J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

“Joining in Wedlock, earlier than they intended”

As I described yesterday, the Stamp Act required all certificates, including those related to marriage, to be filled out on paper affixed with a ten-shilling stamp.

That meant that, once the law went into effect on 1 Nov 1765, every couple in Massachusetts who wanted to be legally married was supposed to pay an extra ten shillings.

By autumn, however, people were opposed to paying the Stamp Tax not just to save money but also to avoid cooperating with what they saw as an unconstitutional imposition on the province’s self-government.

The Boston Gazette of 14 Oct 1765 reported that one result was couples hurrying to marry before the law took effect the next month:
We hear that Numbers of young Persons in the Country are joining in Wedlock, earlier than they intended, supposing that after the 1st of next Month, it would be difficult to have the Ceremony performed without paying dearly for stamping:—

No less than 22 Couple were published on Sunday last Week at Marblehead, intending Marriage on the same Account.
Because your town minister had to announce your intent to marry for two weeks before the ceremony, that meant the deadline to avoid the tax was right on top of people.

At the end of the year, the 30 December Boston Gazette ran a related item, datelined Newport:
The Spirit of Patriotism is not confined to the Sons of America only, but glows with equal Fervour in the benevolent Breasts of her virtuous Daughters; one Instance of which we think is worthy of particular Notice, viz.

A Lady of this Town, though in the Bloom of Youth and possessed of Virtues & Accomplishments really engaging and sufficient to excite the most pleasing Expectations of Happiness in the marriage State has declared, that she should choose rather to be an Old Maid, then that the Operation of the illegal Stamp Act should commence in these Colonies.
The Gazette was Boston’s most radical newspaper at that time, always ready to decry new Crown measures and promote the solidarity of the resistance. So we have to ask whether these reports were accurate.

Did people just joke about getting married before the tax hit? Did the Newport lady seize on the Stamp Act for an excuse not to marry when she really didn’t want to? Did people talk about not marrying to avoid the tax but not follow through, as Rush Limbaugh and Alec Baldwin have both threatened to leave the U.S. of A. if certain political events didn’t go their way?

TOMORROW: Running some numbers.


Esgaroth said...

I dont recall Rush Limbaugh ever saying he would leave the country. I do however remember numerous times Alec Baldwin saying so and everyone saying "dont let the screen door hit your butt on the way out"...but he never did.

J. L. Bell said...

Report on Baldwin from 2001 (and his denial) here.

Quote from Limbaugh in 2010 here.

I suspect a person's perception of how often Baldwin said something along those lines and how "everyone" responded might be distorted by the company one keeps.