Courting And Wedding Practice In The Days Of Early New York

By Mitch Lee

My reasons for research and study of Early New York Nuptials are personal. On the 6th of July 2002 in Hubbardton, VT, I will marry in the 18th century tradition. I have found some interesting practices that our early New Yorkers were in keeping with. I will share some of these with you.

Courting: Wooing

When a Man and Women were courting the Man Visited and, because of great distances and riggers of travel, would stay within the house of the future in-laws. If the mother and father of the Woman agreed to the courtship and future marriage the courtship would continue. The couple would discuss the in openness each ones views on topics relating to the success of the union. They would walk with supervision and become acquainted. The Man would see first hand the successful skills practiced by the Woman. The Man would help The Father in Law with the Trade to which He was involved. A curious custom was that of "bundling"(sometimes called "tarrying" though the practices seem to have been a bit different), which is described as putting the courting couple into bed with garments on to prevent scandal, when " if the parties agree, it is all very well.

When the couple decides to marry a Paper was printed a "Banns" to announce the intention of the parties. It was posted at the church or meeting house. If no one comes forward to oppose the two marry without delay. A Permit was obtained and authorized for a small fee with the local magistrate. When Men and Women were courting, love letters, for those who could write, were common and very Delightful to read. Written to, Miss Sarah Read:

"Yet, my Dearest, I cannot press it further, than thou with freedom canst condescend to it, and enjoy peace and satisfaction in thy own mind, for without this, I cannot so much as desire to obtain thee... - humbly imploring at the same time, and beseeching His divine Goodness, that I may be made worthy to receive thee as a holy gift from his hands: and then thou wilt truly prove a blessing, and we shall forever be happy in each other."

Written to, Mistress Mary Helm, from Rev. Elias Keach:

"Lady let me crave the mantle of your Virtue the which Noble and generous will hide my naked and deformed fault although: it seems to be renewed coldness to require such an incomparable favor from your tender heart, from whom I have deserved so little kindness..."

Written to, John Adams, from Miss Smith

"By the time you receive this I hope from experience that you will be able to say that the distemper is but a trifle. Think you I would not endure a trifle for the pleasure of seeing you? Yes, were it ten times that trifle, I would ..."

The Engagement:

After a Man made his decision to court he would Tie coins into a Handkerchief and tie it in to a "Knot" the Marriage Knot. If a Handkerchief in which the money lay were untied by the Woman it were given, it was a sign of consent, and the two were then to draw up the "Banns". In some cases these Handkerchiefs were stitched with a motto "Being in love does no harm if love finds its recompense in love; but if love has ceased, all labor is in vain. Praise God."

As a rule Women were given no jewelry during courtship, and possessed little jewelry. For the upper middle class, minor adornments, the ladies possessed and wore girdles with buckles; a small variety of finger rings plain or gold set with diamonds and rubies, and the occasional thumb ring. The men also wore rings, commonly bearing a seal of Carnelian cut with the wearer's coat of arms or some other device. Most of the rings for both were Mourning ring, realistically made with death's head. Rings for engagement were very rare indeed.

Colonial Marriages took place at even so early an age as fourteen; and the number of Men and Women who were married Two, Three, and even Four times was large, as the death of a spouse was common. Some Buried a partner and married within a week. Practicality of Male and female roles to run a Household took precedence over love most times it seems.

The Wedding Day:

The Marriage ceremony generally took place at The Brides parents home instead of in the church. The Bride and Groom were arrayed in their finest clothes, with heads covered and gloves upon the hands. If it were held in the church after the final Psalm was threw the hinged pew seats were dropped with great vigor. To signal all the inhabitants:

"And when at last the loud Amen fell from aloft, how quickly then the seats came down with heavy rattle, like musketry in fiercest battle."

The couple were wed by the magistrate or High clergy, and in many of the colonies, or Free States, were followed by a bountiful supper, cards, and dancing. There were often bridesmaids, diamond wedding rings or plain, based on class, and elaborate hospitality. In New York the festivities lasted two or three days and visitors stayed a week. The celebrants were recorded to all mellow with wedding cheer. The drink of choice was English Posset.

From Famed Barbadoson the Western Main
Fetch sugar half a pound; fetch sack from Spain
A pint; and from the Eastern Indian Coast
Nutmeg, the glory of our Northern toast
O'er flaming coals together let them heat
Till the all-conquering sack dissolves the sweet
O'er such another fire set eggs, twice ten,
Newborn from crowing cock and speckled hen;
Stir them with a steady hand, and conscience pricking
To see the untimely fate of twenty chicken.
From shining shelf take down your brazen skillet;
A quart of milk from gentle cow will fill it.
When boiled and cooked, put milk and sack to egg,
Unite them firmly like the triple league.
Then covered close, together let them dwell
Till miss twice sings: You must not kiss and tell.
Each lad and lass snatch up their murdering spoon,
And fall on fiercely like a starved dragoon.

"After the fourth or fifth round of drinking," the opportunity to take up a subscription to the church, or for the couple, was handled by the weddings magistrate with the fee for service deducted from the whole. The simple custom of "coming out bride" coming to church with the wedding party on the following Sunday after the marriage was practiced by all faiths.

The Wedding Night:

Underwear and lingerie in the modern sense were almost unknown and, though "night gowns" are mentioned often in letters and accounts, it is uncertain that they were designed for sleeping purposes or, as is more likely, for dressing gowns or "my ladies toilet". The couple then sets to having children. Most Women Mothers of 5 by the age of 20 and most Men fathers of 8 or 9 by the age of 25.

So come and join us in our celebration of the 225th of Hubbardton, and our wedding next year. Any aide to this union you might lend us would be appreciated.

Any further thoughts can be forwarded to me,
Mitch Lee

Colonial Days In Old New York: Alice Morse Earle
Colonial Folk Ways: Charles M. Andrews
Dutch And English On The Hudson: Maud Wilder Goodwin
Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration: Walter Allen Knittle, Ph.D.
Home Life In Colonial Days: Alice Morse Earle
Through Colonial Doorways: Anne Hollingsworth Wharton

Copyright © 2001 Mitch Lee. All rights reserved.