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