The Puritans of New England opposed anything the Anglican Church revered, save Christ alone. It's no surprise, therefore, that they viewed marriage differently as well.
In England, marriages were generally arranged by the parents, but in the colonies, young people were encouraged to choose their own courtships, carried out under the watchful eyes of their parents. The Puritan marriage contract was to be agreed to by both the young people and their parents. Parents could not, however, arbitrarily withhold such consent. If they did, the young people could apply to a magistrate to agree in the parents' place.
The practice of a "bundling board" for courting couples was commonly used. The suitor would spend the night with the young lady in her bed, a wooden board between them, to allow them time and privacy to talk and get to know each other, with her parents close by. It wasn't fool-proof and occasionally a hasty followed . . . to prevent an illegitimate birth.
In 17th Century Massachusetts, the average age of the groom was 26, the bride 23. It's unclear why they were older in Massachusetts than in the other colonies. At whatever age, marriage was the desired path for most people. Records show that 94% of women and 98% of men married.
In another break from England, the Puritans didn't see marriage as a religious institution, but a civic contract. Marriages were not "performed" by church clergy, they were "agreed" upon in front of a magistrate. As such, they were also open to divorce. The Puritans allowed divorce under certain conditions, like abandonment, adultery, failure to provide, and physical abuse.
A typical wedding took place in the bride's home with her family and a few friends. The ceremony was very short, a single question asked of both bride and groom, to which they both answered yes. No rings were exchanged, no holy vows, this was a contract between two agreeable parties. After the ceremony, the family provided a modest meal for the guests and they sang a psalm. No dancing - of course!
Puritans in the 17th Century viewed marriage as a close and compassionate relationship designed to meet the physical and financial needs of both partners, a mutually beneficial union of harmony.
Embattled Hearts will release in April 2017 as part of The Pony Express Romance Collection from Barbour - Colonial story coming in January 2018