Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE CUSTOMS
IN the early days of the New England colonies no more embarrassing or hampering condition, no greater temporal ill could befall any adult Puritan than to be unmarried. What could he do, how could he live in that new land without a wife? There were no housekeepers and he would scarcely have been allowed to have one if there were. What could a woman do in that new settlement among unbroken forests, uncultivated lands, without a husband? The colonists married early, and they married often. Widowers and widows hastened to join their fortunes and sorrows. The father and mother of Governor Winslow had been widow and widower seven and twelve weeks, respectively, when they joined their families and themselves in mutual benefit, if not in mutual love. At a later day the impatient Governor of New Hampshire married a lady but ten days widowed. Bachelors were rare indeed, and were regarded askance and with intense disfavor by the entire community, were almost in the position of suspected criminals. They were seldom permitted to live alone, or even to choose their residence, but had to find a domicile wherever and with whomsoever the Court assigned. In Hartford lone-men, as Shakespeare called them, had to pay twenty shillings a week to the town for the selfish luxury of solitary living. No colonial law seems to me more arbitrary or more comic than this order issued in the town of Eastham, Mass., in 1695, namely:
"Every unmarried man in the township shall kill six blackbirds or three crows while he remains single; as a penalty for not doing it, shall not be married until he obey this order."
Bachelors were under the special spying and tattling supervision of the constable, the watchman, and the tithingman, who, like Pliable in Pilgrim's Progress, sat sneaking among his neighbors and reported their "scirscumstances and conuersation." In those days a man gained instead of losing his freedom by marrying. "Incurridgement" to wedlock was given bachelors in many towns by the assignment to them upon marriage of home-lots to build upon. In Medfield there was a so-called Bachelor's Row, which had been thus assigned. In the early days of Salem "maid lotts" were also granted; but Endicott wrote in the town records that it was best to abandon the custom and thus "avoid all presedents & evil events of granting lotts unto single maidens not disposed of." This line he crossed out and wrote instead, "for avoiding of absurdities." He kindly, but rather disappointingly, gave one maid a bushel of corn when she came to ask for a house and lot, and told her it would be a "bad president" for her to keep house alone. A maid had, indeed, a hard time to live in colonial days, did she persevere in her singular choice of remaining single. Perhaps the colonists "proverb'd with the grandsire phrase," that women dying maids lead apes in hell. Maidens "withering on the virgin thorn," in single blessedness, were hard to find. One Mistress Poole lived unmarried to great old age, and helped to found the town of Taunton under most discouraging rebuffs; and in the Plymouth church record of March 19, 1667, is a record of a death which reads thus:
"Mary Carpenter sister of Mrs. Alice Bradford wife of Governor Bradford being newly entered into the 91st year of her age. She was a godly old maid never married."
The state of old maidism was reached at a very early age in those early days; Higginson wrote of an "antient maid" of twenty-five years. John Dunton in his "Life and Errors" wrote eulogistically of one such ideal "Virgin" who attracted his special attention.
"It is true an old (or superanuated) Maid in Boston is thought such a curse, as nothing can exceed it (and looked on as a dismal spectacle) yet she by her good nature, gravity, and strict virtue convinces all (so much as the fleering Beaus) that it is not her necessity but her choice that keeps her a Virgin. She is now about thirty years (the age which they call a Thornback) yet she never disguises herself, and talks as little as she thinks, of Love. She never reads any Plays or Romances, goes to no Balls or Dancing-match (as they do who go to such Fairs) to meet with Chapmen. Her looks, her speech, her whole behavior are so very chaste, that but once (at Govenor's Island, where we went to be merry at roasting a hog) going to kiss her, I thought she would have blushed to death.
Our Damsel knowing this, her conversation is generally amongst the women (as there is least danger from that sex) so that I found it no easy matter to enjoy her company, for most of her time (save what was taken up in needle work and learning French &c.) was spent in Religious Worship. She knew time was a dressing-room for Eternity, and therefore reserves most of her hours for better uses than those of the Comb, the Toilet and the Glass.
"And as I am sure this is most agreeable to the Virgin modesty, which should make Marriage an act rather of their obedience than their choice. And they that think their Friends too slow-paced in the matter give certain proof that lust is their sole motive. But as the Damsel I have been describing would neither anticipate nor contradict the will of her Parents, so do I assure you she is against Forcing her own, by marrying where she cannot love; and that is the reason she is still a Virgin."
Hence it may be seen that though there was not in Boston the "glorious phalanx of old maids" of Theodore Parker's description, yet the Boston old maid was lovely even in colonial days, though she did bear the odious name of thornback.
An English traveller, Josselyn, gives a glimpse of Boston love-making in the year 1663.
"On the South there is a small but pleasant Common, where the Gallants, a little before sunset, walk with their Marmalet-Madams till the nine o'clock bell rings them home to their respective habitations."
This simple and quaint picture of youthful love in the soft summer twilight, at that ever beautiful trysting-place, gives an unwonted touch of sentiment to the austere daily life of colonial New England. The omnipotent Puritan law-giver, who meddled and interfered in every detail, small and great, of the public and private life of the citizen, could not leave untouched, in fancy free, these soberly promenading Puritan sweethearts. A Boston gallant must choose well his marmalet-madam, must proceed cautiously in his love-making in. the gloaming, obtaining first the formal permission of parents or guardians ere he take any step in courtship. Fines, imprisonment, or the whipping-post awaited him, did he "inveigle the affections of any maide or maide servant" by making love to her without proper authority. Numberless examples might be given to prove that this law was no dead letter. In 1647, in Stratford, Will Colefoxe was fined £5 for "laboring to invegle the affection of Write his daughter." In 1672 Jonathan Coventry, of Plymouth town, was indicted for "making a motion of marriage" to Katharine Dudley without obtaining formal consent. The sensible reason for these courtship regulations was "to prevent young folk from intangling themselves by rash and inconsiderate contracts of maridge." The Governor of Plymouth colony, Thomas Prence, did not hesitate to drag his daughter's love affairs before the public, in 1660, by prosecuting Arthur Hubbard for "disorderly and unrighteously endeavouring to gain the affections of Mistress Elizabeth Prence." The unrighteous lover was fined £5. Seven years later, patient Arthur, who would not "refrain and desist," was again fined the same amount; but love prevailed over law, and he triumphantly married his fair Elizabeth a few months later. The marriage of a daughter with an unwelcome swain was also often prohibited by will, "not to suffer her to be circumvented and cast away upon ar swaggering gentleman."
On the other hand, an engagement of marriage once having been permitted, the father could not recklessly or unreasonably interfere to break off the contract. Many court records prove that colonial lovers promptly resented by legal action any attempt of parents to bring to an end a sanctioned love affair. Richard Taylor so sued, and for such cause, Ruth Whieldon's father in Plymouth in 1661; while another ungallant swain is said to have sued the maid's father for the loss of time spent in courting. Breach of promise cases were brought against women by disappointed men who had been "shabbed" (as jilting was called in some parts of New England), as well as by deserted women against men.
But sly Puritan maids found a way to circumvent and outwit Puritan law makers, and to prevent their unsanctioned lovers from being punished, too. Hear the craft of Sarah Tuttle. On May day in New Haven, in 1660, she went to the house of a neighbor, Dame Murline, to get some thread. Some very loud jokes were exchanged between Sarah and her friends Maria and Susan Murline so loud, in fact, that Dame Murline testified in court that it "much distressed her and put her in a sore strait." In the midst of all this doubtful fun Jacob Murline entered, and seizing Sarah's gloves, demanded the centuries old forfeit of a kiss. "Wher-upon," writes the scandalized Puritan chronicler, "they sat down together; his arm being about her; and her arm upon his shoulder or about his neck; and hee kissed her, and shee kissed him, or they kissed one another, continuing in this posture about half an hour, as Maria and Susan testified." Goodman Tuttle, who was a man of dignity and importance, angrily brought suit against Jacob for inveigling his daughter's affections; "but Sarah being asked in court if Jacob inveagled her, said No." This of course prevented any rendering of judgment against the unauthorized kissing by Jacob, and he escaped the severe punishment of his offence. But the outraged and baffled court fined Sarah, and gave her a severe lecture, calling her with justice a "Bould Virgin." She at the end, demurely and piously answered that "She hoped God would help her to carry it Better for time to come." And doubtless she did carry it better; for at the end of two years, this bold virgin's fine for unruly behavior being still unpaid, half of it was remitted.
Of the etiquette, the pleasures, the exigencies of colonial "courtship in high life," let one of the actors speak for himself through the pages of his diary. Judge Sewall's first wife was Hannah Hull, the only daughter of Captain Hull of Pine Tree Shilling fame. She received as her dowry her weight in silver shillings. Of her wooing we know naught save the charming imaginary story told us by Hawthorne. The Judge's only record is this:
"Mrs. Hannah Hull saw me when I took my Degree and set her affection on me though I knew nothing of it till after our Marriage."
She lived with him forty-three years, bore him seven sons and seven daughters, and died on the 19th day of October, 1717.
Of course, though the Judge was sixty-six years old, he would marry again. Like a true Puritan he despised an unmarried life, and on the 6th day of February he made this naive entry in his diary: "Wandering in my mind whether to live a Married or a Single Life." Ere that date he had begun to take notice. He had called more than once on Widow Ruggles, and had had Widow Gill to dine with him; had looked critically at Widow Emery, and noted that Widow Tilley was absent from meeting; and he had gazed admiringly at Widow Winthrop in "her sley," and he had visited and counseled and consoled her ere his wife had been two months dead, and had given her a few suitable tokens of his awakening affection such as "Smoking Flax Inflamed," "The Jewish Children of Berlin," and "My Small Vial of Tears;" so he had "wandered" in the flesh as well as in the mind.
Such an array of widows! Boston fairly blossomed with widows, the widows of all the "true New England men" whose wills Sewall had drawn up, whose dying bedsides he had blessed and harassed with his prayers, whose bodies he had borne to the grave, whose funeral gloves and scarves and rings he had received and apprized, and whose estates he had settled. Over this sombre flower-bed of black garbed widows, these hardy perennials, did this aged Puritan butterfly amorously hover, loth to settle, tasting each solemn sweet, calculating the richness of the soil in which each was planted, gauging the golden promise of fruit, and perhaps longing for the whole garden of full-blown blossoms. "Antient maides" were held in little esteem by him; not one thornback is on his list.
Not only did he look and wander, but all his friends and neighbors arose and began to suggest and search for a suitable wife for him, with as officious alacrity as if he needed help, which he certainly did not. In March Madam Henchman strongly recommended to him "Madam Winthrop, the Major General's widow." This recommendation was very sweet to the widower, who had turned his eyes with such special approval on this special widow, and further and warm encouragement came quickly.
"Deacon Marion comes to me, sits with me a great while in the evening; after a great deal of Discourse about his Courtship He told me the Olivers said they wish'd I would court their Aunt. I said little, but said 'twas not five Moneths since I buried my dear Wife. Had said before 'twas hard to know whether to marry again or no or whom to marry."
The Olivers' aunt was Madam Winthrop. It would seem somewhat presumptuous and officious for nieces and nephews to suggest courtship, when there were grown up Winthrop children who might dislike the marriage, but in those days everyone meddled in love affairs; to quote Pope: "Marriage was the theme on which they all declaimed." The Judge gossiped publicly about his intentions. He writes: "They had laid one out for me, and Governor Dudley told me 'twas Madam Winthrop. I told him I had been there but thrice and twice upon business. He said cave tertium." Even solemn Cotton Mather proffered counsel in a letter on "paying regards to the Widow."
In spite of all these hints and commendations, and the Judge's evident pleasure in receiving them, the Winthrop agitation all came to naught, for about this time he was called to make a will for a Mr. Denison, of Roxbury, who died on March 22d. Though the Judge was too upright and too pious to let even his thoughts wander to a wife, the amazing rapidity with which he turned his eyes longingly on the newly-made widow (cruelly forsaking Madam Winthrop) is only equalled by the act of the famous Irish lover who proposed to a widow at the open grave of her husband.
Judge Sewall went home with widow Denison from her husband's funeral and "Prayed God to keep house with her." The very next day he writes, "Mr. Danforth gives the Widow Denison a high commendation for her Piety, Goodness, Diligence and Humility." On April 7th she came to the widower to prove her husband's will; and another match-making friend, Mr. Dow, "took occasion to say in her absence that she was one of the most Dutiful Wives in the World." A few days later the Judge made her a gift, "a Widow's book having writ her name in it."
At last, after talking the matter over with all his friends, he decided positively to go a-courting. Widow Denison came to his house and he says:
"I took her up into my chamber and discoursed Thorowly with her: told her I intended to visit her next Lecture Day. She said 'twould be talk'd of. I answered: In such Cases persons must run the Gantlet. Gave her an Oration."
He visited her as he had promised and gave her "Dr. Mathers Sermons neatly bound and told her in it we were invited to a wedding. She gave me very good Curds." Other love gifts followed: "K. Georges Effigies in Copper and an English Crown of K. Charles II. 1677." "A pound of Reasons and Proportionate Almonds," "A Psalmbook elegantly bound in Turkey leather," "A pair of Shoe Buckles cost five shillings three pence." "Two Cases with a knife and fork in each; one Turtle Shell Tackling; the other long with Ivory Handles squar'd cost four shillings sixpence."
In the meantime he read with Cousin Moodey the history of Rebekah's courtship, and then prayed over it, and over his own wooing. Madam Rogers and Madam Leverett much congratulated him, and his daughter Judith visited her prospective stepmother. But alas! the lady was coy and averse to a decision.
"She mentions her Discouragement by reason of Discourse she had heard. Ask't what I should allow her, she not speaking I told her I was willing to allow her two hundred and fifty pounds per annum if it should please God to take me out of the world before her. She answered she had better keep as she was than give up a certainty for an uncertainty. She would pay dear for her living in Boston. I desired her to make Proposals but she made none. I had thought of Publishment next Thursday. But I now seem far from it. My God who has the pity of a Father Direct and help me."
Mr. Denison's will left his widow a portion of his estate to dispose of as she wished if she did not marry again. Judge Sewall was unwilling to make equal provision for her, hence the stumbling block in their courtship.
After consulting with a friend, the Judge made a final visit to her on November 28th.
"She said she thought it was hard to part with all and having nothing to bestow on her Kindred. I had ask'd her to give me proposals in Writing and she upbraided me That I who had never written her a Letter should ask her to write. She asked me if I would drink, I told her yes. She gave me Cider Aples and a Glass of Wine, gathered together the little things I had given her and offered them to me, but I would none of them. Told her I wish'd her well and should be glad of her welfare. She seem'd to say she should not again take in hand a thing of this nature. Thank'd me for what I had given her and Desir'd my Prayers. My bowels yern towards Mrs. Denison but I think Good directs me in his Providence to desist."
This love affair was not, however, quite ended, for the following, Lord's Day "after dark" Widow Denison came "very privat" to his house. This Sunday visit betokened great anxiety on her part. She had walked in from Roxbury in the cold, and when we remember how wolves and bears abounded in the vicinity we comprehend still further her solicitude.
"She ask'd pardon if she had affronted me . . . . Mr. Denison spake to her after signing his will that he would not make her put all out of her Hand and power but reserve something to bestow on her friends that might want . . . . I could not observe that she made me any offer all the while. She mentioned two Glass Bottles she had. I told her they were hers and the other small things I had given her only now they had not the same signification as before, I was much concerned for her being in the cold, would fetch her a plate of something warm; she refused. However I fetched a Tankard of Cider and drank to her. She desired that nobody might know of her being here. I told her they should not. She went away in the bitter Cold, no moon being up, to my great pain. I Saluted her at Parting."
With that parting kiss on that dark cold night, in "great pain," ended the Judge's second wooing.
That he was sincerely in love with Widow Denison one cannot doubt, though he loved his money more. Disappointed, he did not again turn to courting until the following August much longer than he had waited after the death of his wife. He then proceeded in a matter-of-fact way to visit Widow Tilley, whom he had early noted in meeting. He asked her, at his third visit, to "come and live in his house." "She expressed her unworthiness with much respect," and both agreed to consider it. He gave her a little book called "Ornaments of Sion;" Mr. Pemberton applauded his courtship; Mrs. Armitage said that Mrs. Tilley had been a great blessing to them; the banns were published; and the Judge's third wooing ended in a marriage on October 24th.
But the bride was very ill on her wedding night, and after several slight sicknesses through the winter, died on May 20th, to her husband's "great amazement." Again he was a-seeking a "dear Yoke fellow," and on September 30th, "Daughter Sewall acquainted Madam Winthrop that if she pleased to be within at 3 P.M. I would wait on her." This was the same Madam Winthrop whose attractions had been so completely obscured by the bright halo which encircled the much-longed-for Widow Denison.
"Madam Winthrop returning answer that she would be at home, I went to her house and spake to her saying my loving wife died so soon and suddenly 'twas hardly convenient for me to think of Marrying again, however I came to this Resolution that I would not make my Court to any person without first consulting with her. Had a pleasant Discourse about Seven Single persons sitting in the Fore-Seat. She propounded one after another to me but none would do."
Now, I think the Judge was very graceful in approaching a proposal to this widow, for on his next visit he asked to see her alone, and he resumed the pleasant discourse about the seven widows on the fore seat, and said:
"At last I pray'd Katharine might be the person assigned for me. She evidently took it up in the way of denyal as if she had catched at an opportunity to do it, saying she could not do it, could not leave her children."
The Judge begged her not to be so speedy in decision, and brought her gifts, "pieces of Mr. Belchar's cake and gingerbread wrapped in a clean sheet of paper;" China oranges; the News Letter; Preston's "Church Marriage;" sugared almonds (of which she inquired the price). He wrote her a stilted letter with an allusion in it to Christopher Columbus, and he had to explain it to her afterward. He gave money to her servants and "penys" to her grandchildren, and heard them "say their catechise;" and he had interviews and consultations with her relatives her children, her sister who agreed not to oppose the marriage.
Still the progress of the courtship was not encouraging. Katharine went to her neighbors' houses when she knew her suitor was coming to visit her, and left him to read "Dr. Sibbs Bowels" for scant comfort. She "look'd dark and lowering" at him and coldly placed tables or her grandchild's cradle between her chair and his as they sat together. She avoided seeing him alone. She "let the fire come to one short Brand beside the Block and fall in pieces and make no recruit" a broad hint to leave. She "would not help him on with his coat" a cutting blow. She would not let her servant accompany him home with a lantern, but heartlessly permitted her elderly lover to stumble home alone in the dark. She spoke to him of his luckless courtship of Widow Denison (a most unpleasant topic), thus giving a clue to the whole situation, in showing that Madam Winthrop resented his desertion of her in his first widowerhood, and like Falstaff, would not "undergo a snap without reply." He said, in apologetic answer:
"If after a first and second Vagary she would Accept of me returning her Victorious Kindness and Good Will would be very Obliging."
Undeterred by these many rebuffs, as she grew cold he waxed warm, and a most lover-like and gallant scene ensued which would have done credit to a younger man than the Judge. Here it is in his own words:
"I asked her to Acquit me of Rudeness if I drew off her Glove. Enquiring the reason I told her 'twas great odds between handling a dead Goat and a Living Lady. Got it off.... Told her the reason why I came every other night was lest I should drink too Deep draughts of Pleasure. She had talked of Canary, her Kisses were to me better than the best Canary."
Naturally these warm words had a marked effect; she relaxed, drank a glass of wine with him, and I trust gave him a Canary-sweet kiss, and sent a servant home with him with a lantern.
The next visit the wind blew cold again. He had had one experience with a short-lived wife, and he had determined that should his next wife die he would still have some positive benefit from having married her. Hence he kept pressing Madam Winthrop in a most unpleasant and ghoulish manner to know what she would give him in case she died. He would allow her but one hundred pounds per annum. She in turn persisted in questioning him about the property he had given to his children; and she wished him to agree to keep a coach (which he could well afford to do), and she wanted it set on springs too. He said he could not do it while he paid his debts. She also suggested that he should wear a wig. This annoyed him beyond measure, for he hated with extreme Puritan intenseness those "horrid Bushes of Vanity," and the suggestion from his would-be bride was irritating in the extreme. He answered her with much self-control:
"As to a Periwigg my best and Greatest Friend begun to find me with Hair before I was born and has continued to do so ever since and I could not find it in my heart to go to another."
Still, when nearly all the men of dignity and position in the colony wore imposing stately wigs, no woman would be pleased to have a lover come a-courting in a hood.
So, though she gave him "drams of Black Cherry Brandy" and Canary to drink and comfits and lump sugar to eat, while he so pressed her to name her settlement on him, and while the wig and coach questions were so adversely met, she would not answer yes, and he regretted making more haste than good speed. At last the lover of the "kisses sweeter than Canary" critically notes that his mistress has not on "Clean Linen," and the next day he writes rather sourly, "I did not bid her draw off her Glove as sometime I had done. Her dress was not so clean as sometime it had been;" the beginning of the end was plainly come. That week he forbade her being invited to a family dinner, and she in turn gave a "treat" from which he was excluded. Thus ended his fourth wooing.
The next widow on whom he called was Widow but he astutely stipulated that her children sign a contract that, should she die before him, they would pay him £100. She thought him "hard," and so did her sons and her son-in-law, and so he was hard even for those times of hard bargains and hard marriage contracts in hard New England. He would agree to give her but £50 a year in case of his death. The value of wives had depreciated in his eyes since the £250 a year Widow Denison. His gifts too were not as rich as those bestowed on that yearned-for widow. He had seen too many tokens go for naught. Glazed almonds, Meers cakes, an orange, were good enough for so cheap a sweetheart. He remained very stiff and peremptory about the marriage contract, the £100, and wrote her one very unpleasant letter about it; and he feared lest she being so attached to her children might not be tender to him "when there soon would be an end of the old man." At last she yielded to his sharp bargain and they were married. He lived eight years, so I doubt not Mary was tender to him and mourned him when he died, hard though he was and wigless withal.
We gather from the pages of Judge Sewall's diary many hints about the method of conducting other courtships. We discover the Judge craftily and slyly inquiring whether his daughter Mary's lover-apparent had previously courted another Boston maid; we see him conferring with lover Gerrish's father; and after a letter from the latter we see the lover "at Super and drank to Mary in the third place." He called again when it was too cold to sit downstairs, and was told he would be "wellcomm to come Friday night." We read on Saturday:
"In the evening Sam Gerrish comes not; we expected him; Mary dress'd herself ; it was a painfull disgrracefull disapointment."
A month later the recreant lover reappeared and finally married poor disappointed Mary, who died very complaisantly in a short time and left him free to marry his first love, which he quickly did. We find the Judge after his daughter's death higgling over her marriage portion with Mr. Gerrish, Sr., and see that grief for her did not prevent him from showing as much shrewdness in that matter as he had displayed in his own courtships.
Timid Betty Sewall was as much harassed in love as in religion. We find her father, when she was but seventeen years old, making frequent investigation about the estate of one Captain Tuthill, a prospective suitor who had visited Betty and "wished to speak with her." The Judge had his hesitating daughter read aloud to him of the mating of Adam and Eve, as a soothing and alluring preparation for the thought of matrimony, with, however, this most unexpected result:
"At night Capt. Tuthill comes to speak with Betty, who hid herself all alone in the coach for several hours till he was gone, so that we sought her at several houses, till at last came in of herself and look'd very wild."
This action of pure maidenly terror elicited sympathy even in the Judge's match-making heart, and he told the lover he was willing to know his daughter's mind better. This was on January 10th, 1698. Ten days later we find wild-eyed Betty going out of her way to avoid drinking wine with one Captain Turner, much to her father's annoyance. By September she had refused another suitor.
Her father wrote thus:
"Got home [from Rhode Island] by seven, in good health, though the day was hot, find my family in health, only disturbed at Betty's denying Mr. Hirst, and my wife hath a cold. The Lord sanctify Mercyes and Afflictions."
And again, a month later:
"Mr. Wm. Hirst comes and thanks my wife and me for our kindness to his Son, in giving him the liberty of our house. Seems to do it in the way of taking leave. I thanked him, and for his countenance to Hannah at the Wedding. Told him that the well wisher's of my daughter and his son had persuaded him to go to Brantry and visit her there, &c.; and said if there were hopes would readily do it. But as things were twould make persons think he was so involved that he was not fit to go any wether else. He has I suppose taken his final leave. I gave him Mr. Oakes Sermon, and my Father Hulls Funeral Sermon."
Two days later, Judge Sewall writes to Betty, who has gone to "Brantry" on a visit.
BOSTON, October 26, 1699.
"ELIZABETH: Mr. Hirst waits on you once more to see if you can bid him welcome. It ought to be seriously considered, that your drawing back from him after all that has passed between you, will be to your Prejudice; and will tend to discourage persons of worth from making their Court to you. And you had need well consider whether you will be able to bear his final leaving of you, howsoever it may seem grateful to you at present. When persons come toward us we are apt to look upon their undesirable Circumstances mostly: and thereupon to shun them. But when persons retire from us for good and all, we are in danger of looking only on that which is desirable in them, to our wofull disquiet. Whereas 'tis the property of a good Ballance to turn where the most weight is, though there be some also in the other Scale. I do not see but the match is well liked by judicious persons, and such as are your Cordial friends, and mine also.
"Yet notwithstanding, if you find in yourself an unmovable, incurable Aversion from him and cannot love and honor and obey him, I shall say no more, nor give you any further trouble in this matter. It had better off than on. So praying God to pardon us and pitty our Undeserving, and to direct and strengthen and settle you in making a right judgment, and giving a right Answer, I take leave, who am, Dear Child,
Your loving father.
"Your mother remembers to you."
Even this very proper and fatherly advice did not have an immediate effect upon the shy and vacillating young girl, for not until a year later did she become the wife of persistent Grove Hirst.
One of the most typical stories of colonial methods of "matching" among fine gentlefolk is found in the worry of Emanuel Downing, a man of dignity in the commonwealth, and of his wife, Lucy (who was Gov. Winthrop's sister), in regard to the settlement of their children. Downing begins with anxious overtures to Endicott in regard to "matching his sonne" to an orphan maid living in Endicott's family, a maid who it is needless to state had a very pretty fortune. Downing states that he has been blamed for not marrying off his children earlier, "that none are disposed of," and deplores his ill-luck in having them so long on his hands, and he recounts pathetically his own and his son's good points. He also got Governor Winthrop to write to Endicott pleading the match. Endicott answered both letters in a most dignified manner, stating his objections to furthering Downing's wishes, giving a succession of reasons, such as the maid's unwillingness to marry, being but fifteen years of age, his own awkward position in seeming to crowd marriage upon her when she was so rich, etc., etc. The Downings had hoped to have thriftily two marriages in the family in one day, but the daughter Luce's affairs also halted. She had been enamoured of a Mr. Eyer, an unsuitable match. He had put out to sea, to the Downings' delight, but had returned at an unlucky time when she was on with a fresh suitor. Her mother was much distressed because, though Luce declared she much liked Mr. Norton, she still showed to all around her that "she hath not yet forgotten Mr. Eyer his fresh Red."
But Mistress Luce, by a telling statement of pecuniary benefits, was brought to a proper mind and became "verie sensible of loseing fair opportunities," and consented speedily to wed Norton, to her father's abounding joy, who wrote, "shee may stay long ere she meet with a better vnless I had more monie for her than I now can spare." The betrothal was formally announced, when shortly a distressed letter from Madam Downing shows foul weather ahead. Luce had been talking among her friends, giving to them "unjust suspicions of the enforcement to her of Mr. Norton," and while she had seemed to love Mr. Eyer, and her family had eagerly striven to win her regard from him, "we now suspect by her late words her affections to be now inclininge at Jhon Harrold." It was found that Jhon had "practised upon her and disturbed her," and that while she was it free and cheerful" with Lover Norton, "passing conversation" with him, she was really conspiring to jilt him. The mother wrote sadly: "I am sorrie my daughter Luce hath caryed things thus vnwisely and vnreputably both to herselfe and our friends;" and the whole family were evidently sorely afraid that the "perverse Puritan jade" would be left on their hands, when suddenly came the news of her marriage to Norton, owing perhaps to a very decided and sharp letter from Norton's brother to the Governor about Mistress Luce's vagaries, and also to some more satisfactory and liberal marriage settlements. She probably made as devoted a wife to him as if she had never longed for Eyer his fresh red, nor Jhon his disturbments.
Nor were these upright and pious Puritan magistrates and these gentlewomen of Boston and Salem the only colonists who displayed such sordid and mercenary bargaining and stipulating in matrimonial ventures: numberless letters and records throughout New England prove the unvarying spirit of calculation that pervaded fashionable courtship. A bride's portion was openly discussed, her marriage settlement carefully decided upon, and even agreements for bequests were arranged as "incurredgment to marriage." Nor did happy husbands hesitate to sue for settlement too tardy or too remiss fathers-in-law who failed to keep their word about the bride's portion: Edward Palmes for years harassed the Winthrops about their sister's (his first wife's) portion, long after he had married a second partner.
Though the tender passion walked thus ceremoniously and coldly in narrow and carefully selected paths in town, in the country it regarded little the bounds of reserve or regard for appearances. Much comparative grossness prevailed. The mode of courting, known as "bundling" or "tarrying" was too prevalent in colonial times to be ignored. A full description of its extent, and an attempt to trace its origin, have been given in a book on the subject prepared by Dr. H. R. Stiles, and with much fairness in a pamphlet by Charles Francis Adams on "Some Phases of Sexual Morality and Church Discipline in Colonial New England."
Its existence has been a standing taunt for years against New England, and its prevalence has been held up as a proof of a low state of morality in early New England society. Indeed, it was strange it could so long exist in so austere and virtuous a colony; that it did, to a startling extent, must be conceded; much proof is found in the books of contemporary writers. Rev. Andrew Burnaby, who travelled in New England in 1759-1760, says that though it may "at first appear to be the effects of grossness of character, it will upon deeper research be found to proceed from simplicity and innocence." To this assertion, after some research, I can give to use Sir Thomas Browne's words "a staggering assent to the affirmative, not without some fear of the negative." Rev. Samuel Peters, in his General History of Connecticut, speaks at length upon the custom, and apparently endeavors to prove that it was a very prudent and Christian fashion. Jonathan Edwards raised his powerful voice against it. It prevailed apparently to its fullest extent on Cape Cod, and longest in the Connecticut valley, where many Dutch customs were introduced and much intercourse with the Dutch was carried on. In Pennsylvania, among the Dutch and German settlers and their descendants, it lingered long; it was a matter of Court record as late as 1845. Yet the custom of bundling has never been held to be a result of copying the similar Dutch "queesting," which in Holland met with the sanction of the most circumspect Dutch parents; and tergiversating Diedrich Knickerbocker even asserted the contrary assumption, that the Dutch learned of it from the Yankees. In Holland, as now in Wales and then in New England, the custom arose not from a low state of morals, nor from a disregard of moral appearances, but from the social and industrial conditions under which such courting was done. The small size and crowded occupancy of the houses, the alternative waste of lights and fuel, the hours at which the hurried courtship must be carried on, all led to the recognition and endurance of the custom; and in its open recognition lay its redeeming feature. There was no secrecy, no thought of concealment; the bundling was done under the supervision of mother and sisters.
As a contrast to all this laxity of behaviour, let me state that in the very locality where it obtained the Connecticut Valley other sweethearts are said to have been forced to a most ceremonious courtship, to whisper their tender nothings through a "courting-stick," a hollow stick about an inch in diameter and six or eight feet long, fitted with mouth- and ear-pieces. In the presence of the entire family, lovers, seated formally on either side of the great fireplace, carried on this chilly telephonic love-making. One of these bβtons of propriety still is preserved in Longmeadow, Mass.
Of this primitive colony with primitive manners some very extraordinary cases of bucolic love at first sight are recorded love that did not follow the law of pounds, shillings, and pence. At an ordination in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, a country bumpkin forgot the place, the preacher, and the preaching, in the ravishing sight of an unknown damsel whom he saw for the first time within the meeting-house. He sat entranced through the long sermon, the tedious psalm-singings, the endless prayers, until at last the services were over. In an ecstasy of uncouth and unreasoning passion he rushed out of church, forced his way through the departing congregation, seized the unknown fair one in his arms crying out, "Now I have got ye, you jade, I have! I have!" And from so startling and unalluring a beginning, a marriage followed. In a neighboring community a dignified officer of the law went to" warn out of town" a strange "transient woman" who might become a pauper, and would then have to be kept at the town's expense, were this ceremony omitted. Terrified at the majesty of the law and its grand though incomprehensible wording, the young warned one burst into tears, which so worked upon the tender-hearted officer that he (being conveniently a widower) proposed to her offhand, was called in meeting, married her, and thus took her under his own and the town's protection. More than one case of "marriage at first sight" is recounted, of bold Puritan wooers riding up to the door of a fair one whom they had never seen, telling their story of a lonely home, forlorn housekeeping, and desired marriage, giving their credentials, obtaining a hasty consent, and sending in their "publishings" to the town clerk, all within a day's time.
The "matrimonial" advertisement did not appear till 1759. In the Boston Evening Post of February 23d of that year, this notice, for its novelty and boldness, must have caused quite a heart-fluttering among Boston "thornbacks" who would try to pass for the desired age:
"To the Ladies. Any young Lady between the Age of Eighteen and twenty three of a Midling Stature; brown Hair, regular Features and a Lively Brisk Eye: Of Good Morals & not Tinctured with anything that may Sully so Distinguishable a Form possessed of 3 or 400£ entirely her own Disposal and where there will be no necessity of going Through the tiresome Talk of addressing Parents or Guardians for their consent: Such a one by leaving a Line directed for A. W. at the British Coffee House in King Street appointing where an Interview may be had will meet with a Person who flatters himself he shall not be thought Disagreeable by any Lady answering the above description. N. B. Profound Secrecy will be observ'd. No Trifling Answers will be regarded."
Hawthorne says: "Now this was great condescension towards the ladies of Massachusetts Bay in a threadbare lieutenant of foot."
Other matrimonial advertisements, those of recreant and disobedient wives, appear in considerable number, especially in Connecticut papers. They were sometimes prefaced by the solemn warning: "Cursed be he that parteth man & wife & all the people shall say Amen." Some very disagreeable allegations were made against these Connecticut wives that they were rude, gay, light-carriaged girls, poor and lazy housewives, ill cooks, fond of dancing, and talking balderdash talk, and far from being loving consorts. The wives had something to say from their point of view. One, owing to her spouse's stinginess, had to use "Indian branne for Jonne bred," and never tasted good food; another stated that her loving husband "cruelly pulled my hair, pinched my flesh, kicked me out of bed, drag'd me by my arms & heels, flung ashes upon me to smother me, flung water from the well till I had not a dry thread on me." All these notices were apparently printed in the advertiser's own language and individual manner of spelling, some even in rhyme. "Timothy hubbard" thus ventilated his domestic infelicities and his spelling in the Connecticut Courant of January 30th, 1776:
"Whearis my Wife Abigiel hes under Rote me by saying it is veri Disagria bell to Hur to Expose to the World the miseris & Calamatis of a Distractid famely, and I think as much for hur Father & mother to Witt Stephen deming & his wife acts very much like Distractid or BeWicht & I believe both, for the truth of this I will apell to the Nabors. When I first Married I had land of my one and lived at my one hous but Stephen deming & his Wife cept coming down & lianting of me til they got me up to thare house but presently I was deceived by them as Bad as Adam & Eve was by the Divel though not in the Same Shape for they got a bill of Sail of a most all by thare Sutilly & still hold the Same. perhaps the Jentlemen will say it is to pay my debt. Queri. Wherino a man that ows one pound to my shiling. I dont want it to pay his one, I believe he dos. My wife pretends to say I abus'd her for the truth of this I will apiel to all thare nabors."
Anenst this I am glad to add that I have found repentant sequels to the mortifying story, in the form of humble retractions of the husband's allegations. Wives were, on the whole, marvellously well protected by early laws. A husband could not keep his consort on outlying and danger-filled plantations, but must "bring her in, else the town will pull his house down." Nor could a man leave his wife for any length of time, nor "marrie too wifes which were both alive for anything that can appear otherwise at one time," nor beat his wife (as he could to his heart's content in old England); he could not even use "hard words" to her. Nor could she raise her hand or use "a curst and shrewish tongue" to him without fear of public punishment in the stocks or pillory.
In the first years of the colonies there existed a formal ceremony of betrothal called in Plymouth a pre-contract. This semi-binding ceremony had hardly a favorable influence upon the morals of the times. Cotton Mather states:
There was maintained a Solemnity called a Contraction a little before the Consummation of a marriage was allowed of. A Pastor was usually employed and a sermon also preached on this occasion."
If the prospective marriage were an important or a genteel one, an applicable sermon was often preached in church at the time of the "contraction." One minister took the text, Ephesians vi. 10, 11, in order "to teach that marriage is a state of warfaring condition." It was also the custom to allow the bride to choose the text for the sermon to be delivered on the Sunday when she "came out bride." Much ingenuity was exercised by these Puritan brides in finding appropriate and interesting texts for these wedding sermons. Here are some of the verses selected:
2 Chronicles xiv. 2: "And Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord" Asa and his bride Hepzibah sitting up proudly in the congregation to listen.
Proverbs xxiv. 23: "Her husband is known in the gates when he sitteth among the elders of the land."
Ecclesiastes iv. 9, 10: "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall the one will lift up his fellow."
I can imagine the staid New England lover and his shy sweetheart anxiously and solemnly searching for many hours through the great leather-bound family Bible for a specially appropriate text, turning over the leaves and slowing scanning the pages, skipping over tedious Leviticus and Numbers, and finding always in the Song of Solomon "in almost every verse" a sentiment appealing to all lovers, and worthy a selection for a wedding sermon.
The "coming out," or, as it was called in Newburyport, "walking out" of the bride was an important event in the little community. Cotton Mather wrote in 1713 that he thought it expedient for the bridal couple to appear as such publicly, with some dignity. We see in the pages of Sewall's diary one of his daughters with her new-made husband leading the orderly bridal procession of six couples on the way to church, observed of all in the narrow Boston street and in the Puritan meeting-house. In some communities the bride and groom took a prominent seat in the gallery, and in the midst of the sermon rose to their feet and turned around several times slowly, in order to show from every point of view their bridal finery to the admiring eyes of their assembled friends and neighbors in the congregation.
Throughout New England, except in New Hampshire, the law was enforced for nearly two centuries, of publishing the wedding banns three times in the meeting-house, at either town meeting, lecture, or Sunday service. Intention of marriage and the names of the contracting parties were read by the town clerk, the deacon, or the minister, at any of these forgatherings, and a notice of the same placed on the church door, or on a "publishing post" in short, they were "valled." Yet in the early days of the colonies the all-powerful minister could not perform the marriage ceremony a magistrate, a captain, any man of dignity in the community could be authorized to marry Puritan lovers, save the parson. Not till the beginning of the eighteenth century did the Puritan minister assume the function of solemnizing marriages. Gov. Bellingham married himself to Penelope Pelham when he was a short time a widower and forty-nine years old, and his bride but twenty-two. When he was "brought up" for this irregularity he arrogantly and monopolizingly persisted in remaining on the bench to try his own case. "Disorderly marriages" were punished in many towns; doubtless many of them were between Quakers. Some couples were fined every month until they were properly married. A very trying and unregenerate reprobate in New London persisted that he would "take up" with a woman in the town and make her his wife without any legal or religious ceremony. This was a great scandal to the whole community. A pious magistrate met the ungodly couple on the street and sternly reproved them thus: "'John Rogers, do you persist in calling this woman, a servant, so much younger than yourself, your wife? "
"Yes, I do," violently answered John.
"And do you, Mary, wish such an old man as this to be your husband ?"
"Indeed I do," she answered.
"Then," said the governor, coldly, "by the laws of God and this commonwealth, I as a magistrate pronounce you man and wife."
"Ah! Gurdon, Gurdon," said the groom, married legally in spite of himself, "thee's a cunning fellow."
There is one peculiarity of the marriages of the first century and a half of colonial and provincial life which should be noted the vast number of unions between the members of the families of Puritan ministers. It seemed to be a law of social ethics that the sons of ministers should marry the daughters of ministers. The new pastor frequently married the daughter of his predecessor in the parish, sometimes the widow a most thrifty settling of pastoral affairs. A study of the Cotton, Stoddard, Eliot, Williams, Edwards, Chauncey, Bulkeley, and Wigglesworth families, and, above all, of the Mather family, will show mutual kinship among the ministers, as well as mutual religious thought.
Richard Mather took for his second wife the widow of John Cotton. Their children, Increase Mather and Mary Cotton, grew up as brother and sister, but were married and became the parents of Cotton Mather. The sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of Richard Mather were ministers. His daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters became the wives of ministers. Thus was the name of "Mather Dynasty" well given. The Mather blood and the Mather traits of character were felt in the most remote parishes of New England. The Mather expressions of religious thought were long heard from he pulpit, and long taught in ministerial homes; and to that Mather blood and that upright Mather character and God-fearing Mather faith and teaching, we of New England owe more gratitude than can ever find expression.
We have several meagre pictures of weddings in early days. One runs thus:
"There was a pretty deal of company present ... Many young gentlemen and gentlewomen. Mr. Noyes made a speech, said love was the sugar to sweeten every condition in the marriage state, Prayed once. Did all very well. After the Sack-posset sung 45th Psalm from 8th verse to end, five staves. I set it to Windsor tune. I had a very good Turkey Leather Psalm book which I looked in while Mr. Noyes read; then I gave it to the bridegroom saying I give you this Psalm book in order to your perpetuating this song and I would have you pray that it may be an introduction to our singing with the quire above."
For many years sack-posset was drunk at weddings, sometimes within the bridal chamber; but not with noisy revelry, as in old England. A psalm preceding and a prayer following a Puritan posset-pot made a satisfactorily solemn wassail. Bride-cake and bride-gloves were sent as gifts to the friends and relatives of the contracting parties. Other and ruder English fashions obtained. The garter of the bride was sometimes scrambled for to bring luck and speedy marriage to the garter-winner. In Marblehead the bridesmaids and groomsmen put the wedded couple to bed.
It is said that along the New Hampshire and upper Massachusetts coast, the groom was led to the bridal chamber clad in a brocaded night-gown. This may have occasionally taken place among the gentry, but I fancy brocaded night-gowns were not common wear among New England country folk. I have also seen it stated that the bridal chamber was invaded, and healths there were drunk and prayers offered. The only proof of this custom which I have found is the negative one which Judge Sewall gives when he states of his own wedding that "none came to us," after he and his elderly bride had retired. When the weddings of English noblemen of that period were attended by most indecorous observances, there is no reason to suppose that provincial and colonial weddings were entirely free from similar rude customs.
It was found necessary in 1651 to forbid all "mixt and unmixt" dancing at taverns on the occasion of weddings, abuses and disorders having arisen. But I fancy a people who would give an "ordination ball" would not long sit still at a wedding; and by the year 1769, at a wedding in New London, ninety-two jigs, fifty contra-dances, forty-three minuets, and seventeen hornpipes were danced, and the party broke up at quarter of one in the morning at what time could it have begun?
Isolated communities retained for many years marriage customs derived or copied from similar customs in the "old country." Thus the settlers of Londonderry, New Hampshire Scotch-Irish Presbyterians celebrated a marriage with much noisy firing of guns, just as their ancestors in Ireland, when the Catholics had been forbidden the use of firearms, had ostentatiously paraded their privileged Protestant condition by firing off their guns and muskets at every celebration. A Londonderry wedding made a big noise in the world. After the formal publishing of the banns, guests were invited with much punctiliousness. The wedding day was suitably welcomed at daybreak by a discharge of musketry at both the bride's and the groom's house. At a given hour the bridegroom, accompanied by his male friends, started far the bride's home. Salutes were fired at every house passed on the road, and from each house pistols and guns gave an answering "God speed." Half way on the journey the noisy bridal party was met by the male friends of the bride, and another discharge of firearms rent the air. Each group of men then named a champion to "run for the bottle" a direct survival of the ancient wedding sport known among the Scotch as "running for the bride-door," or "riding for the kail" or "for the broose" a pot of spiced broth. The two New Hampshire champions ran at full speed or rode a dare-devil race over dangerous roads to the bride's house, the winner seized the beribboned bottle of rum provided for the contest, returned to the advancing bridal group, drank the bride's health, and passed the bottle. On reaching the bride's house an extra salute was fired, and the bridegroom with his party entered a room set aside for them. It was a matter of strict etiquette that none of the bride's friends should enter this room until the bride, led by the best man, advanced and stationed herself with her bridesmaid before the minister, while the best man stood behind the groom. When-the time arrived for the marrying pair to join hands, each put the right hand behind the back, and the bridesmaid and the best man pulled off the wedding-gloves, taking care to finish their duty at precisely the same moment. At the end of the ceremony everyone kissed the bride, and more noisy firing of guns and drinking of New England rum ended the day.
In some communities still rougher horse-play than unexpected volleys of musketry was shown to the bridal party or to wedding guests. Great trees were felled across the bridle-paths, or grapevines were stretched across to hinder the free passage, and thus delay the bridal festivities.
Occasionally the wedding-bells did not ring smoothly. One Scotch-Irish lassie seized the convenient opportunity, when the rollicking company of her male friends had set out to meet the bridegroom, to mount a-pillion behind a young New Hampshire Lochinvar, and ride boldly off to a neighboring parson and marry the man of her choice. Such an unpublished marriage was known in New Hampshire as a "Flagg marriage," from one Parson Flagg, of some notoriety, of Chester, Vermont, whose house was a sort of Yankee Gretna Green; and such a marriage was made possible by the action of the government of New Hampshire in issuing marriage licenses at the price of two guineas each, as a means of increasing its income. Sometimes easygoing parsons kept a stock of these licenses on hand, ready for issue to eloping couples at a slightly advanced price. Such a marriage, without proper "publishing" in meeting, was not, however, deemed very reputable.
Madam Knight, travelling through Connecticut in 1704, wrote thus in her diary of Connecticut youth:
"They generally marry very young; the males oftener as I am told under twenty years than above; they generally make public weddings and have a way something singular in some of them; viz. just before joining hands tho bridegroom quits the place, who is soon followed by the Bridesmen and, as it were, dragged back to duty, being the reverse to the former practice among us to steal Mistress Bride."
Poor-spirited creatures Connecticut maids must have been to endure meekly such an ungallant em-tom and such ungallant lovers.
The sport of stealing "Mistress Bride," a curious survival of the old savage bridals of many peoples, lingered long in the Connecticut valley. A company of young men, usually composed of slighted ones who had not been invited to the wedding, rushed in after the marriage ceremony, seized the bride, carried her to a waiting carriage, or lifted her up on a pillion, and rode to the country tavern. The groom with his friends followed, and usually redeemed the bride by furnishing a supper to the stealers. The last bride stolen in Hadley was Mrs. Job Marsh, in the year 1783. To this day, however, in certain localities in Rhode Island, the young men of the neighborhood invade the bridal chamber and pull the bride downstairs, and even out-of-doors, thus forcing the husband to follow to her rescue. If the room or house-door be locked against their invasion, the rough visitors break the lock.
In England throughout the eighteenth century the grotesque belief prevailed that if a widow were "married in Her Smock without any Clothes or Head Gier on," the husband would be exempt from paying any of his new wife's ante-nuptial debts; and many records of such debt-evading marriages appear. In New England, it was thought if the bride were married "in her shift on the king's highway," a creditor could follow her person no farther in pursuit of his debt. Many such eccentric "smock-marriages" took place, generally (with some regard for modesty) occurring in the evening. Later the bride was permitted to stand in a closet.
Mr. William C. Prime, in his delightful book, "Along New England Roads," gives an account of such a marriage. In Newfane, Vt., in February, 1789, Major Moses Joy married Widow Hannah Ward; the bride stood, with no clothing on, within a closet, and held out her hand to the major through a diamond-shaped hole in the door, and the ceremony was thus performed. She then appeared resplendent in wedding attire, which the gallant major had thoughtfully deposited in the closet for her assumption. Mr. Prime tells also of a marriage in which the bride, entirely unclad, left her room by a window at night, and standing on the top round of a high ladder donned her wedding garments, and thus put off the obligations of the old life.
In Hall's "History of Eastern Vermont," we read of a marriage in Westminster, Vt., in which the Widow Lovejoy, while nude and hidden in a chimney recess behind a curtain, wedded Asa Averill. Smock-marriages on the public highway are recorded in York, Me., in 1774, as shown in the History of Wells and Kennebunkport. It is said that in one case the pitying minister threw his coat over the shivering bride, Widow Mary Bradley, who in February, clad only in a shift, met the bridegroom half way from her home to his.
The traveller Kalm, writing in 1748, says that one Pennsylvania bridegroom saved appearances by meeting the scantily-clad widow-bride half way from her house to his, and announcing formally, in the presence of witnesses, that the wedding clothes which he then put on her were only lent to her for the occasion. This is curiously suggestive of the marriage investiture of Eastern Hindostan.
In Westerly, R. I., in 1724, other smock-marriages were recorded, and in Lincoln County, Me., in 1767, between John Gatchell and Sarah Cloutman, showing that the belief in this vulgar error was widespread. The most curious variation of this custom is told in the "Life of Gustavus Vassa," wherein that traveller records that a smock-marriage took place in New York in 1784 on a gallows. A malefactor condemned to death, and about to undergo his execution, was reprieved and liberated through his marriage to a woman clad only in a shift.
In spite of the hardness and narrowness of their daily life, and the cold calculation, the lack of sentiment displayed in wooing, I think Puritan husbands and wives were happy in their marriages, though their love was shy, almost sombre, and "flowered out of sight like the fern." A few love-letters still remain to prove their affection: letters of sweethearts and letters of married lovers, such as Governor Winthrop and his wife Margaret; letters like the words of another Margaret a, queen to her "alderliefest;" letters so simple and tender that truth and love shine round them like a halo:
"MY OWN DEAR HUSBAND: How dearly welcome thy kind letter was to me, I am not able to express. The sweetness of it did much refresh me. What can be more pleasing to a wife than to bear of the welfare of her best beloved and how he is pleased with her poor endeavors! I blush to bear myself commended, knowing my own wants. But it is your love that conceives the best and makes all things seem better than they are. I wish that I may always be pleasing to thee, and that these comforts we have in each other may be daily increased so far as they be pleasing to God. I will use that speech to thee that Abigail did to David, I will be a servant to wash the feet of my lord; I will do any service wherein I may please my good husband. I confess I cannot do enough for thee; but thou art pleased to accept the will for the deed and rest contented. I have many reasons to make me love thee, whereof I shall name two: Fust, because thou lovest God, add secondly, because thou lovest me. If these two were wanting all the rest would be eclipsed. But I must leave this discourse and go about my household affairs. I am a bad housewife to be so long from them; but I must needs borrow a little time to talk with thee, my sweetheart. It will be but two or three weeks before I see thee, though they be long ones. Good will bring us together in good time, for which time I shall pray. And thus with my mother's and my own best love."