The three Ballard family marriages
in 1792 illustrate surprising differences between then and now. They also
show how courtship and marriage were conducted under community control.
The first marriage, between
Martha Ballard's son Jonathan and Sally Pierce, tells us how and to what
extent the community regulated premarital pregnancy. Sally had worked
for Martha and became pregnant with Jonathan Ballard's child while unmarried.
Sally confessed to fornication
and named Jonathan as the father of her unborn child, the first step in
suing for child support. The child, Jonathan, Jr., was born in January.
At the height of labor, the midwife, Martha Ballard, asked the mother
to name the father of her child. Sally swore it was Jonathan. This was
the legal custom and appears to have taken place, again at the woman's
request, as the next step in obtaining child support. It was thought that
a woman would not tell an untruth at the height of travail.
After the birth, Jonathan married
Sally. If he had not, the case would have been heard in the Court of Sessions,
and the accused father, if found guilty, would have been liable for the
support of his child. The court does not appear to have been concerned
with the couple's moral behavior, as it would have been earlier in the
century. The concern was to establish paternity so that child support
would not fall on the community.
There were twenty out-of-wedlock
births in Martha's diary. In thirteen, Martha probably took the testimony
of the mother at the birth. Evidence in the diary, birth records, marriage
records, and court records indicate that about one-third of first births
were conceived out of wedlock at the time. Most couples, like Jonathan
and Sally, married. Women who did not marry the father of their first
child remained living with their family of origin and went on to marry
someone else eventually. From this we can gather that out-of-wedlock pregnancy
did not ruin a woman's reputation. She still had a good chance to make
a life as a respected member of the community.
Jonathan and Sally Ballard
had a total of thirteen children. The last were twin boys who were born
and died two months before Martha Ballard died in 1812. Jonathan Ballard
lived to be 75 years old. Sally Pierce Ballard lived to be 90 or 91.