November Tea Party Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' copy of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection - Debbie Curto, Christmas tea - Andrea Stephens, Golden Tea body wash Joy Ellis, lighthouse earrings -- Pegg's SIL from Lake Ann and Perrianne Askew, Pegg Thomas's Leather journal - Shelia Hall, and Writing Prompts book goes to - Connie Porter Saunders

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Colonial Quaker Wedding: What's Love Got to Do With It?

William Penn marries Hannah Callowhill, 1696
Centuries before Tina Turner belted out, “What’s love got to do with it?” members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) were, in a sense, asking the same question with regard to marriage. Their answer? Everything and nothing.

In colonial times, marriage in America looked quite different than it does now. Today, most people “marry for love” (romantic love), and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as other forms of love accompany and bolster it. In the eighteenth century, however, while some couples certainly married for romantic reasons, many more built their marriage on a foundation based on necessity. Gender roles were generally prescribed, and many aspects of adult life required (or were at least easier) with a spouse or other family member of the opposite gender to carry their part of the workload.

Quakers were no different, with companionship and friendship being paramount in a marriage. Romance certainly played a part in relationships as well, but primarily in the milieu of shared devotion to the Lord. Many times, companionship and friendship coupled with shared devotion to God resulted in romantic love, creating a formidable bond.

Of course, that’s pretty much where the commonalities between colonial marriage and colonial Quaker marriage ended. As early as the seventeenth century, many Quakers embraced revolutionary ideas about marriage and gender roles. Leader George Fox wrote that for those living in the Light and perfected by Christ, husbands and wives could be equal “helpmeets.” This was quite radical considering that male leadership was implicit in American culture, and not all Quakers agreed with Fox. Even so, Quaker life was steeped in the spiritual equality of all; many women became traveling ministers, leaving behind their families to acclimate to periods without them—all with their Meeting’s blessing.

Some other facets of colonial Quaker marriage?

Men and women chose their own spouses (there were no arranged marriages), although to be married by the Meeting, parental consent was required. Without parental consent, the couple could not go to the Women’s Meeting (the women’s leadership for the Meeting, which handled vetting marriages as part of their responsibility) for its consent. And without the Meeting’s consent (Women’s Meeting and then the Men’s Meeting), there was no marriage—unless the couple decided to go to a minister of a non-Quaker church or to the justice of the peace. That was highly discouraged, however, and it always resulted in “disownment,” or expulsion from Meeting for “marrying out of order” or “contrary to discipline,” as Friends called it. (Not to worry. Once the expelled couple acknowledged their transgression and proved that they intended to be obedient Quakers going forward, the Meeting reinstated their membership.)

Marriage to non-Quakers was never condoned. Friends were expected to marry within their own religious community, and any Friend who married a non-Quaker (by a minister or justice of the peace) was automatically disowned. However, members who were disowned could still worship with Friends, and eventually, with acknowledgment and proven behavior, could regain membership. (Long before modern-day worship songs, Quakers were proclaiming that God is a God of not the “second chance” but the “another chance.”)

So what did love have to do with Quaker marriage in colonial times? Well, that depends on what kind of love you’re talking about. Love in a spirit of companionship, friendship, and shared devotion to Christ? Everything. Love in a spirit of romance and pleasure? Often nothing. Or perhaps nothing at first. But with God, all things are possible and love never fails.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and Angels, and have not love, I am as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I had the gift of prophecy, and knew all secrets and all knowledge, yea, if I had all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and had not love, I were nothing. And though I feed the poor with all my goods, and though I give my body, that I be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.

—1 Corinthians 1:1–3 (1599 Geneva Bible)


  1. Very interesting insight. If they married outside it was almost like the practice of shunning, yet they were more forgiving. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Yes, exactly. They were no longer "under the care of Meeting," but they could still worship together, etc. And if they acknowledged their wrongdoing and their actions proved their repentance, they were reinstated as members.

  2. Very interesting. I wonder why they were so rigid in their requisites. I understand the not being yoked with the non believer. But,if they were indeed two believers,just not from the same denomination. I do understand many marriages were made out of necessity, survival in the wilderness being one of the main reasons. Great article!

    1. From what I've read, they were rigid because it kept people within the community. If they married out, their children would likely not be raised Quaker.

  3. Interesting. I wonder how modern meetings look at this issue.

    1. Meetings are very open about marriage today (at least the ones I'm familiar with). Quakers can marry non-Quakers, although the process is similar: parental consent, then the Women's Meeting and the Men's Meeting must approve. If a Quaker is marrying a non-Quaker, there's a fair amount of discussion between the Meeting leaders and the couple to ensure that they're an appropriate match. A friend of mine actually broke an engagement because her Meeting deemed her fiance to be not a good choice for a spouse and she trusted their judgment (turns out they were right).

  4. Interesting. Thanks for sharing.


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