Love and Marriage
Thea Marshall explores love, marriage, wealth and power back in the early days of the Northern Neck's gentry when marrying for love was a luxury that only the poor could afford.
How do I love thee? Oh, let me count the ways.
Well, there's the phone and Twitter and Facebook and texting...oh, and there's always cars, planes, trains and we can't forget E-harmony and the like. There are almost limitless ways to reach out and love somebody. How in the world did young folks manage to find love or simply meet a member of the opposite sex back when our nation was as young as they?
Well, forget love if you are young and a member of the gentry, at least for the first 150 years of this country's existence. Little mattered more to the wealthy planters than becoming wealthier, more powerful and the best way was to have their offspring marry well, very well, and most did, the Lees, the Carters, the Tayloes, Fitzhughs, the Randolphs, the Washingtons, Balls and scores and scores of other Northern Neck first families arranged the marriages of their sons and daughters to the heirs of other Northern Neck dynasties.
There were opportunities for the young ladies and gentlemen to get together; most particularly, the non-stop balls and dances that the young heirs and heiresses attended. Dancing seemed to have been an afterthought; flaming flirtations and more were the primary activity, the "and more" reflects the rather high number of large, with-child brides back then.
Of course, there were far more folks on the middle and lower ranges of the social spectrum; indentured servants and newly-arrived immigrants may have had better luck at marrying for love. For those folks, social class was somewhat irrelevant, since they could only marry up. So, sitting around a table negotiating dowry and such didn't stand in the way of wedding for love.
So did they? Well, they certainly married out of need, usually not wealthy enough for servant or slave, a woman needed a man to provide for her and the expected children; a man needed a wife to care for those children and their home, and they both needed children for an unpaid work force to tend their land.
Frequently, their marriage was quick and easy, using a custom they brought from England. This from historian Andrew Gardner, quote, "You joined hands, and well, you declared that you took each other to be a lawfully wedded spouse and live together; henceforth, you are man and wife."
Ironically, whether married for love or money, their lives together were not long-lasting, not because of disaffection but multiple childbirths. It wasn't unusual to give birth ten or more times, resulting in stunning numbers of women dying in childbirth, resulting in a stunning number of men remarrying multiple times to wives who could have more children.
So, was the nature of love, money and marriage without much romance a good thing? Well, are twittering and texting and E-harmonizing the newest version of romance? Perhaps we'll have to wait for the poets to give us the answers.
This is Thea Marshall.