Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

African American Marriages and Women’s Roles in the Civil War Era

Info: 4917 words (20 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in History

Reference this

 Imagine not being able to be with someone you would love and not having the right to marry whom you wish . Imagine raising a child for years and then realizing you had no control of their life.  This is how life  for African Americans was before the Civil War.  Did you know African Americans were not given the right to marriage until after the Civil War? Yes that is correct. African Americans were not allowed to legally marry someone until after slavery was abolished. After the Civil War, the documentation of marriage changed because African Americans were given the right to marriage, so their marriages had to be recorded. This brought together many African American couples and families that were not given recognition before the war.  The change in marriage documentation after the war also shaped women’s roles because women were given the right to divorce and remarry. This allowed women to seek other opportunities outside of marriage. In this paper I will examine many secondary and primary documents that showcase the importance of legal documentation in bringing together African American families and progression of women’s rights after the Civil War.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

Before the Civil War African Americans were enslaved and were owned by plantation owners. They were seen as property and as an object. To the national government a slave was not permitted to civil rights and was forced to the condition of being enslaved .[1] [resolved] Civil rights included the right to marriage.  This meant that enslaved men and women were not given this right. In this journal Darlene Goring explains how society perceived African Americans who were enslaved. They w     ere seen as animals and were considered property.[2] This also meant they were not given any civil rights, such as the right to marry or have their own family.  African Americans were legally not allowed to be married, but some plantation owners allowed it for their own benefit, such as owning the right to the couple’s children, so they can be used for labor. In a book called “ The Debate on the Strength of Slave Families: South Carolina and the Importance of Cross-Plantation Marriages” Emily West’s says that there was no proof of slave marriages and the only relationship that was mainly kept records of was slave owners and slaves.[3] In her book she also states that enslaved men and women were not given the right to marriage because slave owners thought they would be more likely to run away if their significant other was from another plantation.[4] [resolved] If slaves chose to be married or were forced to  then this would be on the plantation they resided on. This was to ensure that the enslaved men or women would not run away. Majority of Emily West’s book talks about cross-plantation marriages and how slaves were not able to marry someone who was not on their plantation. Emily West also explains how plantation owners wanted their slaves to get married at a certain age, so that they could bear children and have the plantation owner use them for labor. Plantation owners only allowed them slaves to marry someone on the same   plantation, so they could have ownership of the couple and the children that they might have.[5] Emily West does an amazing job at explaining cross-plantation marriages and how hard it was for African Americans to marry who, they please. If an enslaved man or women wanted to marry someone from another plantation then they were simply not allowed to or it was not recommended by the owners. This shows that African American marriages were not recognized by society or the government. Later in this paper we will analyze how the Civil War changed this and how marriage documentation changed from before the Civil War to after.

Marriages for African American were very different from white couple marriages especially before the abolition of slavery. White Americans did not have to go through the hardship African American couples did. . This was because white individuals already had the right to marriage, before and even after the Civil War. Lawfully these marriages were different because they were not recognized by the public or the government. However, African Americans recognized marriages within their own community and the plantations they resided on. Since African Americans had no way of documenting their marriage legally they had their own way of officializing and finalizing their own marriages. These included different ceremonies and traditions that gave their marriage recognition amongst the enslaved community. According to The National Archives website says that slave owners would have a white or black preacher perform the ceremony, and after the ceremony they would have a huge dinner. Following the huge feast they would dance in the slave quarters to celebrate the marriage.[6] [resolved] There was also other traditions and cultures that surrounded celebrating slave marriages. Another tradition was called  “jumping the broom,”[7]. This is a ritual where slave couples would jump over a broomstick to “finalize” their marriage and make it official. The custom of jumping the broom could vary depending on the plantation. Different plantations would have different traditions since every plantation had a different owner. On some farms, the bride and groom would place separate brooms on the floor in front of each other.[8] After this, the couple would then step across the brooms while joining hands to indicate that they are married.[9] This ceremony would give their marriage a title and recognition by the other slaves on the plantation. In a journal article written by Darlene Goring called “The History of Slave Marriages in the United States”  she explains that  slaves were human beings, but legally  they were  defined as property. She also gives examples of African American marriage traditions before abolition. Slave couples joined together in marital unions that were authorized by the plantation owners.[10] [resolved] These traditions and ceremonies describe how African American marriages were like before the Civil War. Though there were many ceremonies and traditions behind these marriages. These marriages were still not recognized nor legally accepted by the government, because legally African Americans were not allowed to marry until slavery was abolished and that was after the Civil War.

Before the Civil War a lot of African Americans were enslaved and were considered property to plantation owners. African Americans did not have rights and were not privileged like white men and women, especially in the southern states, because slavery had still existed and was not abolished like it was in the Northern States. There were many rights that African Americans were not given. One major right that everyone should have is the right to marriage. To be with whom they desire and love. The right to love and giving a label to a relationship was not something that African Americans could do. Before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery African American marriages were not accepted like other marriages or put on the same pedestal as African American marriages. Slave husbands and wives, without legal recourse, could be separated or sold at their master’s will. Couples who lived on different plantations were allowed to visit only with the consent of their owners.[11] The Freedmen’s Bureau played a huge role in documenting and recognizing African American marriages after the Civil War. The Freedmen’s Bureau was actually responsible for supervising and taking care of all affairs related to freed African American and lands abandoned during the Civil War.[12] [resolved]They helped many people after the Civil War to get the help they needed, whether it was legally or financially.  The Freedmen’s Bureau helped people with social services agency, providing people with food and clothing, employment and other related services.[13] [resolved]This also included assisting ex-slave couples in making their marriages legal. Regenald Washington  says that Slave husbands and wives could be sold or separated at their owners will.[14] [resolved]This shows that African American couples were not given any recognition and their families were not either. This is why a lot African American couples did not even choose to get married, because they would feared of getting separated by the owner, but all of this changed after the Civil War. After the Civil War African Americans were given the right to basic civil rights and one of those major rights was the right to a legal documented and recognized marriage. Many African Americans rushed to get their marriages legalized and documented. This resulted in many marriages documents that are even kept today. There was many documents that kept track of marriages and a lot of these marriages were recorded to identify African American couples together. There was one document found from the National Archives. This document is from 1865, which meant that it was from after the Civil War. This document shows lists of African Americans divided my male and female and it is numbered according to each couple. In this document each person is listed next to the person they are married to. This was a way to keep track of marriages after the war because slavery had been abolished and African Americans were freed and given the right to marry whoever they please. After analyzing this document it seems as if marriage was very common amongst slaves, but it was never legalized or recognized by the government. This document shows that there were actually a lot of African American couples who were enslaved before the war and could not get their marriage documented or recorded, so it seemed that this was something they looked forward too after being freed from slavery.

Another source that I found from the National Archives was the marriage documentation of Benjamin Manson and Sarah White. This Marriage document was made in April 19, 1866. This document also lists their children and their children’s age. It shows and proves a lot about the time period because the age of their children are 6-18.[15] Meaning that they had been married for a while, but their marriage did not get recognized until after the war. This shows that a lot of enslaved people probably had existing marriages and even had children, but legally they could not get married. This document shows that African American couple marriages were not even given the same respect as white couples because there was no marriage certificate. The Freedmen’s Bureau’s record say that they had a total of sixteen children, but only 9 were listed. [16] The rest of the children may have been separated by the plantation owners or sold to someone else. The website also says that they had been living separately because they were owned by different people. This shows that African American marriages did not even exist and that they were not recognized by the public or the government, because Benjamin Mason and Sarah White were living separately through their enslaved life and no one even recognized that they were married except themselves. This document also shows that Benjamin and Sarah did not have rights over their own children until after the Civil War.

Not only were African Americans not allowed to marry, but they were also not allowed to practice marriage. This meant that they had no right to a family either. When a enslaved couple got married and decided to have children. Not all the time did they have control over their family like traditional families did. The plantation owners would have more control and more right to their family, rather than the couple. In the journal written by Darlene Goring called “The History of Slave Marriage in United States” Darlene writes about how slaves were not given right to marriage, which also meant that they were not given the right to a family and if they were, it was not recognized. She also explains in her article that legal protections were not given to slave couples. Slaves were owned by their masters and that gave the masters to have control over the slave couple’s families.[17] [resolved] Before the Civil War African American couples did not have control of their children and did not make decisions for them. The person who did was the slave or plantation owners. This was because they most likely owned the enslaved parent of those children. When analyzing the document of Benjamin Manson and Sarah White there is something very noticeable and out of the ordinary. The document description said that the couple had eighteen children, but they only listed six of them. One can speculate about these children. Maybe they were taken away or moved to another plantation during slavery and before the Civil War. After the Civil War, the  Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed. Which gave basic rights to African Americans, such as the right to have free choice and the right to own and sell property.[18] This meant that enslaved men and women were then given the right to marry as well. Recognition of African American’s right to marry played an important part of their conversion into legally recognized individuality and their families.[19] [resolved] African American families and households came together after the Civil Rights Act was passed and that was because African Americans were finally given the right to marriage and this change in documentation and legalization brought African American families together.

The change in marriage documentation for from before to after the Civil War changed as well. Marriage documentation and recognition also affected women in the south. During  the Civil War many women felt that they were tied down to their marriage. In McCurry’s reading “Master of Small Worlds” she talks about how women saw marriages as slavery.[20] In this reading she does an amazing job at describing how women perceived marriages as being “trapped” and how slavery meant to entrap someone and have ownership over them. In her book she says that “Women’s nature and appropriate social roles changed and became a political concern for and was a matter for political concern during the antebellum period”.[21] This meant that social roles for women were changing after the Civil War and this became a “problem” for some people.  The antebellum period was actually before the Civil War and it was a period of need to abolish slavery. This was also a crucial role for women because the Civil War era changed women’s roles. The Civil War played a huge role in marriages and women’s role in household. Post civil war also helped women receive equal rights and do things outside of the household and taking care of their husband and children. African American received many rights that they did not have before the Civil War and because of their fight through suffrage, it also allowed other minorities and groups to fight for theirs.

Another reason how the Civil War affected women’s roles was because divorce and separation was started to be seen as a norm.  In most states in the early 19th century, divorce was very frowned upon, but after the Civil War Divorce rates after the war increased because of many men returned home and failed to take care of their wife and children. [22] [resolved] This led many women to opt out of their marriage adapt to other roles. Many women in the South were dependent on their husband and their “socially accepted” role was to take care of their family and their husband. Divorce and separation was a way for women to get out of this social role and peruse other life choices besides being the care taker of the house. During the war many women were to stand by their husband’s side and stay loyal to them while they are at war.[23] According to an article called “The Effects of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns” by David Hacker, Libra Hilde and James Jones suggests that marriages started to change because a lot of men were lost in the civil war, especially in the confederacy. This meant that a lot of women had to support themselves and their family. This meant going out and working to have funds for the family. [24]In an article called “Economic, Demographic, and Anthropometric Correlates of First Marriage in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century United States” by David Hacker. He analyzes and studies marriages patterns in he mid nineteenth century. He also researches and documents how the Civil War affected marriage rates. In this article David Hacker examined marriage patterns in 1860 and concluded that many women delayed marriage and this was due to the increased number of women in the work force [Resolved] [25] This allowed women to see marriage as an option because they could support themselves instead of depending on their husband. The Civil War opened up other opportunities for women and it also allowed them to do more and do thing outside of their household. Women were allowed to marry whom they want. They were allowed to leave their marriages if they please and even to remarry if they like. Remarrying and divorcing also became more socially and legally acceptable after the Civil War and this is allowed women to seek  opportunities outside of the social norm at the time. The documentation of marriages changed after the Civil War and this played a  huge role on women’s roles and how that changed. Before the civil war women were seen as inferior to men and they had one socially acceptable general role. Women in the south were known to get married and take care of the family and their husbands. According to a book by Alexis Brown called “The Women Left Behind: Transformation of the Southern Belle”, she says that according to the Southern Society women should stay under protection of their father, husband or brother. [26] Marriage documentation and women’s roles changed in the south due to the Civil War, because many men had to go off and fight in the war and women had to work and look for a job in order to support their family.[27] [Resolved]  Since A lot of men also lost their lives in the Civil War, so women had to find a way to take of themselves and this is why they had more to do outside of their household. This change in documentation and the Civil War allowed new doors to open for women and it

 Marriages for African Americans were very different from before the Civil War to after, but they changed after they started to become recognized by the state. There was a lot of traditions and a different culture that surrounded African American marriages and the Freedman Documents clearly showed that. The documents also show that African American marriages were not recognized by society and the government until after the Civil War. All of these documents show how African American marriages and households became unified and were brought together after the Civil Rights Act was passed. Marriages also played a huge role in women’s roles in the south, because that is what they were expected from the southern society. This also changed because the civil war opened up many opportunities for these women and gave them more to do outside of their marriages.

Bibliography

  • Brown, Alexis Girardin. 2000. “The Women Left Behind: Transformation of the Southern Belle, 1840-1880.” Historian 62 (4): 759. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2000.tb01458.x.
  • Goring, Darlene. The History of Slave Marriage in the United States, 2006, 299-350. Accessed April 25, 2010. https://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1262&context=faculty_scholarship.
  • Hacker, J David. “The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns.” The Journal of southern history vol. 76,1 (2010): 39-70.
  • Hacker, J. David. 2008. “Economic, Demographic, and Anthropometric Correlates of First Marriage in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century United States.” Social Science History 32 (3). Cambridge University Press: 307–45. doi:10.1017/S0145553200013973.
  • McCurry, Stephanie. Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • “Register of Marriages.” DocsTeach. September 30, 1865. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/register-marriages.Register of Marriages; 9/30/1865; Reports, 1865 – 1869; Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  • Register of Marriages; 9/30/1865; Reports, 1865 – 1869; Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
  • Rewolen. “Marriage and the Civil War.” Families @ War–2014 Edition. March 22, 2014. Accessed May 16, 2019. https://familiesatwar2014.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/marriage-and-the-civil-war/.
  • Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony. Freedman Bureau Records by Reginald Washington: Marriage Record of Benjamin Manson and Sarah White
  • West, Emily. “The Debate on the Strength of Slave Families: South Carolina and the Importance of Cross-Plantation Marriages.” Journal of American Studies 33, no. 2 (1999): 221-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27556644.

[1] Goring, Darlene. The History of Slave Marriage in the United States, 2006, 299-350. Accessed April 25, 2010. https://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1262&context=faculty_scholarship.

[2] Goring, Darlene. The History of Slave Marriage in the United States, 2006, 299-350. Accessed April 25, 2010. https://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1262&context=faculty_scholarship.

[3] West, Emily. “The Debate on the Strength of Slave Families: South Carolina and the Importance of Cross-Plantation Marriages.” Journal of American Studies 33, no. 2 (1999): 221-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27556644.

[4] West, Emily. “The Debate on the Strength of Slave Families: South Carolina and the Importance of Cross-Plantation Marriages.” Journal of American Studies 33, no. 2 (1999): 221-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27556644.

[5] West, Emily. “The Debate on the Strength of Slave Families: South Carolina and the Importance of Cross-Plantation Marriages.” Journal of American Studies 33, no. 2 (1999): 221-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27556644.

[6] Washington, Reginald. “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 18, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html.

[7] Washington, Reginald. “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 18, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html.

[8] Washington, Reginald. “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 18, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html.

[9] Washington, Reginald. “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 18, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html.

[10] Washington, Reginald. “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 18, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html.

[11] West, Emily. “The Debate on the Strength of Slave Families: South Carolina and the Importance of Cross-Plantation Marriages.” Journal of American Studies 33, no. 2 (1999): 221-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27556644.

[12]

[13] Washington, Reginald. “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 18, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html.

[14] Washington, Reginald. “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 18, 2019. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html.

[15] “Register of Marriages; 9/30/1865; Reports, 1865 – 1869; Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

[16] “Register of Marriages; 9/30/1865; Reports, 1865 – 1869; Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

[17]  Goring, Darlene. The History of Slave Marriage in the United States, 2006, 299-350. Accessed April 25, 2010. https://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1262&context=faculty_scholarship.

[18]

[19]

[20] McCurry, Stephanie. Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[21]  McCurry, Stephanie. Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[22] Rewolen. “Marriage and the Civil War.” Families @ War–2014 Edition. March 22, 2014. Accessed May 16, 2019. https://familiesatwar2014.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/marriage-and-the-civil-war/.

[23] Hacker, J David et al. “The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns.” The Journal of southern history vol. 76,1 (2010): 39-70.

[24] Hacker, J David et al. “The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns.” The Journal of southern history vol. 76,1 (2010): 39-70.

[25] Hacker, J. David. 2008. “Economic, Demographic, and Anthropometric Correlates of First Marriage in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century United States.” Social Science History 32 (3). Cambridge University Press: 307–45. doi:10.1017/S0145553200013973.

[26] Brown, Alexis Girardin. 2000. “The Women Left Behind: Transformation of the Southern Belle, 1840-1880.” Historian 62 (4): 759. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2000.tb01458.x.

[27] Brown, Alexis Girardin. 2000. “The Women Left Behind: Transformation of the Southern Belle, 1840-1880.” Historian pg. 768

 

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: