Tuesday, March 20, 2012
During slavery, most slaves were not able to legally marry since they were considered property and therefore less than human. They were however, in many cases encouraged by slave-owners to informally marry since it was believed that married men was less likely to be rebellious or to run away. Also, the slavemaster felt that marriage meant the procreation of children and some even offered freedom to slaves who produced at least 15 children.
This is a sad and awful truth that many of our ancestors had to endure. In addition, since slave marriages had no legal standing, it meant no protection from the abuses and restrictions imposed on them by slaveowners. Slave husbands and wives, without legal recourse, could be separated or sold at their master's will.
Couples who resided on different plantations were often only allowed to visit with the consent of their owners. However, in some of the slave narratives that I have read, some men preferred it that way. As John Anderson explained, "I did not want to marry a girl belonging to my own place, because I knew I could not bear to see her ill-treated." Moses Grandy agreed he wrote: "no colored man wishes to live at the house where his wife lives, for he has to endure the continual misery of seeing her flogged and abused without daring to say a word in her defence." As Henry Bibb pointed out, "If my wife must be exposed to the insults and licentious passions of wicked slave-drivers and overseers. Heaven forbid that I should be compelled to witness the sight."
Most slaves married without the benefit of clergy but instead the marriage ceremony was often performed by other family members and only with the master's permission.
It also was not like the other traditional marriages that took place during that time. Instead, most slaves "jumped the broom." This was a practice in which the couple before being pronounced as man and wife, they literally jumped over one or in some cases 2 brooms, one for each person into the land of "holy matrimony."
These were the lucky ones, some marriages consisted only of the slaves simply getting the master's permission and moving into a cabin together." Hence, comes the term, "shacking up."
After emancipation, a lot of slaves became legally married even though by that time, they often already had a house full of kids.
The federal government also established the Freedmen's Bureau to help former slaves get established in the society as free men. One of the services provided by the Bureau was to record marriages that had taken place during slavery.
Several of my own ancestors did just that even though in a lot of cases, they already had grown kids.
These are some couples that became legally married after slavery ended:
1. Oliver and Edy Williams Clayton "re-married" 7/24/1869 in Caddo parish after slavery ended and they already at least 3 children at this time. The oldest known was 8 years old so they had been together at least that long.
2. Levi and Mary Clay Green renewed their vows on September 24, 1872 in Bossier Parish. At that time, they had about 8 kids.
3. David and Mariah Pressley Hines (Hinds) exchanged their vows again on April 1, 1873 in DeSoto Parish. They already had at least 3 children at that time and another (My g-grandpapa Isam) on the way.
We have definitely come a long way from back then and we are truly blessed for having come so far. It must have meant a lot for these former slave couples to legalize their marriages.
However, I believe that in the eyes of God, they were already bonded and their love and commitment to each other and their families are eternal!
One of the places you can find marriages for your ancestors, log onto ancestry.com and search marriages for your state and county. If the marriage records for your area are not digitized, contact your County or Parish Clerk of Court. These are usually inexpensive to order.
Click on the image below to see a testimony of the joy the formerly enslaved when they legally married!