The Issue of Tridentine Marriage in a Composite North Atlantic World

Doctrinal Strictures vs. Loose Practices, 1607–1738

in Journal of Early American History
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This article examines the transfer and the impact of the marriage stipulations enacted by the Council of Trent in French and British North America over a lengthy period of time from the early seventeenth century through 1738. It first examines marriage between two Native partners in the regions of Canada (the French settlement along the St. Lawrence River) and Acadia. It then considers marriages between residents of European origin and Natives. The article argues that in the 1660s the debate over the implementation and the effectiveness of any marriage policy lost its centrality. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century the issue of improper marriages among French inhabitants resurfaced in the West (Pays d’en Haut, Louisiana) as a consequence of contact with large Native nations that vastly outnumbered the population of European origin. In the Illinois country and in Louisiana the issue of intermarriage was further complicated by the presence of Africans, most of whom were enslaved. As for the British continental colonies, ethnic intermixing and intermarriage proceeded at a pace that, most probably, was not substantially different from New France, although, given the illegal and minuscule presence of a Catholic community, no evidence survived showing any intermarriage having been performed in compliance with Tridentine discipline or otherwise. In the end, however, this article shows that marriage policies, devised in Europe and implemented in North America, had in fact little real impact on the development of the relationship between Europeans and Native peoples.

The Issue of Tridentine Marriage in a Composite North Atlantic World

Doctrinal Strictures vs. Loose Practices, 1607–1738

in Journal of Early American History




Vimont“Relation 1643 et 1644” 165 (“un joug bien dur et bien fascheux aux hommes de chair”; “liberté de tenir plusieurs femmes et d’en changer quand on veut”) 390; Le Jeune “Relation 1640” 581 (“une espece de martyr”; “baissent le col sous le ioug d’un mariage”); [Jacques-François Forget Duverger] Rélation D’un voyage Intéressans au Canada [post 22 November 1754] Bibliothèque de l’Université de Rennes Ms. 213 Variétés philosophiques et littéraires tome vii ff. 65rv-82rv. On Forget Duverger’s expedition see Kenneth J. Banks Chasing Empire across the Sea: Communications and the State in the French Atlantic ­1713–1763 (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press 2002) 94–96. On continence Avisseau Une mission 51. On examples of two wives see Claude Dablon “Relation de ce qui s’est passé de plus remarquable aux missions des Peres de La Compagnie de Jesvs en la Nouuelle France Les années 1672 et 1673” in jr 67: 216; and Jacques Bigot to an unnamed Jesuit Aug. 28 1682 in ibid 62: 140. A balanced insider’s view to the Oneidas in the early 1660s that of René Cuillerier (c.1699-c.1712) a former captive describes a variety of attitudes. Some are “très debauchées” and never marry; others engage themselves in “ménages qu’il n’y a que la mort seule qui puisse les separer”. The document whose author was identified by the editor is in ed. José A. Brandão Nation Iroquoise: A Seventeenth-Century Ethnography of the Iroquois (Lincoln Neb.: University of Nebraska Press 2003) 48–105. For a good summary of the reality and the image of Native polygamy see Thomas N. Ingersoll To Intermix With Our White Brothers: Indian Mixed Bloods in the United States from Earliest Times to the Indian Removals (Albuquerque N.M.: University of New Mexico Press 2005) 287–288n; also LeMaster Brothers Born of One Mother 169 (for the English Southeast). Native polygamy one should also note was more common in the hunting-based northerly regions and rarer in the south where agriculture was more significant.


Vimont“Relation 1642” 390 (“Prenez garde. Il n’y a plus qu’un pas à faire; si vous avancez davantage il n’y a plus moyen de reculer”) 395–396 (on the baptized woman); Le Jeune “Relation 1640” 581 (“ne manqueroit pas de faire punir sévèrement ceux qui rebuteroient leurs femmes pour en prendre d’autres”). On repression see also ibid 598; Vimont “Relation 1642”390. The basse-fosse episode is also mentioned in Karen Anderson Chain Her by One Foot: The Subjugation of Native Women in Seventeenth-Century New France (New York and London: Routledge 1991) 220.


Spear“Colonial Intimacies: Legislating Sex in French Louisiana”William and Mary Quarterly3rd ser. 60 no. 1 (January 2003): 75–98 quotation at 86 (Spear’s quotation refers to the early eighteenth century but applies to the early seventeenth century as well); Gilles Havard Empire et métissages: Indiens et Français dans le Pays d’en Haut 1660–1715 (Québec: Septentrion and Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne 2003) 646 648 (for change in Crown’s policy). According to Wicken in Acadia even unofficial unions between Acadians and Mi’kmaq women were “unlikely” and at any rate “not widespread”. See Wicken “Encounters with Tall Sails and Tall Tales” 238–239; Wicken “Re-examining Mi'kmaq-Acadian Relations” quotations at 102.


O’NeillChurch and State in French Colonial Louisiana: Policy and Politics to 1732 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press1966) 16 72 83 87–88 92 98 107 158 246–255 288; S. White Wild Frenchmen 25. Specifically on Kaskaskia see O’Neill Church and State 253–254; ed. John A. Walthall and Thomas E. Emerson Calumet and Fleur-de-Lys: Archaeology of Indian and French Contact in the Midcontinent (Washington D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press 1992) 8–9; Havard Empire et métissages 654–655 660–665; Tanis C. Thorne The Many Hands of My Relations: French and Indians on the Lower Missouri (Columbia Mo. and London: University of Missouri Press 1996) 76–77; Morrissey “Kaskaskia Social Network” 122–123. For evidence of more intermarriages see Daniel H. Usner Jr. Indians Settlers & Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley before 1783 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press 1992) 235; Spear Race Sex and Social Order 9 (on the growing importance of African slaves in the area) 38–40 239n 239n.


Joseph L. Peyser ed.Letters from New France: The Upper Country 1686–1783 (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press1992) 229–230 (for a list of missionaries to Fort Saint-Joseph); Brandão and Michael S. Nassaney “Suffering for Jesus: Penitential Practices at Fort St. Joseph (Niles Michigan) during the French Regime” Catholic Historical Review 94 no. 3 (July 2008): 476–499 quotation at 498; Havard Empire et métissages 653 (on the importance on informal sources).


Gravier to Tamburini 6 March 1707120–122 (“matrimonium fidelis cum infideli 120”). The various steps of the 1707 petition are in Delanglez French Jesuits 396.


LeMasterBrothers Born of One Mother166. In the case of New Netherland which in its early days was very similar to New France laws prohibiting intimate sexual relationships across cultural lines dating from the end of the 1630s show a continuing close contact between residents of Dutch origin and Native women which went along with the mistreatment and the denigration of the latter; Susanah S. Romney New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2014) 142. For a comprehensive discussion of these sexual relatioships see Jaap Jacobs New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America (Leiden and Boston: Brill 2005) 394–396.


James L. Wright Jr.The Only Land They Knew: The Tragic Story of the American Indians in the Old South (New York: Free Press1981) 235 (“larger scale”); ed. Colin G. Calloway Dawnland Encounters: Indians and Europeans in Northern New England (Hanover N.H. and London: University Press of New England 1991) 217 (“intermarried regularly”); LeMaster Brothers Born of One Mother 151 (“common”) 153 (increased) 154 (women of European origin).


Pizzorusso“La Congrégation” 28 (“l’état des choses sur le terrain de mission est rarement simple”); Codignola “Holy See 1786–1760”219–220; Codignola “The Holy See and the Conversion of the Aboriginal Peoples in North America 1760–1830” in ed. Anthony G. Roeber Ethnographies and Exchanges: Native Americans Moravians and Catholics in Early North America (University Park Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press 2008) 77–95 esp. 95.


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