Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Married After 21 Years

Christmas being the romantic time of year that it is, I thought I'd share an interesting document that I came across recently. It is a marriage license issued by the Freedmen's Bureau in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1866. 

The individuals listed as husband and wife were a Christmas-themed couple, Joseph and Mary Provines. It states that Mary used "to belong to W." someone - the last name is difficult to make out.  The document states that the two lived together, apparently in slavery - at least Mary was enslaved; Joseph possibly could have been free, or the disclaimer of the former owner could perhaps pertain to both of them - for 21 years.

Included is information on Joseph and Mary's son, Stephen Provines, who was about 19 years old. It claims that "Stephen went off with Genl. [John T.] Wilder's command of U.S Troops in 1863, and was heard from at Louisville, Ky soon after Hood's raid to Nashville [Dec. 1864], probably went by the name of Sanders or Calhoun."

It was not unusual that a couple would, after 21 years of common law slave marriage, take the time and make the effort to get their partnership legalized.  For many freedmen making the family union legitimate in the eyes of the law was a first step toward citizenship and equality. 

Image courtesy of the National Archives.  

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