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Some general information on marriage
Marriage was still largely a business arrangement; love was considered unimportant until after life expectancies and overall wealth rose. With the shorter life expectancies of the early years, children in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake were often unrelated to the adults raising them by the time they were teenagers. First one natural parent would die and the survivor would remarry, then the survivor would die and the stepparent would remarry. What is interesting is that such children were raised for the corporate good, even when there was no genetic investment.
The best place to begin to understand the differences between then and now is marriage. Marriage had always served one of three purposes: to produce legitimate heirs, to obtain money or property, or to obtain title. As such marriage was a business contract having nothing to do with love. That was what affairs were for. Marriages for love, or with love an important factor, were just becoming common during the early period, and then only for the middle classes. Sanctified marriage, as distinct from a contract, had been established for only about 150 years. The newer Protestants adopted a view of sanctified marriage in which procreation and the allegory of marital love could justify sex within the religious framework, whereas sex outside of marriage was considered immoral and criminal
Marriage customs varied with religions and regions, but a few things pertained to all. Because of the high cost of clothing, wedding attire was not special, except at the very highest court levels. Instead, the celebrants wore the finest clothes they already owned. White was not an obligatory color. Most such customs come from after the period, although in the very late period customs gradually shifted toward the more modern ones. Even here it is wise to be cautious. White was then becoming a common color for dresses, so when one hears about a white dress for the bride, it may not imply a special bridal dress symbolic of virginal purity. It is better to see the marriage ceremony merely as a symbolic rite of passage into a period of acknowledged sexual activity, with a few religious overtones.
In the Anglican church, marriage required the POSTING or PUBLICATION OF THE BANNS a fortnight before the wedding, so that any person with reason to object to the marriage had opportunity to do so. The ceremony was to be performed by a minister within a church, before noon, and only during certain seasons of the year. On the South's plantations this broke down and most services were held in the bride's home, with noon the nominal assembly time, but actually starting about two o'clock to allow travel time. Twelfth Night (January 6) was a favorite date for weddings.
In lower-class Virginia, the party assembled at the groom's house, then passed to the bride's house in a riotous footrace, with the winner getting a bottle of liquor. Next came a heavy wedding breakfast with beef, venison, chicken, pork and possibly bear, during which the bridesmaids protected the bride's slipper. If a male guest stole it, the bride was forced to redeem it with another bottle of liquor before the ceremony. A minister said a short service, little more than an exchange of "will you take's" and a blessing. The festivities then began with a dinner, followed by drinking and dancing until about sunrise. Before midnight the bride and bridesmaids stole off to her room, shortly followed by the groom and groomsmen. There, with the couple in bed, a variant on our modern garter and bouquet rituals was performed. Taking turns, the bridesmaids stood at the foot of the bed with their back to the couple and threw a rolled-up stocking at the bride. The groomsmen then repeated the performance, aiming for the groom's head. The first to connect were the next to be married, not necessarily to each other. In the morning the couple was disturbed again and toasted by the party. SOURCE: The Writer's Guide, Everyday Life in Colonial America From 1607 - 1783. Dale Taylor. Weiter's Digest Books (1997) pp 120-122
America's Founding Fathers were not always married: In Concord, Massachusetts, a bastion of Puritan tradition, one-third of all children born during the twenty years prior to the American Revolution were conceived out of wedlock; during the 1780s and 1790s, one-third of the brides in rural New England were pregnant at marriage. A study of illegitimacy in North Carolina found that out-of-wedlock birth rates for white women were approximately the same in 1850 as in 1970, though the pattern was more indicative of class exploitation than it is today: The fathers tended to be well-off heads of intact families, while the mothers lived in poor, female-headed households.10
10. Sar Levitan, What's Happening to the American Family? (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), p. 66; Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988); Susan Newcomer, "Out of Wedlock Childbearing in an Ante-Bellum Southern County," Journal of Family History 15 (1990). SOURCE: The Way We Never Were American Families and the Nostalgia Trap Stephanie Coontz Basic Books, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers (1992) p 184
CONTINUE ON TO EARLY AMERICA SEX, MARRIAGE, CHILDREN, GAYS, LESBIANS, BOYS AS GIRLS, ABORTION, BREECHING, FAMILY AND OTHER MYTHS. PART 4