Under what circumstances would a woman give consent to her own marriage in Virginia in 1821?
We are all familiar with the concept of “consent“. The law states who is legally able to give consent in a variety of circumstances, age and mental capacity being two that come to mind. Another party who meets the legal criteria is required to stand in and give consent on behalf of someone who is underage, for example, and legally incapable of giving consent. What one typically finds in marriage records in particular is a parent or guardian giving consent for their underage child or charge to marry. That is not what we have with this 1821 marriage bond from Westmoreland County, Virginia, quoted in its entirety below.1
“Know all men by these presents that we Newton Mozingo & William Johnson are held and firmly bound unto Thomas M Randolph Govener of Virginia and to his successors in office, in the just sum of $150..~ which payment will truly to be maid, we bind our selves and each of us, our Heirs, Exrs & Admers. Jointly & Severally firmly by these presents Sealed with our seals & dated this 22nd day of August 1821.
The condition of the above obligation is such that whereas a marriage is soon intended to be solemnized between the above bound Newton Mozingo & Elizabeth Smith. Now if there be no legal impediment to the said marriage taking effect then this obligation to be void otherwise to remain in full force and virtue. Witness our hands and seals the day and year written.”
Here is the part that I find odd. On a separate slip of paper filmed with the original bond is the consent – but not consent given by a parent or guardian. Consent, in this case, was given by the same woman who later was party to the marriage. Why?
The above reads: “this is to testafy that I have give Mr Newton Mersingo leave to get out Lisens to be married to me Elizabeth Smith” 2
This consent statement has me puzzled. It is unlike any I have come across in a marriage bond in decades of doing research. I have raised the issue previously among my colleagues without getting a satisfactory answer. I have looked at the law for the time and place, and have found no reference to a woman consenting to her own marriage. Virginia marriage laws at the time dictated that:
» all parties to a marriage be 21 and over
» if either person was under 21, then consent of a parent (typically a father) or guardian was required
» a marriage license could only be procured upon “thrice publication of banns” or posting of a bond in the bride’s county of residence
» servants were unable to marry without consent of masters or owners
» a free person was unable to marry a servant, unless there was a certificate of consent from the master or owner3
While the law does not appear to directly address this situation, what is certain is that this is not an isolated example. I have examined other marriage bonds from the same county in Virginia, and in some cases, they too contain this same type of attestation. Perhaps it is a case of an overly-cautious court official going above and beyond the strictures of the law.
This question of consent is one of the issues I hope to raise in class next week at the 2017 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). I am excited to have a week-long opportunity to learn from Barbara Vines Little, C.G., the highly regarded Virginia expert who is the coordinator and instructor for Virginia from the Colonial Period to the Civil War.
1 Westmoreland County (Virginia). Clerk of the County Court, “Marriage bonds, licenses and ministers’ returns, 1772-1901”, Newton Mozingo-Elizabeth Smith Marriage Bond, no. 21-38 (1821), digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89ZG-H3XX?mode=g : accessed 16 Jan 2017), image 411, imaged from FHL microfilm 007,490,279.
2 Westmoreland County (Virginia). Clerk of the County Court, “Marriage bonds, licenses and ministers’ returns, 1772-1901”, Elizabeth Smith consent, no. 21-38a (1821), digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-89ZG-H3XX?mode=g : accessed 16 Jan 2017), image 411, imaged from FHL microfilm 007,490,279.
3 William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, vol. 6 (Richmond: W. W. Gray, Printer, 1819), 81, chap. XXXII, “An act concerning Marriages.” October 1748—22nd George II”; HTML edition, Freddie L. Spradlin, transcriber, “Hening’s Statutes at Large,” VAGenWeb (http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol06-04.htm#page_81 : accessed 16 Jan 2017).