The Quaker Corner: Quaker Marriages

From Jerry Richmond, Fidonet Genealogy Conference, 1995


Members had to appear before the Monthly Meeting and publicly state their marriage intentions at two Monthly Meetings in a row. Following the first appearance, a committee would be appointed to investigate the "clearness" of the individuals to marry. If an impediment was found, the couple were not permitted to marry. Usually a couple would be privately advised not to make the attempt to "pass the meeting" if the impediment was well known or obvious. In this instance they would quietly get married by a magistrate then come & condemn their misconduct of "marriage contrary to discipline" (mcd). Following the 2nd declaration of intentions, if no impediments were found, the couple would be "liberated to marry" or allowed their freedom to accomplish the marriage.

The actual marriage ceremony was solemnized in either a public or private Meeting. According to Discipline, the gathering together of at least 12 Friends was sufficient to constitute a legal Meeting. One thus finds that document, peculiar to Quaker weddings, the marriage certificate signed by AT LEAST 12 witnesses. The signatures are usually arranged in 3 columns with the place of honor reserved for the fathers of the bride & groom at the top of the rightmost column, immediately beneath the signatures of the groom & the bride.

One should assume that, without better information, the majority of marriage ceremonies were held the same day or the day following the liberation with some held within, at most, the week following. The marriage certificates were recorded in a separate book kept by the Monthly Meeting. Additionally, the fact that the marriage occurred was recorded in the minutes at the next Monthly Meeting. The following is the order of precedent used in establishing the date of marriage (best to worst):

1 - Date of marriage ceremony

2 - Date of liberation to marry (within 0 to 7 days of event)

3 - Date of 2nd declaration of intention (0 to 14 days before)

4 - Date reported married in minutes of following MM (might be as much as 3 weeks after the event)

5 - Date of 1st declaration of intention (4 to 6 weeks before)

In the compiled genealogies, a comment is given for dates determined from methods 2 thru 5. If the marriage book is still extant, Hinshaw & Heiss give the ceremony date from the certificate. If not the following abbreviations are used:

altm - at liberty to marry (2)

ltm - liberated to marry (2)

glm - granted liberty to marry (2)

dmi - declared marriage intentions (5)

dmist - declared marriage intentions second time (3)

rmt - reported married to (4)

rm - reported married (4)

Impediments to marriage:

- Intended spouse was a non-member

- Previous engagement to marry another individual

- Moral turpitude (which I imagine would include being already pregnant at the time of contemplating marriage)

- Close relationship (1st cousins forbidden to marry)

- Less than one year since death of previous spouse With the high mortality rate, particularly in childbirth, there were many second marriages in the early years. If a man lost his wife and had a brood of young children to raise, some perhaps still babies, waiting a year was not always practical. Even amongst the families that were deeply devoted Quakers, the majority of second marriages were performed by a Justice of the Peace. For those in their middle years that remarried in Meeting, waiting two years or more appeared to be the norm. Having seen a number of situations in which a marriage occurred as close as possible to the 2 year anniversary of the previous spouse's decease, the Discipline may have called for a 2 year wait in some areas for a time

Inference of a marriage:

dis mcd/mou - disownment for mcd/mou usually occurred 3-6 months after the fact; thus taking the disownment date to be the marriage date as some researchers have done is erroneous. I have shown these as inferred marriages with the approximate year only. The place is shown as the county in which the MM is located unless better information is known respecting the bride's county of residence. I have tried to "improve" these dates as much as possible with dates from the IGI when available.

rept mcd/mou - the PM to which the party belonged reported that the marriage in fact occurred & that the couple are publicly acknowledged to be married. This should be treated similarly to the dis mcd/mou but with a timeframe 2-5 months after the event. At the next MM one of the following occurred:

(1) chm mcd/mou - condemn his/her misconduct of mcd/mou, or con mcd/mou - condemn (his/her) mcd/mou, either of which means the individual signed a statement acknowledging their misconduct & (optionally) requesting the meeting's forebearance & to be restored in membership

(2) dis - disowned, treating with the individual failed to yield a condemnation of misconduct

(3) nothing - from all appearances person continued a member and in many cases is fairly soon granted a certificate to another meeting. One can assume a condemnation of misconduct was obtained but no notation was made in the minutes or the extractor overlooked it. In circumstances of charged misconduct OTHER than marriage one would assume that charges were dropped for lack of substance. In cases of marriage, however, one should NEVER conclude that the charged marriage did not occur.

chm mcd/mou or con mcd/mou - with no preliminary, one of the following scenarios is applicable generally:

(1) the couple marr.out because of a known impediment & the event follows the marriage by only a few weeks

(2) the couple marr.out because they did not want to bother with the MM's red tape (most 2nd marriages fall into this category) & the event follows the marriage by 1-2 months

(3) the couple married 5-10 years before & are suddenly struck with maturity; usually followed fairly rapidly by the intervening children being received on request; if one partner was a non-member they are usually received on request in the same general timeframe

(4) the couple married 0-10 years before & want to migrate & be received in good-standing at their new MM; the event is following closely by a grant of certificate in case (3) or (4), one or both partners would have been originally disowned but the record of the earlier event may not be extant. In case (3) & (4), if no better information is available, the marriage can be inferred to have occurred in the year preceding the year of birth of the eldest child.

dis - disowned and no reason given, prior to 1800, the chances are at least 50% that it was for marr.out. One can infer a marriage with near certainty if the person was in the 20-22 age range.

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