'Til Death Do Us Part: Maryland Marriage Laws, 1640-1900

Introduction

This document packet traces the evolution of selected marriage laws in Maryland through the nineteenth century.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 2: Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)

Standard 2: How political, religious, and social institutions emerged in the English colonies 

Standard 2A: The student understands the roots of representative government and how political rights were defined. 

5-12: Compare how early colonies were established and governed. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas]
9-12:
Analyze how gender, property ownership, religion, and legal status affected political rights. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships] 

Standard 2C: The student understands social and cultural change in British America.

5-12: Explain how and why family and community life differed in various regions of colonial North America. [Consider multiple perspectives]
9-12: Analyze women's property rights before and after marriage in the colonial period. [Interrogate historical data] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Chapter 7, Laws of 1640: An ACT touching marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1640
    NOTES: Marriage was allowed only after publication of banns three times; or oath was made at the county court that neither part was an apprentice, etc., related, or under government of parents and a certificate was issued by the County Court of such oath.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  2. DESCRIPTION: Chapter 7, Laws of 1658: An ACT for the publication of marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1658
    NOTES: Marriage could be performed by either a minister or magistrate
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  3. DESCRIPTIONChapter 5, Laws of 1662: An ACT for the publication of marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1662
    NOTES:  Marriage allowed three weeks after publication at Church, County Court or meeting house, or by particular license from Lt. Governor or Chief Governor. Two witnesses to the marriage required.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  4. DESCRIPTION: Chapter 16, Laws of 1662: An ACT imposing a fee on them who shall be married
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1662
    NOTES: Pastors or magistrates permitted to charge 100 pounds tobacco as fee for marriage
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  5. DESCRIPTIONChapter 30, Laws of 1664: An ACT concerning Negroes and other slaves
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1664
    NOTES:  Marriage forbidden between white women and Negro slaves
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  6. DESCRIPTIONChapter 25, Laws of 1666: An additional ACT to the law entitled an ACT for the publication of marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1666
    NOTES:  Marriage vows set forth
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  7. DESCRIPTIONChapter 6, Laws of 1676: An ACT for the publication of marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1676
    NOTES:  Particular license could also be issued by the Lord Proprietor. Five witnesses to the marriage required.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  8. DESCRIPTION: Chapter 4, Laws of 1681: An ACT concerning Negro Slaves
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1681
    NOTES: Anyone who consents to allow their freeborn English or white women servants to marry any slave shall claim to the servitude of that woman.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  9. DESCRIPTION: Chapter 14, Laws of 1692: An ACT for the publication of marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1692
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  10. DESCRIPTION: Chapter 79, Laws of 1692: An ACT concerning Negro Slaves
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1692
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  11. DESCRIPTIONChapter 12, Laws of 1694: An additional ACT to the Act of Religion
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1694
    NOTES:  Marriage allowed only according to the Table of Marriages of the Church of England. See also Chapter 1, Laws of 1695.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  12. DESCRIPTIONChapter 1, Laws of 1700: An ACT for the service of Almighty God and establishment of religion in this province according to the Church of England
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1700
    NOTES:  No justice or magistrate could perform marriages if a minister was available
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  13. DESCRIPTIONChapter 72, Laws of 1704: An ACT for publication of marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1704
    NOTES:  Particular license could be issued by the Governor "for the time being."
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  14. DESCRIPTION: Chapter 15, Laws of 1717: An ACT for the publication of marriages, and to prevent unlawful marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1717
    NOTES:  Publication of intention to marry made according to Rubrick of Church of England. If Parish had no official, advertisement to be set up at Courthouse door and remain there at least three weeks. Clerk of the court then to issue certificate. After publication or certificate any minister could perform marriage according to the Liturgy of the Church of England. Particular license also allowed from Governor "For the time being." Unlawful to be married outside Maryland unless woman resident of the place where the marriage took place. Non-Anglican excepted and their "proceedings in marriage may entirely remain unaltered by this act..."
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  15. DESCRIPTIONChapter 12, Laws of 1777: An ACT concerning marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1777
    NOTES:  Set forth table of Degree of Kindred and Affinity within which marriage not allowed. Marriage allowed only by religious official. Marriage allowed only after license from county court or publication of banns. Provision against marriage outside of Maryland continued. Every Church had to be registered in county court or not esteemed for publication of banns. Marriage without parental consent forbidden for males under 21 and females under 16 and not before married. Form of license set forth. Quakers allowed to marry according to their own practice.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  16. DESCRIPTIONChapter 35, laws of 1786: An ACT to repeal part of the act concerning marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1786
    NOTES:  Degrees of Kindred altered
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  17. DESCRIPTIONChapter 20, Laws of 1790: An ACT to repeal so much of the act concerning marriages, as is therein mentioned
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1790
    NOTES:  Degrees of Kindred altered
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  18. DESCRIPTION: Chapter 271, Laws of 1860: An ACT to add a section to article fifty-nine of the code of public general laws, relating to marriages
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1860
    NOTES:  Degrees of Kindred altered
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  19. DESCRIPTIONConstitution of Maryland, Article III - legislative department
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1864
    NOTES:  Constitution of 1864 allowed civil marriage if the parties were prevented by "conscientious scruples from being married by any of the existing provisions of law."
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  20. DESCRIPTIONChapter 130, Laws of 1865: An ACT to provide for the registration of births, marriages and deaths
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1865
    NOTES:  Marriages to be recorded by county clerk in book. Ministers required to send in record of marriage.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  21. DESCRIPTIONChapter 423, Laws of 1867: An ACT entitled "An Act to amend article sixty of the code of public general laws entitled "Licenses," by adding thereto additional sections, relating to marriages of people of color
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1867
    NOTES:  Marriage between Negroes prior to 1867 made valid if they could produce proof. Certificate of such marriage filed with Circuit Court. Such marriages made subsequent to 1867 must have a license.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  22. DESCRIPTIONChapter 357, Laws of 1882: AN ACT to repeal chapter one hundred and thirty of the acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, passed at the January session of the year eighteen hundred and sixty-five, entitled "An act to provide for the registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths," and also to repeal chapter one hundred and two of the acts of General Assembly of Maryland, passed at the January session of the year eighteen hundred and sixty-six, amending said act, and to re-enact the same under the following title, to wit: "An act to provide for the Registration of Marriages."
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1882
    NOTES:  Ministers must give marriage return within 6 months.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  23. DESCRIPTIONChapter 264, Laws of 1884: AN ACT to amend article thirty of the Code of Public General Laws, title " Crimes and Punishments," sub-title " Marrying Unlawfully," by adding thereto an additional section forbidding marriages between white persons and persons of negro descent to the third generation, to be known and distinguished as section one hundred and thirty-three A.
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1884
    NOTES:  Marriages between whites and Negroes or people of Negro descent to third generation inclusive forbidden.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  24. DESCRIPTIONChapter 497, Laws of 1886: AN ACT to repeal sections four, five, six, seven
    and eight of article sixty of the Code of Public General Laws, entitled " Marriages," as amended by chapter forty-two of the acts passed at the January session, eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, and to re-enact said sections amended with additional sections thereto.
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1886
    NOTES:  Marriage certificates to be affixed to license and returned by minister within 30 days.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

  25. DESCRIPTIONChapter 465, Laws of 1890: An ACT to add additional sections to article sixty-two, of code of public general laws....
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1890
    NOTES:  Ministers to return certificate when marriage by publication of banns within 60 days. Clerk to record such marriages in special book.
    SOURCE: Archives of Maryland Online
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

Additional Media Resources

Married Women's Property Laws. From the Library of Congress

Additional Instructional Resources

Women's Lives Before the Civil War

Secondary Resources

Carr, Lois Green and Lorena S. Walsh. "The Planter's Wife: The Experience of White Women in Seventeen-Century Maryland" The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 34, No. 4. (Oct., 1977), pp. 542-571. 

Cott, Nancy F. "Marriage and Women's Citizenship in the United States, 1830-1934" The American Historical Review, Vol. 103, No. 5. (Dec., 1998), pp. 1440-1474. 

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.

 

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