil- 
dren of the first marriage. Even in a joint will one 
husband enjoined loss of property if his wife married 
again. Perhaps he had reason for this precaution as 

Family Life and Problems in New York 177 

she had had three husbands, a Dane, a Frieslander, and 
a German. His first wife had had four. John Bur- 
rows in a will of 1678 expressed the general feeling of 
husbands : "If my wife marry again, then her husband 
must provide for her as I have." One old Dutchman 
who died in 1726 left his estate to his wife with the 
proviso that 

If she happen to marry again, then I geff her nothing of my 
estate. . . But my wife can be master of all by bringing up 
to good learning my two children. But if she come to marry 
again, then her husband can take her away from the farm. 

In 1674 a woman of Hempstead represented that her 
deceased husband had made over his entire estate to 
children by a former marriage and that these left noth- 
ing for her necessary support. In response to her re- 
quest for relief it was ordered "That the Magistrates 
of the town of Hempstead be recommended strictly to 
examine . . . and on finding it founded, to extend 
good right and justice to her." Thus the living of 
widows was safeguarded. But for some strange reason 
a hundred years later a bill providing for inheritance 
by posthumous children was held up by Governor 

A strange feature of the Dutch law of inheritance, 
established in New York, was that a widow's own prop- 
erty was liable for her husband's debts (tho she could 
escape liability by renouncing her dower). Perhaps 
this fact is a mark of the great equalization of men and 
women, the wife being assigned burdens as well as 

The settlements in New Netherlands and early New 
York seem to have had a reasonable share of domestic 
troubles but not many cases occurred of absolute di- 
vorce or even of permanent separation. There was a 

ijS The American Family -Colonial Period 

system of friendly arbitration and the kindly paternal- 
ism of the Dutch magistrates tended to ward ofif serious 
issues. In 1665 a difference was patched up between 
a New Amsterdammer, Lantsman, and his wife. A 
curious feature of the case is that while he was so 
anxious to keep his wife he had been tardy in marrying 
her. His only excuse for not appearing on the ap- 
pointed day was that his clothes were not ready. One 
woman asked a court order for her husband to vacate 
her home with a view to final separation. The arbi- 
trators decided that no legal steps should be taken but 
that the two should "comport themselves as they ought, 
in order that they win back each other's affections, leav- 
ing each other in meanwhile unmolested." 

A most interesting case showing the reluctance to 
sanction final separation developed in 1665 and ran for 
years. L. Pos tried to secure a separation for his 
daughter on the ground of insufferable treatment, stat- 
ing that it was their third appearance in court. The 
husband denied that he had treated her improperly and 
blamed the trouble on his wife's father, who claimed 
that the husband had promised each time amendment 
but never fulfilled his promise. The council postponed 
decision, "and meanwhile their worships shall author- 
ize some honorable and fitting person to reconcile if 
possible, the parties to love and friendship." The quar- 
rel was referred to two ministers for reconciliation. If 
either husband or wife would not give in "then pro- 
ceedings may be expected according to the style and 
custom of law as an example to other evil housekeep- 
ers." The wife's parents would not listen to the min- 
isters, the husband claimed and requested the court to 
order his wife to return to him "as he could not any 
longer live without his wife, promising again to live 

Family Life and Problems in Neiv York 179 

with her as an honest man ought to do;" but she refused 
to go with him. The council considered the parents 
the chief cause of the trouble, and ordered them not to 
detain her over fourteen days within which time the 
pair were to be reconciled, or make joint application 
again. If any more complaints were made against the 
husband, he was to be delivered over for punishment. 
Later it was reported that the wife still held off; also 
that her father was entertaining her contrary to order. 
The jury decided that she should return to her husband. 

In 1667 the father of the woman complained that his 
son-in-law had severely beaten his wife contrary to 
promise. He asked leave to take his daughter under 
his protection. The court ordered the husband to give 
security for good behavior and the father was allowed 
to keep his daughter under his care until further order. 
Later the sheriff complained against the man for wife- 
beating. It was ordered that if they again agreed to 
separation the court would permit it, the husband to 
pay four guilders weekly to his wife for the main- 
tenance of the children. He wished, however, to live 
with her again, stating that she was inclined thereto, 
and he promised to be more considerate. 

In 1669 complaint was again made of his bad treat- 
ment of his wife "so that the neighbors suffer great dis- 
turbance by the noise and uproar." The court ordered 
him to behave himself properly. In 1671 complaints 
arose anew. The court, in hope of amendment, once 
more pardoned the man, for the last time, warning him 
to let his wife be unmolested, that if another complaint 
came, he was to be banished. In 1673 the husband pe- 
titioned that his wife be ordered to live again with him 
or else that a divorce be granted. "Petitioner is noti- 
fied to conduct himself in future ... so civilly, 

l8o The American Family -Colonial Period 

peaceably, and friendly toward his wife, that by his 
good behavior his wife may be induced to dwell again 
with him as she ought." Thus the case had dragged 
out eight years. 

In 1 68 1, there was trouble in Fort Orange about the 
preachers daughter Anneke who refused to go to New 
York to her husband. The man, however, promised to 
treat her rightly, and to support the family duly; so 
they were reconciled, "and for better assurance of his 
real intention and good resolution to observe the same, 
he requests that two good men be named to oversee his 
conduct . . . subjecting himself willingly to the 
rule and censure of the sd. men." She agreed to con- 
duct herself well and to be a true wife and asked that 
bygones be bygones. The appointment of "two good 
men" as arbitrators or supervisors of conduct in such 
cases was a means of obviating the necessity for settle- 
ment in open court and helps to explain why family 
troubles of a violent sort were relatively inconspicuous 
or rare among the Dutch. Even the complaint of a 
man whose father-in-law refused to give him what he 
had promised was referred by the council to arbitration. 

Loving parents, as we have noted, could not unduly 
shelter their daughter if she left her husband. In 1697 
a certain man petitioned that his wife be "ordyred to go 
and live with him, where he thinks convenient." The 
magistrates promptly notified her father that he was 
"discharged to shelter her in his home or elsewhere, 
upon penalty as he will answer at his perill." She re- 
turned to her husband. Such episodes show how 
largely the conception of the wife as a chattel lingered 
even amid the liberality of this colony. The husband 
was entitled to a court order for the return of his wife, 
as if she were a thing rather than a person. The court 

Family Life and Problems in New York i8i 

had a strong bias toward the husband's side in such 

In regard to divorce the middle colonies were much 
nearer to the extreme conservatism of the South than to 
the broad and liberal policy of New England.^" The 
civil courts possessed in New Netherlands "full power 
to dissolve the nuptial bond." As early as 1655 John 
Hicks by reason of his wife's adultery obtained a divorce 
with leave to remarry. In 1659 Nicholas Vellhuyzen 
was called to account for turning his wife out of doors 
and was asked why he would not live with her. He 
answered that he had not done as charged but had given 
her a blow because she had taken his money that he had 
laid in his chest; and that she had removed her bed and 
goods while he was away. The wife denied having 
taken the money. He said that "she gave her child 
money to buy one thing or another to eat, as the child 
would not eat of what was cooked and served up to 
table." He wished separation, and agreed to maintain 
the child that was to be born. The wife declared he 
struck her with the tongs in the presence of Thomas 
Wandel and that burgher Jones was by when he said 
"Bride for the Devil !" and "Get out the house." Nich- 
olas was asked whether he could not resolve to live 
again in love with her, but was not so disposed. The 
court decided that he should supply her with certain 
goods according to his offer and further disposition was 
made for maintenance of her and her child. 

The same year Nicasius de Sille requested divorce 
on account of his wife's unbecoming and careless life, 
wasting property without his knowledge, and her pub- 
lic habitual drunkenness. Eleven years later all efforts 
to reconcile Mr. Sille and his wife had failed and the 

80 Howard. History of Matrimonial Institutions, vol. ii, 376 ff. 

82 The American Family -Colonial Period 

commissioners saw no hope of reconciling them. The 
commission feared that even should they agree to live 
together, to which he seemed more inclined than she, 
it would not last long. The matter was finally settled 
by paying the bills and dividing the property equally 
between them. 

In 1664 a woman was released from her husband on 
the ground of bigamy. A couple was divorced in Al- 
bany in 1670 "because strife and difference hath arisen 
between them." Daniel Denton was divorced from his 
wife, and she was allowed to remarry, under the new 
provincial divorce law, in 1672. A few other cases 
occur from 1670 to 1672. In 1674 under the restored 
Dutch regime 

Catrina Lane, requesting by petition, letters of divorce and 
separation from her husband, Daniel Lane, as her said husband 
has been accused of, and arrested for having committed and 
perpetrated incest with his own daughter, and without clearing 
himself thereof, hath broken jail and absconded; which being 
taken into consideration by the Governor-general and the coun- 
cil of New Netherland, they have ordered as follows: In case 
Daniel Lane .... do not present himself in court within 
the space of six months from the date hereof and purge him- 
self of the crime of incest with which he is accused, letters of 
divorce shall be granted to the petitioner. 

The same year, "Abigail Mersenjer, the deserted wife 
of Richard Darlin, requesting by petition an act of 
divorce . . . with permission to remarry, on ac- 
count that her husband, according to his own acknowl- 
edgement, hath broken the marriage ties by committing 
adultery, and . . . has absconded . . . ordered" 
that the case be postponed six months. If the man in 
that time did not come and clear himself the petitioner 
had the right to prosecute her suit. It should be noted 

Family Life and Problems in New York 183 

that the population of the province at this time was only 
about seven thousand. 

Chancellor Kent says: "For more than one hundred 
years preceding the Revolution no divorce took place 
in the colony of New York" and the only way to dis- 
solve marriage was by special act of the legislature. 
In 1773, royal instructions were issued as follows: 

We have thought fit ... to disallow certain laws passed 
in some of our colonies ... in America . . . for di- 
vorsing persons who have been legally joined together in holy 
marriage. . . It is our expressed will . . . that you 
do not upon any pretense whatever give your assent to any bill 
for the divorce of persons joined together in holy matrimony. 

Thus the intruding feudal spirit of the English church 
and the English monarchy seem to have checked the 
freedom that tended to assimilate New York to New 
England in the matter of divorce. 

Tho on the whole the New York family does not 
appear basally different from that of New England, the 
reader must have noted the liberalizing influence of 
bourgeois Holland as contrasted with the sharper lines 
in English life where Tory feudalism and bourgeois 
radicalism by their feud injected extremism into af- 
fairs. The more genial spirit of Dutch Protestantism 
as contrasted with the harsh lines of British Calvinism 
appears to the advantage of women and children. If 
one were to trace this contrast back, the source could 
doubtless be found in the narrowness of Dutch terri- 
tories, which insured the early preponderance of com- 
mercialism and the feebleness of landlordism, as a po- 
litical power. In addition to the resulting placidity of 
Dutch life, the better soil and less rigorous climate of 
the Hudson Valley contributed to make life smoother 
and more genial in New York than in New England. 


In New Jersey the great mass of the people were 
Scotch Presbyterians and New England Congregation- 
alists, so that family laws give marked evidence of 
Puritan influence. Circumstances, however, encour- 
aged liberality and New Jersey matrimonial institu- 
tions developed along the broader lines of New York. 

Tho neither Calvinist nor Quaker regarded marriage 
as a divine sacrament yet both insisted that so impor- 
tant a civil contract should not be lightly entered and 
that the record should be carefully preserved. An 
East Jersey legislative act of 1668 directed that "no 
person or persons, son, daughter, maid, or servant" 
should be married without consent of parents or mas- 
ters. Banns had to be published. Ministers, justices, 
etc. were authorized to perform the ceremony. The 
Quakers wanted a liberal law. The "Constitutions" of 
1683 rnade concession to Quaker conscience by provid- 
ing that all marriages not forbidden in scripture should 
be counted lawful when solemnized before credible 
witnesses by taking one another as husband and wife, a 
certificate being properly registered. Others than Qua- 
kers claimed to be exempt from prescribed forms. An 
act of 1693 imposed a penalty of ten pounds upon min- 
isters and justices who joined parties without publica- 
tion of banns or governor's license. 

By far the most important statute regulating mar- 
riages in New Jersey was one of March, 1719, which 
stood unchanged for over eighty years. It was due to 

i86 The American Family -Colonial Period 

the fact that ''young persons have been . . . en- 
ticed, inveigled, led away and clandestinely married" 
to the ruin of the parties and sorrow of parents and rel- 
atives. The act provided that no person under the age 
of rvventy-one should be married without the written 
consent of parents or guardians. Heavy penalties were 
fixed for non-observance of the act. These penalties 
restrained men from taking away young girls, a prac- 
tice which, owing to the proximity of the Hudson and 
the Delaware, had early become common. 

It w^as a Friends' rule to marry in meeting; i.e.^ the 
union of a Quaker with an outsider was forbidden to 
the extent of religious and social ostracism. West Jer- 
sey, owing to the taking up of large tracts, the consolida- 
tion of interests through the intermarriage of Friends, 
and the general observance of primogeniture, passed 
into the control of comparatively few families. 

In 1668 East Jersey decreed divorce, whipping, or 
banishment as the penalty for adultery. In 1683 adul- 
tery was specified as disqualification for membership in 
the Great Council. In 1682 in one of the Jerseys a 
man and woman, paramours, were ordered "whipd on 
their naked bodies," the man to receive thirty stripes 
and the woman to receive thirty-five and to be sent 
home; he was to be kept in jail one day after she left 
and to pay costs. 

It is not certain whether divorces were actually 
granted in New Jersey. If they were, it must have 
been by the authority of the legislature or of the gov- 
ernor. West Jersey, largely Quaker, had small need 
of legislation. The courts there sought to unite the 
couple at variance rather than to effect a permanent 
separation. Some time before 1694 Thomas Peaches 
and Mary his wife had agreed upon separation. Quak- 

New Jersey and Delaware 187 

er justices summoned them into court and asked if they 
were not willing to live together. Both agreed, Thom- 
as stipulating that Mary ''will acknowledge shee hath 
scandalized him wrongfully." She consents "but saith 
shee will not owne that she hath told lies of him to her 
knowledge." This answer brought things to a stand- 

But after some good admonitions from the bench, they both 
promise they will forget and never mention what unkind speech- 
es or actions they have formerly passed between them or con- 
cerning each other. . . Hee . . . p'mises shee behav- 
ing herself, with tenderness and love to him, hee will remain 
as a loveing and a carefull husband to her and make ye best 
p'vision for her and ye child that hee can. 

In East Jersey the right of complaining against a 
child that smote or cursed father or mother belonged to 
both parents and the prescribed penalty was death. 
Among the Friends in Jersey many sons of wealthy 
plantation owners were indentured owing to an econom- 
ic aspect of their religious teachings, which was to the 
effect that every man should have and follow a trade 
or other occupation. It is not surprising, therefore, to 
find that bond servitude was no stigma, and under some 
circumstances a bound boy or girl became one of the 
family, and sometimes redemptioners' sons married 
daughters of the former masters.^^ 

The education of women was distinctly domestic. 
Now and then a girl had to be disciplined because she 
preferred to be an independent old maid (which she 
became at twenty-five) rather than marry at sixteen or 
seventeen. ^^ In newspapers of the middle of the eigh- 
teenth century we find a letter now and then in which 
a Jersey farmer complains that the young women go 

^'^ Lee. New Jersey, vol. i, 201. 
®2— Idem, 196-198. 

88 The American Family -Colonial Period 

after fashion and ease to the neglect of butter-making, 
weaving, spinning, and cooking. Some even w^ere act- 
ually negligent in the matter of preparing with their 
own hands the sheets, blankets, and spreads necessary 
to marriage. 

The sentiment was abroad that too much education was not 
beneficial for women, that a knowledge of books weaned them 
from the domestic circle, and that their place was in the kitchen 
caring for the children. The selfishness of this view, and the 
generally subordinate place occupied by women, according to 
the custom of the time, retarded any great intellectual develop- 
ment. Only among the society of Friends, were women given 
public position - and then only as approved ministers.^^ 

In view of such facts it is a surprise to learn that the 
early New Jersey constitution was so carelessly framed 
as to allow women to vote. The clause "all inhabitants 
of this colony of full age" gave the ballot to women ^* 
and aliens. Women were allowed to vote, or were re- 
jected, according to the views of the election officers. 
Griffith in a tract published 1799 says that 

Women, generally, are neither by nature, nor habit, nor educa- 
tion, nor by their necessary condition in society fitted to per- 
form this duty with credit to themselves or advantage to the 
public. . . It is perfectly disgusting to witness the manner 
in which women are polled at our elections. Nothing can be a 
greater mockery of this invaluable and sacred right than to 
suffer it to be exercised by i>ersons who do not even pretend to 
any judgment on the subject. 

Early Delaware wrestled with clandestine and irreg- 
ular marriage. A prominent Swede had an altercation 
with the authorities on this score, "because," says the 
magistrate, "I suspected him that he, without being au- 
thorized, had arrogated to himself to qualify the priest 
to marry a young couple without the usual proclamation 

^^ Lee. Neijj Jersey, vol. i, 358-359. 

'^^On woman suffrage, see idem, vol. iii, 266-267. 

New Jersey and Delaware 1 89 

and against the will of the parents, on which I con- 
demned the priest in a fine of fifty guilders." 

Old Swede church ruled in 1714 "that betrothals and 
marriage proceed in an orderly manner according to 
the ordinances of our church." Also that espousals and 
marriages are not allowable according to church law 
before mature age, and not without consent of parents, 
and must be without compulsion or secrecy, and not be- 
fore being well instructed in Christian doctrines. 

William Beckett, a missionary, wrote in 1737: 

Our government is under the influence of the Quakers. . . 
Our president has taken it upon him to grant marriage licenses 
(and) contrary to former usage lodged them in the hands of 
laymen of his own kidney or under his immediate influence, to 
whom we are obliged to apply with much ceremony and no 
small charge to our parishioners to obtain a marriage license. 

In 1750 the pastor of Old Swede tells that 

A woman once came to me asking to wed her anew, or as it is 
termed here, wed her over again with her husband, altho she 
had been living with him for seven years. The reason for this 
was that they were married by a Catholic priest, and therefore 
the marriage was not so lawful, but I dismissed her with a 
severe reprimand. 

In 1790, Delaware abolished civil marriage. 

Intermarriage tended to produce homogeneity in 
Delaware. Among the Swedes there seems to have 
been an excess of women. At least there were many 
marriages of Swedish women with men of other na- 
tionalities. Thus the Swedish blood spread through 
the old families of Wilmington, except (principally) 
the Quakers, tho occasionally a Friend so far forgot the 
faith as to marry a Swede. Such blending of the 
younger elements operated to allay antipathies among 
the older people. In 1693, thirty-eight years after the 
surrender of the Swedes, we find in a census list of their 

I90 The American Family -Colonial Period 

families several of the parents bearing Dutch names. 
(Dutchmen, however, had been in the Swedish enter- 
prise from the start.) By the beginning of the eigh- 
teenth century the welding of Swedes, Dutch, and Eng- 
lish was under way. The fusion of blood opened the 
door, of course, to fusion of customs. Thus, the agri- 
cultural population of Sweden had no surnames at the 
time of emigration.'' After mingling with other na- 
tionalities in America they adopted the father's name as 
family name. 

By the middle of the eighteenth century the pastor 
of Old Swxde thought it necessary "to show the Swedish 
wives of English husbands that they must hereafter do 
their duty if they expect to remain members." In 1759 
some of the congregation complained because their chil- 
dren married to strangers had to pay as strangers for 
burial places in the churchyard. It was resolved that 
if they retained membership they were entitled to a 
place, but not for husband or children without payment. 
Thus occurred the tragedy so often repeated since -a 
dwindling handful in the midst of engulfing alien ways. 

The Delaw^are country presented at first the usual 
difficulties in the way of family settlement. In 1659 
Alricks wrote to Holland regarding the settlers at New 
Amstel among whom was a preponderance of women 
and children. He desired that "the women and chil- 
dren be omitted for the present, as agriculture could 
not be advanced without good farmers and strong labor- 
ing men." Even in later days family support was not 
always a simple problem. Citizens of "the lower coun- 
ties" importing infants and lunatics were to assume re- 
sponsibility for these visitors. The reverend Mr. Ross 

^^ Records of Holy Trinity, 1697-1773, 4. 

New Jersey and Delaware 191 

wrote in 1708: "New Castle is a place where every- 
thing is extraordinary dear, and a man that has a family 
can not subsist upon the society's bounty of £50 per 
annum." He moved to Upland in the hope of getting 
a better living for his family by keeping a boarding- 
school. In such emergencies clan loyalty was a valu- 
able asset. In 1706, the pastor of Old Swede complains 
that paucity of support makes him an incumbrance on 
his wife's relatives. 

There was a decided disposition to develop a sort of 
familism on an economic basis. Thus in the pew as- 
signment at Old Swede (1699) 

The heads of families, and they that have now paid the first 
cost, and have worked for them, are to have their room, and if 
there be room to spare in a pew, or some of the parents are ab- 
sent, the unmarried children may take seats, but otherwise take 
the room farther down in the church, and the small children 
stand in the aisle in front of their parents pews, and after the 
death of a parent, only the children who remain attached to the 
home and land which have now contributed to the building, 
but they who have married away must look out for other places 
as opportunity may offer. 

This identification of family with land is akin to the 
attempt to establish manorial estates, as for instance 
Bohemia Manor. The inheritance of a given name as 
well as surname comes in the same category. 

Oftentimes a child of each succeeding generation has received 
the name of its father or grandfather, and so it has been handed 
down, until many of our citizens bear the same name as their 
first ancestor, who emigrated here more than 200 years ago.°° 

Delaware enjoyed something of the serene Dutch 
influence that tempered the life of this middle group of 
colonies and made it more to our modern liking than 
the colder ways of New England. The Dutch cared 

'"' Vincent. History of Delaivare, vol. i, 460. 

192 The American Family -Colonial Period 

less for education than did the New Englanders but 
they introduced comforts and amenities into life with- 
out neglecting family protection. 

The Swedes likewise gave due attention to family 
welfare. The church was very insistent on prompt 
baptism of infants. Thus a church ruling in 1714 says 
that parents should not, as often happens, let their babes 
remain at home a whole month or many months, yes 
even half a year. Most of the children were baptized 
before they were a week old, many by the third day, 
and if a child was growing up unchristened it became 
a matter of public concern. The pastor of Old Swede 
kept a record of baptisms. 

Swedish women seem to have enjoyed something of 
the same eminence as was accorded to the Dutch vrows. 
Thus about 1750 the pastor of Old Swede, being under 
necessity of raising money, wrote: 

I found it best to avail myself of some Sunday when . . 
there was a full congregation, to request that all should remain 
in their seats, so that the women folk, who in many houses rule 
more than the men, might have opportunity to hear what was 
presented, and thereafter for their part both agree and direct 
for the best. 

That Delaware was not ungenial to prolific increase 
is suggested by the following item: 

Died in peace in 1771, at Wilmington, Delaware, a pious, elder- 
ly matron, who had been mother of 16 children, all married 
and comfortable; 68 grandchildren, 166 great-grandchildren, 
and 4 great-great-grandchildren - in all 238 living offspring 
survived her. The generation of the just shall be blessed. 

With the first body of immigrants from Amsterdam 
to New Amstel, in 1656, came Evert Pietersen. Au- 
gust 19, 1657, ^^ wrote: 

We arrived here at the South River on the 25th of April and 
found twenty families there, mostly Swedes, not more than five 

New Jersey and Delaware 193 

or six families belonging to our nation. . . I already begin 
to keep school and have twenty five children, etc. 

In the Dutch settlements, as in Holland, education 
reached the youth through the church and the clergy- 
man, a rather unreliable route. 

Schools were encouraged by the Swedish govern- 
ment. But Biork writes: "We hardly found here a 
Swedish book but they were so anxious for the improve- 
ment of their children that they lent them to one an- 
other, so that they can all read tolerably well." He 
complained also that the ministers were too old and in- 
firm to "pay proper attention to the education of youth." 
After the coming of the English in 1682 it became cus- 
tomary for Swedish children first to learn to read Eng- 
lish and then their mother tongue. The records of Old 
Swede church show interest in the starting of school. 
On one occasion the record tells of the employment of 
a school-master "and agree to gather for him 18 or 20 
children." In 1700 occurs this entry: 

Early in May the schoolkeeping in Boktin was discontinued, 
partly on account of the above mentioned sickness and some 
other causes, particularly that some inconsiderate persons neg- 
lected to keep their children steadily at school, tho they were 
diligently and thoroly taught. 

House instruction by the pastor was the last glimmer 
of Swedish education. 

Among the laws of the Duke of York in 1676 was one 
to this effect: 

The constable and overseers are strictly required frequently to 
admonish the inhabitants of instructing their children and serv- 
ants, in matters of religion and the lawes of the country, and 
that the parents and masters do bring up their children and ap- 
prentices in some honest lawfuU calling labour or employment. 
And if any children or servants become rude, stuborne, or un- 
ruly refusing to hearken to the voice of their parents or mas- 

194 ^^^ American Family -Colonial Period 

tcrs, the constables and overseers (where no justice of the peace 
shall happen to dweW within ten miles of the said town or 
parish) have power upon the complaint of their parents or mas- 
ters to call before them such an offender and to inflict such 
corporal punishment as the merit of their fact in their judgment 
shall deserve, not excepting ten stripes, provided that such chil- 
dren and servants be of sixteen years of age. 

The provisions of Penn's frame of government may be 
found in the following chapter on Pennsylvania. 

Mr. Ross in a sketch of the church at New Castle de- 
scribes education in 1727: 

There are some private schools within my reputed district which 
are put very often into the hands of those who are brought into 
the country and sold for servants. Some schoolmasters are 
hired by the year, by a knot of families who, in their turn enter- 
tain him monthly and the poor man lives in their houses like 
one that begged an alms, more than like a person in credit and 
authority. When a ship arrives in the river it is a common 
expression among them who stand in need of an instructor for 
their children Let us go and buy a Schoolmaster. The truth 
is, the office and character of such a person is generally very 
mean and contemptible here, and it cannot be othervvays 'til the 
public takes the education of children into their mature con- 

A letter by Beckett, a missionary, in 1728 says: 

There is no public school in all the county, the general custom 
being, for what they call a neighborhood (which lies sometimes 
four or five miles distant) to hire a person ... to teach 
their children to read and write English, for whose accommoda- 
tion they meet together at a place agreed upon, cut down . . . 
trees and build a log house in a few hours . . . whither 
they send their children every day during the term for it ought 
to be observed by way of commendation of the American plant- 
ters nowadays, that whatever pains or charge it may cost, they 
seldom omit to have their children instructed in reading and 
writing the English tongue. 

The Presbyterians came in the years from 171 8 to 

New Jersey and Delaware 195 

1740. The Shorter Catechism was learned in their 
homes and recited at school. Psalms were the lulla- 
bies. On Sabbath parents, children, and servants went 
through the catechism. Sermons were read and points 
of doctrine compared with the Bible. 

The reverend Mr. Hacket writes of Delaware in 

The people . . . frequently bring negroe children to 
church, and after being instructed, their Masters become their 

Education in Delaware was obviously very imperfect. 
Even late in the eighteenth century children were ex- 
posed to the influence of immoral teachers. Nor was 
family morality always high. 
In 1660 

Among the Finns is a married couple who live together in con- 
stant strife. The wife receives daily a severe drubbing, and is 
expelled from the house as a dog. This treatment she suffered 
a number of years; not a word is said in blame of the wife, 
whereas he, on the contrary, is an adulterer. On all which the 
priest, the neighbors, the sheriff appeal to [an official] at the 
solicitation of man and wife, that a divorce might take place, 
and the small property and stock be divided between them. 

The official asked for orders. This is the first mention 
of a divorce case in Delaware. 

In 1 66 1 the South River folk were stirred by the first 
recorded elopement. The wife of a Finnish priest ran 
off with another man and the couple eluded arrest. 
The husband was indignant but not inconsolable, for in 
less than a month he applied for permission to marry a 
young girl. The answer was deferred till Stuyvesant 
could be heard from. Two months after the bereave- 
ment the priest again asked permission to marry, as the 
situation of his family, he said, imperiously required it. 
A month later he received a divorce, and a few weeks 

196 The American Family -Colonial Period 

after this release, married himself, "a transaction in my 
opinion, under execution, entirely unlawful," wrote the 
local official in quest of orders from higher authority. 
The marriage was shortly declared void. Conditions in 
Delaware corresponded to the account of Maryland by 
an Episcopal rector (1676) : "All notorious vices are 
committed; so that it is become a Sodom of unclean- 
ness, and a pest house of iniquity."" 

Fabritius, a Lutheran minister, came to New Castle 
in 1 67 1 having gotten into hot water in Albany for not 
baptizing several children on application, etc. Soon 
he was suspended from the ministry for one year for 
having performed a marriage "without having any law- 
ful authority thereto, and without publication of banns." 
His wife remained at Albany, and he managed to keep 
in trouble at both places. 

Tienhoven, at one time secretary of the colony on 
South River, seduced in Holland on promise of mar- 
riage a girl of Amsterdam. She came and found him 
already married and took her case into court. In 1709 
Thomas Crawford, a missionary, wrote of uncleanness: 
[Mr. Mfddleton, a vile man, sent me word of the disappear- 
ance of Elizabeth Watson. Some] believed it was done by a 
fellow that was in the house with her whom all say she ad- 
mitted to her embraces. But what I have to say of her un- 
cleanness, that on earth I can get proved, and other villany to 
obtain her lust, and gratify her unclean desires as also a certifi- 
cate of her former husband's death whom she trapanned and 
sent to sea, and then removed under the name of a maid to a 
strange place, and things worse than that I shall not men- 
tion. . . With all the last money I sent Elizabeth Watson, 
she laid it out to pay the boarding of a gentleman's children, 
to whom she had been valet de chambre many a night till all 

^^ Holcomb. Sketch of Early Ecclesiastical Affairs in Ne^ Castle, Dela- 
ware, and History of Immanuel Church, 29. 

New Jersey and Delaware 197 

the world took notice of her base carriage with him, and then 
when she had lost her fame she came after me. 

The records of the Welsh Tract Baptist Meeting con- 
tain numerous records of church censorship of sex mor- 
als. In 1714 Evan Edmunds and Catherine Edwards 
were excommunicated for conducting themselves scan- 
dalously and unseemly and withstanding the advice of 
the church not to keep company till they cleared them- 
selves of the scandal. In 1717 Richard Lewis was 
turned out for keeping unseemly company with his 
neighbor's wife and withstanding the counsel of the 
church. Mary Rees was "dismembered" in 1723 for 
withstanding the advice of the church and marrying a 
man against the warning of the brethren and of her 
father. Besides there was no proof of her former hus- 
band's death. The sentence was to stand so long as both 
parties were alive. In the previous cases the sentences 
were really only suspension until satisfaction should be 
given. Thomas Jones and wife were excommunicated 
for improper conduct with regard to the obligation of 
the marriage vow, etc., and for disregard of the call of 
the church. Numerous others cases of excommunica- 
tion, etc., occured for such causes as bastardy, bigamy, 
disorderly marriage -without advising with the church 
and without parental consent- fornication, excessive 
drinking to the hurt of the culprit's family, adultery. 
These cases, however, are spread over half a century, 
namely from 1736-1786. The church undertook also to 
adjust differences between husband and wife. 

In the eighteenth century the Delaware assembly 
made sodomy, buggery, and rape capital offences. 
Death without benefit of clergy was fixed as the penalty 
for the killing of bastards. 

198 The American Family -Colonial Period 

Perhaps the most outstanding fact in the history of 
the New Jersey and Delaware colonial families is the 
unsettling influence of heterogeneity of population. 
This factor is visible in the liberalization of the New 
Jersey marriage law, in irregularities of marriage in 
Delaware, in family division due to cross-marriages, 
and in the variety of petty groups, each censoring the 
affairs of its members. 


Pennsylvania was cosmopolitan, hence tended to 
breadth and tolerance. Here we must study varied in- 
fluences, particularly Quaker, German, and Scotch- 

In the early days the Quaker element was dominant. 
They always held marriage and the family in great 
esteem. The records of the colonial Pennsylvania 
Quaker meetings are full of instances of discipline ad- 
ministered to young people for fornication. Penn 
claims that wedlock should grow only out of reciprocal 
inclination. "Never marry but for love," he says, "but 
see that thou lovest what is lovely." 

Tho holding, like the Puritans, that the regulation of 
marriage belongs to the civil power, the Quakers,"^ as a 
sect, imposed restrictions of their own. The Meeting 
exercised constant surveillance over family discipline 
and private life. As it was impossible properly to dis- 
cipline the family of a mixed marriage a Quaker mar- 
rying one of another sect was dismissed from the society 
even tho their numbers were thus greatly depleted. If 
a Friend sought a wife elsewhere than in his home com- 
munity he carried a letter from the Meeting. 

In the first half of the eighteenth century perplexing 
questions were rife as to forbidden degrees, marriage by 
justice of the peace, mixed marriages, young couples' 
keeping company without parental consent. Adverse 

88 See Index for Quakers in England. 

200 The American Family -Colonial Period 

decisions were rendered on every question. A tendency 
to recognize the validity of common law marriages ap- 
pears. The following are illustrations of the problems 
that confronted the Friends in Pennsylvania: many 
young Friends, impatient of the slow and troublesome 
process of passing meeting, would hasten off to the 
priest or to a magistrate and be married without delay 
or formality. Refusal to confess fault meant expulsion. 
At Warrington, 1767, Sarah Delap acknowledged 
"keeping company with a young man not of our society 
and attempting marriage with him by a priest to the 
great grief of my tender parents." She was reinstated. 

While Quaker discipline was, on the whole, rather 
Puritanlike the home life was charming. The families 
were often large. The Friends were especially appre- 
ciative of the aged. Hospitality was a genial virtue. 
In American Quaker homes there were spare rooms, 
and Quaker visitors, no matter how numerous, never 
went to a hotel. 

The Diary of Christopher Marshall, a well-to-do 
Quaker of Philadelphia, kept during the year 1778, de- 
scribes his wife's activities: "From early . . . 
morning till late at night she is constantly employed in 
the affairs of the family, which for four months has 
been very large. . . It is a constant resort of comers 
and goers." Moreover she did the baking and cooking; 
made twenty large cheeses from one cow; was gar- 
dener and butter-maker; kept the house clean; cut and 
dried apples; made cider without tools "for the con- 
stant drink of the family;" attended to the washing and 
ironing. She also sewed, knit, etc. "I think she hath not 
been above four times since her residence here to visit 
her neighbors." In sickness furthermore he stated that 
she was a faithful nurse day and night. She was ever 

The Family in Pennsylvania 201 

ready to supply poor neighbors with milk, always had 
cream to spare for her dairy. She rose at daybreak, 
tho aged, and went to the wharves to buy wood. Her 
hearty old husband records complacently that the horse 
would have died had not the energetic woman skir- 
mished for hay in the barren city. Besides she endured 
Poll, a pestiferous bound girl. Such was the life of the 
Revolutionary housewife. Yet the Quakers went far 
toward a recognition of woman's equality. 

Penn's frame of government contains provision for 
education in the New World: 

The governor and provincial council shall erect and order 
all publick schools and encourage and reward the authors of 
useful sciences and laudable inventions. . . And [there 
shall be] a committee of manners, education and arts, that all 
wicked and scandalous living may be prevented, and that youth 
may be successively trained up in virtue and useful knowledge 
and arts. . . All children within the province of the age of 
twelve years shall be taught some useful trade or skill, to the 
end none may be idle, but the poor may work to live, and the 
rich, if they become poor, may not want. 

The first General Assembly (Chester, 1682) accepted 
the provisions. The Assembly of the next year ordered 
that "persons having charge of children should have 
them instructed in reading and writing before they were 
twelve years of age, or pay a fine of five pounds for 
every sound child." Children were to be taught "some 
useful trade or skill." Force, if necessary, was to be 
used to execute the law. The insistence on industrial 
training recalls Puritan devotion to child labor. 

Penn did away with the old laws that gave to the state 
the estates of murderers and suicides. He also abol- 
ished primogeniture. But a huge estate became vested 
in the Penn family thus producing a strange contrast to 
his liberalism. This estate was the source of great mis- 

202 The American Family -Colonial Period 

chief. Penn's heirs, or proprietaries, made claim to all 
the soil within the bounds of the original charter. In 
1779 the Pennsylvania legislature denounced the man- 
ner in which the Penn family had perverted and abused 
the terms of Penn's charter. Thus the opportunity to 
ground a family aristocracy in landlordism reversed the 
characteristic trend of Quakerism toward "democratic" 

From Maine to Georgia the Germans were hinter- 
landers occupying the best farm acreage. They were 
numerous in the middle states and have left their im- 
print on that section. In the fatherland marriage was 
held to be of divine appointment. Some of the immi- 
grants did, indeed, form communities with sex segrega- 
tion but the bulk of the German immigrants settled by 

The Germans are a domestic people. The middle- 
class German is fond of home life and joins with his 
family in the pursuit of simple pleasures. The Ger- 
mans gave to America a domestic type of woman. To 
this fact can be attributed much of the vigor of the pop- 
ulation and the solid quality that comes from home 
training. They laid great emphasis on the household 
arts, excelling in thoroness and efficiency. A writer of 
the eighteenth century says : 

When a young man asks the consent of his father to marry a 
girl of his choice, the latter does not so much inquire whether 
she be rich or poor, but whether she is industrious and acquaint- 
ed with the duties of a good housewife. ^^ 

The pioneer, of course, did not care for an intellectual 
wife but preferred a woman of sound industry. The 
industry of the German women was indeed marvelous. 
The men loved their homes; they were home-makers - 

^9 In Kuhns, German and Siviss Settlements of Pennsylvania, loi. 

The Family in Pennsylvania 203 

industrious and frugal. The children were trained to 
industry. The Pennsylvania Germans had very few 
slaves. Often their farms descended from father to 
son for more than a hundred years, in many cases with- 
out a mortgage. 

Pastors' baptismal records and the entries in family 
Bibles show that Pennsylvania Germans often had nu- 
merous children. The pioneer did not murmur when 
his family grew. Penn found the kindred race, the 
Swedes, on the Delaware likewise fertile. 

They have fine children, and almost every house full: rare to 

find one of them without three or four boys and as many girls; 

some six, seven, and eight sons. And I must do them that right, 

I see few young men more sober and laborious. 

Rush writes in 1789: 

The favorable influence of agriculture, as conducted by the Ger- 
mans ... is manifested by the joy they express upon the 
birth of a child. No dread of poverty or distrust of Provi- 
dence, from an increasing family, depresses the spirits of these 
industrious and frugal people. Upon the birth of a son, they 
exult in the gift of a plowman or a waggoner; and upon the 
birth of a daughter they rejoice in the addition of another spin- 
ster or milkmaid to the family. 

Home discipline was rigid. When necessary the rod 
was used. Children received diligent home-training. 
They were taught early in life to work. The practice 
of binding children out to service so that they might 
learn trades or because the home family was so large as 
to render their services superfluous was followed quite 
generally in old Germantown. The Pennsylvania Ger- 
mans thought it no disgrace for a daughter to work in 
another family, where she might add to her knowledge 
of good housekeeping. Servants ate with the family on 
ordinary occasions and were well cared for. The serv- 
ant and the master and mistress frequently were to 

204 The American Family -Colonial Period 

each other as child and parents. Parents loved their 
home and their children and made the home attractive 
with proper games and privileges. Children also loved 
home and parents and other members of the family. 
Part of the home, sometimes a separate dwelling, was 
provided for aged parents or grandparents. Often an 
unmarried daughter held it her duty to remain with the 
aged parents to the end of their days. 

The old church records are honest in mentioning the 
illemtimate birth of children. But the smallness of this 
unfortunate number as compared with the number born 
in wedlock shows the esteem of matrimony. Adultery 
was a grievous sin to the pioneers. Divorces were 
viewed with abhorrence. Parents counselled their chil- 
dren to live in purity and gave good advice regarding 
the choice of husband or wife. 

Many German immigrants met with unfortunate ex- 
periences. A letter dated March i6, 1684, says: "If 
any one come here in this land at his own expense, and 
reaches here in good health, he will be rich enough, 
especially if he can bring his family or some man serv- 
ants, because servants are here dear." For the man 
that could not come at his own expense, the outlook was 
not so good. "It often happens that whole families, 
husband, wife, and children are separated by being sold 
to different purchasers." Ships brought hordes of Ger- 
mans to America. Children seldom survived the jour- 
ney. "Many a time parents are compelled to see their 
children die of hunger, thirst, or sickness, and then see 
them cast into the water. Few women in confinement 
escaped with their lives; many a mother is cast into the 
water with her child." When the ships reached Phila- 
delphia unmarried people of both sexes found ready 
sale. Old married people, widows, and the feeble. 

The Family in Pennsylvania 205 

were a drug on the market unless they had children to 
assume the debts of the parents, thereby extending their 
own period of servitude. "Parents must sell and trade 
away their children like so many cattle." Thus the ex- 
ploiting element that dominated here as in all the colo- 
nies subordinated moral considerations, as always, to 

An important continental sect, the Moravians, were 
not unlike the Quakers. They had their system of cen- 
sorship and administration of discipline over families. 
Tho tending to communal life (for they were successors 
to the revolutionary Taborite communists of Bohemia) , 
they did not believe in celibacy. Marriage they ele- 
vated into a very sacred duty. All souls were in es- 
sence feminine and the male was a mere temporary 
function for the probation period on earth.'"' It might 
be supposed that this feministic theory would give su- 
premacy to woman, but not so. Man's duties were ex- 
alted, clear, and positive. As Christ was the true hus- 
band of each woman so the man was his representative 
and the wife's Savior. Thus marriage was highly 
idealized and, naturally, subject to very strict regula- 
tion. The church often acted as match-maker, helping 
in the choice of a wife and conveying the proposal. 
Divorce is said to have been practically unknown among 

Their communal tendency took shape at Bethlehem, 
where the land belonged to the church, which took into 
its treasury the fruits of the joint labor of the com- 
munity and gave to each member the necessaries of life, 
instruction for his children, and care in sickness and 

^o°On slavery of whites in the colonies see Oneal, If'orkers in American 
History, chapters iii and iv. A rather amateurish work, but, to the ordinary 
reader, indispensable. 

101 On the sect see Fisher, The Making of Pennsylvania, 138. 

2o6 The Afnerican Family -Colonial Period 

old age. Separate quarters were provided for bach- 
elors as also for widows and for single women. 

The cohesion of the Pennsylvania Moravians out- 
lasted the colonial period. A historian in 1819 writes 
thus of them : 

The young man who has an inclination to marry makes appli- 
cation to the priest, who presents a young woman designated 
by the superintendent as the next in rotation for marriage. 
Having left the parties together for an hour, the priest returns, 
and if they mutually consent to live together, they are married 
the next day; if otherwise, each is put at the bottom of the list, 
containing perhaps sixty or seventy names, and on the part of 
the girl there is no chance of marriage, unless the same young 
man should again feel disposed for matrimony. When united, 
a neat habitation, with a pleasant garden, is provided, and their 
children, at the age of six, are placed in the seminary. If eith- 
er of the parents die, the other returns to the apartment of the 
single people.^"^ 

The Dunkers, also, are worthy of special mention. 
The Brethren church has distinctly stood for the exalta- 
tion of the home and family life. Among the early 
settlers of this sect was found a high type of Christian 
home. The typical home was a sanctuary for the 
preaching of the word: for forty-seven years the Breth- 
ren had no church nor meeting-house. The Dunkers 
developed sex-segregation. In 18 19 we are told that 
"the women live separate from the men, and never asso- 
ciate except for the purpose of public worship or public 
business." ^°^ 

The Schwenkfelders were also noteworthy. Among 
them mixed marriages were discouraged. During the 
period before marriage the minister met the young peo- 
ple seve ral times and gave them instruction in Christian 

i<'2 Mackenzie. Historical Topographical and Descriptive Vieiv of the 
United States, 379. 
103 _ i^gjn^ 3go. 

The Family in Pennsylvania 207 

doctrine and especially in the duties of married life. 
Entrance into the marriage relation was a most sacred 
step. The bride had, perhaps for years, been getting 
things ready in preparation for her duties as wife and 
mistress of a home. Children were objects of pious 
solicitude. They were not allowed to frequent places of 
public resort. 

In 1 720- 1 740 thousands of Ulster Scots came to 
America and peopled the hills and valleys of the Penn- 
sylvania frontier. Clannish by nature and tradition 
they held together in small communities of forty or 
more families, a majority of them akin by blood or by 
marriage. The Scotch-Irish are comparable to the 
Puritans but coming from a less central people were of 
freer and less sombre type. Their matrimonial customs 
were simple as befits a frontier people. Men seldom 
went far afield for wives. In the preliminaries of a 
marriage there was great deliberation and thoroness. 
The girl's outfit had been prepared from her birth. On 
two successive Sabbaths before the wedding after the 
benediction one of the clerks would announce the banns. 
Marriage took place at the bride's home. On the fol- 
lowing Sabbath they made their appearance in state at 
church. The race was marked by family loyalty. The 
women led hard lives but were patient and submissive. 
(The person familiar with the back country of western 
Pennsylvania to-day will note apparent survivals of the 
last two primitive features.) Divorce was practically 

Pennsylvania presented the usual pioneer hardships, 
in juxtaposition with city luxury. For instance John 
and Rebecca Head arrived in Philadelphia early in the 
eighteenth century with a flock of children and various 
household utensils. In default of other means of trans- 

2o8 The American Family -Colonial Period 

portation they put the two younger girls in a tub and 
each parent took a handle. The older children, aged 
three and four, walked in front carrying as much as 
they could. A surprising counter item is found in the 
correspondence of Mrs. John Adams: 

Philadelphia must be an infertile soil or it would not produce 
so many unfruitful women. I always conceive of these persons 
as wanting one addition to their happiness; but in these perilous 
times, I know not whether it ought to be considered as an in- 

Children in Pennsylvania schools were sometimes the 
victims of "drunken, dirty, careless, and cruel teach- 
ers." Slight attempt was made by the English in early 
Pennsylvania toward popular education outside the cap- 
ital. Penn Charter School, opened at Philadelphia in 
1698, was for fifty years the only public school in the 
province. The Germans and Moravians had some good 
private schools in the larger towns but educational facil- 
ities in the country were usually wretched or lacking. 
A Pennsylvania pedagog of 1765 advertising for pupils 
urges young ladies not to be discouraged on account of 
age or through fear of not obtaining a spouse, as he has 
had "the honour to give the finishing stroke in educa- 
tion to several of the reputed fine accomplished ladies 
in New York, some of which were married within two, 
three, and four years afterwards." ^°* 

Pennsylvania had notable women. In the days of 
settlement one woman took up a tract of twenty-five 
hundred acres in what is now Lancaster County. There 
are instances of prominent business women in the col- 
ony. Benjamin Franklin both respected and admired 
his wife. But the subordination of woman was still 
manifest. One old law in Pennsylvania (1690) pro- 

10* Wharton. Colonial Days and Dames, 126. 

The Family in Pennsylvania 209 

vided that a widow could not marry till a year after her 
husband's death. 

Pennsylvania was not staidly Puritan. In 1741 a 
Grand Jury notes that whites in markets, etc., strive "to 
excell in all lewdness and obsenity which must produce 
a generall corruption of such youth (apprentices, etc.) 
if not timely remedied." Stories of scandal in high 
society can be found in histories of all old Pennsyl- 
vania towns."^"^ Sarah Eve writes of unrestrained kiss- 
ing of girls by men in Philadelphia (1722). In Phila- 
delphia the groom's friends called for several days after 
a wedding to drink punch. 

Quakers and Moravians did not legislate about di- 
vorce and the Scotch-Irish had no use for it. The 
Great Law of 1682 for Pennsylvania permits divorce 
for the scriptural cause. A penalty was prescribed for 

[One convicted] shall for the first offence be publicly whipped 
and suffer one whole year's imprisonment in the house of cor- 
rection at hard labor, to the behoof of the publick and longer if 
the magistrate see meet. And both he and the woman shall be 
liable to a Bill of Divorcement, if required by the grieved hus- 
band or wife within the said term of one whole year after 
For a second ofifence the penalty is "imprisonment in 
manner aforesaid during life." Gordon in a summary 
of the laws of the colony says that these "made no gen- 
eral provision for the dissolution of marriage; and di- 
vorce from bed and board was allowed in case of big- 
amy only, on request of first wife or husband, made in 
one year after conviction."'"" Legislative authority, 
however, granted absolute divorces. But there is no 

^05 Giddings. Natural History of American Morals, 34. 

i"** Howard. History of Matrimonial Institutions, vol. ii, 386-387. 

2IO The American Family -Colonial Period 

evidence to show that divorces either absolute or partial 
were at all common in Pennsylvania. 

Servitude and slavery marred morality in this as in 
the other colonies.'"' Reference has already been made 
to the dissolution of families by white servitude. The 
pathos of such a system was brought home to a Phila- 
delphia gentleman who wanted an old couple for house 
servants. After purchasing an old couple and their 
daughter he found that he had bought his own father, 
mother, and sister.'"^ If members of a family died on 
the ocean the survivors were held responsible. 

Servants were not allowed to marry without master's 
consent and a severe penalty was attached to this in- 
fringement of property rights. Women having ille- 
gitimate children (and thereby, of course, impairing 
the value of their services) were punished by a pro- 
longation of their term of bondage. 

Miscegenation doubtless took place from the first. 
In 1677 a white servant was indicted for intercourse 
with a negro. In 1698 the Chester County Court as- 
serted the principle that mingling of the races was to be 
tabooed. Court records run as follows: 

For that hee . . . contrary to the lawes of the govern- 
ment and contrary to his masters consent hath . . . got 
with child a certain molato wooman called swart Anna. 

David Lewis Constable of Haverford returned a negro man 
of his and a white woman for haveing a baster childe . 
the negro said she intised him and promised him to marry him; 
she being examined, confest the same . . . the court or- 
dered that she shall receive twenty-one lashes on her beare 
backe . . . and the court ordered the negroe man never to 
meddle with any white woman more uppon paine of his life. 

A law of 1700, for negroes, provided that buggery or 

1""^ See Turner, History of Slavery in Pennsylvania. 
108 Oneal. Workers in American History, 67. 

The Family in Pennsylvania 211 

rape of a white woman was to incur the penalty of 
death. The penalty for attempted rape was to be cas- 

In 1722 a woman was punished for complicity in a 
clandestine marriage of a white woman to a negro. 
Shortly after a petition came up to the Assembly at- 
tacking the wicked and scandalous practice of negroes' 
cohabiting with white people. The Assembly proceed- 
ed to the framing of a law. The law of 1725-1726 pro- 
vided that no negro was to be married to any white per- 
son on any pretense whatever. A white person violat- 
ing this law was to forfeit thirty pounds or be sold as a 
servant for a period not over seven years. A clergy- 
man abetting such a union was to be fined one hundred 
pounds. The law was not able to check cohabitation 
tho there is almost no record of marriages of slaves with 
white people. 

Advertisements for runaway slaves indicate that mu- 
lattoes were very numerous. The Chester County slave 
register for 1780 shows that they made up twenty per 
cent of the slave population in that locality. It would 
seem that it was not, in general, the masters that were 
guilty of illicit intercourse but rather servants, outcasts, 
and the lower class of whites'"^ The records of 1766 
contain an instance of a white woman prostitute to ne- 
groes and those of the following decade give evidence 
as to mulatto bastards by pauper white women. One 
case was noted in 171 5 where the guilty white man was 
probably not a servant. Benjamin Franklin was openly 
accused of having colored mistresses."" 

Children of negro slaves became, of course, the mas- 
ter's property. Owners considered the rearing of slave 

^^" Turner. History of Slavery in Pennsylvania, 31. 
110— Idem. 

212 The American Family -Colonial Period 

children a burden. One writer affirmed that in Penn- 
sylvania "negros just born are considered an incum- 
brance only, and if humanity did not forbid it, they 
would be instantly given away" (1780). A likely 
wench was sold because of her fecundity. In 1732 the 
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas ordered a man to 
take back a negress that he had sold that proved to 
be with child. He was to return the price and pay the 
money spent "for phisic and attendance of the said 
negroe in her miserable condition." In the Pennsyl- 
vania Gazette occurs an advertisement of an exemplary 
young negress for sale. '^She has ... a fine, 
hearty young child, not quite a year old, which is the 
only reason for selling her, because her mistress is very 
sickly, and cant bear the trouble of it." The child of a 
free mother and a slave father was a servant for a term 
of years. 

Slavery in Pennsylvania was mild. The chattels gen- 
erally lived in the master's house. Some had cabins for 
their families. Negroes were often allowed to visit 
members of their families living in other households. 
Something was done toward the maintenance of slave 
family life. Penn's conscientious attempt in 1700 to 
secure a law for the regulation of slave marriage was 
defeated. One writer attributes this result to the wan- 
ing of Quaker influence, the lower tone of the later in- 
flux, and temporary hostility to the executive. But the 
universal incompatibility of property rights in men 
with stable marriage is sufficient to account for the vote. 

Slaves came under the law forbidding servants to 
marry without the master's consent. It is said that 
many masters permitted their human cattle to marry as 
they pleased save that the owner would try to prevent 
marriage off the place. (In conflict with the alleged 

The Family in Pennsylvania 213 

unprofitableness of slave raising, Kalm adds that it was 
considered an advantage to own negro women, since 
otherwise the offspring of one's negroes belonged to an- 
other master.) The marriage ceremony was frequently 
performed as for white people. The records of Christ 
Church show many such instances. Among the Friends 
there are very few records of such marriages. But 
Joshua Brown's Journal kept during the year 1774 con- 
tains this item: 

I rode to Philadelphia . . . and lodged that night at Wm. 
Browns and fifth day of the Moth I spent in town and was at 
a negro wedding in the eving when several per mett and had a 
setting with them, and they took each other and the love of God 
seemd to be extended to them. 

A negro marriage in Friends' fashion is recorded for 
West Chester. Mittleberger said: "The blacks are 
likewise married in the English fashion." But Benezet 
wrote: "They are suffered, with impunity, to cohabit 
together, without being married and to part, when sol- 
emnly engaged to one another as man and wife." It 
would be absurd to attribute to the negroes all the blame 
for family laxity. But in Pennsylvania there was no 
active trade in negroes and when they were bought or 
sold there was some attempt to keep families together. 

It is said that negro children were taught submission 
to their parents and that these were suffered to train, 
cherish, and chasten them. Many slaves were treated 
like members of the master's family: nursed and cared 
for in sickness, provided for when past work, and in 
some instances remembered in the master's will. Often 
members of a negro family bought freedom for other 

Opposition to slavery took into account its influence 

"1 Turner. History of Slavery in Pennsylvariia, 46, 51, 62. 

214 The American Family -Colonial Period 

on family relations. The Quakers of Germantown in 
1688 indicted slavery as follows: "Some do commit 
adultery in others, separating wives from their husbands 
and giving them to others . . . and some sell the 
children of these poor creatures to other men." In 
1780 an act for gradual abolition was passed. It pro- 
vided that no child thereafter born in Pennsylvania 
should be a slave; but it held in servitude till the age of 
twenty-eight children born of a slave mother. 

After the passage of this act some masters sent negro 
children into other states there to be sold. Others sent 
their pregnant women into another state that the chil- 
dren might not be free. An act of 1788 provided that 
births of children of slaves should be registered; that 
husband and wife were not to be separated more than 
ten miles without their consent; that pregnant females 
were not to be sent out of the state pending delivery. 
In 1816 it was decided that in certain cases if a fugitive 
slave bore a child in Pennsylvania the child was free. 


In the first settlement of Virginia no regard was • 
given to family and no appeal was made to the family 
motive. The settlement was a camp rather than a 
colony. The early voyagers did not expect to tarry 
long in the new country and did not bring their families 
or establish their homes. Their intention was to make 
a fortune and then return to England. It is natural, 
therefore, that the settlement did not thrive. Byrd 
thinks it a pity that the adventurers looked askance at 
marriage with the Indians. Intermarriage, he thought, 
would have been a good means for the conversion of the 
natives and for the reconciliation of them to the loss of 
lands. ^^^ The natives were not averse to such unions"^ 
but it is to be feared that the Indian damsels would not 
have been adept at scouring dishes, darning hose, and 
the like. 

A Spanish representative in England wrote in 1609 
to Philip III. informing him that the English were 
about to send a few women to Virginia. He enclosed 
an advertisement inviting men and women of occupa- 
tion "who wish to go out in the voyage for colonizing 
the country with people." In Virginia they would 
have houses, gardens, orchards, food, and clothing, a 
share of products, and a share in the division of the land 
for themselves and their heirs forever. 

112 Goodwin. The Colonial Cavalier, 45-46. 
^'^^ Letters from Virginia, 167. 

2i6 The American Family -Colonial Period 

A letter of Gabriel Archer, on a voyage to Virginia 
in 1609, says: "We had twenty women and children." 
A minute of a letter of Philip III. to Don Caspar de 
Pereda, from Madrid, February 20, 161 1 indicates that 
the Ambassador in England had written the previous 
December that ships with three hundred men and a few 
women were to leave for Virginia. Toward the end 
of May, 161 1 Sir Thomas Gates was sent with, three 
ships and three caravels containing in all two hundred 
eighty men and two hundred women. The minutes of 
the meeting of the directors of the Virginia Company, 
November 3, 1619 record the need 

That a fitt hundreth might be sent of woemen, maids young 
and vncorrupt to make wives to the inhabitants and by that 
means to make the men there more settled and lesse moueable 
who by defect thereof (as is credibly reported) stay there but 
to get something and then to return for England, wch will breed 
a dissolucon, and so an overthrow of the Plantacon. These 
woemen if they marry to the publiq ffarmers, to be transported 
at the charges of the company; if otherwise, then those that 
takes them to wife to pay the said company their charges of 
transportacon, and it was never fitter time to send them then 

The "liberals," the business class, with business sense, 
had by this time captured the corporation; hence the 
saner economic judgment displayed. Sir Edwin Sandys 
of the company was able to see that the possibility of 
business success depended on making Virginia a country 
of homes. It was clear to him that the best way to make 
it a place of homes was to provide wives for the men. 
If they had wives and children depending on them they 
would work with better cheer and not pine for England 
when they should be giving all their energies to the 
work. With wife and children, home in Virginia 
would replace the English home in the affections of the 

The Family Motive in Southern Colonization 217 

emigrants. He arranged, accordingly, the plan of 
sending out young women as companions to the Vir- 
ginia adventurers. Ninety came in the first installment. 
They were girls of good character, willing to become 
new-world wives. The would-be husbands each had to , 
pay one hundred twenty pounds of tobacco which was 
the price of the passage over (about ninety dollars). 

The purity of the imported wives was carefully 
guarded. Two transgressors were deported. Every 
precaution was taken to secure the happiness of the new 
wives."* It was ordered that 

In case they cannot be presently married, we desire that they 
may be put with several householders that have wives until they 
can be supplied with husbands. . . We desire that the mar- 
riages be free, according to nature and we would not have these 
maids deceived and married to servants, but only such freemen 
or tenants as have means to maintain them . , . not en- 
forcing them to marry against their wills. 

The results were most happy. So kindly were the 
maidens received that they wrote back and induced 
sixty more "young, handsome, and chaste" to come over 
for the same purpose. It was in connection with such 
a shipment that the company minutes note that if any 
died the charge was to be added to the rest. 

Regarding the girls shipped over as wives old writers 
alleged that some were seized by fraud, trapanned in 
England; that unprincipled spirits "took up rich yeo- 
mans' daughters to serve his Majesty as breeders in 
Virginia unless they paid money for their release." "° 
This is scarcely probable so far as the company's car- 
goes above mentioned are concerned. Those invoiced 
maidens seem to have had a square deal and the com- 
pany was not interested in the prosperity of his Majesty. 

^'* Cooke. Virginia, 120-122. 

^^^ Earle. Colonial Dames and Good<wi<ves, 4. 

2i8 The American Family -Colonial Period 

Yet Bacon (a member of the royal council for the Vir- 
ginia Company) did recognize the worth of such a move 
as the company made. In his Essay on Plantations 
(seemingly revised between 1620 and 1624, tho prob- 
ably written earlier) he says: "When the plantation 
grows to strength, then it is time to plant with women 
as well as with men, that the plantation may spread into 
generations, and not be ever priced from without." 

The scarcity of women naturally hastened the mar- 
riage of any that were available. Some families in- 
vited female relatives from England. These, of course, 
were soon married. The company discriminated in 
favor of married men. As an incentive to marriage 
married men were given preference in the selection of 
officers for the colony. Men with families began to 
come out from England. Their advent together with 
the shipment of wives and the previous abolition of 
communist living served to establish Virginia as a land 
of homes. The colony became settled and well-ordered. 
The careless adventurers were metamorphosed into re- 
sponsible fathers of families anxious for the prosperity 
of a country that now seemed their own. 

It was not necessary to continue permanently the im- 
portation of wives. It seems that a number of women 
of "the better class" came to Virginia with their hus- 
bands between 1617 and 1624. Immigrants presently 
sought marriage into the families of the older colonists. 
The English patrons encouraged this intermarriage as 
well as family migration as means of increasing the im- 
portance of the colony and thus enlarging dividends. 
Men of later generations wooed and won their wives in 
conventional fashion. By 1688 children, grandchil- 
dren, and great-grandchildren called Virginia their 
home and looked to England as the motherland. 

The Family Motive in Southern Colonization 219 

The great bulk of the population of early Virginia 
was pure English. Almost always, persons of foreign 
origin took partners of Virginian or English birth. 
Thus the foreign blood was lost. The majority of the 
Virginia settlers were from the humbler ranks of life, 
including numbers of the stalwart yeomanry. Few 
men of rank ever came to the "wilderness of Virginia" 
and the planters were generally of bourgeois stock. 
Even cavaliers were not necessarily of noble blood. 
The leading families of Virginia had exactly the same 
origin as those of New England. The Virginia mid- 
dle class sprang from free families of immigrants of 
humble means and origin, which migration began early 
and continued through the seventeenth century. The 
law allowing settlers fifty acres of land for each mem- 
ber of the family was an inducement. Many men bare- 
ly able to pay their way came. The number of small 
grants in the first half of the seventeenth century was 
large. After the execution of Charles a host of royal- 
ists sought shelter in America and the immigration of 
this class continued even after the Restoration. The ■ 
influx of well-to-do is marked by a sudden rise in the 
size of land grants and in the number of slaves."® 

Enthusiasts in eugenics catch eagerly at this straw. 
For the eddies of chafif that swirled to Virginia were 
considerable. We find the council of Virginia early 
complaining that 

It hurteth to suffer parents to disburden themselves of lascivious 
sonnes, masters of bad servants and wives of ill husbands, and so 
clogge the business with such an idle crue, as did thrust them- 

ii"^ See Bruce, Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, 250-251; 
Wertenbaker, Patrician and Plebeian in Virginia, vol. v, 4-5, 28, 143, i6o; 
Yonge, Site of Old "James Toiune," 139; Ross, Origins of the American 
People, 712-713. 

220 The American Family - Colonial Period 

selves in the last voiaj^e, that will rather starve for hunger than 
lay their hands to labor/^^ 

In 1618 Bridget Gray informed the Privy Council that 
her grandson, John Throckmorton, was in Newgate for 
stealing and begged that he might be delivered to Sir 
Thomas Smith and be deported beyond the seas. In 
1637 the collector of the port of London affirmed that 
''most of those that go thither [to Virginia] ordinarily 
have no habitation . . . and are better out than 
within the kingdom.""^ From the beginning of the 
plantation in Virginia, it had been the policy of the 
company to send thither poor children. For fifty years 
indentured servants came -from one thousand to sixteen 
hundred a year. Slum and alley sewage fertilized the 
plantations. Men sold dependent kindred to the col- 
onies. Boys and girls were spirited from English 
streets for "the plantations can not be maintained with- 
out a considerable number of white servants." And 
America was a convenient dump for criminals. 

Sponsors of Virginia's aristocracy console themselves 
with the thought that a large proportion of these seem- 
ingly "undesirable citizens" were unfortunate rather 
than depraved, and with the belief that natural selec- 
tion eliminated or reduced the worst strains. The scarc- 
\ty of women "made it impossible for the degraded lab- 
* orer, even tho he ultimately secured his freedom, to 
leave descendants to perpetuate his lowly instincts.""^ 
The wilder spirits took to the woods where death-rate 
was high. Thus the alleged blue-blood had an easier 
task in its breeding of "a germ plasm which easily de- 
veloped such traits as good manners, high culture and 
the ability to lead in all social affairs -traits combined 

^^"Ross, op. cii., 712. 

118 — Idem. 

119 Wertenbaker. Patrician and Plebeian in Virginia, 176. 

The Family Motive in Southern Colonization 221 

in a remarkable degree in the first families of Vir- 
ginia." ^^'^ 

The dearth of careers in England, especially for 
younger sons, contributed to the peopling of Virginia 
and also of Maryland. The settlers of Maryland were 
for a long time of a sort very desirable in a new colony. 
Able and industrious young men whose purpose was to 
work, to secure homesteads, and to rear families 
strengthened the colony. There were also men of 
means, who came with wives and children. The col- 
ony encouraged family migration. A man bringing 
over his wife and children was allowed one hundred 
acres each for self and wife and fifty for each child. A 
woman coming with children received land for herself 
and them. For every woman servant brought, the mas- • 
ter could claim sixty acres. 

There was opportunity in Maryland. The young 
fellow that came penniless in 1634 n^ight by 1660 be a 
prosperous country gentleman surrounded by broad 
acres belonging to himself and sons, their farms gir- 
dling his, and his family related by marriage with the 
neighbors for miles around. 

The author of Leah and Rachel [Virginia and Mary- 
land], (1655) gives this advice to prospective immi- 
grants : 

[It it better for any one going over free, but poor, to hire for 
wages the first year if he strikes an honest home] where the 
mistresse is noted for a good housewife, of which there are very 
many (notwithstanding the cry to the contrary) for by that 
means he will live free of disbursement, have something to help 
him the next year and be carefully looked to in [sickness]. 
Now for those that carry over families and estates with a deter- 
mination to inhabit, my advice is that they neither sojourn, for 
that will be chargeable; nor on the sudden purchase . . . 

120 Davenport. Heredity in Relation to Eugenics, 207. 

222 The American Family -Colonial Period 

but that they for the first year hire a house (for seats are al- 
ways to be hired) and by that means they will not only find 
content and learn the worth and goodness of the plantation they 
mean to purchase. 

The Carolina project made direct appeal to the fam- 
ily motive. Robert Home writing in 1664 of the Cape 
Fear country says that younger brothers can come over 
there and found families. Among the privileges grant- 
ed to Carolina settlers in 1666 were the following: 
Every free man and free woman, that transport themselves and 
servants by the 25th of March . . . 1667, shall have for 
himself, wife, children, and men-servants, for each lOO acres 
of land for him and his heirs forever, and for every woman serv- 
ant and slave, 50 acres paying at most 5^d. per acre per annum 
in lieu of all demands, to the lords proprietors. 

After 1667 in South Carolina the allotment to immi- 
grants was : to each free person fifty acres ; to every man 
servant and marriageable woman servant whom he 
brought, the same. In 1671 an allowance of land was 
made for every person in each family settling on a cer- 
tain creek. Again there was promised to every free- 
man settler before March 25, 1672, one hundred acres, 
one hundred for every man servant, seventy for a woman 
servant or a man under sixteen, and seventy to every 
servant when his time was up. Families in groups of 
eight might settle in such places as they chose. Thomas 
Ashe, clerk on the ship Richmond, 1682, wrote: 

His majesty to improve so hopeful a design [wine culture] 
gave the French we carried over, their passage free for them- 
selves, their wives, children, goods, and servants. 

The moderate allowances made to real family settlers 
were insufficient to suit would-be exploiters. In 1755 
there came before the king a representation from Gov- 
ernor Dobbs of North Carolina to the effect that 
wealthy settlers wanted to come but were not satisfied 

The Family Motive in Southern Colonization 223 

with the one hundred acres for master or mistress and 
fifty for each child. It was thought desirable that not 
over six hundred forty acres should be given to each 
person able to cultivate the same. Doubtless this rec- 
ommendation was too meager to satisfy the prospective 

South Carolina, in her zeal for population, offered 
bounties that must have been very attractive to persons 
with families. Milligan in 1763 gave the schedule as 
follows: For children under two years, one pound; 
two to twelve years, two pounds; persons over twelve 
years, four pounds. Royal land offers were still in 

Carolina drew a motley population -English, Scotch, 
Scotch-Irish, German, Irish, Swiss, Huguenot. All 
these strains merged into one in the process of time. 
The Huguenots for a time were treated meanly, doubt- 
less from envy of their superior economic qualities. In 
South Carolina in 1693 ^^ey were threatened with the 
loss of their estates at death because they were foreign- 
ers. ^^^ The proprietors reassured them on this point. 
The Huguenots wished to forget France. In Charles- 
ton the children of the refugees were not appreciably 
different from the English. Successful Huguenots 
tended to intermarry in English families for the sake of 
social prestige. Moreover Huguenot names were 
anglicized thus obscuring the history of families. For 
a long while the Santee Huguenots intermarried mainly 
among themselves. Not before the end of the second 
generation did the French on the Santee merge with the 
English. Even then the blending was not complete. 
At the end of the colonial period the Carolinas con- 

^21 Huguenot Society of South Carolina, Transactions, 61-62, 67-68. 

224 ilw American Family - Colonial Period 

tained many villages whose inhabitants were all Hugue- 
nots or all Highlanders. 

In Georgia, as elsewhere, the strongest appeals were 
made to the family interest. Oglethorpe in 1732 set 
forth that a family of father, mother, and child over 
seven, able to earn in England say ten pounds per year, 
all told, while it cost them twenty pounds to live, could 
in Georgia produce a gross value (including land 
yield) of sixty pounds per year. This beautiful pros- 
pect for a man with only one-fourth of normal earning 
power is figured out thus: He will be assigned a lot 
of about fifty acres. The usual wage of common labor 
in Carolina is three shillings per day. 

Our poor man ... at about gd. per day earns about £12 
per annum, his care of stock on his land in his hours of resting 
from labor (amount to 3^ of each day) is worth also £12 per 
annum. His wife and eldest child may easily between them 
earn as much as the man. 

Provisions will be cheap. 

Benjamin Martyn wrote booming the Georgia set- 
tlement and picturing the Georgia that was to be: 
"Women and children feeding and nursing the silk- 
worms, winding ofif the silk, or gathering the olives;" 
men "in content and affluence, and masters of little 
possessions which they can leave their children." The 
picture is an attractive contrast to their condition in 
England, a prey to want and "hunger, and seeing their 
wives and children in the same distress." 

In addition to very liberal food allowances, provi- 
sion was made for sending to Georgia on charity "such 
as have numerous families of children, if assisted by 
their respective parishes, and recommended by the min- 
ister, church-warden, and overseers thereof." On the 
voyage to America the German dissenters were given 

The Family Motive in Southern Colonization 225 

spaces according to families. The single men were 
located by themselves. The women were given thread, 
worsted, and knitting needles, and they were required 
to employ their ''leisure time in making stockings and 
caps for their family, or in mending their cloaths and 

"The difficulties of the southern settlement" were con- 
sidered "almost insuperable to women and children.'' 
But new settlers, after consulting their wives and fami- 
lies, resolved to go on to Frederica, as brothers, sons, 
and servants were gone before and it would be base to 
forsake them. 

The True Narration of Georgia published at Charles- 
ton in 1741 purports to expose the fraudulence of claims 
made for the new colony. The author quotes the cal- 
culation as to the "poor man's" magnified earning pow- 
ers in Georgia and asserts that very soon after the settle- 
ment numbers of people left the province being unable 
to support their families there. Among the causes of 
the "Ruin of Georgia" he cites the restricting of land 
tenure so as to cut ofif daughters and other relatives from 
succession in default of male heirs. In that case land 
reverted to the trustees. It was urged also that "the 
extent of possessions" was too much restricted, "it being 
impossible that fifty acres of good land, much less pine 
barren, could maintain a white family." Finding it 
hard to support their families settlers hesitated to re- 
main in the colony. Alarmed at the prospect of de- 
population the magistrates joined the free-holders in 
and about Savannah in petitioning the trustees for title 
in fee simple and the use of negroes. ^^^ Right of inher- 
itance in lieu of male heirs was presently granted to 

^22 Arthur and Carpenter. History of Georgia, 41, 47. 

226 The American Family -Colonial Period 

daughters as will appear in a later chapter; moreover 
provision was made for grants larger than fifty acres. 

The trustees showed a willingness to make concessions 
to the family interest. The minutes of the trustees for 
July 26, 1742, show a petition of Christian Steinharrel, 
Theobald Keifer, etc., in behalf of the German servants 
in Savannah indented to the trustees. Their term was 
about to expire but their sons were bound to serve till 
twenty-five, and the girls till eighteen. The parents 
wanted to settle in Georgia and had some cattle but 
"they must unavoidably labor under great difficulties 
by being deprived of the freedom of their children, 
without whose assistance it will be impossible for them 
to make any progress in cultivating the land, being most 
of them advanced in years." They prayed for the free- 
dom of their children to take efifect at the time when 
their own indentures should expire. The trustees re- 
solved to recommend to the council to grant the petition. 

As previously observed English primogeniture drove 
younger sons across the ocean. In Georgia gentle stock 
and serf lineage dressed alike, married and intermar- 

As indicated in the account of Virginia the failure of 
the family interest was a factor also in the peopling of 
the South. Recreant husbands and wives could escape 
justice by coming to America. The Mayor of Bristol 
in 1662 said: "Among these who repair to Bristol" 
for America "some are husbands that have forsaken 
their wives, others wives who have abandoned their 
husbands, some are children and apprentices run away 
from their parents and masters." Bishop Spangenberg 
(Moravian) in his Journal of Travels in North Caro- 
lina (1752) noted that some of the people "have left a 
wife and children elsew^here." Some involuntary im- 

The Family Motive in Southern Colonization 227 

migrants to America were persons whose marital part- 
ners or other relatives, for reasons of their own, con- 
trived to have them deported. ^^^ New World settlers 
removed thus from all restraints of family were exposed 
to divers temptations. Yet such cases as these do not 
obscure the eminence of the family motive in American 

The family interest was prominent in migration to 
the frontier. At the beginning of the eighteenth cen- • 
tury as inducement to settlers to migrate to Western 
Virginia every male or female coming into the frontier 
colony was to have fifty acres. Families were to have 
fifty for each member. Villages did not spring up as 
had been expected. Presbyterians and others did come 
as settlers. The Presbyterian congregations in Vir- 
ginia sought wilderness homes "where every man's 
cabin might stand upon his own acres." Pioneer fam- 
ilies moved in companies or fixed their abodes in neigh- 
borhoods for defence and for social and religious priv- 
ileges. In some places intermarriage merged groups 
of different sects. Thus the family appears as the 
shaper of the new people. 

As the hunter penetrated the western wilds and found 
game abundant he thought to himself, "Well now, if I 
had the old woman and babies here, I should be fixed." 
Special inducements were offered to draw population 
westward. In 1776 Virginia offered each family set- 
tling vacant lands on waters of the Mississippi four 
hundred acres and to families who, for greater safety, 
had settled together and worked the land in common a 
town site of six hundred forty acres was given and a 
further grant of four hundred acres contiguous to town 
to each family on consideration of such settlement. 

123 Morton. History of Highland County, 44-4S- 


The life of the Southern family, at least on the coastal 
plain, was very different from that of the North Atlan- 
tic section. Especially in Maryland and tidewater Vir- 
ginia did plantation life prevail. The plantations tend- 
ed to isolation and self-support. They were isolated 
because tobacco soon sapped the fertility of the soil and 
made it necessary to seek fresh fields. Old grounds 
were left to revert to wilderness. Thus plantations 
were often separated by belts of forest. The estates 
had to be independent, for roads were poor and com- 
munication was often directly with England by means 
of vessels coming up the streams to the plantation docks. 

Domestic industry was a matter of course. In old 
Virginia female slaves and white servants wove coarse 
cloth and fashioned it into suits. Cotton spinning was 
a home industry. Artisans were to be found among the 
indentured servants. Washington's plantation at Mt. 
Vernon was a specimen of the self-sufficing estate. He 
had a smithy, charcoal-burners, brickmakers, carpen- 
ters, masons, a flour-mill, coopers, and a vessel to carry 
produce to market. He also employed shoemakers and 
operated a weaving establishment. 

The importation of white slaves was promoted by the 
fact that the immigrant to the South might secure for 
himself additional land for every servant brought over. 

The condition and treatment of bond-servants was 
variable. Redemptioners were often separated from 

230 The American Family -Colonial Period 

their family. Alsop, a redemptioner who came in 1658, 
paints the position of a servant in Maryland in the 
brightest colors as far better than that of an apprentice 
or young craftsman in London. He argues in favor of 
the indenture of children as a means of giving them a 
place in the world. It has been suggested that his work 
is perhaps a paid-for puff of Maryland in the interest 
of the proprietor and merchant adventurers. Opinion 
differs on this point. 

The author of Leah and Rachel reports that in Vir- 

The women are not (as is reported) put into the ground to 
worke, but occupie such domestique imployments and house- 
wifery as in England, that is dressing victuals, righting up the 
house, milking, imployed about dayries, washing, sewing, etc., 
and both men and women have times of recreation, as much or 
more than in any part of the world besides, yet some wenches 
that are nasty, beastly, and not fit to be so imployed are put into 
the ground, for reason tells us, they must not at charge be 
transported and then maintained for nothing, but those that 
prove so aukward are rather burdensome then servants desira- 
ble or useful. 

In Maryland of 1679, 

The servants and negros, after they have worn themselves down 
the whole day . . . have yet to grind and pound the 
grain . . . for their masters and all their families, as well 
as themselves and all the negros. 

A letter from Savannah dated 1741 reads: 

The trustees German servants in general behave well and are 
industrious: of these, eight or ten families are more remarkably 
so, and have this last year purchased a good stock of cattle, 
some having six cows, the least two ; and each having a garden, 
where they raise some corn, peas, pumpkins, potatoes, etc., which 
with the milk of their cows is the chief part of their food ; they 
are at little expense for clothing. 

On the St. Johns River in Florida was placed, during 
the English regime following 1763, a colony of people 

Home Life in the South 231 

from the Mediterranean. They were "obliged to in- 
dent themselves, their wives and children for many 
years." They were given 

A pitiful portion of land for ten years . . . this being 
improved and just rendered fit for cultivation, at the end of 
that time it reverts to the original grantor, and the grantee 
may, if he chooses, begin a new state of vassalage for ten years 
more. Many were denied even such grants as these, and were 
obliged to work in the manner of negroes, a task in the 
field . . . instead of allowing each family to do with their 
homely fare as they pleased, they were forced to join altogether 
in one mess, and at the beat of a vile drum, to come to one 
common copper, from whence their hominy was ladled out to 

In Virginia all servants and apprentices were to be 
taught along with their master's children every Sun- 
day "just before evening prayer" by the minister of the 
parish. In view of the shady character of many serv- 
ants in the South such a measure was perhaps appro- 
priate. The shortage of good servants constituted a 
Southern household problem. 

Geniality of climate worked against frugality. The 
appearance of opulence on the large plantation is illus- 
trated in the following entry in 1772 by a southern gen- 

This day I went to see my plantations under John E. 
Beale. . . Jack lives well; but I was sorry to see his wife 
act the part of a fine lady in all her wearing aparell, with at 
least two maids besides her own girl to get the dinner and wait 
upon her; but this I do suppose she did to show her respect; 
however, I had rather have seen the diligent, industrious woman. 

It was intended to make Georgia a colony of home 

A man with his son, or a servant, may, without much trouble, 
gather leaves sufficient for as many worms as he can keep. 
His wife and daughter or a servant maid may feed and attend 
the worms as they are within doors. 

232 The American Family -Colonial Period 

The southern planter could turn only to his family for 
regular companionship. Conditions promoted that 
patriarchal regime with strong feeling for family ties 
so typical of Maryland and tidal Virginia and indeed 
of the plantation South in general. 

The ''family" might assume large proportions. An 
• act of the Virginia Assembly, 1640, held every master 
of family responsible for the military service of each 
of its members, the "family" including servants but not 
blacks. Of North Carolina in 1752 Bishop Spangen- 
berg wrote: 

If a man of family . . . does not appear before a jus- 
tice . . . once a year, and render an account of all taxa- 
ble propert}'^ . . . also the names and ages of all persons of 
his household who are taxable, be they white or black, shall 
pay a fine of forty shillings, and for every month that it is neg- 
lected, twenty shillings more. 

A Georgia letter of 1740 runs thus: 

I have this day . . . inquired at Mr. Whitefields (who 
has by far the largest family of any in this colony consisting of 
nearly 150 persons) and received the following account . . . 
that their family consists of 60 persons, including bond serv- 
ants, 61 orphans and other poor children, 25 working trades- 
men, and others, in all 146, exclusive of many others, who have 
remained at their house a month, two or three months at a 
time (and have been accounted to be of their family) and that 
all the family are in good health. 

The influence of family connection was strong in all 
the old colonies. Virginia saw the rise of families of 
gentry who intermarried for generations and built up a 
landed aristocracy. Family life and ties reached 
strong development in Virginia. Every person de- 
sired to found a family or spread the influence of the 
one he had. Relationship was noted to a degree that 
made the term "Virginia cousin" a symbol for remote 
kinship. A strong caste spirit grew up. The leading 

Home Life in the South 233 

Virginians of a later day were proud to trace their pedi- 
gree. Coats of arms were esteemed. The vastness of 
available lands held in abeyance during the seventeenth 
century the disposition to magnify the social standing 
of a family by the cult of primogeniture but there was 
a potent desire to promote family distinction by monop- 
oly of as many public offices as possible. From 1670 
to 1691 every official position in Henrico County was 
filled by a member of the Randolph family or of two 
other families. Four families got most of the military 
offices of the county. Similar conditions prevailed in 
all the older counties where certain families had been 
long enough to establish powerful social and political 
connections. Thus colonial Virginia developed a priv- 
ileged hereditary bureaucracy so that offices were hand- 
ed from father to son and the social system became fos- 
silized with the impedimenta of lineage. 

It was inevitable that as soon as untaken land began 
to be relatively scarce, a tendency toward soil engross- 
ment within the family would develop. This trend was 
not altogether due to direct economic considerations. 
It was in some degree an inheritance of the English idea 
that the ownership of large lands was the surest foun- 
dation of family aristocracy. Jefiferson in his Memoirs 
wrote : 

At the time of the first settlement of the English in Virginia, 
when land was had for little or nothing, some provident per- 
sons having obtained large grants of it, and being desirous of 
maintaining the splendor of their families, entailed their prop- 
erty on their descendants. The transmission of these estates 
from generation to generation, to men who bore the same name, 
had the effect of raising up a distinct class of families, who, 
possessing by law the privilege of perpetuating their wealth, 
formed by these means a sort of patrician order, distinguished 
by the grandeur and luxury of their establishments. 

234 ^^'^' ■^'i'^ii'f'ican Family - Colonial Period 

Nearly all the extensive Virginia estates were ob- 
tained by corrupt means. On one occasion Fairfax as 
proprietor made a grant of three hundred thousand 
acres to his nephew who promptly and fraudulently 
reconveyed it to Fairfax as his own. Thus was laid in 
fraud the basis of family prestige and fortunes in the 
colonies -a factor of great influence on later American 

English primogeniture does not appear to have been 
in general operation in the seventeenth century. Real 
estate was not yet sufficiently valuable to constitute a rare 
distinction and there was a dearth of mechanical trades 
for younger sons. Generally sons shared equally. Of- 
ten the oldest son was allowed first voice in the division 
of the estate.^" Among the early Eastern-Shoremen 
the practice of dividing estates among children before 
decease was common. They did not greatly favor the 
doctrine of primogeniture. The first entail mentioned 
as occurring in that region took place in 1653 and en- 
tails were relatively rare.^^^ 

But the illiberal spirit took strong hold of Virginia. 
A York County man in 1688 bequeathed all lands and 
tenements to his eldest son in ventre^ the living children 
being daughters. In England the courts could cut off 
entails; but an old Virginia law of 1705 forbade this 
course except by express act of the legislature.'" Thus 
Virginia feudalism outdistanced that of England. Vir- 
ginia in the eighteenth century continued patriarchal. 
No creditor could touch the great estate. It was en- 
tailed on the eldest son. This system of artificial aris- 
tocracy prevailed until the American Revolution. But 

124 Myers. History of the Supreme Court, 22-27. 

^25 Bruce. Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, 126-127 

126 Wise. Ye Kingdom of Accaivmacke, 319. 

127 Cooke. Virginia, 445. 

Home Life in the South 235 

in case of intestates the law in force at the middle of the 
eighteenth century gave one third to the widow and 
divided the rest equally among the children with special 
privilege to the heir-at-law. Moreover most of the dis- 
tinguished families of the colony degenerated.'^® 

In Maryland from the first settlement until Ameri- 
can independence lands followed, in case of intestacy, 
the English law of primogeniture but parents common- 
ly devised tracts of land to their younger sons and often 
to their daughters. Men of large estate not infrequent- 
ly gave property to a "beloved son-in-law," thus be- 
stowing a marriage portion on a daughter. But gen- 
erally fathers bequeathed the home plantation to the 
oldest son. In the absence of.a will he inherited every- 
thing. The widow received one third of the land and 
a dower house which she occupied when the heir came 
of age or married and took possession of the mansion. 
English entail kept lands for many generations in the 
straight male line inalienable save by payment of a fine 
to the proprietary. 

The homestead of the small Maryland farmer was, • 
in its way, what his rich neighbor's plantation was on a 
larger scale. It too was largely independent- a little 
community. On both, interest and devotion centered 
in the family. The children grew up and spread the 
area of cultivation and when they married settled on 
the land. But the manors were soon divided among the 
different descendants of the original proprietors. The 
last one was broken up by the death of Charles Carroll 
of Carrollton at the end of the first third of the nine- 
teenth century. Thus schemes for medieval aristocracy 
came to naught. 

The failure of feudal principles in Maryland and 

128 YVertenbaker. Patrician and Plebeian in Virginia, 139-141. 

236 The Aiuerican Family -Colonial Period 

Virginia and the noteworthy collapse of the medieval 
project for feudalism in the Carolinas illustrate the 
futility of dreaming the establishment of social struc- 
tures without the requisite economic base or their per- 
petuation after that base is gone. One can not create 
feudalism with a sparse population in a limitless land; 
nor can primogeniture persist when land is too plentiful 
to be a great prize, and when there is lack of soft open- 
ings for younger sons. 

North Carolina developed on more uncouth lines 
than its neighbors. The people lived in isolated inde- 
pendence, each family apart on its small farm in the 
midst of dense swamps and wilds, responsible only to 
itself. The living came largely from hunting, with a 
little agriculture, a large part of which was performed 
by the women. German settlers began settling western 
North Carolina about 1750. Among them the paternal 
abode generally passed to one child; other children 
built near by. Land seldom passed from family to 
family. In many instances the descendants of the pio- 
neers continued on the ancestral homesteads at least un- 
til recent times. 

In none of the southern colonies was city life impor- 
tant save in South Carolina. At Charleston lived the 
wealthiest planters. They were more prosperous and 
in^epelident than those in the colonies farther north, 
who in spite of their apparent wealth were generally 
deep in debt and frequently fell into bankruptcy due to 
wasteful agricultural methods, speculative disposition, 
reckless habits, and expensive tastes."® The unhealth- 
ful climate in the rice lands of South Carolina forced 
the planters to live in town. Even then exposure to 
disease and hard living killed off the men so rapidly 

129 xhwaites. The Colonies, 98, 107. 

Home Life in the South 237 

that it was common for a woman to have several suc- 
cessive husbands. 

Fraud was present in the acquisition of great Caro- 
lina and Georgia estates. Governor Wright wrote from 
Savannah to the Lords of Trade, 1763, referring to the 
"very extraordinary procedure of the Governor of 
South Carolina" in allowing a few to monopolize the 
most valuable areas. 

I say, my lords, this procedure has struck a general damp and 
dispirited the whole province. . . An extension of the lim- 
its to the southward, if the lands were properly parcelled out 
to people who would really cultivate and improve them, would 
draw some thousand inhabitants here; whereas, by this step 
taken in Carolina, great part of the lands, my lords, are or- 
dered in large tracts to some wealthy settlers in Carolina, who 
probably will never see it themselves, and some of whom, it is 
said, have already more lands in that province than they can 
cultivate or improve. This, my lords, is pretty well known on 
this side of the water; and who, having a great number of 
slaves, claim what they call their family right, that is, fifty acres 
of land for each slave, although it is highly probable that their 
ancestors had land for those very slaves, and it is well under- 
stood here that many of those persons, especially those who have 
the largest tracts, have no intention to remove here or settle 
them; but probably some years hence, when it begins to get 
valuable, will sell it, and in the meantime those vast tracts of 
land are to lie waste and unimproved, as very great bodies yet 
do in Carolina, and if they should do anything at all with those 
lands, it is expected that it will only be by sending an overseer 
and a few negros [as a technical occupation of the land]. 

The problem of family interest in land tenure and 
the question of primogeniture caused great concern in 
the Georgia colony, especially as it was a military out- 
post against Spain. Four of the colonists before going 
asked that daughters might inherit as well as sons and 
that widows' dower be considered. It was 

Agreed that the persons who now go over, and desire the same, 

238 The American Family - Colonial Period 

shall have the priviledge of naming a successor to the lands 
granted them, who in case they die without issue male, shall 
enjoy the same to them and their heirs male for ever. Agreed 
that the widows shall have their thirds as in England. 

The Trustees in a later account of the colony give as the 
reason for first ''making it tail male^'' the need of sol- 

Moore in his Voyage to Georgia (his trip began in 
1735 and he published his account in 1744), wrote: 
All lots are granted in tail male, and descend to the heirs male 
of their bodies forever. . . [In default of male heirs, lands 
revert to the Trust to be granted as seems best.] They will 
have a special regard to the daughters of freeholders who have 
made improvements on their lots, not already provided for, by 
having married, or marrying persons in possessions, or entitled 
to lands in the province of Georgia, in possession or remain- 
der. . . The wives of the freeholders, in case they should sur- 
vive their husbands, are, during their lives, entitled to the 
mansion house, and one half of the lands improved by their 
husbands. . . In order to maintain many people, it was 
proper that the land should be divided into small portions, and 
to prevent uniting them by marriage or purchase. . . They 
suffered the moiety of the lots to descend to the widows during 
their lives: those who remarried to men who had lots of their 
own by uniting two lots made one to be neglected. . . These 
uncleared lots are a nuisance to their neighbors. . . The 
quantity of land by experience seems rather too much (50 acres) 
since it is impossible that one poor family can tend so much 
land. . . The trustees grant the land in tail male, that on 
the expiring of a male line they may regrant it to such man, 
having no other lot, as shall be married to the next female heir 
of the deceased, as is of good character. 

The restrictions, as noted previously, aroused resent- 
ment. In a letter to Oglethorpe, "the Plain-dealer" 
wrote : 

I shall suppose that, were full and ample rights given, that 
some idle persons, who had no judgment to value, or inclina- 

Home Life in the South 239 

tion to improve their properties, no affections for their families 
or relations, might dispose of their rights for a glass of rum; 
but I absolutely deny, that the colony could lose by such an 
exchange. I own such persons were much safer if bound than 
at liberty; but where the affection of the parent and the reason 
of the man die, the person is a fitter inhabitant for Moorfields 
than Georgia. I must notice further, that not only are parents 
incapable for want of credit, to provide for themselves, being 
necessitated to dispose of their servants for want of provisions; 
but if they could, only their eldest son could reap the benefit; 
their younger children, however numerous, are left to be fed 
by Him who feeds the ravens; and if they have no children, 
their labor and substance descends to strangers. How, sir, 
could you, or indeed any free-born spirit, brook such a tenor? 
Are not our younger children and daughters equally entitled to 
our bowels and affections? And does human nature end with 
our first, and not extend itself to the rest of our progeny and 
more distant relations? And is it not inverting the order of na- 
ture, that the eldest son should not only enjoy a double portion, 
but exclude all the younger children? and having an interest 
independent of the parents', how natural is it he should with- 
draw that obedience and subjection which proceeds from pater- 
nal authority and filial dependence ! 

This remonstrance was included in the True and His- 
torical Narration by several landholders in Georgia 
printed in Charleston, 1741. 

In 1739 the trustees had revised the law so as to allow 
the widow to enjoy, if there were children, a moiety of 
the property during her life and, if no children, all of it. 
This grant was to be void if she remarried, unless the 
new husband would give security to keep the property 
in good condition, and then it was to go to her heirs. 
Further if any tenant died without male heirs, any 
daughter might hold all (in tail male), if not over 
eighty acres, and if there was more than that amount, it 
might be held by one or more daughters designated by 
will. In default of such apportionment the eldest 

240 The American Family -Colonial Period 

daughter was to hold in tail male. If there was no 

issue the man might will the land in tail. In case of 

intestacy the property went to the heir at law. No 

devise was to be made of over eighty acres or less than 

fifty to one person. No person could enjoy a devise if 

it increased his estate to over five hundred acres. 

Martyn in the Impartial Inquiry^ written in 1741, said: 

The daughter of a freeholder, or any other person, is made 

capable of enjoying by inheritance a devise of lands, provided 

that it does not increase her or his possessions to more than 

2000 acres. 

These changes had not come about without consider- 
able agitation. When concessions were made they were 
alleged to be too complex to be understood. The ani- 
mus of the campaign can be gathered from the com- 
plaint that "several of the houses which were built by 
freeholders, for want of heirs male, are fallen to the 

The scope and influence of family relationship was 
great in the South. Sometimes several brothers came 
together to America. In many cases men of wealth 
brought over their young kinsmen and friends, for each 
of whom, in Maryland, they received fifty acres of land. 
(There the larger the family group the better. Poor 
kinsfolk were welcome assets.) There it was customary 
for such a "servant" to receive the fifty acres on reach- 
ing freedom. Redemptioners signed in Europe con- 
tracts that surviving members of a family must make 
good the loss of ones dying en voyage. So a wife that 
lost her husband or her children would be sold for five 
years for her own voyage and additional years for the 
fare of her dead husband or children tho they had died 
at the very start of the voyage. 

Ties persisted between English and American branch- 

Home Life in the South 241 

es of families. In seventeenth century Virginia there 
were numerous bequests from the colonial branch of a 
family to the English. Often Virginia children were 
commended to the care of their kindred oversea while 
pursuing education at an English school. These trans- 
oceanic relations were hard to maintain in that day of 
slow transit. In Maryland false claims to property 
were frequently made in the absence of the rightful 
heirs abroad. 

The dominance of familism in the colonial South 
was promoted by rural isolation as has been seen. 
Landed gentry had family burying-grounds on their 
own estates. Hugh Jones wrote regretfully of this in- 
dividualism: "It is customary to bury in garden, or 
orchards, where whole families lye interred togeth- 
er .. . the graves kept decently." Some of the 
German settlers in western North Carolina had family 
graveyards. It could scarcely be expected that planta- 
tion dwellers on widely separated estates and remote 
pioneers would observe the institution of burial in 
church grounds. 

Early Virginia legislation showed a disposition to 
promote familism. By acts of 1623- 1624 

All the old planters that were here before or came in at the last 
coming of Sir Thomas Gates they and their posterity shall be 
exempted from their personal service to the warrs and any pub- 
lic charge (church duties excepted) that belong particularly to 
their persons (not exempting their families) except such as shall 
be employed to command in chief. 

In 1 63 1 the phrase "they and their posterity" was struck 

About the time that Puritanism was getting hold in 
Massachusetts, Virginia enacted blue laws: Men were 
to dress according to rank and the law of 1619 provided 
Against excesse in apparel 1 that every man be cesscd in the 

242 The American Family -Colonial Period 

church for all publique contributions, if he be unmarried ac- 
cording to his owne apparell, if he be married according to his 
owne and his wives, or either of their apparell. 

We read of charming family relations in the colonial 
South. Life at the South was grander, shabbier, and 
more genial than in the Puritan commonwealths. Home 
rather than church was the shrine of the colonial cav- 
alier, notwithstanding his nominal reverence for "moth- 
er church." It was at home that most christenings and 
funerals occurred and Hugh Jones complained that "in 
houses they most commonly marry." 

The Virginia planter on his manor surrounded by his 
family and retainers was a feudal lord. At the great 
Christmas festival around the huge log fires gathered 
the family clan. It was a time of joy for high and low. 
This plantation life in a mild climate and cut ofif from 
the great world gave rise to the greater geniality of 
southern family relations and to the deep attachment 
to the soil, so proverbial in those regions. Coaches of 
four rolled from the doors of the aristocracy. Profu- 
sion of gold and silver plate shone on the boards even 
while the Declaration of Independence in high-sound- 
ing phrase voiced the stage-play theories of make-be- 
lieve "democracy." More than a hundred years earlier 
the English people had been informed: 

Your ordinary houses in England are not so handsome [as the 
houses in Virginia] for usually the rooms are large, daubed 
and white-washed, glazed and flowered, and if not glazed win- 
dows, shutters which are made very pretty and convenient. 

Soil engrossment was a means to that isolation of 
dwelling that has always appealed to the Englishman. 
No hedge or walls were needed in Virginia. Hill and 
grove furnished natural screens. The secluded life in- 
tensified hospitality as well as family affection. As 
houses were small and families large, bed-rooms were 

Home Life in the South 243 

overcrowded in early colonial days/^° Governor 
Berkeley's home at Green Spring had only six rooms 
and a hall. The planters found it necessary to put beds 
in every room save the kitchen. In the parlor might be 
found not only beds but chests of clothing and linen. 
An account of the eastern shore of Virginia (seven- 
teenth century) says that there seem to have been few 
homes at that time without musical instruments. The 
James River mansions and others that survive were 
erected in the eighteenth century. 

Rude tenant huts about the southern mansions formed 
sharp contrast to the relative grandeur of aristocratic 
life. But for many years in Virginia wages were high ; 
so that laborers could accumulate means to buy a 
farm."^ Squatters were sometimes driven from homes 
and farms. 

Colonial Virginia was well supplied with taverns, or 
grog shops. The use of liquor was general. The de- 
velopment of high class hotels was retarded by the fact 
that the presence of strangers was a welcome break in 
the montony of plantation life and hence the traveler 
need not pay for accommodations. A Virginia act of 
1663 throws interesting side-light on the entertainment 
of strangers: 

Whereas it is frequent with divers inhabitants of this country 
to entertain strangers into their home without making any 
agreement with the party what he shall pay for his accomoda- 
tions, which (if the party live) causes many litigous suites, and 
if the stranger dye lays a gap open to many avaricious persons 
to injure the estate of the person deceased, f¥or remedy whereof 
for the future, be it enacted that noe person not making a 
positive agreement with any one he shall entertayne into his 
home for diet or storeage shall recover anything against any 

i3o\Yertenbaker. Patrician and Plebeian in Virginia, 113; Yonge. Site 
of Old "James Toinne," 141. 

:3i Wertenbaker, op. cit., 183-184. 

244 The American Family -Colonial Period 

one soe eiitertayned, or against his estate, but that every one 
shall be reputed to entertayne those of curtesie with whom they 
make not a certain agreement. 

Early Maryland did not differ from Virginia in pride 
of birth and family. There are strong proofs of family 
affection. Deeds of gift of large lands to sons and 
daughters for "natural love and affection" show us the 
human side of remote forbears. Sons were not ex- 
pected to wait till their parents' death before having a 
home of their own. Fathers encouraged sons to marry 
early; this was easy with a good plantation. Daugh- 
ters were endowed with land at the time of marriage. 
Many homes originating thus are still the foundation 
of family pride after nine generations. Hospitality to 
friends ran high. Home life was fuller in those early 
days, the days on which ideals of home life ground. 
Yet no modern town could equal Annapolis in the pro- 
portion of club life."^ 

The Huguenots embellished society with the cour- 
tesies and graces of domestic life. J. A. Johnson says: 

When the writer on the South wants characters for a story of 
domestic joy and content, and that cause life to run smoothly 
into a green old age - an age crowned with the glory of chil- 
dren's children - he can turn to old Huguenot life at Bor- 
deaux in Abbeville County. 

In the later eighteenth century wealthy families of 
Charleston kept open house. One merchant had "guests 
almost every day at one or more of the four meals." 
He had to entertain ship captains and the like. Per- 
haps Huguenot influence cherishing French usage had 
something to do with society standards. On the eve of 
the Revolution marriages were formal affairs requiring 
consultation of parents and guardians, and approbation 
of the family. 

132 Fisher. Men, fVomen, and Manners in Colonial Times, vol. ii, 207. 




As commonly in new countries so in the American 
South marriage was highly esteemed. The foundation 
was early laid for that conservatism that even yet char- 
acterizes southern marriage. 

The exigencies and opportunities of pioneer life op- 
erated to produce universal, early, and repeated mar- 
riage. The colonial maiden came into society and 
married with astonishing precocity. In seventeenth 
century Virginia if the father made a gift to his daugh- 
ter it was customary to insert a proviso in case she mar- 
ried before sixteen. In one clandestine marriage in 
Northhampton County the wife was not past her twelfth 
year. Chief Justice Marshall met and fell in love with 
his wife when she was fourteen and married her at six- 
teen. In North Carolina cheap lands and large fami- 
lies promoted early marriage of the children. Mar- 
riage at thirteen was not very unusual and at fifteen 
was most common. Doctor Brickell, who practised in 
North Carolina at Edenton about 173 1, wrote: "They 
marry generally very young, some at thirteen or four- 
teen, and she that continues unmarried until twenty, 
is reckoned a stale maid, which is a very indifferent 
character in that country." A colonial spinster of over 
twenty-five was regarded as a hopeless and confirmed 
old maid. 

Men also married at an early age. But marriage was 

246 The American Family - Colonial Period 

less essential to a man and some males began to see ad- 
vantages in single life. Colonial Maryland was marked 
• by the number of adult unmarried sons living at home. 
Bachelors, along with light wines and billiard tables, 
were taxed for the French war. There were many to 
pay the tax. Between 1755 and 1763 there were in the 
parish of St. Thomas thirty-nine recorded bachelors. 
St. Anne's parish vestry books show thirty-four bach- 
elors subject to the colony tax on unmarried men over 
twenty-five. The tax was scarcely heavy enough to 
promote marriage: five shillings on estates under three 
hundred pounds sterling and twenty shillings on larger 
estates. This burden was a small one compared to the 
cares of a household. 

It may be that celibacy indicated inability to meet 
the growing demands of luxury. The Abbe Robin at a 
later date says of Annapolis: "Female luxury here 
exceeds what is known in the provinces of France. A 
French hair-dresser is a man of importance, it is said a 
certain dame here, hires one of that craft at a thousand 
crowns a year salary." George Grieve, an Englishman, 
writing of the Revolutionary period, said: 

The rage for dress amongst the women in America, in the very 
height of the miseries of the war, was beyond all bounds; nor 
was it confined to the great towns, it prevailed equally on the 
sea-coasts, and in the woods and solitudes of the vast extent of 
country from Florida to New Hampshire. . . In travel- 
ling into the interior parts of Virginia I spent a delicious day 
at an inn, at the ferry of the Shenandoah . . . with the 
most engaging, accomplished and voluptuous girls, the daugh- 
ters of the landlord, a native of Boston transplanted thither; 
who with all the gifts of nature possessed the arts of dress not 
unworthy of Parisian milliners, and went regularly three times 
a week . . . seven miles, to attend the lessons of one De 
Grace, a French dancing master, who was making a fortune 
in the country. 

Southern Courtship and Marriage 247 

There is a suggestion that women, as well as men 
were supposed to be in danger of perverse neglect to 
marry. It must have been a feeling that unmarried . 
females were anomalous that led to the early Maryland 

That it may be prevented that noe woman here vow chastity 
in the world, unless she marry within seven years after land 
fall to her, she must either dispose away of hir land, or else 
she shall forfeite it to the next of kinne, and if she have but 
one manner, whereas she cannot alienate it, it is gonne unless 
she git a husband. 

Thomas Copley wrote to Lord Baltimore: 

To what purpose this ole law is maid your lorpe perhaps will 
see better than I for my part I see great dilficultys in it, but to 
what purpose I well see not. 

He must have been very obtuse in view of the fact that 
celibacy was out of place in a new country needing peo- 
ple. In 1642 there were four female householders 
numbered among taxable citizens. 

The precocity of colonial marriage allowed time for 
repetitions of the act. Many of the Virginia girls that 
married in childhood and assumed the burdens of fam- 
ily at so immature an age became broken in health and 
after bearing a dozen children died leaving their hus- 
bands to marry again and beget new broods perhaps as 
large as the first. On the eastern shore of Virginia in 
the seventeenth century it was not remarkable for a man 
to have three or four successive wives. There were in- 
stances of Virginians married six times. It is not un- 
usual to find a colonial dame that was married four 
times. Few conspicuous colonial men in Virginia, at 
least, lived beyond middle life; most died short of it. 
The malarial climate, exposure, and reckless habits cut 
them off. The young and attractive widows need not 

248 The American Family- Colonial Period 

remain long forlorn in a country with a preponderance 
of males, at least if the feminine charms were supple- 
mented by a fine plantation. Sometimes the relay was 
so close that the second husband was granted the pro- 
bate of the will of the first. In one case funeral baked 
meats furnished the marriage table. One husband left 
all the estate to his wife's children by her next marriage. 
Quickness of remarriage does not indicate callousness 
but rather the woman's need of protection on the plan- 
tation and of an overseer for the work.'^^ 

A noticeable feature of colonial Virginia was the 
belleship of widows. ^^* Maidens seem not to have been 
"in it." As we come toward the Revolution the widows 
still reign supreme. It may be that the larger social 
experience of the widows magnified their charms or 
made them more adept at handling bashful lovers. 
Washington belonged in this class if we may trust the 
sentimental poems that he wrote to the unknown maiden 
that he loved when he was fifteen. After several un- 
successful afifairs he probably was sufficiently experi- 
enced not to dally in his wooing of Mrs. Custis. Pat- 
rick Henry's father married a widow; so did Jefiferson 
and James Madison. 

The charms of a widow were likely to be largely 
economic. The second husband counted himself the 
real successor of the first, entitled to demand whatever 
was due to his predecessor. In 1692 the governor and 
council of Maryland were thus petitioned: 

James Brown of St. Mary's who married the widow . . . 
of Thomas Pew ... by his petition humbly prays allow- 

133 On remarriage, see Wise, Ye Kingdom of Accaiamacke, 319; Bruce, 
Social Life of Virgima in the Seventeenth Century, 224, 226; Barton, Vir- 
ginia Colonial Decisions, vol. i, 226. 

134 Goodwin. The Colonial Cavalier, 51; Earle. Colonial Dames and 
Goodivives, 34-39. 

Southern Courtship and Marriage 249 

ance for two years sallary due to his predecessor as publick 
post ... as also for the use of a horse, and the loss of a 
servant wholly, by the said Pew deputed in his sickness to offi- 
ciate; and ran clear away with his horse, some clothes, etc., and 
for several months after not heard of. 

Often seemingly insoluble tangles arose from the re- 
peated marriages of widows, often to widowers. Some- 
times, especially when three or more sets of children 
were involved, the labyrinth of property rights was a 

The colonists were naturally delighted with the high 
marriage rate. The South Carolina Gazette of March 
2, 1734 remarks: 

We have by the last advice from Purrysburg an account of the 
noble effects the climate of that colony has produced: there is 
six couples embarked thence for Savannah in Georgia to be 
joyned in the holy state of matrimony, and half a dozen pair 
more are preparing themselves for the same. 

In the early plantation of Maryland there was no , 
official wife market. Yet the trade was as brisk as in 
Virginia. Many of the women that came as servants 
to Maryland between 1634 and 1670 married well and' 
gained wealth and distinction. Thus "Helenor Steph- 
enson, who came out from England with Sir Edmund 
Plouden as his servant, was lawfully joined in matri- 
mony with Mr. Wm. Braithwaite of St. Marie's." 
Anne Bolton of St. Martin in the Fields was sold to 
Mr. Francis Brooke for his wife. These servants were 
often innocent country girls that had been kidnapped. ' 
Women that went to Maryland as servants had "the 
best luck in the world," they were courted as soon as 
they landed. "As for women," says Alsop (a redemp- 
tioner of 1658), "they no sooner arrive than they are 
besieged with offers of matrimony, husbands being 
ready soon for those whom nature had apparently 

250 The American Family - Colonial Period 

marked out and predestined for lives of single blessed- 

One of the most notable of the female immigrants 
was a niece of Daniel Defoe, who, crossed in love in 
England, ran away to America as a redemptioner. She 
afterwards married her owner's son. Governor Charles 
Calvert wrote to Lord Baltimore in 1672: "Before 
William Brooks died, he had a great inclination for a 
young woman here who is my servant to whom upon his 
death-bed he gave 3000^* of Tobacco." In the Sotweed 
Factor the author narrates a quarrel over cards, in 
which the planters' wives abuse each other. One says: 

Tho now so brave 

I knew you late a four years' slave, 

What if for planter's wife you go, 

Nature designed you for the hoe. 

A maid is represented as saying: 

Kidnapt and fooled, I hither fled. 
To shun a hated nuptial bed. 

To which is attached this note : "These are the general 
excuses made by English Women, which are sold, or 
sell themselves to Maryland." 

In numbers of cases sisters that came to Maryland as 
housekeepers for brothers soon found husbands. An 
act for pillory and ducking-stools exempted Baltimore 
and Talbot Counties "because they are not sufficiently 
settled." One wonders whether this exemption was 
• designed to attract women. But men, also, found in 
Maryland matches above their station. Many trans- 
ported persons and some servants had married within a 
few years, perhaps the daughters of councillors. 

Bullock advises English fathers to send daughters 
rather than sons to Virginia and promises that they 

Will receive instead of give portions for them. . . Maid 
servants of good honest stock may choose their husbands out 

Southern Courtship and Marriage 251 

of the better sort of people. Have sent over many but never • 
could keep one at my plantation three months except a poor filly 
wench made fit to foille to set of beauty and yet a proper young 
fellow served twelve months for her. [He tells men servants 
how they may prosper and lay up a competence] and then if he 
look to God, he may see himself fit to wed a good man's daugh- 

The author of Leah and Rachel says : 

If they are women that go . . . paying their own pas- 
sages, I advise them to sojourn in a house of honest repute, for 
by their good carriage, they may advance themselves in mar- 
riage, by their ill, overthrow their fortunes; and altho loose 
persons seldom live long unmarried if free, yet they match 
with as dissolute as themselves, and never live handsomely or 
are ever respected. 

The agent for Carolina wrote: 

Most of the West India settlements will not receive women 
convicts. If you resolve to send them to Carolina, I have a 
ship bound thither that will carry them at the usual rate. . . 
What reception they will find there I cannot say, tho it will be 
better than elsewhere. 

The agent of Massachusetts said that criminals would 
be willingly accepted in Virginia, Maryland, etc. 
Many of the women that came to America as servants 
had a shady past. But the continent had no very warm 
welcome for women convicts. As an inducement to 
migration to Carolina the following was written in 

If any maid or single woman have a desire to go over, they will 
think themselves in the golden age, when men paid a dowry for 
their wives; for if they be but civil, and under fifty years of 
age, some honest man or other, will purchase them for their 

The significance of the official stimulation of female 
migration is strikingly portrayed in the words of a 
Catawba chief who begged for the life of a white wo- 
man that had incited Cherokees to steal horses in Vir- 

252 The American Fainily -Colonial Period 

ginia. l^he chief said he was "always sorry to lose a 
woman ; that the loss of one woman might be the loss of 
many lives, because one woman might be the mother of 
many children." 

In 1738 a minister in Georgia wrote that it was a 
good time to send some unmarried women to Ebenezer. 
A letter of the Salzburgers at Ebenezer confirms the 
assertion. They would like to have 

Some unmarried Christian Salzburger women or other honest 
members of the female sex who it is hoped would not regret 
to marry here and likewise to establish an orderly household. 
Hitherto the young bachelors have endured much disorder in 
their dwellings rather than marry such persons in whom they 
did not discern the token of a genuine fear of God and an ex- 
ceptionally honest life. 

Of a supply of German servants it was stated: 

Those delivered Mr. Bolzins were families in which there were 
many unmarried young women, the congregation of Salzburgers 
desired they might be left there, there being many unmarried 
men and no unmarried women. (They believed that several 
would take them for wives. 

Again Oglethorpe wrote : 

The first measures for us as trustees to take is after support- 
ing religion to encourage marriage and the rearing up of chil- 
dren. Here are a great number of married people and yet 
their is now in this place only above 700 men more than there 
are women most of these would marry if they could get wives. 
The sending over single women without familys that could 
protect them might be attended with indecencys but the giving 
passage to the wives, sisters, and daughters of recruits, and a 
small maintenance till they go on board would be a remedy to 
this and much the cheapest way of peopling the country since 
after their arrival they are no further expense, for their hus- 
bands can maintain them. We have found out also that the 
married soldiers live easiest many of them having turned out 
very industrious planters. 

Of the city of the South, Charleston, on the eve of 

Southern Courtship and Marriage 253 

the Revolution, it is told that mesalliances sometimes 
occurred but were regarded with horror. One young 
lady wedded the coachman. An old servant stabbed 
the fellow to death. The unfortunate girl (said to have 
been weak-minded) and her child fell to a lower social 

The family pride of the South early grew into eco- 
nomic marriages or marriages determined by other 
social considerations. As early as 1655 while Virginia 
and Maryland were the only southern colonies fathers 
were giving portions with their daughters, "so that 
many coming out of England have raised themselves 
to good fortunes there merely by matching with maidens 
born in the country." 

In Maryland, 1679, Sara Ford, a Quakeress widow, 
leased land to a man on condition that "he provide and 
allow for her three children . . . lodging and 
washing, housing, apparel, meat and drink, for . . . 
seven whole years from date, and . . . that he will 
teach or cause to be taught, her said children to read 
and write according and so far as their capacitys will 
attain within the time and term aforesaid." He was 
so far in loco parentis that he probably thought he 
might as well go all the way. At any rate he married 
the widow. 

That Virginia was familiar with economic marriage 
is suggested by one wedding effusion with the verse 
"Here no sordid interest binds." The marriage settle- 
ment is illustrated in the following letters from Vir- 

May 27, 1764. 

Dear Sir: My son, Mr. John Walker, having informed me 
of his intention to pay his addresses to your daughter Eliza- 
beth, if he should be agreeable to yourself, lady, and daughter, 
it may not be amiss to inform you what I think myself able to 

254 The American Family - Colonial Period 

afford for their support in case of an union. My affairs are in 
an uncertain state; but I will promise one thousand pounds, to 
be paid in the year 1765, and one thousand pounds to be paid in 
the year 176D; and the further sum of two thousand pounds I 
promise to give him, but the uncertainty of my present affairs 
prevents my fixing on a time of payment - the above sums are 
all to be in money or lands and other effects at the option of 
my said son, John Walker. I am. Sir, j^our humble servant, 

John Walker. 
Col. Bernard Moore esq., in King William. 

May 28, 1764. 
Dear Sir: Your son, Mr. John Walker, applied to me for 
leave to make his addresses to my daughter Elizabeth. I gave 
him leave, and told him at the same time that my affairs were 
in such a state that it was not in my power to pay him all the 
money this year that I intended to give my daughter, provided 
he succeeded ; but would give him five hundred pounds next 
spring, and five hundred pounds more as soon as I could raise 
or get the money; which sums, you may depend, I will most 
punctually pay to him. I am, sir, your obedient servant, 

Bernard Moore. 

George Washington had given thought to marriage 
conventionalities for he wrote: 

I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event 
of one's life, the foundation of happiness or misery. To be 
instrumental therefore in bringing two people together, w^ho are 
indifferent to each other, and may soon become objects of dis- 
gust, or to prevent a union which is prompted by affection of 
the mind, is what I never could reconcile with reason. 

A North Carolina illustration of the mercenary in- 
terest in marriage is contained in a letter written in 
1762 by a gentleman in that colony to a friend in Mary- 
land. The old governor, aged seventy-eight, had fallen 
in love with a girl of fifteen of good family and for- 
tune. Her parents persuaded her to marry the govern- 
or tho she reciprocated the love of a certain youth. But 
the governor signed away all his property to his son. 

Southern Courtship and Marriage 255 

The girl's friends found out this calamity and she mar- 
ried the youth. When the governor came he was full 
of rage. 

In South Carolina, eighteenth century marriage no- 
tices often mentioned "a large fortune" as one of the 
lady's qualifications."^ In Charleston on the eve of the 
Revolution marriages were preceded by settlements 

duly drawn. "So-and-so to Miss , a most amiable 

young lady with £10,000 to her fortune" was a very- 
common form of marriage notice. Some notices were 
more elaborate. 

In the southern colonies notwithstanding the eco- 
nomic forces sentiment seems to have figured more 
largely in marriage alliances than in New York and 
New England. Women's interests were guarded. In 
the making of marriages it seems to have been assumed 
as a matter of course that the widow would be left in 
possession of everything as the custodian of the chil- 

The marriage contract was as common in seventeenth 
century Virginia as it was in England. Some of these 
agreements reserved to the woman her entire property. 
Such was perhaps, always the case when the bride-to-be 
was a widow with children whose first husband had left 
her his estate in fee simple. In a marriage contract be- 
tween John Hirsch and Elizabeth Alford, of Lower 
Norfolk County, 1675, it was provided that the hus- 
band should not "meddle" with his wife's property and 
that she should be fully authorized to manage and sell 
it. She retained also the right to the proceeds of such 
goods as she should export. She also reserved the right 
to bequeath her estate as she chose. In a bond of 1750 

13^ Salley. Marriage Notices in the South Carolina Gazette and its Suc- 
cessors, 8 ff; Ravenel. Charleston, the Place and the People, 165-166. 

256 The Ajuerican Family -Colonial Period 

the groom and his guardian gave security of fifty 
pounds that the marriage would take place if there was 
no lawful impediment. 

Seventeenth century Virginia records at least one in- 
stance where a woman contracted not to marry any one 
but the other party to the pact tho apparently not pledg- 
ing herself absolutely to him. Sarah Harrison, after 
"cordially promising" thus, married another man. And 
to increase the flagrancy of her wantonness she persist- 
ently refused in the marriage service to pledge herself 
to "obey." She was married without that promise. 

Colonial courtship was no simple matter. Alsop 
said of Maryland in 1666: 

He that intends to court a Maryland girl must have something 
more than the tautologies of a longwinded speech to carry on 
his design, or else he may (for ought I know) fall under the 
contempt of her frown. 

One Maryland cavalier that tarried too long making 
an impression, as he thought, on a fair damsel found 
that she had thoroly whitewashed his black charger 
during his stay. One maiden that threw her suitor's 
hat into the fire saw him fling her bonnet after it and 
ultimately capitulated. The colonial records of 1657 
show a courtship agreement in which a man undertook 
to leave his stepdaughter at a certain man's house where 
her expenses were to be paid by a young man who was 
to have the privilege of courting her there in order to 
settle a difficulty about a promise of marriage alleged 
to have been made by her and a rape committed by him 
on her. 

A writer on colonial Culpepper County, Virginia, 
remarks that young people did not make love till their 
fathers had arranged the preliminaries. Virginia vouths 
prosecuted their love afifairs in fine style. They took up 

Southern Courtship and Marriage 257 

the quest on their good steeds. The poetic souls wrote 
love verses to their charmers and published them in the 
Virginia Gazette. 

The ruffianly Governor Nicholson proceeded other- 
wise. In a right Oriental manner he demanded the 
hand of a young girl and finding no favor with her or 
her parents threatened the lives of father and mother 
"with mad furious distracted speech." The brother of 
Commissary Blair was a would-be suitor. His excel- 
lency assailed Blair insanely: "Sir, your brother is a 
villain, and you have betrayed me;" and he swore re- 
venge on the whole family. He vowed that if the girl 
married any rival he would cut the throat of bride- 
groom, minister, and justice that issued the license. 

A Staunton man in 1764 set about courtship more dis- 
creetly. He wrote: 

I intend to call . . . when down that I may no longer 
worship a shadow but either banish the idol or admire the fair, 
therefore must request you to let me know by the first con- 
veyance the name of the charmer and whether the elder or the 
younger of the two sisters that bears the amiable character 
of being the most worthy of her sex, I shall likewise reconnoitre 
the fair enthusiast on this side of the stream, and by the assist- 
ance of our mutual friend Joel perhaps I may know how far my 
addresses there w^ould be agreeable. 

In South Carolina at the end of the seventeenth cen- 
tury young girls received beaus at three o'clock expect- 
ing them to leave about six as many families retired at 
seven in winter and seldom sat up in summer beyond 
eight. It is hard to realize how different life must 
have been when artificial lights were almost negligible 
and screen wire was unknown. It may be that the 
usage described belonged as did its narrator in the 
Puritan group, which was ridiculed by the neighbors. 

John Wesley in Georgia became entangled in the 

2^8 The American Family -Colonial Period 

web of love. He was charmed by a designing damsel; 
but, warned by his friends and the Moravians, broke 
the engagement. Within eight days she married an- 
other man. Then came the famous episode of scandal 
to which reference will be made later. 
A colonial traveler wrote thus: 

Young women are affable with young men in America, and mar- 
ried women are reserved, and their husbands are not as famil- 
iar with the girls as they were when bachelors. If a young 
man were to take it into his head that his betrothed should not 
be free and gay in her social intercourse, he would run the risk 
of being discarded, incur the reputation of jealousy, and would 
find it very difficult to get married. Yet if a single woman 
were to play the coquette, she would be regarded with con- 
tempt. As this innocent freedom between the sexes diminishes 
in proportion as society loses its purity and simplicity of man- 
ners, as is the case in cities, I desire sincerely that our good 
Virginia ladies may long retain their liberty entire. 




Owing to the presence of various sects and national- 
ities in the colonial South, marriage came under vary- 
ing control. 

Church of England bigotry is most conspicuous in 
Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. In Virginia 
throughout the colonial period the ceremonial of the 
Church of England was prescribed by law. In Mary- 
land Episcopal reaction gradually abrogated optional 
civil marriage, which had been allowed under the Cath- 
olic proprietors, and finally in 1777 saddled upon the 
people compulsory ecclesiastical marriage which con- 
tinued to prevail there through the national period. In 
North Carolina initial tolerance was similarly abro- 
gated during the colonial period. In the two southern- 
most colonies Episcopal rites were established by law 
but free civil or religious celebration worked itself in. 

The intolerance exhibited by the state church in this 
particular was directly and indirectly an economic phe- 
nomenon. It was due to clerical eagerness for mar- 
riage fees and to the desire to fortify the prestige of the 
established church, that mossy prop of an outworn 
social order, destined to recede before the non-conform- 
ist churches of capitalism. Stalwart non-conformists 
or Catholics sharply fought or defiantly ignored its 
marriage requirements even at the risk of illegitimacy. 

How crassly material was the spirit that prompted 

260 The American Family -Colonial Period 

the ecclesiastical bigotry is evident from the frequently 
low character of the clergy of the establishment. The 
Episcopal church in Maryland was a disgrace and 
"Maryland parson" was an epithet of contempt. "They 
extorted marriage fees from the poor by breaking off in 
the middle of the service, and refusing to continue until 
they were paid." In Virginia there was a penalty for 
exacting more than the legal fee for marriage or banns. 

Ecclesiastical control of the sort described was a tem- 
porary anachronism. Save in Maryland, the civil cere- 
mony was recognized, tho with restrictions. Marriage 
was already a civil contract. 

Some idea of the strictness with which the law hedged 
the entrance to matrimony may be gained from the fol- 
lowing excerpts from colonial laws and citations of 
colonial incidents. 

In Maryland in 1638 a couple was married by license 
under bond that the man was not precontracted and that 
no lawful impediment existed. Many like bonds have 
been preserved. The 1640 act on marriage ordained 

No partie may solemnize marriage with any woman afore the 
banes three days before published in some chappell or other 
place of the county where public instnts are used to be notified 
or else afore oath made and caution entred in the county court 
that neither partie is apprentice or ward or precontracted or 
within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity or under gov- 
ermt, of parents or tutors and certificate of such oath and cau- 
tion taken from the judge or register of the court upon paine 
of fine and recompense to the parties aggrieved. 

The act of 1658 enforced banns in all cases. In 1662 a 
new act was aimed against clandestine marriages. The 
option of governor's or lieutenant-general's license in- 
stead of banns is allowed in this act. One hundred 

Solemnization of Marriage in the South 261 

pounds of tobacco was fixed as the legal marriage fee. 
By 1673 Maryland had become the haven for runaway 
Virginia couples. The Pocomoke boundary lured 
many eastern shore Virginians for whom love did not 
run smooth at home. The Virginia assembly of 1673 
initiated negotiations with the neighboring government 
in respect to this evil. A Maryland proclamation of 
1685 notes that 

Severall great damages and Inconveniences have and doe daily 
happen by the private and clandestine marrying of strangers 
and others comeing into this province from Virginia, and other 
neighboring parts, to the greate irreparable griefe trouble and 
disquiett of the parents and guardians, overseers, masters or 
dames . . . and also to the great dishonor of and re- 
flection upon the government. 

Marriage to strangers from Virginia, etc., without • 
Maryland license was accordingly prohibited. 

In 1 75 1 a former teacher came to Frederick in the 
role of a minister. His right to the title was disputed 
and the rector applied for an injunction to prevent him 
from solemnizing marriage. The court did not grant it 
but told the person in question to marry none but 

The Maryland colony passed an act requiring the ^ 
registration of marriages, births, and burials with pen- 
alty for infringement. The law was no doubt subject to 
neglect. In All Saints Parish in 1742 it was ordered 
that a notice be posted at the church door to inform the 
parishioners to come forthwith "and have all former and 
future births, marriages, and burials put on the parish 
records or they will be prosecuted as the law directs." 

Marriage was highly esteemed in Maryland. In one . 
locality after marriage the bridal party was often con- 

136 Society for History of Germans in Maryland. Sixth Annual Report, 20. 

262 The American Family - Colonial Period 

veyed from place to place to be entertained by everyone 
before settling down at home.^^^ 

In Virginia the earliest statutes show a notable ad- 
vance over the custom of the motherland. The admin- 
istration of marriage law was gradually instrusted to 
lay tribunals. Moreover marriage began to be hedged 
by statute and was no longer left to the hazards of cus- 
tom. Banns or license, parental consent, certificate, and 
registration were presently introduced. Marriage be- 
came substantially a civil contract long before the law 
avowed such a purport. 

An act of the Commonwealth period shows that min- 
isters had ignored the law in respect to license or banns 
and a heavy penalty is attached to such misconduct in 
the future. The first act of the Restoration requires 
license or 

Thrice publication according to the prescription of the rubric 
in the common prayer booke, which injoynes that if the persons 
to be marryed dwell in severall parishes the banes must be 
asked in both parishes, and that the curate of one parish shall 
not solemnize the matrimony untill he have a certificate from 
the curate of the other parish, that the banes have been there 
thrice published and noe objection made. 

There seems to have been difficulty in enforcing the 
legal restrictions on marriage. A proclamation was is- 
sued in 1672 under which it was declared that the cere- 
mony was to be invalid unless attended by license or 

A law of 1 66 1 exhibits the folly of allowing to the 
governor the perquisite of license granting as a source 
of income. "Whereas many times lycences are granted 
and the persons are marryed out of the parishes, which 
lycences have been usually granted by the governor, 
whose knowledge of persons cannot possibly extend 

i37Ridgely. The Old Brick Churches of Maryland, 109-uo. 

Solemnization of Marriage in the South 263 

over the whole country," therefore persons desiring to 
be married by license must give bond that there is no 
lawful impediment. The clerk will then write the li- 
cense which will be signed by a justice or by a deputy 
of the governor. Marriage bonds were sometimes 
signed by the bridegroom and a friend but in numerous 
cases it appears that only the friends signed. This form 
of marriage must have been a rather aristocratic lux- 
ury. Banns were cheaper. Sometimes the would-be 
bridegroom posted at the court-house door a notice of 
his purpose of marriage. The act of 1705 requires 
bond in all cases and requires parental consent only in 
the case of minors. 

In 1662 a prominent citizen eloped with a twelve- 
year-old heiress from a conspicuous eastern shore fam- 
ily while she was staying at the home of Captain Jones 
receiving education. The couple fled across the bay in 
a sailboat to a place where they were not known. In 
1696 an ''act for the prevention of clandestine mar- 
riages" was passed. According to it "many great and 
grievous mischeifes have arisen and dayly doe arise 
by clandestine and secret marriages to the utter ruin 
of many heirs and heiresses" and "the laws now in 
force ... do inflict too small a punishment for so 
heinous and great an ofifence." A minister ignoring 
banns or license is hereafter to be imprisoned "for one 
whole year without bayle or mainprize and shall for- 
feitt and pay the sume of" five hundred pounds, half of 
which goes to the informer. A girl between twelve and 
sixteen contracting irregular marriage forfeits during 
coverture her inheritance to the next of kin. If wid- 
owed she regains the inheritance or it goes to those that 
should have been entitled to it "in case this act had 
never been made." The act of 1705 declares that if any 

264 The American Family -Colonial Period 

minister, contrary to the spirit of the law, leaves the 
colony and marries Virginians without license or pub- 
lication, the penalty shall be the same as if the offence 
had been committed in the province. 

The minister of every parish was required to keep a 
book and in it to register every christening, wedding, 
and burial. The church wardens and ministers had 
the duty of making an annual return to the quarter 
court of all marriages occurring. The act of 1642 re- 
quired that the report be made to the "commander of 
every monethly court." The Proclamation of 1672 re- 
quired the return of licenses (at least in certain cases) 
to Jamestown for final record. When Williamsburg 
became the capital returns of registration were to be 
made thither. 

Marriages within the "levitical degrees prohibited 
by the laws of England" were forbidden. Offenders 
were subject to separation and the children were ille- 
gitimate. Fines might be imposed at discretion of the 
court. There were cases of proposed or actual mar- 
riage contrary to the prohibition. All dispensations of 
Rome were voided in the colony .^^® 

Virginia laws did not attempt to regulate courtship 
. and "sinful dalliance" in New England fashion. But 
Wyatt, one of the early governors, issued a proclama- 
tion aimed chiefly at women forbidding them to con- 
tract to two men at once, for 

Women are yet scarce and in much request, and this offence has 
become very common, whereby great disquiet arose between par- 
ties, and no small trouble to the government. . , [Such 
conduct must cease and] every minister should give notice in 
his church that what man or woman soever should use any 
word or speech tending to a contract of marriage to two sev- 
eral persons at one time ... as might entangle or breed 

138 Barton. Virginia Colonial Decisions, vol. i, R 55. 

Solemnization of Marriage in the South 265 

scruples in their consciences, should, for such their offence, 
either undergo corporal correction, or be punished by fine or 
otherwise, according to . . . quality of the person so of- 

There is no proof that any maid was ever thus cor- 
porally corrected ; but a man was whipped for engaging 
to two women at once. 

William and Mary College in colonial days had a 
regulation on the subject of marriage of faculty mem- 
bers. Certain professors were bent on marrying. Com- 
plaint is made that two have "lately married and taken 
up their residence" out of bounds whereby they are in- 
capacitated for attending to their duties. Accordingly 
"all professors and masters hereafter to be appointed" 
are subject to the condition that upon marriage "his 
professorship be immediately vacated." It was doubt- 
less not with the same intent that the Assembly at the 
beginning of the Revolution laid a tax of forty shillings 
on each marriage license. The plebeian banns were 
still available. 

Marriage notices in the Virginia Gazette at the time 
of the Revolution are accompanied by a few verses. 
Also the papers might be used to prevent marriage. 
An advertisement of the later eighteenth century warns 
all ministers from marrying a youth "as he is under 
age, and this shall indemnify them for so doing." 

A Virginia wedding was a notable event involving 
much ceremony and great preparations and engaging 
the attention of the neighborhood. The long journeys 
of guests and the scarcity of social contacts in early days 
demanded in the wedding a great event. The occasion 
seems to have been, in the first century of the colony, 
one of hilarious abandon. In the early days the ccre- 

^39 Cooke. Virginia, 149. 

266 The American Family -Colonial Period 

mony seems to have been heralded by a lively fusillade 
but this serious waste of powder was restricted if not 
forbidden in years when the Indians were menacing. 
In 1656 we find this item : "Mr. Bushrod what do you 
mean by suffering your tobacco to run up so high? 
Why do you not topp itt?" "Because my overseer has 
gone to a wxddinge without my consent, and I know not 
how to help it." In 1666 when a Dutch man-of-war 
ravaged the shipping the guard-ship was practically 
useless because the captain was ashore at a wedding. 

Seemingly it was not always customary for the groom 
to procure the wedding ring. In 1655 M^*- H- West- 
gate left a hogshead of tobacco to purchase two wed- 
ding rings for his daughters. The rings were bought 
in England. In the later years of the colony when 
there was a greater supply of clergy the bride had the 
choice of the officiating priest. 

North Carolina made provision for license, banns, 
and registration. The stipend for licenses was a lucra- 
tive perquisite for the governor. Royal instructions in 
1730 to the governor declare: 

To the end ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Bishop of London 
may take place in that our province so far as may be we do 
think fit that j^ou give all countenance and encouragement to 
the exercise of the same excepting only the collating the bene- 
fices granting licenses for marriages and probate of v^^iUs which 
we have reserved to you our governor and to the commander 
in chief of our said province for the time being as far as by law 
we may. 

There is recorded an objection of Governor Tryon to 
court clerks' issuing of licenses save on his blank. He 
wanted the emolument. 

In 1715 it was enacted that the "inhabitants and free- 
men of each precinct" are to elect three freeholders, 

Solemnization of Marriage in the South 267 

one of whom the governor or commander-in-chief is to 
choose as register of deeds. Until there be a clerk of 
the parish church the register is to record betrothals 
and marriages. Every "master or mistress of a family 
who shall neglect to register the birth or death of any 
person born or dying within his or her house or planta- 
tion; and every married man who shall neglect to remit 
to the said register a certificate of his marriage and 
cause the same to be registered, for longer than one 
month" must pay a shilling a month for the delay, total 
not to exceed twenty shillings. One act for the govern- 
ment of Carolina provided that births, christenings, 
marriages, and burials were to be registered in each 
parish (except in case of negroes, mulattoes, and Indian 
slaves). Any person reasonably desiring was to have 
access to such records. Royal instructions in 1730 re- 
quired the governor to keep account of births, deaths, 
and burials. An act of 1748 fixed fees for registry and 
certificate of births, burials, and marriage and imposed 
a penalty for refusal to render the service at that price 
or for charging more. 

The following Carolina episode of 1713 savors of 
New England: 

Whereas we are informed by the Rev. Mr. John Urmston that 
Mr. Richard French have and doe take upon him to administer 
ye holy sacrt. of baptisme and to marry persons without being 
duly qualified for the same, it is ordered by this board that the 
provost marshall doe sumons ye said Richard French to appeare 
at ye next councill to be holden at Capt. Hecklefield on the 
3d day of the next genii court to answer to ye said compit and 
that he forbid ye said French to marry or baptize any persons in 
ye meanwhile. 

South Carolina early had provision for registration 
of marriage. The act of 1704 required registration of 

268 The American Family - Colonial Period 

births, christenings, marriages, and burials, except those 
of "negroes, Mullatoes, and Indian slaves" and pre- 
scribed a fine for wedding contrary to the table of for- 
bidden degrees. 

In Maryland the Quakers were strong and practiced 
their usual rites. The question of marriage, involving 
legitimacy and inheritance, early was a serious one for 
them. They exercised great caution with a view to pre- 
venting the union of persons that already had partners 
in the old country. They required two or three appli- 
cations to the meetings so as to secure publicity and 
avoid anything "contrary to the order of truth" or that 
might bring discredit. A proposal of marriage in 1678 
is recorded as follows: 

Obadiah Judkins and Obedience Jenner, acquainted this meet- 
ing, and also the women's meeting, with their intentions of com- 
ing together as husband and wife, according to the order of 
truth; now inasmuch as the young woman is but lately come 
forth of England, and Friends noe certaine knowledge of her, 
the advice of the men's and women's meeting is that they for- 
beare, and proceed noe further till certificate be procured out of 
England from the meeting where she last belonged unto, of her 
being cleere from others, and as to the manner of her life and 
conversation, that so the truth may be kept cleere in all things; 
both the partys being willing to submit to the same, and also to 
live apart in the mean time. 

It was not unusual to appoint a committee to inquire as 
to the freedom of the parties. Too many immigrants 
to Maryland had deserted their lawful spouses; hence 
the precautions of the Friends were quite in order. 

A list of queries adopted by the yearly meeting of 
1725 to be answered by lower meetings includes the fol- 

Is care taken and Friends advised that none too nearly (re- 
lated) proceed in collateral marriages, and that none marry 

Solemnization of Marriage in the South 269 

within the third degree of affinity and the fourth degree of 

The Friends were especially disquieted by marriages 
of members with outsiders and by hasty marriage with- 
out formal publication of the banns as also by an attend- 
ant evil -the marriage of children by priests and 
magistrates. William Dixon informs the meeting 
That his daughter-in-law [probably stepdaughter] is stole away 
and married by a priest in the night, contrary to his and his 
wife's minds; that he has opposed the same and refused to pay 
her portion, for which he is cited to appear before the com- 
missary general, and now he desires to know whether the meet- 
ing would stand by him, if he should sue the priest that married 
her. The meeting assents. 

Nothing seems to have distressed the Friends in Talbot 
more than "outgoings" in marriage. To be married 
with a license by a magistrate or by a "hireling priest" 
was a reprehensible abomination. One Church of Eng- 
land minister was specially obnoxious on account of 
such services. At a meeting in 1681 a committee ap- 
pointed to wait on the lord proprietary "concerning 
Friends children being taken away from them and mar- 
ried by the priest without their consent or knowledge" 
reported "that they were treated very civilly" by the 
proprietor, who said "that for the future he would take 
care in all his counties that the like should be pre- 
vented." The evil continued. A quarterly meeting in 
1688 recommended the disinheritance of disobedient 
children. The yearly meeting confirmed this position 
and recommended that "priests or magistrates that do 
marry Friends children without their parents or guar- 
dians consent should be prosecuted." 

The Labadists, who had a colony in Maryland, were 
in some respects similar to the Friends. They were 

270 The American Family -Colonial Period 

stringent on the subject of intermarriage with gentiles. 

A convert to the society was expected to abandon his un- 

regenerate spouse when he entered the fold."° 
The Virginia Quakers exercised oversight like that 

of their Maryland brethren. A typical document is as 

follows : 

This is to certify the truth to all people that A.B. son of R.S., 
and CD. daughter of J.S. haveing intentions of marriage ac- 
cording to the ordinance of God and his joyning did lay it before 
the men and weomans meeting, before whom their marriage 
was propounded, and then the meeting desired them to waight 
for a time, and so they enquireing betwixt the time wheather the 
man was free from all other weomen, and shee free from all 
other men, so the second time they coming before the man and 
weomans' meeting, all things being cleare, a meeting of the 
people of God was appointed for that purpose, wheare they 
tooke one another in the house of W.L. and in the presence of 
God and in the presence of us his people according to the law 
of God and the practis of the holly men of God in the scrip- 
tures of truth and they theare promising before God and us his 
people to live faithfully togeather man and wife as long as they 
live, according to Gods honorable mariage, they theare setting 

both their hands unto it the day of in the yeare . 

and wee are witnesses of the same whose names are heareunto 

Parental consent is certified in the following document: 

This may sattisfie friends that I have given my consent to 
Moses Hall as concerning marriage with my daughter Margrett 
Duke as witness my hand this 7 day of the 1 1 mo 1707. Thom- 
as Duke Senior. 

Other records are as follows : 

Margaret Tabbarer states in a paper sent to the meeting that 
her daughter had been married to a young man by a Priest, 
and expresses her sorrow that she has married that way. 
Tho: Hollowell and Alic his wife desire that their testimony 

1*0 Howard. History of Matrimonial Institutions, vol. ii, 245, footnote 2. 

Solemnization of Marriage in the South 271 

be recorded against their childrens unlawful behavior in being 
married by Priests. 

Daniel Sanbourn on behalf of the men's meeting in 
Chuckatuck signed on "the eight day of the 3 mo in the 
yeare 1701" a certificate of disownment against "Tho 
Duke" for "marrying one that was not of us and lick- 
wise goeing to the hireling priest." There are other 
protests and references to disorderly marriage. 

The North Carolina records contain several instances 
of the control exercised by the Friends over the mar- 
riage of their members. In this colony also, Friends 
gave two notices of intended marriage and we find note 
of two men appointed "to enquire into his life and con- 
versation and clearness in respect of marriage." In one 
locality a man's not having paid his debts would lead 
Quakers to refuse his request of marriage. 

In Virginia there was to be no marriage of servants 
without certificate of master's consent. 

Servants procuring ymselves to be married without consent of 
their Masters shall serve a year and if any being free shall 
secretly marry wth a servant he or she shall pay ye mr. of ye 
Servt 1500 lb. tobo, or a years service and ye Servt shall serve 
ye vi^hole time and a year after.^*^ 

In Maryland free persons and servants were prohib- 
ited from marrying without the express approval of 
master or mistress. The General Assembly of 1777 
passed an act prohibiting ministers, under penalty of 
fifty pounds, from marrying a free person and a servant 
without consent of master or mistress. 

A North Carolina statute forbade any one, under 
penalty of five pounds to be paid to the master, to marry 
servants without the written consent of the master. All 

^*i Cooke. Firffinia, 122-123 ; Virginia Magazine of History and Biogra- 
phy, vol. X, "Abridgement of Laws of Virginia, 1694," 145-146. 

272 The American Family - Colonial Period 

servants so married were to serve one year extra. Prob- 
ably many masters used their power to prevent the mar- 
riage of servant women. This embargo must have in- 
creased the number of unlawful unions. Baptists seem 
to have considered it a hardship. Just before the Revo- 
lution the Kehukee Association declared marriages not 
made according to law to be binding before God and 
that it was not lawful to fellowship a member that 
broke the marriage of servants. 



Southern "chivalry" does not date back to the begin- 
nings of the South. It took time for the softening in- 
fluences of the genial climate and the feudalizing trend 
of the broad expanse to prevail. Seventeenth century . 
Virginia was bourgeois rather than knightly. Like 
their New England compeers, the founders of the Old 
Dominion were prosaic and practical. The economic 
interest dominated and left little room for sentiment. ' 
Women fared like contemporary English women of the 
middle class. Their lot was domestic, commonplace, , 
subordinate. The early Virginians prepared the duck- 
ing stool for gossiping women. At an early day Betsey 
Tucker was ducked for making her husband's house 
and the neighborhood uncomfortable by her violent 
tongue. In 1662 the Assembly passed an act to the 
effect that wives that brought judgment on their hus- 
bands for slander should be punished by ducking. 
Bacon captured wives of loyalists and notified their hus- 
bands, who were with the governor, that he intended to 
place the ladies in front of his men in the line of battle. 
This was no empty threat and the "Apron Brigade'' 
saved him from the fire of the governor's guns. The 
man that was thus guilty (as Colonel Ludwell put it) 
of "ravishing of women from their homes and hurrying 
them about the country in their rude camps" was a 
wealthy planter. Nor was His Excellency more chiv- 
alrous. Governor Berkeley spurned with vile insult 

274 The American Family -Colonial Period 

a woman begging for her husband's pardon for his part 
in the insurrection. We find record also of a rude in- 
sult to a lady of a leading family from a Virginia colo- 
nel, member of another leading family. 

Some little feeling for womanhood is indeed mani- 
fested in the case of Grace Sherwood who in 1706 on 
suspicion of witchcraft was examined by a jury of 
women who reported her "neither like them, nor any 
other woman they knew of." She was fortunate in not 
coming under the Massachusetts law authorizing ex- 
amination by a male "witch pricker" but she was ducked 
as a suspected witch. On the whole her experience is 
scarcely an exhibit of chivalry."^ 

The accounts that Colonel Byrd gives of his visits to 
Virginia homes show sufficiently the attitude toward 
women in the middle of the eighteenth century. "We 
supped about nine and then prattled with the ladies." 
"Our conversation with the ladies was like whip-sylla- 
bub, very pretty but nothing in it." He jokes rather 
coarsely about Miss Thekky's lamentable maiden state 
and refers to Mrs. Chiswell as "one of those absolute 
rarities, a very good old woman." Another man wrote 
of the Virginia women : 

Most of the women are quite pretty and insinuating in their 
manner if they find you so. When you ask them if they would 
like to have husbands they reply with a good grace that it is just 
what they desire. 

A young Virginia lady writes: 

Hannah and myself were going to take a long walk this even- 
ing but were prevented by the two horrid mortals Mr. Pinkard 
and Mr. Washington, who siezed and kissed me a dozen times 
in spite of all the resistance I could make. They really think, 
now they are married, they are prevaliged to do anything. . . 

1*2 See Wertenbaker, Patrician and Plebeian in Virginia, 82-87 1 Forrest, 
Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk, Virginia, 464-465. 

Woman's Place in the South 275 

While we were eating the apple-pye in bed - God bless j^ou, 
making a great noise - in came Mr. Washington dressed in 
Hannah's short gown and peticoat, and seazed me and kissed 
me twenty times in spite of all the resistance I could make; 
and then Cousin Molly. 

Evidently women had reached by this time the status of , 


It was out of such perspectives as those detailed that 

"chivalry" arose. By the time of the Revolution there 

was sufficient recrudescence of feudalism to cause an 

atavic reversion to chivalric standards. 

The Virginia gentleman [says Wertenbaker] taught by the 
experience of many years, was beginning to understand aright 
the reverence due the nobleness, the purity, the gentleness of 
woman. He was learning to accord to his wife the unstinted 
and sincere homage that her character deserved. 

But as we trace the later history of sex morals in the 
South it will become glaringly apparent what a ve- 
neered mockery was this boasted southern chivalry. 

The domestic life of women on the old plantations ^ 
must have been rather monotonous. According to trav- 
elers' descriptions they did not share largely in the 
diversions of the men. The subordination of woman is 
illustrated in various ways. Her husband was respon- * 
sible for her behavior. Thus in a Virginia witch case 
the husband was under bond on his wife's account and 
upon her acquittal the bond was cancelled. The min- 
utes of the council at Wilmington, North Carolina, 
August 31, 1753 contain the following: 

Read the petition of Wm. Barns setting forth that his wife 
having during his absence retailed liquors contrary to law a 
bill of indictment had been found against him in the county 
court of New Hanover and that he being poor as well as in- 
nocent of the said crime prayed that a nolle prosequi might be 
entered in his behalf. , . Attorney general was ordered to 
enter a nolle prosequi. 

276 The American Family -Colonial Period 

The early Baptists in North Carolina met the penalty 
of too great liberality to women when a regular Bap- 
tist preacher in South Carolina refused to assist at an 
ordination and rebuked them for letting women pray in 
public. The minutes of one Baptist association for 
1 77 1 record that it was not lawful for a woman to vote 
in conference. 

The subjection of women was of course coupled with 
a legal claim on their part upon the property of the 
husband and a natural hold on the husband's considera- 
tion. The first will in Maryland, dated in the year 
1638, is that of William Smith in which he leaves all 
his goods to his wife. In North Carolina, 

Elizabeth Bateman widdow . . , of . . . Jon. Bate- 
man declining her legacy given in . . . will and craving 
to have her third of her deceased husband's estate. Ordered 
that . . . said Elizabeth Bateman have her third. 

In Virginia in the case of Brent vs. Brent the husband 
was a terrible fellow. The wife was allowed a separate 
maintenance, being ill-treated, and he was to be ar- 
rested for seditious words. At the general court of 
Carolina, 1695, ''John Wilson acknowledged his assign- 
ment of a warrant of right to Wm. Duckenfield Esqr. 
and Marget his wife relinquisheth her right of dower." 
In Georgia the wife's consent had to be secured to the 
alienation of lands in which she had an interest. Thus 
there was a certain technical protection for woman that 
did in a measure assure her property rights but from 
the standpoint of equity no amount of legal standing 
could ofTfset the cancellation of personality. 

Yet tho colonial usage kept woman in retirement, the 
colonial South had notable women that vied with their 
assertive sisters of the North in the world of affairs. 
There was no marked difference between the sections 

Woman's Place in the South 277 

in the extent to which women took up independent ca- 
reers, or assumed responsibilities beyond housewifery. 

Maryland women of the middle of the seventeenth 
century must have possessed executive ability and intel- * 
ligence; for the keen pioneers generally appointed their 
wives, or if unmarried their sisters, as executors of their 
wills. The Assembly of 1671 decided that in case of in- 
testacy the wife should be administrator if the husband 
had left no directions. 

The first seventeenth century business woman in 
Maryland, and possibly in America, received a license 
from the assembly to establish a printing press at An- 
napolis to print official papers. This lady could not 
write. Verlinda Stone was a woman of force and cour- 
age. She wrote to Lord Baltimore demanding an in- 
vestigation of a fight in which her husband was wound- 
ed. The letter was sufficiently business-like but ends 
vehemently. Captain Cornwallis refers to the wife of 
Commissioner Hawley 

Who by her comportment in these difficult affairs of her hus- 
band's hath manifested as much virtue and discretion as can 
be expected from the sex she ones whose industrious house- 
wifery hath so adorned this desert, that should his discourage- 
ments force him to withdraw himself and her, it would not a 
little eclipse the glory of Maryland. 

Margaret Brent administered Leonard Calvert's estate. 
She never married. In 1658 she testified that "Thos. 
White, lately deceased, out of the tender love and affec- 
tion he bore the petitioner, intended if he had lived to 
have married her, and did by his last will and testa- 
ment" leave her "his whole estate." She asserted her 
right to vote in official capacity as Calvert's successor . 
and she conducted the colony through a dangerous situ- 
ation with ability and patience. In colonial NLiryland 

2/8 The American Family -Colonial Period 

women began to function in public service as keepers of 
ordinaries and ferries. During the Revolution a woman 
was postmistress of Baltimore. 

In Virginia, also, women showed strength and abil- 
ity. "Mrs. Procter, a proper civil, modest gentle- 
woman" defended herself and family for a month after 
the massacre. "Lady Temperance Yeardly came on 
November i6, 1627 to . . . Jamestown and con- 
firmed the conveyance made by her late husband . . . 
late governor ... to Abraham Percy." James 
Clayton writing as early as 1688 of "Observables" in 
Virginia mentions several "acute ingenious gentle- 
women" who operated thriving tobacco plantations, 
draining swamps, raising cattle, buying slaves. One 
near Jamestown was a fig-grower. 

In South Carolina women took an active part in all 
sorts of affairs and seem to have enjoyed a certain stand- 
ing not gained by women elsewhere in the colonies. 
The men often had to be absent and it was not uncom- 
mon for a woman to be alone for several months in 
charge of a great plantation with hundreds of slaves 
with no white man to assist her save the overseer. 
Women often taught their own children. Eliza Lucas 
studied law and while studying it drew up two wills 
and was made trustee in another. '^In the Revolution 
the women were often more stalwart than the men, urg- 
ing husbands and fathers not to give in in order to save 
their property and bearing cheerfully hardship and 

In all the southern colonies there were keen gentle- 
women that took up tracts of land and cleared and cul- 
tivated their estates. Southern women were not out- 
done by the business women of the North. A traveler 

Woman's Place in the South 279 

who had been through Maryland, Virginia, and Caro- 
lina wrote (in the London Magazine, 1745- 1746) : 
"The women, who have plantations, I have seen mighty 
busy in examining the limbs, size, and abilities of their 
intended purchases." There were several women ed- 
itors in the South."' 

In general the women of the South were freer from 
toil than those of the North. Yet even in this milder 
region pioneer life required a degree of fortitude that 
tended to strengthen female character as the perils of 
feudalism had done for the chatelaines of earlier days. 
A Maryland missionary letter of 1638 remarks that "a 
noble matron has just died, who coming with the first 
settlers . . . with more than woman's courage bore 
all difficulties and inconveniences. . . A perfect ex- 
ample as well in herself as in her domestic concerns." 
Maryland planters' women lived in the saddle but were 
none the less "queens of the household" with the grace 
of those "to the manor born." A writer on Virginia 
says in 1853 : 

Many of the respected females who iJgured in the earh'er 
period of our history, were very difFerent, in some respects, 
from the accomplished and esteemed fair ones of the city at this 
day. They were generally more robust and capable of endur- 
ing much greater fatigue. The roseate tints upon the full 
cheek of health were more frequently to be seen, nor so soon 
gave place to the pale hues of debility, disease, and premature 
death. . . They mounted the spirited horse and cantered 
[before sunrise].^" 

^*3 For woman's sphere in the southern colonies see Richardson, SiJf- 
lights on Maryland History, vol. i, chapter xxxiii; Early, By-ivays of Vir- 
ginia History, 155-157; Bruce, Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Cen- 
tury, 231; Earle, Colonial Dames and GooditAves, chapter ii; Fisher, Men, 
Women, and Manners in Colonial Times, vol. ii, 321-323; Sioussat, Colonial 
Women of Maryland, 214-226. 

1** Forrest. Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk, In., 42-43. 

280 The American Family — Colonial Period 
Doctor Brickell of North Carolina wrote: 

Both sexes are very dexterous in paddling and managing their 
canoes, both men, women, boys, and girls, being bred to it 
from their infancy. 

Woman's function as housewife and helpmeet was in- 
deed important. A traveler wrote of Maryland: 
The women are very handsome in general, and most notable 
housewives; everything wears the mark of cleanliness and in- 
dustry in their houses; and their behavior to their husbands 
and families is very edifying. . . I am not writing anything 
yet of the more refined part of the colony, but what I say now 
is confined to a tract of about 200 miles ; for in some other parts 
you will find many coquettes and prudes, as well as in other 
places ; nor, perhaps, may the lap-dog or monkey be f orgotten.^*^ 

At all events woman's civic service was mainly in the 

Concerning Virginia an eighteenth century writer 

Of the planters' ladies, I must speak in terms of unqualified 
praise; they had an easy kindness of manner, as far removed 
from rudeness as from reserve. . . To the influence of their 
society, I chiefly attribute their husband's refinement. 

A nineteenth century writer on Norfolk, looking back, 

[The colonial ladies were] noted for their personal attractions ; 
and many, in the higher walks of life, for great dignity of char- 
acter, modesty, and politeness of behavior, as well as for their 
activity and frugality in the management of their household 
affairs. These commendable qualities left their impress and 
beneficial influence upon succeeding generations. . . Some 
spun at the wheel or wove at the hand loom! and cultivated 
kitchen and flower gardens. They studied the Bible, and other 
books of sound moral and religious instruction ; instilled correct, 
honorable, virtuous, and patriotic principles into the minds of 
their children, and presided with dignity and grace at the 

^^^ Itinerant Observations in America, 46. 

JV Oman's Place in the South 281 

social entertainment. . . Of many it might then have been 
said. . . "She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her 
tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways 
of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her 
children arise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and 
he praiseth her." 

James Franklin wrote at the end of the Revolution- 
ary period that except for certain amusements the Vir- 
ginia ladies 

Chiefly spend their time in sewing and taking care of their 
families; for they seldom read or endeavor to improve their 
minds. However they are in general good housewives; and tho 
they have not perhaps, so much tenderness and sensibility as 
the English ladies, yet they make as good wives and as good 
mothers as any in the world. 

Brickell wrote further of North Carolina: 

The girls are not only bred to the needle and spinning, but to 
the dairy and domestic affairs, which many of them manage 
with a great deal of prudence and conduct, tho they are very 
young. . . The women are the most industrious in these 
parts, and many of them by their good housewifery make a 
great deal of cloath of their own cotton, wool and flax, and 
some of them weave their own cloath with which they decent- 
ly apparel their whole family tho large. Others are so ingen- 
ious that they make up all the wearing apparel both for husband, 
sons and daughters. Others are very ready to help and assist 
their husbands in any servile work, as planting when the sea- 
son of the year requires expedition : pride seldom banishing 

Tradition of South Carolina tells us that among the 
Huguenots "men and their wives worked together in 
felling trees, building houses, making fences, and grub- 
bing up their grounds . . . and afterwards con- 
tinued their labors at the whip-saw." One man asserts 
that his grandfather and grandmother started their 
handsome fortune by working together at the whip- 

282 The American Family - Colonial Period 

saw. A writer on South Carolina in 1763 said: The 
women of the province "are excelled by none in the 
practice of all the social virtues, necessary for the hap- 
piness of the other sex as daughters, wives, or mothers." 

There was more grace and charm perhaps in the set- 
tled life of the South than in that of New England but 
it is pretty clear that divergence of life between North 
and South was less marked in colonial days than since. 
But even before the Revolution "chivalry" was, as we 
have seen, under way. Lady Tryon and Esther Wake 
wrought so successfully with their feminine charms 
that the North Carolina assembly granted a large ap- 
propriation to build a governor's palace. Woman's in- 
fluence was felt not only in private but in public -in 
council, in assemblies, in the House of Burgesses. 

It must be remembered that when writers eulogize 
the women of the South and the attitude of the men 
toward them the picture in mind is likely to be of 
the women of the "aristocracy." Common people were 
not very likely to get into books very adequately in the 
Old South. Side by side with the women of the nobil- 
ity lived the miserable sisters of toil -the poor, the serv- 
ants, the slaves -and their lot was by no means roseate. 
Some conception of the life of the servile class will be 
gained in a later chapter. In Virginia in order to dis- 
courage planters from working women in the fields, fe- 
male servants so working were made subject to tithe, 
while all other white women were exempt.^*^ A woman 
in The Sot-weed Factor; or, a Voyage to Maryland^ 
contrasts England and America thus: 

Not then a slave for twice two year 
My cloaths were fashionably new 
Nor were my shifts of linnen blue. 

146 Burk. History of Virginia, vol. li, appendix xviii. 

Woman's Place in the South 283 

But things are changed; now at the hoe, 
I daily work and barefoot go, 

In weeding corn or feeding swine, 

I spend my melancholy time. 

In the valley of Virginia in harvest German women 
worked in the fields. Females reaped, hoed, plowed. 
A writer on the valley said : "Some of our now wealth- 
iest citizens frequently boast of their grandmothers, aye 
mothers too, performing this kind of heavy labor." 

North Carolina became a dumping ground for 
"white trash." If we may believe one sharp writer 
(seemingly Byrd, whose reliability has been impugned) 

The men . . . just like the Indians, impose all the work 
upon the poor women. They make their wives rise out of 
their beds early in the morning, at the same time that they lye 
and snore, til the sun has run one third of his course. . . 
They loiter away their lives . . . and at the winding up 
of the year scarcely have bread to eat. 

North Carolina possessed much of the roughness and 
crudeness of frontier life. The reverend Mr. Urm- 
stone, a missionary, writes numerous querulous letters 
detailing the hardships of the country and the rough- 
ness of the people. A letter, dated February 15, 17 19, 
relates that his wife died in October. She had 

Declared before several of her neighbors that her heart was 
broken through our ill usage and comfortless way of living; she 
prest me sore for divers years either to quit this wretched coun- 
try or give her leave to go home with her children: I wish I 
had done either it might have pleased God to have continued her 
to me many years longer. 


Children were of use in the colonial South as in New 
England. The opportunity for child-labor left un- 
bridled the spontaneous impulse to propagation and 
fecundity was a social boon in the new country. 

The London Company, which settled Virginia, was 
anxious to utilize child-labor in developing the re- 
sources of the colony. In 1619 arrived one hundred 
children "save such as dyed on the waie" and another 
hundred, twelve years old or over, was asked for. In 
1627 many ships came bringing fourteen or fifteen hun- 
dred children kidnapped in Europe. A few years later 
a request went to London for another supply of "friend- 
less boyes and girles." 

How the system of servitude affected family rela- 
tions may be gathered from the following illustrative 

A boy six years old was kidnapped in England by a 
sea-captain and sold to America where he married his 
master's daughter and became his heir. He never 
found his parents. Later he bought the sea-captain 
(now a convict). The latter, probably fearing ven- 
geance, killed himself the first day. 

James McAvoy and thirteen other youths were kid- 
napped from Ireland and brought to Virginia. Several 
of the boys were recovered by their parents. McAvoy 
was sold to Mr. R. Carlile and by him resold to a man 

286 The American Family -Colonial Period 

in the valley. While in service he married but re- 
turned to the bull-pasture before his time was out. His 
owner came and took him back. Presently his wife 
came to him with her child. The couple soon ran away 
together and he was not again disturbed. 

Banishment to the plantations was the probable fate 
of a child whose existence menaced the honor or peace 
of a noble family. 

In 1632 the Virginia colony gave John and Anna 
Layton five hundred acres of land in official recognition 
of the fact that their child, Virginia, was the first white 
child born in the colony. By 1634- 1639 is noted faster 
growth due to advance in birth-rate. The writer of 
Leah and Rachel said of Virginia: 

Children increase and thrive so well there that they them- 
selves will sufficiently supply the defect of servants, and in small 
time become a nation of themselves sufficient to people the 

Primal fertility appeared. We hear of a family of 
twelve living in a cabin with only an earth floor and 
with no beds save bearskins. Some families had eight, 
ten, or fifteen children. Patrick Henry, born in 1736, 
was one of nineteen children and John Marshall, born 
in 1755, was the first of fifteen. 

In Maryland thrifty yeomen had large families. 
Evidence of family magnitude is found in the grave- 
yard Mrs. Richardson remarks in regretful retrospec- 

Manor houses with outstretched wings were built to gather 
under their sheltering roofs the dozen or more little ones who 
usually came to break the stillness of the quiet days in that far 
off time when there was more of maternity than nervous energy 
in the world. 

Families in North Carolina were large. Fecundity 

Childhood in the South 287 

was a family ideal. Pioneer vigor ensured numerous 
offspring; and as a rule children repaid even before the 
age of twenty-one the expenses of rearing. Doctor 
Brickell wrote in 1737: 

The women are very fruitful, most houses being full of little 
ones, and many women from other places who have been long 
married and without children, have removed to Carolina and 
become joyful mothers, as has often been observed. It very 
seldom happens they miscarry, and they have very easie travail 
in their child-bearing. . . The Europeans, or Christians of 
North Carolina are a streight, tall, well-limbed and active peo- 
ple ; their children being seldom or never troubled with rickets, 
and many other distempers that the Europians are afflicted with, 
and you shall seldom see any of them deformed in body. 

Governor Dobbs wrote from Newbern in 1755: 

There are at present 75 families on my lands. I viewed betwixt 
30 and 40 of them, and except two there are not less than from 
five or six to ten children in each family, each going barefooted 
in their shifts in the warm weather, no woman wearing more 
than a shift, and one thin petticoat; They are a colony from Ire- 
land removed from Pennsylvania, of what we call Scotch-Irish 
Presbyterians who with others in the neighboring tracts had set- 
tled together in order to have a teacher of their own opinion 
and choice. 

Woodmason's Account of North Carolina in IjdO 
informs us that "the necessaries of life are so cheap and 
so easily acquired and propagation being unrestricted 
that the increase of people there is inconceivable even 
to themselves." For the fifty years from 1753 to 1803 
the church register of a Moravian group shows more 
than twice as many births as deaths. 

In 1708 Oldmixon wrote of Charlestown: 

There are at least 250 families in this town, most of which are 
numerous, and many of them have ten or twelve children in 
He likewise informs us that in Carolina "the children 

288 The American Family - Colonial Period 

are set to work at eight years old." Milligan wrote of 

Charlestown in 1763: 

I have examined a pretty exact register of the births and burials 
for fifteen years, and find them, except when the small-pox 
prevailed, nearly equal; the advantage, the small, is in favor of 
the births, tho the burials are added all the transient people 
who die here. 

Genealogical registers show the following instances 
of South Carolina fecundity during the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries : Five persons with nine chil- 
dren each ; six with ten children each ; three with eleven 
children each ; four with twelve each ; two with thirteen 
each; one with fourteen; one with fifteen; one woman 
with nineteen children by one husband. There is no 
reason to suppose that the elect few whose genealogies 
are available were unique in prolificness. 

In Georgia some people settled on the edge of 
swamps. In one settlement so high was the death-rate 
among children that they seldom survived till puberty. 
Those that lived to adulthood possessed feeble constitu- 
tions. But a letter from Savannah in 1740 contains this 

I have carefully inquired into the account of our births and 
burials at Savannah, and its districts for one year past, and find 
the former has exceeded the latter as three to tw^o. 

As always in a new country natural conditions im- 
parted a training in activity and responsibility. Thus 
the author of Leah and Rachel says of Virginia : 

This good policy is there used ; as the children there born grow 
to maturity, and capable (as they are generally very capable and 
apt) they are still preferred and put into authority, and carry 
themselves therein civilly and discreetly. 

Alsop says of Maryland in 1666: There are no ale- 
houses; "from antient custom . . . the son works 
as well as the servant; so that before they eat their 

Childhood in the South 289 

bread, they are commonly taught how to earn it." By 
the time sons are ready to receive what the father gives 
them, which is partly their own earning, "they manage 
it with such a serious, grave, and watching care, as if 
they had been masters of families, trained up in that 
domestick and governing power from their cradles." 

The spiritual welfare of the young was an object of 
solicitude but also subject to vicissitudes. In the Mary- 
land Assembly in 1694, ^^ was ordered that a law be 
proposed that parents frequently bring their children to 
be catechized and that the ministers call upon them. In 
1696 it was voted that the ministers frequently admon- 
ish the children's parents in their parishes to send them 
to be catechized. A circular letter in 1701 to the clergy 
of Maryland by the reverend Thomas Bray, a clergy- 
man of the Church of England, urges religious training 
of children in which there has been remissness. In Vir- 
ginia an act of 1661-1662 recites that "many schismat- 
ical persons . . . refuse to have . . . children 
baptized." Accordingly parents refusing to carry a 
child to a lawful minister for baptism were to be fined 
two thousand pounds of tobacco. The records of the 
period contain one case, at any rate, of an order against 
a father under charge of not baptizing children. The 
reverend Samuel Davis, minister at Hanover, wrote in 
1751 that family religion was a rarity. Byrd said that 
the North Carolina settlers took no trouble to get chil- 
dren baptized and Christianized. It may be that the 
strictures of this Episcopalian cavalier were unfair. 
The North Carolina records for 1771-1775 contain an 
account of an Episcopal minister's charging fifteen shil- 
lings for baptizing a sick child. 

I have of my own knowledge seen a man as he passed his dDor 
desire him to call in and baptize his child w hich lay sick .iiid lie 

290 The American Family -Colonial Period 

has refused and in consequence . . . the child died unbap- 

In an account of missionaries sent to South Carolina 
in the early part of the eighteenth century occurs a re- 
port, dated in the year 1706, from the reverend Doctor 
Le Jean that "the parents and masters" were "endued 
with much good will, and a ready disposition to have 
their children and servants taught the Christian re- 
ligion." When he found parents refraining on account 
of expense from having children baptized he told them 
he desired nothing. 

Scattered residence and aristocratic spirit retarded 
the planting of schools. Education in the South was 
very defective. Only the aristocracy could provide for 
its children according to the best educational standards 
of the age in England. 

With this dearth of formal arrangements for educa- 
tion the training of the young was naturally subject to 
varying vicissitudes. In seventeenth century Virginia 
the desire of parents to provide education for their 
children was indicated in various ways. Often direc- 
tions were left and provision was made in wills. One 
of the most ordinary provisions of wills was that the 
testator's children be taught to read the Bible. Many 
planters provided surprisingly large amounts for the 
education of their children. John Custis IV. provided 
by will that the proceeds of the labor of fourteen slaves 
should be devoted to the maintenance and tuition of his 
grandson until he should be sent to England for ad- 
vanced training for which an additional large amount 
was provided. John Savage directed in his will that a 
horse and mare, two steers and two cows, with their in- 
crease, should go for the education of his son in Eng- 
land. For the tuition of his two daughters the execu-. 

Childhood in the South 291 

tors were to hire out three servants. That the desire to 
have their children educated was not confined to whites 
is shown by the will of Thomas Carter, a free negro, 
which directed as to the education of his sons. In early- 
Maryland wills also fathers provide for the education 
of their sons -"as befits their station," frequently direct- 
ing that they be sent to college in England. 

Maryland children were taught by parents, tutored, 
or sent to England to school. Many sons of wealthy 
parents enjoyed the privilege of an education abroad. 
In Virginia the wealthiest families kept tutors. Some- 
times the tutor was a freed servant, as in the Washing- 
ton family, and sometimes a servant still in bondage. 
Often the tutor in a great Virginia family was an Epis- 
copal clergyman. When the sons outgrew their master 
they were sent to New or Old England, or perchance to 
William and Mary. Before 1770 nearly every South 
Carolina planter sent his sons to Oxford or Cambridge. 

To William and Mary many Maryland boys were 
sent -a fact that largely accounts for the numerous mar- 
riage alliances between the early families of Maryland 
and those of Virginia. A traveler in the South wrote 
before the middle of the eighteenth century: "The 
Williamsburgh college in Virginia is the Resort of all 
the children, whose parents can afford it." It is inferior 
to the universities of Massachusetts, "for the youth of 
these more indulgent settlements, partake pretty much 
of the petit maitre kind, and are pampered much more 
in softness and ease than their neighbors more north- 
ward." Such a spoiled lad was, perhaps, Thomas Byrd 
who was sentenced to a whipping on the charge of 
breaking windows. He refused to submit ; his father of- 
fered to compel him ; but he was expelled from college. 

292 The American Family - Colonial Period 
The traveler just quoted says also: 

Often a clever servant or convict, that can write and read toler- 
ably, and is of no handicraft business, is indented to some plant- 
er, who has a number of children, as a schoolmaster, and then, 
to be sure, he is a tip-top man in his parts, and the servant is 
used more indulgently than the generality of them. 

The diary of John Hanower (1773-1776) who came 
to Virginia as a schoolmaster, indented to Colonel Dan- 
gerfield, illuminates this phase of pedagogy. His wife 
seems to have been in England. 

[May 27.] This morning about 8 A M the colonel delivered 
his three sons to my charge to teach them to read, write, and 
figure. His oldest son Edwin ten years of age, intred into two 
syllables in the spelling book, Bathourest his second son six years 
of age in the alphabete and William his third son four years of 
age does not know the letters, he has likewise a daugh- 
ter. . . My school houres is from six to eight in the morn- 
ing, in the forenoon from nine to twelve, and from three to six 
in the afternoon. . . [June 14] This morning entered to 
school Wm. Pattie son of John Pattie wright, and Salley Evens 
daughter to Thos. Evens Planter. . . [Monday, 20th] This 
morning entred to school Philip and Dorothea Edge's Chil- 
dren of Mr. Benjamin Edge, Planter. . . [Tuesday, 21st] 
This day Mr. Samuel Edge Planter came to me and begged me 
to take a son of his to school who was both deaf and dum, and I 
consented to try what I cou'd do with him. . . Munday, 
17th [Apr., 1775] At 8 A M I rode to Town. . . On 
my aravel in town the first thing I got to do was to dictate 
and write a love letter from Mr. Anderson to one Peggie 
Dewar at the howse of Mr. John Mitchel at the Wilder- 
ness. . . [Tuesday, April 23d, 1776] Settled with Mr. 
Porter for teaching his tvvo sons 12 Mos. when he ver>f genteely 
allowed me £6 for them, besides a present of two silk vests 
and two pair of nankeen breeches last summer and a gallon of 
rum at Christenmass, both he and Mrs. Porter being extream- 
ly w^ell satisfied with what I hade don to them. 

Not all pedagogy was so amateurish as that suggested 

Childhood in the South 293 

by the diary of this worthy pedagog. Mrs. Pinckney 
wanted to get her son a toy so that he might learn by 
play according to Locke's method. His father under- 
took to contrive a set of toys to teach him his letters by 
the time he could speak. "You perceive we begin 
betimes for he is not yet four months old." The infant 
began to spell before he was two years of age. He be- 
came General C. C. Pinckney of Revolutionary fame 
but he declared that this early teaching nearly made him 
a stupid fellow. Martha Laurens, born in Charleston 
in 1759, could in her third year "read any book." 

School administration presented problems of its own. 
The first free school in Queen Anne's County, Mary- 
land, procured its first teacher in 1724. Difficulty was 
soon experienced in securing the attendance of the 
"foundation" pupils. Many notices were given to the 
parents and guardians of these pupils requiring them to 
show cause why the pupils were not at school. A letter 
from the reverend Mr. Reed, dated at Newbern, North 
Carolina, in 1772, recounts trouble about an academy. 
"When Mr. T. opened his school, he was apprized of 
the excessive indulgence of American parents, and the 
great difficulty of keeping up a proper discipline; more 
especially as his school consisted of numbers of both 
sexes." He had to correct and turn out some for un- 
ruliness. Two trustees whose children were turned out 
became "his most implacable enemies. . . The cor- 
recting and turning the children of two of the trustees 
out of the school, was, like the sin against the Holy 
Ghost, never to be forgiven." 

The early German settlers of North Carolina brought 
their religious books with them. The cabin in the 
clearing was followed by a schoolhouse erected in sonic 
accessible place. The youth were taught by the school- 

294 ^^'^^ American Family - Colonial Period 

master the rudiments of education. The mother tongue 
was used. 

A writer on Highland County, Virginia, tells us that 

The Scotch-Irish set great store on schooling, but pioneer life 
in a thinly peopled wilderness was not favorable to effort in 
this direction. The more alert of those who could read and 
write would give their children some rudimentary train- 
ing. . . A significant instance lies in the fact that an early 
constable of the Bullpasture, who of necessity was able to read 
and write, reared an illiterate family. A signature by means 
of a mark was very common. 

Doctor Brickell of North Carolina wrote: 

The children at nine months old are able to walk and run 
about the house, and are very docile and apt to learn anything, 
as any children in Europe; and those that have the advantage 
to be educated, write good hands, and prove good accountants, 
which is very much coveted, and most necessary in these parts. 

A writer on the history of Mecklenburg County and the 
city of Charlotte in colonial times, says that the children 
generally received six months of schooling for two or 
three years. 

Observations by a traveler through the South ap- 
pearing in the London Magazine, 1745- 1746, indicate 
that "those that cant afford to send their children to the 
better schools, send them to the country school-masters 
who are generally servants, who after serving their 
terms out, set up for themselves." 

A historian of Tazewell County, Virginia, wrote in 

The early settlers of this region had many difficulties to encoun- 
ter in their efforts to procure homes for themselves and their 
children, and too frequently education appears to have been but 
of secondary importance in their estimation. Yet primary schools 
of some sort seem to have been maintained from an early date 
after its settlement, in those neighborhoods where children were 
sufficiently numerous to make up a school, and parents were able 
and willing to support a teacher. 

Childhood in the South 295 

Nevertheless in spite of all the desire for education 
and pitiful attempts to provide it the southern masses 
remained unenlightened. Doyle says: "In the absence 
of schools the small freeholder, so far as such a class ex- 
isted, grew up with tastes and habits little above those 
of the savage whom he supplanted." ^*^ 

Occasionally the class feeling of the aristocracy in the 
matter of education struck fire. Some of their ideas 
would bring delight to the modern advocates of caste 
lines in education. Thus the proceedings of the Mary- 
land assembly for 1663 contain this item: 

Was returned the additionall act for the advancement of chil- 
dren's estates from the lower house wherein they desired the 
words [handy craft, trade] might be struck out. Ordered that 
answer be returned that to strike out those words . . . was 
to destroy the very thing intended by the act which was to 
breed up all the indigent youth of this province to handycraft 
trade and noe other. 

In seventeenth century Virginia the court looked to 
the education of orphans. Masters were obliged to 
teach their bond-apprentices to read and write. For 
instance in 1698 "Ann Chandler, orphan of Daniel 
Chandler, bound apprentice to Phyllemon Miller till 
eighteen or day of marriage, to be taught to read a chap- 
ter in the Bible, the Lord's Prayer and Ten Command- 
ments, and semptress work." Many negro children 
were taught to read and write by their parents or mas- 
ters. North Carolina law required that orphans be 
properly educated according to rank out of the estate if 
it sufficed; otherwise they were to be apprenticed to 
handicraft or trade (not to Quakers) till of age. 

The Quaker counterpart of the discrimination men- 
tioned is seen in a query adopted by the Maryland 
yearly meeting in 1725 to be answered by lower meet- 

1*7 Doyle. English Colonies in America, vol. i, 394. 

296 The American Family -Colonial Period 

ings : "Whether there is any masters of trade that want 
apprentices[,] or children of Friends to be put forth, 
that they apply themselves to the monthly meetings be- 
fore they take those that are not Friends, or put forth 
their children to such?" Another query was: "Whether 
have the children of the poor due education so as to fitt 
them for necessary employment?" 

Family government in the colonies was patriarchal 
tho not necessarily harsh and forbidding. Pioneer ex- 
igencies magnified the family into a compendium of 
church, state, and school. Immigrant peoples had the 
same problem as modern immigrants in respect to main- 
taining the mother tongue and folk standards. The 
Mennonists in the Valley of Virginia trained their chil- 
dren in their peculiar religious ways. Generally they 
strictly forbade the dance or other juvenile amusements 
common to other sects of Germans. Virginia had dis- 
reputable taverns and saloons that were an offset to fam- 
ily interests and discipline. The Maryland Quaker 
queries already mentioned contain the following: 
Are all careful to keep meetings . . . bringing forth their 
families? . . . Do those that have children train them up 
in the nurture and fear of the Lord, restraining them from 
vice, wantonness, and keeping company with such as would 
teach them vain fations and corrupt ways of this world to the 
misspending of their precious time and substance? 

An old writer remarks of the Scotch-Irish and Scotch 
settlers of North Carolina: 

These Presbyterian mothers gloried in the enterprise, and re- 
ligion, and knowledge, and purity of their husbands and chil- 
dren, and would forego comforts and endure toil that their 
sons might be well instructed enterprising men. 

Chastellux says that like the English the settlers were 
fond of their infants but cared little for their children. 
The annals and biographies do not confirm his asser- 

Childhood in the South 297 

tion, George Wythe learned Greek at home from a 
Testament while his mother held an English copy and 
guided him. John Mason carried through life the ef- 
fect of his mother's influence. She died when he was 
seven yet all his life "mother's room" was vivid in his 

Of course one can find instances to the opposite effect. 
Thus the reverend Mr. Urmstone writes from North 
Carolina that the people are unwilling to pay minister 
or schoolmaster, "nay they need to be hired to go to 
church or send their children to school." There are in- 
dications, however, that he was no model rector or pat- 
tern. Indeed he himself writes : 

I intend to send my two youngest children as a present to the 
society hoping they will put them into some charity school or 
hospital!. Whereby they may be educated and provided for, 
when they come to age, for I am not able to maintain them. 
My eldest is near twenty, capable of helping me, but is bent up- 
on going for England. . . There is no boarding here, there 
is never a family that I know of that I would live in if they 
would hire me. 

As an instance of aliens' experience with their chil- 
dren in the midst of the English environment we may 
cite the Huguenots. The children of the immigrants 
grew up more proficient in English than in the mother 
tongue. Gradually the church services became con- 
fined to the surviving refugees and such of their chil- 
dren as out of respect accompanied them. The second 
and third generations in America were ready to join the 
established church of the province. 

With regard to the character of youth under the colo- 
nial regime the following additional citations will be 
suggestive. A Virginia lady of the olden time reported : 

Very little from books was thought necessary for a girl. Slu- 

was trained to domestic matters, however, must learn the .icconi- 

298 The American Family - Colonial Period 

pHshments of the day, to play upon the harpsichord or spinet, 
and to work impossible dragons and roses on canvas. 

Doctor Brickell wrote of early eighteenth century 
North Carolina: 

The young men are generally of a bashful, sober behavior, few^ 
proving prodigals, to spend what the parents with care and 
industry have left them but commonly improve it. . . The 
girls are most commonly handsome and well featur'd, but have 
pale or swarthy complexions, and are generally more forward 
than the boys, notwithstanding the women are very shy, in their 
discourses, till they are acquainted. 

The author of Itinerant Observations in America 
which appeared in the London Magazine of 1745- 1746, 
after travels in the South wrote thus: 

The girls, under such good mothers, generally have twice the 
sense and discretion of the boys; their dress is neat and clean, 
and not much bordering upon the ridiculous humour of the 
mother country, where the daughters seem dressed up for a 
market. . . Adieu Maryland. 




The colonial South had its share of irregularities in 
the relations between husbands and wives, parents and 
children. Civic treatment of family disorders was 
somewhat less radical than in New England. Isolation 
of residence made for a low degree of civic control. 
Continental blood worked against tendencies to Puritan 
asperity in domestic life. 

In 1624 in Virginia it was ordained that 

Three sufficient men of every parish shall be sworn to see 
that every man shall plant and tende sufficient corne for his 
family. Those men that have neglected so to do are to be by 
the said three men presented to be censured by the governor and 

Sometimes Virginia church wardens relieved wives 
who, with children, had been ejected by husbands. 
Mary Laurence in 1676 complained that her husband 
had driven her out and refused to maintain her. The 
justices ordered her returned home. If the husband 
proved vagabond he should be put to forced labor ior 
their support. Meanwhile the churchwarden was to 
see that she and the child did not lack food. In 168H a 
man had deserted an old, deaf wife, who unless the rest 
of her estate should be sold would be thrown on the 
parish. The court ordered wardens to act as trustees of 
the property and use it for her. 

300 The American Family -Colonial Period 
In 1692 the Grand Council of South Carolina 

Upon hereing the petition of Jan La Salle ordrd that her hus- 
band Peter . , . cohibitt wth: the said Jane his wife and 
maintaine her in all necessaryes as his wife, or else that he allow 
his said wife the negro woman he had with her and pay his said 
wife £6 ster. p. annum. 

He was charged costs. 

A North Carolina law of 1755 provides that vagrants 
shall be whipped from constable to constable to the 
counties where their wives and children formerly lived 
and there give bond for good behavior and "for betak- 
ing him or herself to some lawful calling or honest 
labor." Otherwise the culprit should be hired out for 
one year; the money to cover expenses of arrest and any 
balance to go to the family. 

In Georgia there was special need of social main- 
tenance of families: it was a charity establishment in 
part. At a board meeting in 1735 in Palace Court was 
received a 

Petition of Mary Bateman, mother of Wm. Bateman now in 
Georgia, setting forth, that her son, William Bateman went 
to Georgia by the way of Charlestown at his own expense, 
with one servant to take possession of a grant of 75 acres of 
land; that his servant left him at Charles Town; that he has 
had great illness, and been at extraordinary expenses on other 
occasions; and praying credit for a years maintenance for him- 
self and his wife in Georgia and to have the assistance of a serv- 
ant. Resolved that credit be given to the said Wm. Bateman 
and his wife for a year's maintenance and that a servant be sent 
him. . . 

Resolvd that a town lot in Savannah be granted to Austin 
Weddell ; And that he and his wife be sent over by the said 
ship and that they be maintained for a year. 

In regard to Georgia the following regulation was 

The children of six years and upwards of [certain] servants to 


Social Censorship in the South 301 

be employed as the overseers shall direct; and the maintenance 
of them for provisions and clothing; to be paid by the week 
after the rate of four pence a day each . . . but those 
children of such servants under six years old are to be main- 
tained by the parents out of their allowances. 

At Frederica and Savannah salaries were provided 
for public midwives for the poor and for trust servants, 
besides five shillings per case, and the midwives were 
under obligation to attend on such as required their 

The Savannah records for a number of years contain 
numerous instances of public aid to families. Many of 
the cases involved widowhood or bad health, and dis- 
cretion was manifested in allotment of relief. 

It is probable that Georgia had a greater volume of 
such relief cases than had the other colonies. In North 
Carolina in 1771 the House allowed one hundred fifty 
pounds to the widow of a government soldier who had 
fought in the battle of Alamance and one hundred 
pounds to each of three others, because of their distress 
with a number of small children; ''which money shall 
be paid into the hands of a trustee, and by him applied 
to the purchase of slaves for the use of the said widows 
and children, and to no other purpose whatsoever." 

Old records contain instances of family discord tend- 
ing to separation. Some such cases have already been 
mentioned incidentally. In no southern colony was 
there a tribunal competent to grant divorce or separa- 
tion. The statutes of these colonies are silent on the 
subject of divorce jurisdiction. Not a case has been 
discovered of absolute divorce by pre-revolutionary 
legislatures. Separations did occur and separate innin- 
tenance was sometimes granted by the court. One such 
case in Virginia has been cited in another connection. 

302 The American Family - Colonial Period 

Again, in 1691, the request "of Ruth Fulcher for sep- 
arate maintenance against her husband, John Fulcher," 
was referred to county court justices, "who, after hear- 
ing the testimony, decided in favor of the plaintifif." In 
1699 Mrs. Mary Taylor complained to court that her 
husband was "so cross and cruel" that she could not live 
with him. She asked for alimony in a home of her 
own where she would be "secure from danger." The 
court ordered the husband to deliver to her furniture 
and clothing and contribute twelve hundred pounds of 
tobacco or six pounds yearly to her support. 

The Maryland high court of chancery took cogni- 
zance of suits for separate alimony. In 1689 the case 
of Galwith vs. Galwith came before the provincial 
court. The record of the court from which it was ap- 
pealed says that at June session, 1685, "the appellee, be- 
ing the wife of the appellant," presented a petition "set- 
ing forth, that within a few years certain false, evil, and 
scandalous reports were raised and spread abroad 
against her by some malicious persons," causing "great 
dissention and difference between her husband and her- 
self, insomuch that he refused to entertain her in his 
house, or allow her a competent maintenance elsewhere, 
by which she was reduced to great poverty and want." 
In 1684 she had "applied to the county court for re- 
lief ... at which time the court hearing and con- 
sidering the premises, granted an order that her husband 
should allow . . . her 2000 wt. of tobacco for her 
maintenance the next year ensuing." But the "year was 
completed and ended, and her said husband not being 
reconciled nor willing" to take back her or the child, 
"which she hitherto had maintained," she would shortly 
"be brought to extreme poverty and necessity without 
further assistance from the court." She prayed the 

Social Censorship in the South 303 

court to order her husband to "take her home to dwell 
with him, which she was desirous to do, or else that he 
might be enjoined to allow her a competent maintenance 
for herself and child." So he was commanded to "take 
home his said wife Jane Galwith, to dwell with him as 
man and wife ought to do; otherwise to allow . . . 
her 3000 wt. of tobacco a year, commencing from that 
day." The higher tribunal reversed the judgment. 
The jurisdiction in suits for alimony, assumed prior to 
the Revolution by the courts of equity, was confirmed 
by a later statute. 

Troublesome cases did arise in spite of southern con- 
servatism. The records of the Maryland provincial 
court show that in 165 1 Robert Holt deposed that his 
wife had divers times threatened his life. Edward 
Hudson joined her in abusing him. "I goe daily in 
fear of my life." According to witnesses, the woman 
was adulteress with Hudson. A woman testified to 
Mrs. Holt's disposition to kill her husband. John Gent 
deposes "that he heard Dorothy Holt cry for many 
curses to God against her husband, that he might rot 
limb from limb, and that she would daily pray to God 
that such casualties might fall upon him, and likewise 
that her son Richard might end his days upon the gal- 
lows." On one occasion in this colony in the year 1658 
a minister gave a divorce and remarried the man. Both 
men were indicted. In 1701 the petition of a man to 
the council for divorce and illegitimizing of the wife's 
children of the period of her elopement was sent to the 
house with a proposed bill. The House summoned the 
parties to appear at next session. 

It would seem that orders of separate maintenance 
would be in efifect decrees of separation. In seventeenth 
century Virginia, even orders of separation occurred 

304 The American Family - Colonial Period 

only at very long intervals. They were rarely asked 
and more rarely granted. In 1655 Alice Clawson of 
Northhampton County secured some sort of "divorce" 
on the ground that her husband had for many years 
lived among the Indians and had refused to give up his 
Indian concubine. In the Virginia colony marriages 
could be annulled by the General Court if the 
parties were within the forbidden degrees. Before 
March 12, 1684 a man married his uncle's widow. 
How such a marriage could occur is hard to under- 
stand. After at least ten years of marriage and after 
the birth of children the woman seems to have been hor- 
rified at the sinfulness of her union and she secured a 
separation. The man agreed to pay alimony. Their 
daughter was to be put in school as the mother should 
see fit. The vestry of St. John's parish, Baltimore 
County, Maryland cited a man to appear and explain 
his marriage with his deceased wife's sister. Another 
was summoned for uniting himself in marriage with his 
late wife's niece. Both failed to justify themselves so 
the clerk was ordered to present them to the County 

An interesting personage was Mr. John Custis of 
Virginia. He had put on his tombstone this inscrip- 
tion: "Aged 71 years and yet lived but seven years 
which was the space of time he kept" bachelor's hall. 
He and his wife seem to have been very unhappy to- 
gether. In 1774 they entered into the "Articles of 
Agreements betwixt Mr. John Custis and his wife. 
Whereas some dififerences and quarrels have arisen be- 
twixt Mr. John Custis and Frances his wife concerning 
some money, plate and other things taken from him by 
the sd. Frances and a mor plentiful maintenance for 
her. Now to the end and all animostys and unkind- 

Social Censorship in the South 305 

ness may cease and a perfect love and friendship may be 
renewed betwixt them they have mutually agreed" that 
she shall return things taken and not repeat the offence. 
She shall not run in debt without his consent. He is not 
to deprive her of the plate and damask during her life. 
She is to forbear to call him vile names or give him any 
ill language. He is to reciprocate. They are to live 
lovingly together as a good husband and wife ought. 
She is not to meddle with his business, nor he, in her 
domestic affairs. Half of the net produce of the estate 
shall go to her for clothing herself and children and ed- 
ucating them and providing things necessary for house- 
keeping, and physic, so long as she live quietly with him 
"and that he shall allow for the maintenance and family 
one bushel of wheat for every week and a sufficient 
quantity of Indian corn," also meat, "and sufficient 
quantity of cyder and brandy if so much be made on the 
plantation." If she shall exceed the allowance or run 
him in debt the bond shall become void and the allow- 
ance cease. She is to have the same house servants as 
now or others in their stead; also an errand boy. Her 
husband shall allow her fifteen pounds of wool and fif- 
teen of fine dressed flax yearly to spin for any use in the 
family. She may give away twenty yards of Virginia 
cloth yearly to charity if so much remains after the serv- 
ants are clothed. She may keep a white servant out of 
the above allowance provided he be subject to her hus- 
band. He is to give her fifty pounds now, if so much be 
available, in order to get things started. She is to give 
account under oath if he require, how said fifty pounds 
and yearly profits are spent. 

In the latter part of the eighteenth century some Vir- 
ginia husbands and wives advertised each other with 
abuse, in which the wife had the advantage. In one 

3o6 The American Family - Colonial Period 

case were inserted particulars filling half a column. 
The indictment begins thus: "Whereas Ben Banner- 
man my husband has published a false and scandalous 
account," etc. A later writer, taking account of such 
instances, was impressed with the fact that all such 
viragoes of whom he read date from the old country. 
"Not one is found that does not refer to Europe; thus 
proving that . . . our fair countrywomen were as 
good-tempered as they were beautiful." It is probable 
that his observations refer to Richmond newspapers."^ 

In South Carolina, 1731-1732, appeared advertise- 
ments for three absconding wives. In Georgia, White- 
field's and Wesley's work, it was said, caused division 
among families. 

While the materials at hand illustrative of marital 
friction and social suzerainty over the family are rather 
meager, it is evident that the community recognized as 
in New England the necessity of supplying family ne- 
cessities and maintaining family integrity. The recog- 
nition of wifely claims of alimony is a tacit avowal of 
woman's parasitism. But some of the instances of fam- 
ily trouble cited suggest that some southern women 
were sufficiently forceful and independent. The treat- 
ment of forbidden degrees parallels that in New Eng- 
land. Religion as a source of family dissension recalls 
especially certain incidents in Rhode Island. Protes- 
tant solvent tendencies operate in both regions. 

In England under Elizabeth poor children were to 
be trained for some trade and the idle were to be pun- 
ished. In the reign of James I. the statutes of Eliza- 
beth for binding children were utilized for sending 
them to America. The apprenticing of poor children 
to the Virginia Company began as early as 1620. In 

148 Compare Little, Richmond, 22. 

Social Censorship in the South 307 

that year Sir Edwin Sandys asked authority to send one 
hundred children that had been "appointed for trans- 
portation" by the city of London but were not willing 
to go. The apprenticeship statute of Elizabeth solved 
the difficulty. Children and vagrants were regularly 
assembled for shipment. A record of 1627 reads: 
"There are many ships going to Virginia, and with 
them 1400 or 1500 children which they have gathered 
up in divers places." 

The jurisdiction of churchwardens in early Virginia 
covered indigent orphans. It seems that they were 
usually indentured till they were twenty-one. The par- 
ish often provided a sum for clothing. The wardens' 
jurisdiction extended also over parents disposed to en- 
courage children in bad courses. In 1692 a man was 
reported to justices as an "idle and lazy person" whose 
children lived by his begging or their stealing. He re- 
fused to bind them out. The churchwardens were in- 
structed to do so if he continued vagabond. Near the 
end of the seventeenth century, wardens were empow- 
ered to bind out illegitimate boys until they were thirty. 
Poor children whose parents could not provide for them 
properly were bound out for long terms. Wardens 
were required to supervise the treatment of those they 
bound out. If the master gave bad treatment the child 
was removed to another safe master and the offender 
was punished. In 1657 acts were passed forbidding 
any person to whom an Indian child had been entrusted 
from assigning or in any way transferring the child. It 
was ordered that such child should be free at the age of 
twenty- five. 

Mr. H. Jones wrote of Virginia in 1724: 

When there is a numerous family of poor children the vestry 
takes care to bind them out apprentices, till they arc able to 

3o8 The American Family -Colonial Period 

maintain themselves by their own labor; by which means they 
are never tormented with vagrant and vagabond beggars. 

An act of 1748 provides that orphans whose estates will 
not support them shall be bound as apprentices. They 
shall be taught to read and write and otherwise sup- 
plied. If ill used or if training is neglected such or- 
phans may be removed. 

An instance of voluntary apprenticeship is presented 
in the diary of Colonel Carter: 

Billy Beale, the youngest son of the late John Beale, a lad of 
about eighteen, came to me Saturday on a letter I wrote to his 
mother. He brought with him Mr. Eustace's and Mr. Ed- 
wards' consent, his guardians, that he should be bound to me in 
the place of Wm. Ball, which the young gentleman very 
willingly agreed to. . . He is ... to serve me three 
years for £10 the year in order to be instructed in the steward- 
ship or management of a Virginia estate. 

In Maryland about 1658 the assembly passed a meas- 
ure to the efifect that guardians should render account 
of minors' estates. No child was to be placed in the 
hands of guardians "of a contrary judgment then that of 
their deceased parents." In 1663 the assembly decided 
that no account be allowed for anything against orphans' 
estates unless their education is provided for out of the 
estate if it suffices. If the estate was too small to pro- 
vide education then the orphans were to be bound ap- 
prentices to some "Handicraft, trade, or other person" 
till twenty-one, unless a kinsman will maintain them on 
the interest of the estate, the estate itself to go to the 
orphans at the years appointed by law. No allowance 
was to be made for excessive funeral expenses. The 
Assembly Proceedings of 1671 record the experience 
that former acts for the preservation of orphans' estates 
were inadequate. Long directions are given for safe- 
guarding estates. It is directed explicitly that children 

Social Censorship in the South 309 

are to be committed to persons of the same religion as 
the parents if the court has to make the appointment. 

The early Friends in Maryland took especial care of 
the interests of orphans and protected their estates by 
extralegal guards. They had a committee to look after 
widows and orphans. They even had a register of wills 
at a time when there was no official register or at least 
none near at hand. Among the queries adopted by 
yearly meeting in 1725 to be answered by lower meet- 
ings we find this: "Whether there is any fatherless or 
widows that want necessarys . . . and if any want 
are they supplied?" 

In the Calvert Papers occurs indication that at least 
one of the parochial clergy had under consideration a 
charitable subscription toward the support of widows 
and the education of children of the brethren left des- 

In North Carolina the authorities looked after the 
fortunes of dependent children. Thus a Carolina court 
of 1694 leaves the following record: 

Upon a petition exhibited by Thomas Hassold showing that a 
child named Thos. Snoden was left with him by his father-in- 
law Edmund Perkins upon condition to pay him 600 pounds of 
tobacco per annum for his dyatt, ordered that the sd. Thos. 
Snoden serve the said Hassold until his father-in-law come for 
him or els till he arrive that the age of twenty one yeares. 

At a later court two orphans were bound out, the boy to 
be taught a trade and at the end of his term to receive a 
heifer. The girl was to receive with her freedom a cow 
and calf "beside the custom of the country." Governor 
Johnson remarked on a North Carolina law entitled 
"An act concerning orphans" that this law was hi^Hily 
unjust and seemed designed to encourage and protect 
unjust guardians that robbed their wards, "a practice 

3IO The American Family -Colonial Period 

too common in this country." At another time attention 
was called to the need of further security for the estates 
of widows and orphans. 

A statute recalling northern legislation was enacted 
in 1773 in a measure applying to Newbern: "Whereas 
sundry idle and disorderly persons as well as slaves and 
children under age do make a practise of firing guns 
and pistols within the said town," a fine of ten shillings 
is prescribed for the offence. If culprits are under age 
the parent, master, or guardian must pay. 

At a meeting of the Georgia Board in Palace Court, 
1735, complaint was made that William Littel, an in- 
fant in Georgia, was deprived of his patrimony by a 
man that had married his mother. The mother was 
now dead according to the complaint filed by the child's 
grandfather. The board ordered guardians appointed 
and the infant to be kept at Mrs. Parker's and proper 
disposal of the estate to be made for the child's benefit. 
The Georgia committee on accounts in 1737 recom- 
mended a budget for one year to include one hundred 
fifty pounds for the support of sick, widows, and or- 
phans in the colony. A Savannah estimate in 1739 in- 
cluded an allowance for the care of widows of trust 
servants till they marry or enter service of one hundred 
pounds for the year. A like item of fifty pounds was 
made for Frederica. 

Martyn's account of Ebenezer in 1738-1739 says : 

They have built a large and convenient house for the reception 
of orphans and other poor children, who are maintained by 
benefactions among the people, are w^ell taken care of and taught 
to w^ork according as their age and ability will p)ermit. 

Whitefield began an orphan asylum in Georgia in 1740. 
To it poor children were sent to be kept partly by char- 
ity and partly by the produce of the land cultivated by 

Social Censorship in the South 311 

negroes. The institution did not flourish, probably on 
account of unhealthy location. The writer of Itinerant 
Observations in America visited the establishment soon 
after its foundation. He says: 

They were at dinner when we arrived, the whole family at one 
table, and sure never was a more orderly pretty sight: If I 
recollect right, besides Mr. Barber the school-master, and some 
women, there were near forty young persons of both sexes 
dressd very neatly and decently. After dinner they retired, the 
boys to school and the girls to their spinning and knitting: I 
was told, their vacant hours were employed in the garden and 
plantation work. 

This visit to the Orphan House removed his prejudices 
against it. Habersham said that many of the best or- 
phans were removed from the orphan house by justices 
and bound as servants. 

It is evident from the foregoing pages how great a 
burden was imposed upon colonial enterprises (espe- 
cially in Georgia) by the presence of dependent women 
and children. After the industrial life of a colony was 
under way the labor of such could be utilized; but at 
first they were a drag. Thus West wrote to Lord Ash- 
ley (with reference to Carolina) in 1670: 

Arrived the Carolina frigate with about 70 passengers . . . 

and six servants . . . viz. two men and woeman and three 

small children, which wilbe a great charge to the plantation, 

wee having nothing yet but what is brought. 
A letter of Lord Ashley in 1671 warned against inviting 
the poorer sort, as yet, to Carolina. It is substantial 
men and their families that are needed. "Others relyc 
and eate upon us." 

A freeholders' petition to the Georgia trustees in 173H 

None of all those who have planted their land liavr been able 
to raise sufficient produce to maintain their families m bread 

312 The American Family -Colonial Period 

kind only, even though as much application and industry have 
been exerted to bring it about, as could be done by men engaged 
in an affair on which they believed the welfare of themselves 
and posterity so much depended, and which they imagined re- 
quired more than ordinary pains to make succeed. . . Your 
honors, we imagine, are not insensible of the numbers that have 
left this province, not being able to support themselves and 
families any longer. . . [This paper is signed by one hun- 
dred seventeen freeholders.] We did not allow widows and 
orphans to subscribe [i.e., sign]. 

Habersham wrote to Oglethorpe in 1741 : 

What must a poor friendless man do, with his wife and chil- 
dren settled upon fifty acres of land, perhaps pine barren, but 
suppose it the best, without either servants to help clear or steers 
to plow the ground? 

Planters' extravagance sometimes forced a resort to 
the frontier. In colonial Virginia the father sometimes 
left his son expensive habits, a depleted plantation, and 
a heavy debt. Then degrading poverty, untimely death, 
or migration to the West were the alternatives. Many 
families carried to the wilderness their social refine- 
ment and dear-bought experience and commenced life 
afresh on a less splendid scale. 


The problem of sex morals in the colonial South was 
very largely an economic question and was so regarded 
by the authorities. Sexual morality was at a low ebb. 
Very early, laws had to be passed on this point. 

By a Maryland act of 1650, renewed in 1654, adul- 
tery and fornication were to be censured and punished 
as the governor and council or authorized officials 
should think fit, "not extending to life or member." In 
1658 an act was passed as follows: 

Whereas divers women servants within this Province not have- 
ing husbands living with them, have bene gotten with child in 
the tyme of their servitude to the great dishonour of God and 
the apparent damage to the masters. . . For remedy where- 
of bee it enacted . . . that every such mother of a bastard 
child not able sufficiently to prove the part>' charged to be the 
begetter of such child, in every such case the mother of such 
child shall only be lyable to satisfy the damages soe sustained 
by servitude, or other wayes . . . provided that when the 
mother of any such child as aforesaid shalbe able to prove her 
charge either by sufficient testimony of wittnesses or confession, 
then the party charged, if a servant to satisfie half the said dam- 
ages, if a freeman then the whole damages by servitude or oth- 
erwise as aforesaid. And if any such mother . . . be able 
to prove . . . that the said party charged (being a single 
person and a freeman) did before the begitting of such child 
promise her marriage, that then hee shall performc his promise 
to her, or recompense her abuse, as the court before whom such 
matter is brought shall see convenient, the quail ity and condi- 
tion of the persons considered. 

This act was to continue for three years or to the etui 

314 The American Family - Colonial Period 

of the next General Assembly. According to Maryland 
law, polygamy, sodomy, and rape were capital offences. 
The author of Leah and Rachel notes regarding Vir- 
ginia that "if any be known . . . to . . . com- 
mit whoredome . . . there are . . . severe 
and wholesome laws." An act of 1657-1658 deprived 
males guilty of bastardy of the right to testify in court 
or hold office -a severe penalty when everyone wanted 
some office. But the colony could not afford to support 
illegitimates! An act was passed giving the master an 
additional time of service if a bastard was born to his 
servant. This law put a premium on immorality and 
there seem to have been masters base enough to profit 
by it. The evil was restrained by an act of 1662 which 
provided that the maid servant should be sold away 
from her master in such cases without compensation to 
him for the loss of her time. By a law of 1705 "every 
person not a servant or slave, convicted of adultery or 
fornication by the oaths of two or more credible wit- 
nesses, or confession, shall, for every offense of adultery, 
pay 1000 lbs. of tobacco and cost; and of fornication, 
500 . . . to be recovered by . . . churchwar- 
dens of parish where offense was committed." In de- 
fault of payment he should receive twenty-five lashes. 
By an act of 1727 the mother of a bastard was subject to 
fine or flogging. The person in whose house the birth 
occurred was responsible for giving notice. A servant 
woman had to serve an extra year or pay her owner one 
thousand pounds of tobacco. The reputed father, if 
free, had to give security to maintain the child. If he 
was a servant he had to render satisfaction to the parish, 
after expiration of his term, for keeping the child. If 
the master was the father he could claim no extra serv- 

Servitude and Sexuality in the South 315 

ice but the parish could sell the mother for one extra 

North Carolina bastardy laws were similar to Vir- 
ginia's. A law of 1715 provided that a woman servant 
bearing a bastard was liable to two years extra servitude 
besides punishment for fornication. If she came into 
the province with child she was not liable. If with 
child by the master she was to be sold for two years 
after expiration of her time; the money to go to the 
parish. The act left the master unpunished except as he • 
lost her service or was liable for fornication or adultery. 
The act of 1741 was milder. "Whereas many women 
are begotten with child by free men or servants, to the 
great prejudice of their master or mistress" such must 
serve one year extra. If the master is the father the 
woman should be sold by the church wardens for one 
year. There was no punishment for the seducing mas- 
ter. Instructions to Governor Dobbs in 1754 directed 
that laws against adultery, fornication, polygamy, and 
incest were to be enforced and extended. 

A recent writer says that the sanctity of the marriage 
vow was inviolable in early Maryland. Citations that 
might be given for the period between 1650 and 1657 
convey a quite different impression; the extant record 
of fornication and adultery is appalling. 

Alsop in his Character of Maryland suggests that , 
while male immigrants had less luck than female in get- 
ting mates unless they were good talkers and persuaders, 
this fluent sort stood a chance of injecting "themselves 
in the time of their servitude into the private and re- 
served favor of their mistress, if age speak their master 
deficient." An Episcopal rector in 1676 wrote of Mary- 
land: "All notorious vices are committed ; so that it is 

3i6 The American Family ~ Colonial Period 

become a Sodom of uncleanness, and a pest house of 

In 1685 Anne Thompson, convicted of bigamy, was 
pardoned on agreement to abandon the second husband. 
In 1696, 

Vpon representacon . . . that Thomas Hedge Clerk . . . 

had lately been marryed to another woman notwithstanding 

his having a wife now living in England and that one Lieut. 

Coll. Richardson tho conscious thereof did presume to perform 

tht office; ordered thereupon that Mr Attorney and Sollictor 

Genii, make due proceedings agt them. 

About 1697 Governor Nicholson reported to the Board 
of Trade that "some of the men having two wives, and 
some of the women, two husbands, whoring . . . 
were too much practised in the countrey, and seldom 
any were punished for these sins." 

A letter of the reverend Thomas Bray in 1702 says: 

How else could it be that such an infamous vile man as Holt 
who is expelled out of Virginia for adultery should be received 
in Maryland and presented to one of the best livings in the 
province. And were any one amongst you to govern the clergy 
such a miscreant who I hear has attempted to poison his own 
wife and has lately had a bastard by the woman he kept would 
have been so far from being permitted to enjoy his place and to 
exercise the ministry of his holy calling that he would not only 
long ere this have been deprived of his living but degraded from 
his function. I hear there is another scandalous vagrant come 
into the province, one Butt as wicked as the other and yet put 
into a place. 

In All Saints Parish in 1736, 

Mr. Richard Blake, vestryman, reported to this vestry that 
himself and Mr. Jas. Hughes church warden forewarned 

Greorge and Mary not to cohabit tegether for the 

future upon their penalty as the law in that case provides. 

In the province at a later date a case of bastardy and 
forced marriage was burlesqued by vulgar officials. 

Servitude and Sexuality in the South 317 

In Virginia persons were presented for adultery and 
fornication by the church-wardens at the annual visita- 
tions; and the culprits had to submit to fines or whip- 
ping. The following judgment was given by the gov- 
ernor and council in 1627: 

Upon the presentment of the church-wardens of Stanley Hun- 
dred for suspicion of incontinency betweene Henry Kinge and 
the wife of John Jackson, they lyinge together in her husband's 
absence; it is thought fitt that the sayd Kinge shall remove his 
habitation from her, and not to use or frequent her company 
until her husband's return. 

In 1 63 1, "Because Edw. Grymes lay with Alice West 
he gives security not to marry any woman till further 
order from the governor and council." 

Bruce in his Institutional History of Virginia in the . 
Seventeenth Century treats at length of sex sin. He as- 
serts that one of the commonest sins committed in the 
lower levels of society was bastardy. Numbers of 
women servants came over either free or bound by in- 
denture. These generally belonged to the lowest class 
in the home country and not all were trained in virtue. 
In Virginia as contract servants it was not easy for them 
to marry. Masters did not want this species of cattle 
laid by for pregnancy and childbirth with the risk of 
death. Licentious masters were in a position also to 
utilize the sex services of such as they chose. Morccwer 
the unfortunate women were thrown in contact with the 
lowest class of men and immorality was practically in- 
evitable especially as kinship ties and responsibility had 
been broken by the migration. 

At a very early period punishment was inflicted for 
incontinence even tho the guilty persons had married 
and their children had been born in wedlock. In 1642 
a couple were arrested for living unlawfully toj^cthcr. 

3i8 The American Family - Colonial Period 

They were sentenced to thirty lashes each and there- 
after were kept apart till legally united. Another man 
for like offense was compelled to give one hundred fifty 
pounds of tobacco towards the erection of stocks. The 
same year a woman was convicted of bearing two bas- 
tards. J. Pope, summoned for improper intimacy with 
a woman, was tried and sentenced to build a ferry boat 
or receive forty lashes and acknowledge his fault in the 
parish church. In another case the father of a bastard 
was sentenced to go before the congregation and con- 
fess. The mother was to receive thirty lashes on her 
bare back. One woman led into church was impeni- 
tent. She was lashed and required to appear again. It 
was generally the man that escaped whipping. 

After the middle of the century bastardy became 
more frequent than ever, owing to the increase in 
number of female domestic and agricultural servants. 
The burden of maintaining illegitimates weighed heav- 
ily on the colony. In the House of Burgesses Colonel 
Lawrence Smith offered a petition in which after stress- 
ing "the excessive charge" that rested on the parishes 
"by means of bastards born of servant women" he asked 
for more stringent measures. The House, however, 
deemed the existing laws sufficient. 

One of the church wardens' most important duties 
was to protect the parish from the expense of bastards. 
Sometimes the father of a bastard was required to give 
bond to protect the parish from expense while the 
mother was in his service. Always the master, if not 
guilty of the bastardy, could pay such sum as would 
safeguard the parish. Servants would have to serve 
extra time. 

In 1663 fourteen cases of bastardy were tried at one 
county court session. In 1688, at least three servant 

Servitude and Sexuality in the South 319 

women of one master gave birth to illegitimate chil- 
dren. If wardens neglected to bind till the age of 
thirty unprovided-for bastards they might be prose- 
cuted in county court. 

County courts protected women of loose reputation 
from undue severity. In 1693 Elizabeth Paine was or- 
dered by the wardens of York to leave the plantation 
where she was living. She appealed as the ground was 
ready for a crop and she did not want to lose it from 
herself and her "poor children." The court granted 
leave to stay until the crop was secured. 

The court of Norfolk County, 1695, too'^ ^^he follow- 
ing action : 

Whereas Captain J H hath been prsented to this 

court by the grand jury for entertaining another man's wife, 

contrary to lawe, the woman being the wife of B S 

blacksmith late of this county, who hath been sometimes absent 

out of this county and the said Capt. J H apearing 

upon sumons from this court, pleading in his vindication, this 
court hath thought fit and doe order that the church wardens 

of Eliza R, parrish doe repair forthwith to the said Capt H 

house and admonish him and the said woman not to frequent or 
be seene in each other's company for the future and that the said 

Capt H put her away from his house imeadiately after such 

admonicon and make report of theire soe doing at the next court 

and that the said H doe accordingly put the sayd woman 

away from his house and that they doe not frequent each other's 
company hereafter upon payne of the penalty of the lawcs in 

such cases provided and Sd. H pay cost. 

Stories of scandal in high society can be found in the 
histories of all old Virginia and Carolina towns."" 

The contemporary authorities usually speak in un- 
favorable terms of the morals of the first settlers in 
North Carolina. Graffenried speaks of lewd fellows 

1*" Giddings. Natural History of American Morals, 34. 

320 The American Family - Colonial Period 

among the Palatines. The reverend Mr. Urmstone in 

a letter from the colony dated 171 1 says: 

This is a nest of the most notorious profligates on earth. 
Women forsake their husbands come in here and live with other 
men they are sometimes followed then a pull is given to the 
husband and madam stays with her gallant a report is spread 
abroad that the husband is dead then they become man and wife 
make a figure and pass for people of worth and dignity. What 
to do with such I know not . . . for I have not been 
wanting in my endeavors. 

Brickell says of the North Carolinians in 1737: 
"The generality of them live after a loose and lascivious 
manner." In 1760 Woodmason said: 

The manners of the North Carolinians in general are vile and 
corrupt and the whole country is a stage of debauchery dissolute- 
ness and corruption, and how can it be otherwise? The people 
are composed of the outcasts of all the other colonies. . . 
Marriages (through want of Clergy) are performed by every 
ordinary magistrate - poligamy is very common - celibacy much 
more — bastardy no disrepute, concubinage general. 

The reverend gentleman quoted above was later 
forced to turn his son adrift. "He got a servant wench 
with child who had two years to serve rendered her not 
only useless but even a burden to me yet am forced to 
keep her not knowing where to get a better." But a let- 
ter to the secretary accuses this clerical gentleman of 
drunkenness, profanity, and lewdness. 

A Carolina general court in 1727 entertained 

A presentment against Solomon Hews for leaving his lawful 
wife and cohabiting with another woman in which time the 
woman have had two children. . . A presentment against 
John Brown for having left his wife . . . and cohabits 
with another which he acknowledges to be his lawful wife both 
of said women within this Grovernment. 

On another occasion a grand jury presented James Boul- 
ton for cohabiting with and seducing Mary Jennings 

Servitude and Sexuality in the South 321 

from her husband. Brickell notes an Indian's attempt 
to seduce a planter's maid. Locke's Carolina Memoirs 
refer to one "O'Syllivan . . . illnatured buggerer 
of children." At one time, probably about 1760, a 
minister complained against his vestry: 

One of them declared that the money he is obliged to give to 
the maintaining a minister he would rather give to a kind girl. 
Another is a person who committed incest with his own uncle's 
widow and has a child by her which he owns publicly. 

The House in 1766 appointed a committee to investi- 
gate a complaint of Solomon Ewell of the elopement of 
his wife and her living in adultery. Solomon asked 

Charges of loose living in early North Carolina may 
have been exaggerated. But probably the inaccessi- 
bility of the settlements and the lack of religion and ed- 
ucation favored the coming of undesirables. 

Georgia was not free from sex sin. For Savannah, 
1735, we find the following record: 

Att our last Court Wm. Watkins . . . was prosecuted 
for misdemeanor and the late wife of James Willoughby for 
Bigamy. . . Watkins in April had procured a person un- 
known ... to marry him to the widow ... in con- 
sequence of which she proved with child ; soon after this, he re- 
ceived advice by letter and message that his wife was alive and 
well in England; and he had not made his marriage publick, 
he proposed to her, that as he had a wife in F'ngland, he should 
be liable to be troubled, and therefore dared not own it; and 
as she was with child the world would soon discover it, and be- 
lieve she had played the whore, therefore persuaded her to 
marry R. Mellichamp. They were married by Mr. Irving 
Watkins being present; Mellichamp soon discovered her being 
with child, and his own misfortunes in marrying her; Watkins 
and the woman were at Richard Turner's one night, when 
Mellichamp came in and desired her to go liotne, but as she 
was not willing, he said, that In- would sell sucli a wife for a 

322 The American Family -Colonial Period 

groat at any time, declaring he believed she loved Watkins 
better than he; one in the company jocularly said he would 
give a shilling for her, severall others bidding by way of auc- 
tion she was declared to be sold for £5 sterling; Mellichamp 
seemed satisfyed, and the woman declared she would go with the 
buyer and behaved immodestly. One Langford then in com- 
pany at their desire conveyed them to his lodging, where they 
were bedded in publick, and the £5 paid and accepted of. . . 
Watkins was whipt (unpittyed) on a muster day at the carts 
tail round the town and remains in gaol for want of surety. 
The woman is held in gaol as being with child ; but as we think 
her crime is within the benefit of the clergy her confinement is 
enlarged ; Langford was very instrumental in the discovery of 
the whole matter and gave a clear evidence therefore was only 
bound over for his future good behavior, and Mellichamp, be- 
ing a sufferer was acquitted. 

One of the Wesleys' first experiences was with two 
coarse women with tainted virtue who they supposed 
had repented. The brothers persuaded Oglethorpe to 
accept the women as respectable and then attempted to 
reform the other female colonists. 

Illegitimacy sometimes led to infanticide. In Mary- 
land, 1656, a woman was accused (probably on sus- 
picion of bastardy) of murdering her child. A jury 
of women was appointed to examine her. They testi- 
fied that she had not had a child within the time in 
question. In other case a wretched girl bore an ille- 
gitimate child in secret. It died soon and was privately 
buried by the mother. According to English law this 
furtiveness was proof presumptive of infanticide and 
the girl was condemned to death. But the council, 
considering that the body showed no marks of violence 
and that its being wrapped in clean linen showed "a 
tender care and affection on the part of the mother," 
commuted the sentence to a fine of six thousand pounds 
of tobacco. Thereupon her old father sent a pathetic 

Servitude and Sexuality in the South 323 

petition to the council representing that he was miser- 
ably poor and crushed with grief and shame. The fine 
was then reduced to five hundred pounds, or between 
four and five pounds sterling. In 171 1 in Virginia 
there was an act to prevent murder of bastard children. 
In North Carolina at an early date occurred the case of 
a woman accused of killing her bastard child. She was 
found not guilty. 

The Revolution doubtless brought a degree of the sex 
vice that is inseparable from warfare. In seaboard 
Georgia, women and children were driven from their 
homes. "The obscene language which was used and 
personal insults . . . offered to the tender sex soon 
rendered a residence in the country insupportable." 
They were obliged to abandon the country in great 

The presence of African slaves and Indians early 
gave rise to the problem of miscegenation. It took 
some time for standards of race integrity to become 
thoroly set and indeed while they did take shape in 
sanctimonious professional abhorrence they never elim- 
inated intercourse between the male white and women • 
of the inferior race. It was otherwise with the females . 
of the white race. They belonged to their males. 

In 1609 a sermon was preached at Whitechapel in 
presence of many adventurers and planters for Virginia 
from Genesis, xii, 1-3. The sermon taught that 

Abrams posteritie [must] keepe to themselves. They may not 
marry nor give in marriage to the heathen, that arc utuir- 
cumcised. . . The breaking of this rule, may brcake tin* 
necke of all good successe of this voyage, whereas by kt-eping 
the feare of God, the planters in shorte time, by the blessing of 
God, may grow into a nation formidable to all the enemies 
of Christ. 
The only marriage with an Indian during tin- com- 

324 The American Family -Colonial Period 

pany's rule was in the case of Pocahontas. But in the 
early days no great antipathy to amalgamation with the 
Indians was shown. Through most of the seventeenth 
century there was no prohibition of marriage with In- 
dians. Numerous instances of marriage with Indians 
are on record. There are instances in which the county 
courts granted express permission to a white man to 
espouse an Indian servant. 

Pocahontas's marriage was thought to be a surety of 
peace and so it turned out to be. Sir Thomas Dale 
(with a wife in England) asked Powhatan for the hand 
of a favorite daughter. He meant to live for the re- 
mainder of his days in Virginia, he said, and he wanted 
to conclude with Powhatan a "perpetual friendship." 
Powhatan was not beguiled; he replied that his daugh- 
ter was already disposed of. But the incident is an in- 
cisive commentary on the standards of the day. Rolfe, 
even, failed to provide in his will for his child by 

Governor Charles Calvert wrote to Lord Baltimore 
in 1672: 

Major Fitzherberts' brother who maryed the Indian Brent, 
has ciuilly parted with her and (as I suppjose) will neuer care 
to bed with her more, soe that your Lopp need not to fear any 
ill consequence from that match butt what has already happened 
to the poore man who vnaduisedly threw himself away vpon her 
in hopes of a great portion, which now is come to little. 

Doctor Brickell wrote of North Carolina: 

I knew an European man that lived many years amongst the In- 
dians and had a child by one of their women, having bought 
her as they do their wives, and afterwards married a Christian. 
Sometimes after, he came to the Indian town [and wanted] to 
pass away a night with his former mistress as usual, but she 
made answer, that she then had forgot that she ever knew him, 
and that she never lay with another woman's husband ; so fell 
a crying, took up the child she had by him, and went out of the 

Servitude and Sexuality in the South 325 

cabin in great disorder, altho he used all possible means to 
pacify her. . . She would never see him afterwards, or be 
reconciled. . . There are several Europeans and other trad- 
ers which travel and abide amongst them for a long space of 
time, sometimes a year, two or three, and those men commonly 
have their Indian wives or mistresses, whereby they soon learn 
the Indian tongue and keep in good friendship with them, be- 
sides having the satisfaction they have of a bed-fellow, they find 
these girls very serviceable to them upon several occasions; 
especially in dressing their victuals, and instructing them in the 
affairs and customs of the country. . . One great misfor- 
tune that generally attend the Christians that converse with 
these women as husbands, is that they get children by them, 
which are seldom otherwise brought up or educated than in the 
wretched state of infidelity [for according to Indian custom, the 
children go to the mother, and it is hard for the white men to 
get them away. Some white men stay thus permanently among 
the Indians]. These Indian girls that have frequently con- 
versed with the Europeans, never much care for the conversa- 
tion of their own countrymen afterwards. 

One trader from the Carolinas is said to have boasted 
that he had upwards of seventy children and grand- 
children among the Indians. 

Bosomworth, chaplain in Oglethorpe's regiment, 
married a half-breed much respected by the Indians. 
He hoped thus to get a great fortune. 

Mixture with negroes was a more serious southern 
problem and called forth severe penalization. White 
servitude, assimilating European men and women to the • 
servile status, was a potent factor in the demoralization. 
Planters sometimes married women servants to nci^rocs 
in order to transform the women and their offspring 
into slaves.'"'*' 

Something of the colonial attitude in the South on the 
question of miscegenation may be gathered from sut li • 
terminology as "unnatural," "inordinate" unions. The 

150 Compare McCormac. While Servitude in Maryland, 67-70. 

326 The American Family -Colonial Period 

offending white "defiled his body" and "abused himself 
to the dishonor of God and shame of Christianity." 

Slavery of course had small regard for sex morality 
on the part of the chattels. Something of the economic 
spirit at work may be seen even in the legal protection 
given to the slaves. In Virginia even before 1705 the 
courts attempted to check the growth of the right to sep- 
arate husband and wife and larger children. Devises 
of children, particularly of children not born before the 
testator's death (which devises were adjudged void), 
were declared by the general court in 1695 to be neither 
"convenient nor humanitarian" as the mother's owner 
would not be careful of her in pregnancy nor of the 
child "and many children might hence die; and besides 
it was an unreasonable charge" without benefit to the 
owner of the mother. 

In North Carolina in the first half of the eighteenth 
century in disposing of slaves some care was used not to 
part the men and their wives and children. Such an in- 
stance is shown in the will of Cullen Pollock in 1749. 
Doctor Brickell wrote that negro marriages had little 
ceremony. If the woman returned the pledge the union 
was ruptured. If a woman proved unfruitful by her 
first husband the planter required her to take a series if 
necessary for the sake of procuring offspring. Rivals 
fought desperately. Slave children, he said, were care- 
fully brought up and provided for by planters. Negro 
children wore little or no clothing save in winter. 
Many young men and women worked in hot weather 
nude save for a piece of cloth to "cover their nakedness." 

The author of Itinerant Observations in America 
who visited Maryland, Virginia, and Carolina, wrote 
that with slavery 

Several brutal and scandalous customs . . . are too much 

Servitude and Sexuality in the South 327 

practised: such as giving them a number of wives, or in short, 
setting them up for stallions to a whole neighborhood ; when it 
has been prov'd, I think, unexceptionably that polygamy rather 
destroys than multiplies the species . . . and were these 
masters to calculate, they'd find a regular procreation would 
make them greater gainers. 

John Woolman in 1757 wrote after a trip through 
Maryland to Virginia: 

Many of the white people in these provinces take little or no 
care of negro marriages ; and when negros marry after their own 
way, some make so little account of these marriages that with 
views of outward interest they often part men from their wives 
by selling them far asunder, which is common when estates are 
sold by executors at vendue. . . Men and women have 
many times scarcely clothes sufficient to hide their nakedness, 
and boys and girls ten and twelve years old are often quite 
naked amongst their master's children. Some of our society, 
and some of the society called Newlights, use some endeavors 
to instruct those they have in reading; but in common this is 
not only neglected, but disapproved. 

Instructions by Richard Corbin to an agent for the 
management of a plantation in Virginia in 1759 direct 
as follows: 

The breeding wenches more particularly you must instruct the 
overseers to be kind and indulgent to, and not force them when 
with child upon any service or hardship that will be injurious to 
them and that they have every necessary when in that condition 
that is needful for them, and the children to be well l<M)ked 
after and to give them every spring and fall the Jerusalem oak 
seed for a week together and that none of them suflfer in time 
of sickness for want of proper care. 

In North Carolina the reverend Mr. Reed wrote in 

I baptise all those blacks whose masters become sureties for 
them, but never baptize any negro infants or children upon any 
other terms. 
An advertisement of a runaway in the Virginia Gn- 

328 The American Family - Colonial Period 

zette, 1767, illustrates the scattering of slave families: 
''Has a wife at Little Town, and a father at Mr. Philip 
Burt's quarter." A slave-owner in North Carolina in 
1774 wrote: "I have a Congoer who wants to be sold 
along with his wife and two children. I do not wish 
to sell him, tho I would not refuse to do so, if I find he 
will not stay here." A letter of John Peck (presum- 
ably in Virginia) in 1788 says: "My man George 
Jones has a wife at Colespoint." 

The conditions of slavery and servitude were condu- 
cive to rape by negroes and whites. In Virginia in the 
seventeenth century we find reference to strong meas- 
ures to be taken for apprehending Robin, a negro that 
had ravished a white woman. In the latter half of the 
eighteenth century the rigor of the criminal code was 
lessened. Slaves attempting rape, etc., had been cas- 
trated. But later the ability of county court to order 
castration was limited to cases of blacks convicted of at- 
tempt to ravish white women. 

The efifect of slavery on the morals of white children 
was beginning to be evident. The author of the Itin- 
erant Observations previously cited says with reference 
to the using of negro males as "stallions:" 

A sad consequence of this practice is, that their childrens morals 
are debauched by the frequency of such sights, as only fit them 
to become the masters of slaves. 

They suffer the children when young "too much to prowl 
amongst the young negros, which insensibly causes them 
to imbibe their manners and broken speech." 

Chastellux, a French traveler, frequently remarks on 
the masses of the poverty-stricken people he saw in Vir- 
ginia, some dressed in rags and living in miserable huts. 
They were indolent and hopeless, a product of the slave 

Servitude and Sexuality in the South 329 

system, which degraded useful efifort. From them 
sprang many of the "poor whites" of later days. 

The record of southern servile institutions even in 
colonial days shows with sufficient plainness that funda- 
mental morality is a very scarce commodity among peo- 
ple of the ruling class. At best they are willing to skim 
the surface of moral issues provided this can be done 
with advantage to their pocketbooks or their public 
treasury. It becomes evident from the study of servi- 
tude and slavery if not before that the family is the 
creature of economic conditions and that sentimental 
morality is an aftergrowth of economic improvement. 
The large reason why the ethics of the aristocratic fam- 
ily dififered from that of the slave union was that the 
members of the former were a product of economic 
prowess while the latter were the victims of economic 
exploitation. The indictment that enlightened judg- 
ment brings against the industrial system in the colonial 
South is precisely that which to-day is due against the 
capitalist system as the subverter of family morality and 
the enemy of the home. 


The French settlements in the Gulf region, unlike 
those in the northern part of the Mississippi Valley, 
left an impress sufficiently permanent and important to 
make them worthy of special attention. 

A colony was established at Mobile in 1701 and New 
Orleans was founded in 171 8. From the outset there 
was a constant appeal to the mother country for wives. 
The Canadians of standing that were married brought 
their families to Louisiana. Many had grown daugh- 
ters and these married young Canadians of good posi- 
tion. The French officers, younger sons of the nobility, 
could not condescend to lower grade so they lived in 
gay and careless bachelorhood. Some of them perhaps 
were relieved rather than distressed by the lack of 
wives. But the crude pioneers of the wilderness needed 
wives. "With wives," wrote Iberville, "I will anchor 
the sorry coureurs de bois into sturdy colonists." "Send 
me wives for my Canadians," write Bienville ; "they are 
running in the woods after Indian girls." 

In the summer of 1703 twenty-three young women of 
good character and appearance arrived. In 1706 Louis 
XIV. sent a number of girls to Louisiana. They were 
to have good homes and to be well married. It was 
thought that they would soon teach the squaws many 
useful domestic employments. But the girls rebelled 
against Indian corn, threatened to run away, and stirred 
up an imbroglio known as the Petticoat Rebellion, 
bringing much ridicule on the governor. 

332 The American Family -Colonial Period 

In 171 3 the commissary-general wrote to the minister 
that twelve girls had lately arrived from France who 
were too ugly and badly formed to win the affections of 
the men and that only two of them had found husbands. 
He feared that the other ten would remain in stock for 
a long time. He thought fit to suggest that in future 
those that sent girls should attach more importance to 
beauty than to virtue as the Canadians were not partic- 
ular about what sort of lives their spouses had formerly 
led whereas if they were supplied only with such ugly 
girls they would prefer to take up with Indian women, 
especially in the Illinois country where the Jesuits sanc- 
tioned such alliances by the marriage ceremony. 

The same year Governor Cadillac wrote that the in- 
habitants were "a mass of rapscallions from Canada, a 
cut-throat set, without subordination, with no respect 
for religion and abandoned in vice with Indian women 
whom they prefer to French girls" and that the soldiers 
all had Indian wives who cooked for them and waited 
on them. With regard to a consignment of girls from 
Europe the sea-captain had seduced more than half the 
girls on the passage and this was why they had not 
found respectable husbands. It seemed to him best 
under the circumstances that the soldiers should be al- 
lowed to marry them lest their poverty should drive 
them to prostitution. 

In 1714 the Curate La Vente suggested to the min- 
ister that Louisiana be colonized with Christian fam- 
ilies or else that the French be allowed to marry the 
Indian women with religious rites; or if these ideas 
were not feasible that a large number of girls "better 
chosen than the last, and especially some who will be 
sufficiently pleasing and well-formed to suit the officers 

French Colonies in the TVest 333 

of the garrisons and the principal inhabitants" should 
be sent over from France as a partial remedy. 

From time to time the paternal government respond- 
ed to such requests with cargoes of women. In 1721 
twenty-five prostitutes came from Salpetriere, a house 
of correction at Paris, sent as wives for the colonists. 
In 1726 the Company of the Indies contracted with the 
Ursuline sisters to teach girls and to serve as the means 
of transporting girls of good character and training to 
supply the need of suitable wives for the officers and for 
the farmers and artisans of "the better sort." The de- 
graded women first sent over had often been not only 
unfit but unwilling for marriage and domesticity. Even 
the policy of granting discharges to the soldiers and 
offering them land and exemption from taxation as an 
inducement to marry these women had failed to solve 
the problem. The colony needed mothers. 

The strength of the demand is illustrated in a passage 
by Dumont in reference to one cargo of women : 

When landed all were lodged in the same house, with a sentinel 
at the door. They were permitted to be seen during the day in 
order that a choice might be made, but as soon as night fell, 
all access to them was guarded. . . It was not long before 
they were married and provided for. 

Indeed the supply never went round. The last one Ictt 
on one occasion became the object of dispute between 
two bachelors that wanted to fight for licr tho she was 
somewhat of an Amazon. The commandant reiiuired 
them to draw lots for the prize. Once a girl refuseil to 
marry tho "many good partis had been offered her." 

The year after the Ursulines a cari^o of girls came 
who had been chosen for character and skill in house- 
wifery. They came of their own accord. I^ach was 
dowered with a chest of clothing. They came wiih tlie 

334 ^^^^ American Family -Colonial Period 

understanding that their vocation was to be wifehood 
and motherhood but the choice of husbands was to be 
voluntary from among such suitors as the sisters, under 
whose care the girls were, should approve. 

Louisiana must have been indeed a region of loose 
morals. Sieur Charle, merchant, admitted that he had 
a child in 1709 by an Indian slave. Herve mentions 
one, Jean Baptiste, child of an Indian woman of Sieur 
d'Arbanne, "whose son it is held to be, not only by pub- 
lic rumor, but by the voluntary account of the mother." 
The church did not sanction marriages with Indians 
but such unions occurred and were classed in the church 
records as mariages naturels. We find record also in 
Herve's writings of one Capinan's forsaking a slave 
woman with whom he had lived in a marriage of this 
irregular species. The man had found a more desir- 
able partner. 

Cadillac refers to women of irregular life. Mere 
transplanting of the refuse of hospital and prison to the 
New World could not metamorphose them into good 
wives and mothers. In spite of great influx of people 
to Louisiana in the boom days, population does not seem 
to have grown fast. Gradually, however, there grew 
up an American generation of women ready for matri- 
mony. Girls were often married at twelve or fourteen, 
some of them "not even knowing how many gods there 
are and you can imagine the rest." ^^^ Girls of bad con- 
duct were "severely punished by putting them upon 
wooden horses and having them whipped by the regi- 
ment of soldiers that guard the town."^" A house for 
the detention and reform of immoral women was built 
and intrusted to the sisters. Gradually the imported 
dregs of vice were submerged by the natural conse- 

1^^ Phelps. Louisiana, 83. 

152 _ I^gjji, 

French Colonies in the JVest 33; 

quences of degeneracy. Many officials had their wives 
and families with them and kept clear of inferior mix- 
ture. On the Mississippi the Germans had German 
homes. Only a few Louisiana settlers had been per- 
sons of rank. Many of the population descended from 
the "casket girls" and from stock that society considers 
no account. 

Family life was subject to pioneer exigencies. In 
the first half of the eighteenth century t\vo hundred 
fifty women and children taken by the Natchez, and 
retaken, were brought to New Orleans. The orphan 
girls were adopted by the Ursulines. The boys found 
homes in well-to-do families. All the refugees were 
absorbed, many of the widows finding new husbands. 
In 1734 occurred the marriage of one Baudran with the 
publication of only one ban. The reason for this 
abridgment of the preliminaries was doubtless that the 
priest came so seldom. In 1720 provision was made 
(Mobile) for registration of baptisms, marriages, and 

A side-light on the desire for growth in numbers in 
the colony is seen in the fact that during the Spanish 
regime the governor arrested the grand inquisitor and 
packed him off to Spain in order not to scare off pop- 

A Spanish precontract of marriage in 1786 is interest- 
ing for comparison with English usage. The instru- 
ment provides for a Catholic marriage, to take place as 
soon as either person requests it. Neither is to be liable 
for the ante-nuptial debts of the other; but they shall 
hold in common all property, movable and immovable, 
according to the custom of Spain, all other customs be- 
ing renounced. In case of death of either without i^-^ue 
the survivor is to receive the whole property. 

336 The American Family - Colonial Period 

Children brought up on the coarse rough frontier 
were also spoiled by slavery. The girls caught less 
coarseness from slavery and less roughness from the 
w^ilderness. They were thus, in a way, superior to the 
men. In old Louisiana before annexation to the United 
States the lives of the women of the well-to-do were 
taken up mainly with the supervision of their servants 
and in exaggerated devotion to their children. Tho 
they were personally attractive and of natural intelli- 
gence they appeared but little interesting to the French 
traveller, or indeed to their husbands. Quadroons at- 
tracted the men. 

This brief view of the southern French colony is use- 
ful in two ways : it shows the origin of the unique social 
institutions of New Orleans and it illuminates by way 
of contrast the English development on the Atlantic 
coast and helps us to appreciate the distinctive quality 
of the English institutions from which the American 
family derives its main features. There was apparent- 
ly less solidity and seriousness in the French territory. 
The Puritan blood of France, or, if that be too strong a 
term, the bourgeois fibre of the nation, was by short- 
sighted intolerance excluded from French America, and 
English America profited by the Huguenot strains. 
Thus the foundations for the modern, as contrasted with 
the medieval family, were laid on the Atlantic coast 
rather than in the valley of the Mississippi. By the 
same token England was destined to possess the con- 


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