“[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, CATEGORIES: "feme covert", Marriage, New Jersey

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