Friday, April 08, 2016

Slave Marriage Laws Before the Civil War

In pre-Civil War America, slave marriages were not recognized in the state codes. No state legislature ever considered encroaching upon a master’s property rights by legalizing slave marriage. Marriage was, “voluntary on the part of the slaves and permissive on that of the master.”

Slave marriages were regulated by whatever laws the owners saw fit to enforce. Some masters arbitrarily assigned husbands to women who had reached the “breeding age”. Ordinarily slaves picked their own mates, but were required to ask the master for permission to marry. Most owners refused to allow slaves to marry away from home. Men who married away from home were frequently absent and thus exposed “to temptations”.

Having obtained the masters consent, the couple might begin living together without further formality, or their masters might pronounce vows. Ceremonies conducted by slave preachers or white clergymen, were not uncommon even for field hands and were customary for the domestic servants. No slave marriage, however, was ever safe from the caprice of the master who could end the marriage by selling one or both of the partners. Thus, a slave preacher in Kentucky united couples in wedlock, “until death or distance do you part.”

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

The Civil War Wedding, an entertaining look at the customs and superstitions of weddings during the Civil War era.

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