Quaker Marriage

Quaker Marriage

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The Quakers believed that a marital union should be acceptable to the immediate families as well as to the entire Quaker congregation. When a Quaker man and woman wanted to marry, the parents were first consulted and, if they approved, the couples intentions were announced at the women's meeting and a note regarding their proposal was sent to the men's meeting. A committee was appointed to ascertain the couples "clearness" for marriage. Example:
"At a Monthly Meeting held at Bradford 18d 10mo 1765 William Woodward
and Mary Pyle appeared here and signified their intention of Marriage with Each other, this Being the first time. Jonathan Parks and Humphry Marshall is appointed to inquire into his clearness from other women in relation to Marriage, her Mother being here is consenting, and he is desired to produce to next meeting her Fathers consent."

Sometimes the parents helped things along. A letter was written by Benjamin & Ann Pennell Mendenhall, of Chester County, to Owen & Mary Roberts, of Gwynnedd, soliciting the latter's daughter Lydia for their son Benjamin:
"Concord, ye 20 of ye 6 mo, 1716
Beloved Friends, Owen Roberts and Mary his wife.
Our Love is unto you, and to your son and daughter. Now this is to let you understand that our son Benjamin had made us acquainted that he has a kindness for your daughter Lydia, and desired our consent thereon, and we having well considered of it and knowing nothing in our minds against his proceeding therein, have given our consent that he may proceed orderly, that is to have your consent, and not to proceed without it. And it is our desire that you will give your consent. Also now, as touching his place that we have given him for to settle on, we shall say but little at present.
Ellis Lewis knows as well of our minds and can give you as full account of it, as we can if we were with you, but if you will be pleased to come down, we shall be very glad to see you, or either of you, and then you might satisfy yourselves.
Now we desire you when satisfied, to return us an answer, in the same way as we have given you our minds.
No more, but our kind love to you and shall remain your Loving friends,
Benjamin and Ann Mendenhall"

If approval was given, a special Meeting for Worship was appointed, within which the marriage took place.

At the appointed meeting, bride and groom took their places, with or without a wedding party. A period of silent worship followed, then the couple rose, took each other by the hand and made their marriage promises to each other. A further time of silent worship passed, and perhaps some present spoke their thoughts or offerred a prayer. The wedding certificate was brought to the newly-married for their signatures, after which it was read aloud testifying that the marriage was accomplished in accord with the good order used among Friends. Then the certificate was signed by all in attendance. The bride signed her new name under that of her husband and the immediate families of the couple signed under their signature. Others in attendance then signed beside the family signatures. See, for example, the certificate of William Woodward and Eliza Marshall.

Special Circumstances

Sometimes approval involved a widow or widower wishing to remarry before the estate of their deceased partner was settled. The Quakers wanted to make sure that there were no debt entanglements and that any children were properly provided for before a marriage was allowed:
Bradford Monthly Meeting, Chester County, Pa "7th mo 27th dy 1739 Richard Woodward requests certificate for marriage with Susanna Cureton belonging to Newark Monthly Meeting."
Newark & Kennett Women's Meeting, Chester County, Pa "8th mo 6th dy 1739 Richard Woodward and Susanna Cureton first time [request for marriage].
Newark Men's Meeting "8th mo 6th dy 1739 Richard Woodward and Susanna Cureton 1st time. He to bring certificate. Jacob Chandler & Samuel Grave to inspect the widows affairs as regards her husband's will.
Bradford Monthly Meeting "8th mo 18th dy 1739 Certificate for Richard Woodward approved and signed by Clerk.
Newark & Kennett Women's Meeting "10th mo 1st dy 1739 marriage reported orderly..."11th mo 5th day 1739 Susanna Woodward requests certificate to Bradford."

A complex process but it kept things "orderly"!

There were also waiting period restrictions after the death of a partner and there were restrictions on the degree of relationship of the couple. First cousins were never permitted to marry in a Quaker ceremony. A notation at Pasquotank states "objection found, nearer of kin than second cousin."

NonQuaker Marriages of Quakers

Marrying "Out"

Marriages of Quakers with someone of contrary faith was common. As early as 1694 Philadelphia Meeting advised: "Take heed of giving your sons and daughters who are believers and profess and confess the truth, in marriage with unbelievers; for that was forbidden in all ages...it is unbecoming those who profess the truth to go from one woman to another, and keep company and sit together, especially in the night season, spending their time in idle discourse, and drawing the affections one of another many times when there is no reality in it."

Marrying out [of the faith] is believed to have caused immense losses in Quaker numbers after 1740. In Quaker records there are notations that someone "married out of unity" or "mou" - this indicated that they married someone not of the Quaker faith. It would be necessary to make amends in writing to the satisfaction of a committee of members of the monthly meeting if they wished to remain Quakers. Sometimes the spouse adopted the Quaker faith and was received by request (rcrq). If the Quakers were unwilling to make amends for their actions they would be dismissed from the monthly meeting.

Marrying Contrary to Discipline

Another common notation is "married contrary to discipline" (mcd) This meant that two Quakers had chosen to be married somewhere other than in Quaker meeting. Sometimes the notation is that someone had a "marriage by a priest" or "marriage by a Baptist teacher" or something of that kind. Usually these marriages took place when one or the other of the couple was not clear to marry within the Quaker meeting. Often this involved the girl being pregnant or the girl or boy having an entanglement with someone else. Usually the couple was well aware they would not be cleared and simply went ahead with a civil ceremony. (See Abraham Woodward's biography for a such an event.)

In Chester County, Pennsylvania, a popular place for young Quakers to marry out of unity or to marry contrary to discipline when they knew they were not clear to marry in the Quaker Meeting, was Old Swede's Church in Wilmington, Delaware. For those from Bradford Monthly Meeting it was only about a twenty mile trip. It was here that Abraham Woodward and Anna Tarneberry were married on 8th mo 10th dy 1760. The Thornborough name was usually pronounced "Thornbury" and here you see the result of the name Hannah Thornborough being written down by someone of a different nationality (see About Names). Despite all the numerous research hours we have put in, we just recently learned that there were two Old Swede's Church: the one mentioned above which was known as "Holy Trinity" and another in Philadelphia known as "Gloria Dei." We find many Quaker names in the second one as well.

Things were not so simple on the southern frontier when young couples had to have a civil ceremony. In North Carolina (and by extension in Tennessee before statehood) couples had a choice of posting a bond or posting banns on three consecutive Sundays with a clergyman. No money was required when posting the bond, but 500 pounds would be called for if the marriage was found to be illegal. Posting a bond did require what could be a long ride to a distant seat of government. It was often simpler for a couple to post banns with a local preacher and be married by him after the required waiting period. Only 1 shilling six pence was required to publish the banns. It is estimated that only about 1/3 of North Carolina marriage records are available to researchers as most of the early records remain in the hands of descendants of the local preachers or were lost or destroyed. The available North Carolina Marriage Bonds, 1741-1868, are now online at Ancestry.com (must be an Ancestry.com member to use them).

Quakers Making Amends

Once a Quaker had married out of unity or contrary to discipline the process of reinstatement in the Quaker faith could be lengthy and complex. They had to describe (condemn) their misbehavior in very specific terms and convince a Quaker committee that they were repentant. See the biography of Abraham Woodward for a description of his process of reinstatement. This was especially difficult if a couple had moved away from the meeting where the offense was initially documented.

Jesse & Rhoda Morgan Woodward's difficulties in getting reinstated present another interesting example. Jesse Woodward transferred to a Hendricks County, Indiana, Quaker meeting on a certificate from Lost Creek Monthly Meeting in Tennessee, with his mother and stepfather on September 27, 1828. He later went back to Tennessee and married Rhoda Morgan in a civil ceremony. Rhoda condemned her action at Lost Creek Monthly Meeting for this offense and was given a certificate to transfer to Indiana. Jesse Woodward then condemned his marriage contrary to discipline at Springfield Monthly Meeting in Indiana and, upon transfer to White Lick Monthly Meeting, he again condemned his marriage contrary to discipline. Jesse and Rhoda's children were then properly recorded at Sugar Grove Monthly Meeting in Indiana. Often it was the birth of children that inspired young couples to reinstate their Quaker membership.