The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie
Chapter XXIII. Marriage


There were but few clergymen in Upper Canada in the early years of the century. Mr. Addison, of Niagara, was the nearest minister to Long Point. Consequently almost any person who held any public position whatsoever was often called upon to perform the ceremony; as, for example, the captain of a regiment, a colonel, adjutant, magistrate, or sheriff.

In a letter of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe to Dundas (November 6th, 1792), he calls attention to the necessity for a bill to make valid marriages contracted in Upper Canada, and to provide for them in the future, and he encloses a bill for the purpose framed by Chief Justice Osgoode, and a report on the same subject submitted by Mr. Cartwright. (“Dominion Archives,” Q. 279, p. 77).

THE MARRIAGE LAW IN UPPER CANADA.
REPORT BY RICHARD CARTWRIGHT, JUNIOR.
(“Canadian Archives,” Series Q. 279-1, p. 174-)

“Report on the subject of Marriages and the State of the Church of England in the Province of Upper Canada, humbly submitted to His Excellency Governor Simcoe.

“The Country now Upper Canada was not settled or cultivated in any part except the settlement of Detroit, till the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-four, when the several Provincial Corps doing Duty in the Province of Quebec were reduced, and, together with many Loyalists from New York, established in different Parts of this Province, chiefly along the River St. Lawrence and the Bay of Quenti. In the meanwhile from the year 1777 many families of the Loyalists belonging to Butler’s Rangere, the Royal Yorkers, Indian Department and other Corps doing Duty at the Upper Posts, had from Time to Time come into the country, and many young women of these families were contracted in Marriage which could not be regularly solemnized, there being no Clergyman at the Posts, nor in the whole country between them and Montreal. The practice in such cases usually was to go before the Officer Commanding the Post who publickly read to the parties the Matrimonial Service in the Book of Common Prayer, using the Ring and observing the other forms there prescribed, or if he declined it, as was sometimes the case, it was done by the Adjutants of the Regiment. After the settlements were formed in 1784 the Justices of the Peace used to perform the Marriage Ceremony till the establishment of Clergymen in the Country, when this practice adopted only from necessity hath been discontinued in the Districts where Clergymen reside.

This is not yet the case with them all; for though the two lower Districts have had each of them a Protestant Clergyman since the year 1786; it is but a few months since this (Nassau or Home) District hath been provided with one; and the Western District in which the settlement of Detroit is included, is to this day destitute of that useful and respectable Order of men; yet the Town of Detroit is and has been since the Conquest of Canada inhabited for the most part by Traders of the Protestant Religion who reside there with their Families, and among whom many Intermarriages have taken place, which formerly were solemnized by the Commanding Officer, or some other Layman occasionally appointed by the Inhabitants for reading prayers to them on Sundays, but of late more commonly by the Magistrates since Magistrates have been appointed for that District.

From these circumstances it has happened that the Marriages of the generality of the Inhabitants of Upper Canada are not valid in Law, and that their children must strictojure be considered as illegitimate and consequently not intitled to inherit their property. Indeed this would have been the case, in my opinion, had the Marriage Ceremony been performed even by a regular Clergyman, and with due Observance of all the Forms prescribed by the Laws of England. For the clause in the Act of the 14th year of His Present Majesty for regulating the Government of Quebec which declares “That in all cases of Controversy relative to Property and Civil Rights, resort shall be had to the Laws of Canada as the Rule for the Decision of the same,” appears to me to invalidate all Marriages not solemnized according to the Rites of the Church of Rome, so far as these Marriages are considered as giving any Title to property.

“Such being the Case it is obvious that it requires the Interposition of the Legislature as well to settle what is past, as to provide some Regulations for the future, in framing of which it should be considered that good policy requires that in a new Country at least, matrimonial Connections should be made as easy as may be consistent with the Importance of such Engagements; and having pledged myself to bring this Business forward early in the next Session, I am led to hope that Your Excellency will make such Representations to His Majesty’s Ministers as will induce them to consent to such arrangements respecting this Business as the circumstances of the Country may render expedient, Measures for this purpose having been postponed only because they might be thought to interfere with their Views respecting the Clergy of the Establishment.

“Of this Church I am myself a member and am sorry to say that the State of it in this Province is not very flattering. A very small proportion of the Inhabitants of Upper Canada have been educated in this Persuasion and the Emigrants to be expected from the United States will for the most part be Sectaries or Dissenters ; and nothing prevents the Teachers of this class from being proportionally numerous, but the Inability of the People at present to provide for their support. In the Eastern District, the most populous part of the Province, there is no Church Clergyman. They have a Presbyterian Minister, formerly Chaplain to the 84th Regiment, who receives from Government fifty Pounds p. ann. They have also a Lutheran Minister who is supported by his Congregation, and the Roman Catholic Priest settled at St. Regis occasionally officiates for the Scots Highlanders settled in the lower part of the District, who are very numerous and all Catholics. There are also many Dutch Calvinists in this part of the Province who have made several attempts to get a Teacher of their own Sect, but hitherto without success.

“In the Midland District, where the members of the Church are more numerous than in any other part of the Province, there are two Church Clergymen who are allowed one hundred pounds stg. p. ann. each by Government, and fifty pounds each by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. There are here also some itinerant Methodist Preachers, the Followers of whom are numerous. And many of the Inhabitants of the greatest property are Dutch Calvinists, who have for some time past been using their endeavours to get a Minister of their own Sect among them. In the Home District there is one Clergyman who hath been settled here since the month of July last. The Scots Presbyterians who are pretty numerous here and to which Sect the most respectable part of the Inhabitants belong, have built a Meeting House, and raised a Subscription for a Minister of their own who is shortly expected among them. There are here also many Methodists & Dutch Calvinists.

“In the Western District there are no other clergy than those of the Church of Rome. The Protestant Inhabitants here are principally Presbyterians.

“From this statement Your Excellency will be able to draw the proper Conclusions ; and to judge how far the Establishing the Hierarchy of the Church of England in this Province may be proper & expedient.

“I have the Honor to be, with the most profound respect,

“Your Excellency’s most humble servant,

“RICHD. CARTWRIGHT, Junr.
“Newark, 12th October, 1792.”

To avoid complications which might have resulted from illegal marriages, the Parliament of Upper Canada, in 1793, passed “an Act to confirm and to make valid certain marriages, heretofore contracted in the country now comprised in the Province of Upper Canada, and to provide for the future solemnization of marriage within the same.....

The marriage and marriages of all persons not being under any canonical disqualification to contract matrimony, that have been publicly contracted before any magistrate or commanding officer of a post, or an adjutant, or surgeon of a regiment acting as chaplain, or any other person in any public office or employment before the passing of this Act, shall be confirmed and considered to all intents and purposes as good and valid in law; and it is further enacted that the contracting parties, which do not live within eighteen miles of any minister of the Church of England, may apply to any neighboring justice of the peace, who shall affix in some public place, a notice for which he shall receive one shilling, and no more.”

In 1798 another Act provided that ministers of the Church of Scotland, or Lutherans, or Calvinists, could perform the ceremony if one of the contracting parties had been a member of that Church for at least six months. This clergyman had to prove his qualification before six magistrates at Quarter Sessions, appearing with at least seven members of his congregation, to bear witness to the correctness of his oath.

In 1818 a further Act made valid the marriages of those who had in any way neglected to preserve the testimony of their marriage.

In 1831 another Act confirmed marriages contracted before any justice of the peace, magistrate, commanding officer, minister or clergyman, and at the same time it was provided that it should be lawful for ministers of the Church of Scotland, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Independents, Methodists, Mennonists, Turkers or Moravians, to solemnize matrimony.

This is very important, as it conveyed a long delayed right to ministers of all the recognized dissenting bodies.

Until 1814 no licenses were used. In that year, on the 31st of May, the Government appointed five persons as issuers of marriage licenses, of whom the nearest to the Long Point Settlement lived at Queenston.

The ordinary method was to publish the banns for three successive Sundays. This notice was to be posted in some conspicuous place, generally on the mill door, for there were not many churches at that time. The young people, in their anxiety to avoid publicity, would sometimes put the notice on the inside of the door, while another way was to take two or three of their immediate friends, sworn to secrecy, and simply hold it to the door for a few minutes each Sunday, three Sundays in succession. The purport of the notice was as follows, the words being subscribed by a magistrate: Know all men by these presents, that A. B. is desirous of taking to wife C. D. If any one knows any just cause why the ceremony should not be duly performed let him give notice to Magistrate X. Z. on or before.

As to wedding garments. If the family had any fine clothes stowed away, which had been brought from “Old Virginia,” these were looked up, the creases of a score of years smoothed out, and her mothers dress made over to fit her youthful daughter. But, as a rule, in this settlement it was the height of the prospective bride’s ambition to get money enough to buy from a pedlar a few yards of dimity or colored calico, or calamok, or a “linsey-woolsey” petticoat, or a woollen drugget. But many a blushing bride had to be content with a garment of deerskin, and a squirrel-skin bonnet, and still looked lovely in the eyes of her lover.

The dejedner consisted usually of huge chicken or partridge pies, wild fowl of all kinds, piles of “Johnny cake” and wheaten bread and buns, cranberry and wild fruit pies and puddings, and various other dishes which have been described in detail to the writer.

A wedding without a dance was an insipid affair, and often the festivities were kept up for two or three nights in succession.

As to dowry, the bride was rich if her portion was a yoke of steers, a cow, three or four sheep, and a few yards of homespun linen; while, if the groom had a hundred acres of land, with a tenth of it cleared, and a log-house already built, they were a much-to-be-envied couple.


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