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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

17th Century Ceremonies: Marriage Contracts

The marriage contract was as common in Virginia as it was in England. The terms of some of these ante-nuptial agreements secured to the woman the right to retain the whole of her property, a right which was in those days reserved for the future widow with children, whose first husband had left her his entire estate in fee simple. In the marriage contract between John Hurst and Elizabeth Alford of Lower Norfolk County dated 1675, it was stipulated that Hurst should not "meddle" with his wife's property, and that she should be fully authorized, not only to manage, but also to sell it, should she so desire, as if she were still unmarried. You see, under the law the married woman had no rights and was subject to her husband. So this was the means to retaining inheritances in her possession. In addition, Elizabeth Alford retained the power to convert to her own use the bills of exchange, tobacco and other merchandise which she should at any time send out of the Colony and above all, she reserved to herself the right to distribute her estate by will in such manner as she chose. Source: Lower Norfolk County Records, Vol. 1666-75, p. 185.  This is another reason of so many why you should examine court house records. Marriage contracts can be found in will books, deeds, minutes of the court, etc. and could be the only means of learning who they were married to. Details.

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