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Pilgrim marriage

By Cairril Mills

The Pilgrims followed the Dutch form of marriage, which was a legal contract in the civil realm rather than a religious rite. This is because Puritans and other Protestants saw no biblical foundation for church control over marriage. Marriage was only established as a sacrament in the Catholic Church in the 12th century, and it took several centuries after that for the church to take it under its jurisdiction in more remote places (such as rural Scotland). Because marriage was a civil contract, questions of inheritance were handled by the state rather than the Church. (The Separatists recognized only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper.)

In England the banns (the intent to marry) were published three times in the church, whereas in Holland the banns were published three times in the marketplace. An English bride and groom would be married by an Anglican minister, while a Separatist couple would be married by a governor or judge. In Plymouth Colony, Governor William Bradford (Mills ancestor) officiated at the first Colony marriage; that of Susanna Fuller White (Mills ancestor) and Edward Winslow. Winslow later paid the price for this, when he was thrown into a Fleet Street prison in London for 17 weeks for not following the church/state law.

When royal government control was asserted in the English colonies later, marriage came under the purview of the state church (Anglican). This is a classic example of how the entanglement of church and state leads to coercion in the area of religious belief.

Copyright 2008