Non-Conformists/Dissenters and Marriage in the 18th and Early 19th Century

Before carrying on with the Reeve and Houston families, here’s a quick and simplistic detour into English marriage law, with a plan to elaborate on the legal stuff and non-conformists later.

As noted in the prior posts, the Reeve family seem to have been longtime Non-Conformists, or Christians who were not part of the Church of England (in this case, I suspect of a post Restoration Congregationalist variety, although I need to do more work to confirm this). When I saw Samuel and Rhoda Reeve’s marriage in a Church of England church near London, I wondered if Rhoda had been Anglican or if Samuel had converted or conformed, and if perhaps this had been related to Elizabeth Houston Reeve’s possible disheritance of him sooner thereafter. Other information suggest that he did not, however, and then I found Elizabeth Houston and Jonah Reeve’s marriage, also in a Church of England parish and decided I needed to investigate this.

Turns out (which I should have remembered) that from the Marriage of of 1753 until the Marriage Act of 1836, the only legally-recognized marriages in England were those performed by the Church of England, other than the exceptions for Jews and Quakers. Thus, Non Conformists like the Reeves (and Barkers and Houstons) had to be married in Anglican parish churches to have the marriages recognized. That this had changed by the time Sophia and William Jones married in 1847 can be seen by the fact that they did so at the Bocking Independent Church.

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