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Stray Wives

Stray Wives: Marital Conflict in Early National New England

Mary Beth Sievens
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 171
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfmkn
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    Stray Wives
    Book Description:

    Whereas my husband, Enoch Darling, has at sundry times used me in so improper and cruel a manner, as to destroy my happiness and endanger my life, and whereas he has not provided for me as a husband ought, but expended his time and money unadvisedly, at taverns . . . . I hereby notify the public that I am obliged to leave him. Phebe Darling, January 13, 1796Hundreds of provocative notices such as this one ran in New England newspapers between 1790 and 1830. These elopement notices--advertisements paid for by husbands and occasionally wives to announce their spouses' desertions as well as the personal details of their marital conflicts--testify to the difficulties that many couples experienced, and raise questions about the nature of the marital relationship in early national New England.Stray Wives examines marriage, family, gender, and the law through the lens of these elopement notices. In conjunction with legal treatises, court records, and prescriptive literature, Mary Beth Sievens highlights the often tenuous relationships among marriage law, marital ideals, and lived experience in the early Republic, an era of exceptional cultural and economic change.Elopement notices allowed couples to negotiate the meaning of these changes, through contests over issues such as gender roles, consumption, economic support, and property ownership. Sievens reveals the ambiguous, often contested nature of marital law, showing that husbands' superior status and wives' dependence were fluid and negotiable, subject to the differing interpretations of legal commentators, community members, and spouses themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4534-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    On January 13, 1796, a husband and wife each placed an advertisement in the BenningtonVermont Gazette. In one advertisement, Enoch Darling announced, “Whereas Phebe Darling my wife, hath eloped from my bed and board, and refuses to return to duty I therefore forbid all persons harboring or trusting her on my account, as I will not pay any debts of her contracting after this date.” In the other notice, Phebe Darling explained her own version of the couple’s marital difficulties:

    Whereas my husband, Enoch Darling, has at sundry times used me in so improper and cruel a manner, as...

  6. 1 A “Disobedient, Clamorous” Wife: The Problem of Wifely Submission
    (pp. 12-30)

    In 1802, the Reverend Martin Tullar, pastor of the Congregational Church in Royalton, Vermont, published a series of sermons entitledA Concise System of Family Duty. The first two sermons outlined the respective duties of husbands and wives. Tullar instructed husbands to provide a “comfortable subsistence” for their wives, to respect them, and to “treat them with great tenderness, and much forbearance.” Turning to the proper role of wives, Tullar explained that “it is … incumbent on a wife, that she, with care, and diligence, improve those materials for family support, which may be committed to her instrument.” The good...

  7. 2 “A Trifling Sum”: Economic Support and Consumer Spending in New England Marriages
    (pp. 31-46)

    On October 11, 1813, Uriah Hayes of Sharon, Vermont, placed an advertisement in theVermont Republican:

    Whereas Rachel my wife has for reasons unknown to me but better known to herself, Eloped from me, and I had rather see the delicacy of the Cheek and hand tarnished with labor to procure subsistence than any other way; therefore I forbid all persons harboring or trusting her on my account, for I shall pay no debts of her contracting after this date.

    Uriah and Rachel Hayes had been married ten years when Rachel deserted; within one year of this notice’s publication, the...

  8. 3 “The Duties of a Wife”: The Meaning of Women’s Work
    (pp. 47-66)

    On March 23, 1795, Asa Goodenow printed a notice in theRutland Herald: “Whereas Hannah, my Wife, refuses to labour, and says she will run me into Debt, this is to forbid all Persons trusting her on my account, for I will not pay any debt of her contracting after this date.”¹ Goodenow was concerned that his wife’s consumer behavior might run him into debt; however, he also was dissatisfied because Hannah would not perform the labors that the traditional marriage contract assigned to women. Although new consumer opportunities created tensions within marriages in the early republic, notices such as...

  9. 4 “The Wicked Agency of Others”: Community Involvement and Marital Discord
    (pp. 67-85)

    On November 26, 1803, John Bolton placed an advertisement in the DanvilleNorth Star:

    By the Malicious representations and advice of evil disposed persons, on the 11thday October last, Cynthia my wife was induced without my knowledge, to quit my family. Having endeavored to persuade her to return and assured her of my willingness to support and treat her as an affectionate Husband—My own safety compels me, since she continues absent and adheres to the advice of those whom she may consider as friends, to caution the Public against giving her Credit on my account, as I am...

  10. 5 “Having Confidence in Her Own Abilities”: Coping with Estrangement
    (pp. 86-101)

    In theVermont Journalof April 28, 1790, David Read accused his wife Rebecca of eloping, and he refused to pay any debts that she contracted. On May 19, Rebecca responded, claiming that “I never had thoughts of leaving him until we were advised to part, by some friends, as it was supposed we never should live agreeably together; we accordingly parted, and that mutually: he engaging to pay me a certain sum annually for my support; which however, he has not done—but neglects it.” David and Rebecca Read had been among the first settlers of the town of...

  11. 6 “Free and Clear from All Claims”: Divorce and the Contradictory Nature of Women’s Status
    (pp. 102-115)

    In January of 1818, Eunice Snow of Cavendish, Vermont, appeared before the Vermont Supreme Court to petition for divorce from her husband, Daniel. Snow claimed that on July 1, 1817, her husband’s intolerable severity had driven her from his home. The court granted Snow a divorce but did not award her alimony. Slightly more than ten years later, in October of 1828, Eunice Snow died. She had accumulated a modest estate between the time of her divorce and the time of her death. According to probate records, her executor sold her personal property and 1.5 acres of land for $135,...

  12. Afterword: Settling “All Matters of Dispute”: Marital Conflict, Negotiation, and Compromise
    (pp. 116-120)

    On December 22, 1800, Stephen Hiscock of Union, Connecticut, posted an elopement notice in which he explained that his wife Thankful “has for several years past behaved herself towards me in a very unbecoming manner, and utterly refuses to do her duty towards me but has made it her practice to usurp my authority.” Had married women’s dependent subordinate status been as absolute as the doctrine of marital unity prescribed, Stephen and Thankful Hiscock’s difficulties would not have led to Thankful’s usurpation of her husband’s authority, but to her submission to Stephen’s will. However, in reality married women’s dependent subordination...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 121-150)
  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 151-162)
  15. Index
    (pp. 163-170)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 171-171)