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Premarital Pregnancy

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.

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November 6, 1788, Thursday

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6 5



Clear & pleast. I have been at home, did house work & feel much fataugd. the Girls are gone to mr Crages. they are now returnd; informd that Hannah Fletcher has Sworn Shee is with Child by Joseph Fellers. at home.


June 20, 1789, Saturday

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20 7



a Clear morn. I was Calld at the riseing of ye Sun to Sarah White, Shee being in travil with her forth Child, & is yet unmarried. Shee remaind ill thro ye Day. I was with Sarah White.


July 19, 1791, Tuesday

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19 3



Cloudy part of ye Day. I went to mr Catons. Calld at mr Pollards, Jonses, Boltons, Voces & Densmores. Came home and went to mr Shuball Hinkleys. Capt Savages Lady Came home with me & Sleeps here. Shee informd me that Sally Peirce Swore a Child on my son Jon a & he was taken with a warrent. mr Abisha Cowen is his Bonds man for appearance at Coart. a mr Catons & Hinkleys. mrs Savage here. Nathanl Norcross married to Eunice Hodskins. two [Blac ] allso.


October 23, 1791, Sunday

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23 B



Snowd & raind. I was Calld to See Sally Peirce at 9 h morn, the rideing very Bad. Doct Colman Calld me from there aft noon to See his Lady. I was Calld from there to Sally before morn. at mr Peirces. A Snow Storm.


October 24, 1791, Monday

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24 2


X. Birth Sally Peirces Son. XX.

Clear. I was Calld from ye Docts to Sally, Shee was Safe Deld at 1 h pm of a fine Son. her illness very Severe but I left her Cleverly & returnd to ye Docts about Sun Sett. Sally Declard that my Son Jona was the father of her Child. at Doct Colmans & mrPeirces. Birth 27th.


December 29, 1791, Thursday

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29 5



Clear & Pleast Day, Cool Evng. mr Ballard & Epm got wood to mr Selvesters & for our Selvs. I have been at home. mr Childs here, invited Hannah to go to help his Lady quillt. mrs Densmore here at Evn, mr Waid allso. Jona Staid from home last night, returnd this Evng. I Doubled yarn for Buskins & Some worsted, 24 knots, which mrs Wicksom Comd & spun. at home.


January 6, 1792, Friday

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6 6



Clear & very windy, the Snow flys briskly. mr Ballard & Epm are gone to the Meddow, they returnd with out reaching ther by reason of the wind. Hannah & I made the Cottne & wool Sheets. Jona has not been at home Since yesterday. mr Ballard Sett a Bone in my left wrist which I misplast as I was wriding yesterday. at home.


January 11, 1792, Wednesday

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11 4



Clear & very Cold morn. mr Town & fuller went to Coart aft bkft. two Unity men here. mr Ballard & Cyrus went to Town. Jon a has not been at home Since yester day. I have been at home, mended a Coverld & knitt Some. mrs Welch was here. at home. Jon a was married to Sally Peirce.


January 29, 1792, Sunday

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29 A



Clear. I Came from mr Shaws & arivd at home at 11h morn, receivd 6/ as a reward. Dolly is at home. Hannah & Shee went to mr Waids. Josh Foster here. Cyrus was up. Ephm went Down as far as Capt Husseys with him to take ye hors Back. Jona is not here ys Day. Moses Pollard informs me Eliphalet Robbins is recovering from his late illness. at Ditoes. my Dagt went to See mrs Waid.


February 20, 1792, Monday

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20 2



Snowd ys morn. Cyrus went to Pittstn, Dolly to mr Densmores. Jona has not been here ys Day till night. mr Ballard & Ephm got a load of wood. I have been at home, do not feel So well as I Could wish. I am this Day 57 years old. Hannah has been washing. mr Waid here, Supt. at home. aneversary of my Birth, 57 years Since.
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