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Early Marriage Customs

Discussion of early marriage rituals and customs in America.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Melissa Slate
Word Count: 469 (approx.)
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Early marriage customs in the young America were as vast and varied as the people helping to settle her. Customs differed greatly among the various ethnic and religious groups. Have you ever been curious about how your forbearers conducted wedding celebrations? If not, there is a lot to learn.

Some of the Old English traditions were adhered to at first such as the dowry, which was a gift of money or valuables given to the groom by the bride's family. After that followed a betrothal and then the wedding. In Colonial times a man did not present a ring when he asked for a woman's hand in marriage, he presented a thimble. After the wedding the bottom of the thimble was cut off in the shape of a ring.

Very often unions were largely business arrangements among the upper class, with the goal of marrying someone who could increase your wealth or social position, and not meldings of individuals brought together by emotion. Poor individuals had an easier time of it because money, power, and social position did not figure into their reasonings. Marriage to them was more a partnership and mates were chosen based on a perceived ability of the person to assist on the road through life. Without the complications that social class brought, love could also be considered in the choice of a mate.

The Germans and Dutch held wedding ceremonies in their native language, while Quakers recited vows, usually in the meetinghouse, that they very often wrote themselves and often married without the benefit of clergy. It is thought the marriage license originated from the custom of posting of the banns, or public notice placed in the town square. Posting of bans did not work very well in the new world, which was sparsely populated, with miles between settlements, so a new means was devises to spread the word.

Wedding feasts often lasted three days or more in Colonial America. There might be card playing and dancing. The families served their guests the most lavish and expensive food that they could afford. Early wedding cakes were more often more like the Christmas fruitcake of today, a spiced batter made with fruit and nuts and were called "bride's cakes."

When the death of a spouse occurred, the surviving spouse might remarry within a very few weeks. The rigors of life necessitated that a partner be available to help with childrearing and other activities of daily living.

The customs of courtship and marriage also varied from region to region and from time period to time period, but one thing is constant, marriage has long been a union of social significance with our ancestors. There are many more customs too numerous to be mentioned in this article, how about doing some research to find out which ones your ancestors might have taken part in?

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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