Macie Reed

Dr. Carl Brucker

Introduction to America Literature 2013

June 19, 2012

Marriage in Puritan America

            Between 1629 and 1640 an estimated 20,000 Puritans found themselves on American soil after fleeing from England due to religious persecution (Roe).  Puritans felt the Church of England was the only true church, but was in desperate need of reform (Stuart).  They were deep rooted in their faith, allowing it to have a major impact on most aspects of their life.  However, in contrast to general assumptions, marriage was not mandated by religion in Puritan America, but instead it was viewed as a civic contract (Vandergriff).

            Marriage in Puritan America was extremely important.  98 percent of men and 94 percent of women chose to marry (Roe).The small group of people who opted to remain single were ostracized (Roe).  The average age for men to marry was 26, while women typically married at 23 (Roe).  The marriages, on average, lasted about 12 years due to a high mortality rate (Vandergriff). After the death of a spouse, most Puritans remarried (Vandergriff).

Puritan society was “organized around the unquestioned principle of patriarchy”, therefore fathers had a big hand in choosing partners for the offspring (Vandergriff).   Potential suitors had to gain permission from a girl’s father before he could begin courting, or dating, her (Vandergriff).  Fathers had the “legal right to determine which men would be allowed to court his daughters” (Vandergriff).  However, marriage was considered a “free act”, meaning Puritan children had the right to refuse their parents’ choice for them (Vandergriff).  Because fathers were able to dictate how and when their property was distributed among their offspring, children very rarely acted on the right to refuse and accepted their fathers pick whether it made them happy or not (Vandergriff).

            In Puritan America, love was not a deciding factor for marriages.  Marriage was a business transaction between a woman’s father and future husband.  Fathers paid a dowry, the amount of money or property given from a bride’s family to the man she marries (Gormley).  Often times couples married due to the forthcoming birth of a child.  Almost half of the women married were already pregnant when saying their vows (Gardner).  Once the marriage occurred, women, on average, gave birth to between six and eight children (Stuart). 

            Marriages in Puritan America were a two-way street.  Both the male and female in a relationship had legal rights.  Both men and women could petition the courts for a divorce (Stuart). Divorce was easily obtained if the grounds included adultery, long absence, or cruelty (Stuart).  Women were protected from domestic violence.  Men, if convicted of abuse, were punished by receiving “a fine, a lashing, a public admonition, or supervision by a town-appointed guardian” (Stuart).

            Men and women served specific roles within a Puritan marriage.  A man was focused on “the area of war, politics, and business” (Stuart).  Women were focused more on the home.  They handled “basic accounting, overseeing of servants, child rearing, and sewing” (Stuart). 

            Marriages in Puritan America were not religious based marriages, but instead on a practical, logic foundation in which their entire society was set upon.  

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Gardner, Andrew. “Colonial Williamsburg.” Courtship, Sex, and the Single Colonist: The

Official History Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 June 2012. http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/holiday07/court.cfm

Gormley, Myra V. “Colonial Love and Marriage.” Colonial Love and Marriage. N.p., 2004.

            Web. 19 June 2012. http://www.genealogymagazine.com/coloandma.html.

Roe, Sue. “Coming to America: The Puritans.” Coming to America: The Puritans. N.p., n.d.

            Web. 19 June 2012. http://www.genealogytoday.com/columns/recipes/tip13a/html.

Stuart, S. L. “Colonial America Marriages.” Colonial America Marriages. N.p., n.d. Web. 19

June 2012. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~knappdb/colonialamericanmarriage.htm.

Vandergriff, Ken “The Vandergriff in America.” The Vandergriff in America.

Campbell University, n.d. Web. 19 June 2012. 

http://web.campbell.edu/faculty/vandergriffk/FamColonial.html.

 

 

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