Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

“[My] wife . . . hath alienated her Affections from me”

Women during the eighteenth century were subject to the authority of men, whether father, brother, or husband. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, a text used in the training of American lawyers, had this to say about the relation of men and women in marriage. “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law, that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated in that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything.” The wife was a feme covert. Divorce was very difficult and wives in unhappy marriages or abusive relationships had few options. Some wives out of desperation chose to run away.
Notices were frequently published in local newspapers by husbands whose wives had left them, declaring that they would not be responsible for any debts incurred by them. Susannah Smalley left her children behind. She had no money and it is likely she became destitute. Esther Austin, on the other hand, took money and some belongings that her husband claimed were his. Neither woman could legally remarry.

William Nelson, Editor, Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, Volume XX (Trenton: Call Printing and Publishing Company, 1898), pp 435, 449. Courtesy of the New Jersey Historical Society, Date 1760.

posted November 14th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: "feme covert",Marriage,New Jersey

“I am apt to love every body that loves you”

POLLY STEVENSON must have written Benjamin Franklin asking his advice on whether she should accept the proposal of marriage from the surgeon William Hewson for he responded on May 31, 1770:

. . . . I am sure you are a much better Judge in this Affair of your own than I can possibly be. . . . My Concern (equal to any Father’s) for your Happiness, makes me write this. . . . I assure you that no Objection has occur’d to me; his Person you see, his Temper and his Understanding you can judge of, his Character for any thing I have ever heard is unblemished; his Profession, with that Skill in it he is suppos’d to have, will be sufficient to support a Family. . . . I shall be confident whether you accept or refuse, that you do right. I only wish you may do what will most contribute to your Happiness, and of course to mine; being ever, my dear Friend, Yours most affectionately

Polly apparently decided for herself since she married William Hewson on July 10. Benjamin Franklin gave her away. Franklin wrote to her on July 24-25 while she was on her honeymoon, in part spent visiting the relatives of her husband—a widowed mother, two sisters and a brother— in Hexam.

Your Friends are all much pleas’d with your Account of the agreable Family, their kind Reception and Entertainment of you, and the Respect shown you. . . .Make my sincere Respects acceptable to Mr. Hewson, whom, exclusive of his other Merits, I shall always esteem in proportion to the Regard he manifests for you. . . . I am apt to love every body that loves you. . . . We like your Assurances of continued Friendship unimpair’d by your Change of Condition, and we believe you think as you write; but we fancy we know better than you: You know I once knew your Heart better than you did your self. As a Proof that I am right, take notice, that you now think this the silliest Letter I ever wrote to you, and that Mr. Hewson confirms you in that Opinion. However, I am still, what I have been so many Years, my dear good Girl, Your sincerely affectionate Friend, and Servant
B Franklin

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 31 May 1770,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson Hewson, 24 July 1770,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-17-02-0082. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 17, January 1 through December 31, 1770, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973, pp. 152–153; 198-199]

posted March 18th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Friendship,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Marriage

“you must be governed by your own judgement”

Sadly, in 1793, the husband of FANNY BASSETT WASHINGTON, George Augustine, nephew of George Washington, died. Tobias Lear, friend and secretary to the President, whose wife had died about the same time, proposed a year later to Fanny. She sought the advice of her aunt and uncle. Her letter to Martha is lost but Martha’s reply to Fanny, on August 29, 1794, follows.

My dear Fanny, I wish I could give you unerring advise in regard to the request contained in your last letter; I really dont know what to say to you on the subject; you must be governed by your own judgement, and I trust providence will derect you for the best; it is a matter more interesting to yourself than any other[.] The person contemplated is a worthy man, esteemed by every one that is aquainted with him; he has, it is concieved, fair prospects before him;–is, I belive, very industri[ous] and will, I have not a doubt, make sumthing handsome for himself.–as to the President, he never has, nor never will, as you have often heard him say, inter meddle in matrimonial concerns. he joins with me however in wishing you every happyness this world can give.–you have had a long acquaintance with Mr Lear, and must know him as well as I do.–he always appeared very attentive to his wife and child, as farr as ever I have seen; he is I believe, a man of strict honor and probity; and one with whom you would have as good a prospect of happyness as with any one I know; but beg you will not let anything I say influence you either way. The President has a very high opinion of and friendship for Mr. Lear; and has not the least objection to your forming the connection but, no more than myself, would wish to influence your judgement, either way–yours and the childrens good being among the first wishes of my heart.

See original letter HERE.

posted July 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Marriage,Washington, George,Washington, George Augustine,Washington, Martha

” to be united with a gentleman of respectable connexions”

In 1796, when HARRIOT WASHINGTON was twenty years old, she caught the eye of Andrew Parks, a young merchant. He wrote to George Washington on April 1 seeking his consent to marry Harriot and asked Harriot’s Aunt Betty, with whom she was still living, to do the same.

I have made my addresses to her and she has refered me to you, whose consent I am to acquire, or her objections to a Union with me are I am assur’d insuperable, having therefore no hope of possessing her, unless I should be so fortunate as to obtain your assent, and as my happiness measurably depends upon your determination, I shall endeavour by stating to you my situation and prospects in Life, to merit and induce your approbation. . . . ”

Washington replied to Parks on the 7th that he would give the matter serious consideration warning the young man that

My neice Harriot Washington having very little fortune of her own, neither she, nor her friends, have a right to make that (however desirable it might be) a primary consideration in a matrimonial connexion. . . . My wish is to see my niece happy; one step towards which is, for her to be united with a gentleman of respectable connexions, and of good dispositions; with one who is more in the habit (by fair and honorable pursuits) of making, than in spending money—and who can support her in the way she has always lived.

Washington also wrote to his sister regarding the proposal; he was nothing if not thorough and told her that he would look into the young man’s background and asked her to do the same.

Altho’ she has no right to expect a man of fortune, she certainly has just pretensions to expect one whose connexions are respectable, & whose relations she could have no objection to associate with. How far this is, or is not the case with Mr Parks, I know not for neither his own letter, or yours give any acct of his family nor whether he is a native or a foreigner—& we have his own word only for his possessing any property at all altho’ he estimates his fortune at £3000. A precarious dependance this when applied to a man in Trade.

Interestingly, Washington said he wished that Harriot could have remained single and settled at Mount Vernon to which he expected to return after the end of his presidency “because then she would have been in the way of seeing much company, and would have had a much fairer prospect of matching respectably than with one who is little known—and of whose circumstances few or none can know much about.”

Parks wrote back to Washington at the end of April giving him the name of a reference (his brother-in-law and business partner), describing his financial situation and what he had to offer Harriot.

I hope I possess most of the requisites, necessary to make your Niece happy[,] I have been for several Years, accustom’ed to Business, which has, I am persuaded, kept me clear of a temper, for vicious dispositions; my connexions, are respectable generally, inasmuch as they are people of Business, and mostly in good circumstances. I have described to your Niece, as nearly as I could, what my Situation would afford, in the style of living; which wd not be more than genteel, and comfortable, this she sais, will perfectly satisfy her, and render her happy, provided you can think it sufficient.

After further assessments of Parks’ suitability and his sister’s remark that Harriot was “Old Enougf now to make choice for her self, and if they are not happy I believe it will be her one falt, he bars the Best caracter of any young Person that I know.” Washington gave his consent to the marriage which occurred on July 16, 1796. Washington footed the bill and invited the young couple to Mount Vernon when business would allow. They did pay a visit in September of 1798.

Information on this segment of Harriot Washington’s life can be found HERE, April 5, 2017. Sources for quoted passages of letters: “To George Washington from Andrew Parks, 1 April 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00396. “From George Washington to Andrew Parks, 7 April 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00413. “From George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 April 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00411. “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 5 July 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00691. All are from Founders Online National Archives and were last modified on June 29, 2017. They are Early Access documents from The Papers of George Washington and are not the authoritative final versions.

posted July 6th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Courtship,Lewis, Betty Washington,Marriage,Parks, Andrew,Virginia,Washington, George,Washington, Harriot

“what shall I Due! Due?”

JEMIMA CONDICT, at the ripe old age of twenty-on, ponders in her journal whether, and whom, she should marry. It seems she had an eye on a cousin but was not sure whether a union with a close relative was forbidden by her church. So she decides to consult her mother.

A delightful read, for Jemima has such a conversational style of writing and includes what might be called dialogue.

Wensday. [February 1775] Being full of thoughts about What to Do as I have this year Past. Sometimes I think I will Serting Bid him farewell forever But I thought I would talk to my mother & see if I could be Convinst one way or tother for I want to Hear the ground of What they have to say. So one Day my mother Says to me your father is going to get you a Chest I told her I should be Glad of one But Would not have her think twas because I thought to Marry. Why Says she Don’t you never intend to marry? I told her People said I was going to have Mr. ——. But they tell me they don’t think it is a right thing; and it is forbid &c. But Cant none of them as I Can find out tell me where it is forbid So Says I, what Do you think of it mother; She said She did Not think it was Right except I thought It was myself. I askt her if she thought my thinking it was right would make it so. She said my thinking so would cause A Contented easy mind.

Well Says I, But that ant telling what you think about it She Said she had heard his mother talk about it & she was against his Coming here. She said Moreover that she was apt to think I would Live a dogs Life amongst them. this made me to think I would not have him. But I still insisted upon hearing what she had to Say. at Last she told me that She had thought a great Deal about It & for her part Could Not see but that It was right & as for its being forbid She did not think there was such a Place In the Bible. She Said Likewise that she Did Not See what Ministers Should marry them for if twas forbid. So after this and much more being said I turned it off with a Laugh & Said What a fool am I, I talk as if I was going to marry a Cousin In good earnest but Did not know as I had one that would have me but If I hold my toungue & Say Nothing others will have all the talk. they talk to me but Convince they Don’t. I Could wish with all my heart I New the Right way & Could be made To Chuse it; but if it be rong Then What a fool was I While yong to Place my mind on such a one as a Cousin, its very true. Its o poor me what shall I Due! Due? Why I tell you What a conclusion I made & I hope I may hold to it & that Is to Trust in him Who knows all things for he knows What is best for me & What I ought to Do & What I ought not to Do. And will, I hope order things in mercy for me.

A bit more from Jemima Condict in the next post.

Jemima Condict, Her Book: Being a Transcript of the Diary of an Essex County Maid During the Revolutionary War (Orange N.J.: Jemima Condict Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1930), 44-46. The original of Jemima Condict’s diary is in the archives of the New Jersey Historical Society.

posted March 14th, 2017 by Janet, comments (2), CATEGORIES: Condict, Jemima,Courtship,Marriage,New Jersey

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