Courtship and Marriage in the Eighteenth Century
Courting and marrying partners in colonial America
It goes without saying that today’s courtship and marriage customs are different from those back in the 18th century. What was it like to court and marry someone during colonial times? A history lesson awaits.
Young white men started to court women while in their late years. Women, on the other hand, began as early as 15 or 16. Although the latter started courtship early, most of them delayed marriages until reaching their early twenties. Fun fact: long engagements were normal during this period. Women also enjoyed a degree of power and freedom during this stage; they could reject suitors and weren’t concerned with managing households.
Back then, courtship didn’t involve technology. If modern society usually resorts to using digital means to meet potential dates, the eighteenth century went for a more physical approach. It typically began at either church or family celebrations.
Courtship and marriage during this time period were like business arrangements. Choosing marriage partners were important because unions can benefit both families. Two men (in this case, the fathers) would draw out their bargaining chips (son’s and daughter’s assets) and bring them together for increased prosperity. As time went on, however, arranged relationships grew out of practice.
Couples weren’t that emotionally invested in their marriages at first. Emotions weren’t taken into the equation as they were considered fickle and untrustworthy. Fortunately, things started to change in the middle of the century as parental influence began to wane and love became the primary motivator for getting married.
Prior to 1860, weddings were usually held at the bride’s home with immediate family members and several close friends as guests. The 1860s and 1870s saw middle-class weddings becoming more elaborate; the bride’s family would often send out engraved invitations to many relatives and acquaintances. Eventually, church weddings became commonplace as family parlors couldn’t hold every guest. Grand receptions often followed the wedding formalities.
Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse of courtship and marriage during the 18th century, you can now compare it to today’s practices. Insights and questions on the subject are very much welcome. Just leave them below or share them through Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. You may look at my books in case you’re planning to add some your bookshelf. Stay tuned to this blog for more posts and other updates.
Encyclopedia.com. “Family Life: Courtship and Marriage.” American Eras. Accessed January 22, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/family-life-courtship-and-marriage.
Gardner, Andrew. n.d. “Courtship, Sex, and the Single Colonist.” Colonial Williamsburg. Accessed January 22, 2019. http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/holiday07/court.cfm.
Maurer, Elizabeth. n.d. “Courtship and Marriage in the Eighteenth Century.” Colonial Williamsburg. Accessed January 22, 2019. http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume7/mar09/courtship.cfm.
Owens, Tara. “18th Century Marriage.” Hammond-Hardwoood House. August 24, 2012. Accessed January 22, 2019. https://hammondharwoodhouse.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/18th-century-marriage/.