08 April 2009

Love & Marriage in America’s Past – Judge Sewall Woos the Widows

Shortly after his wife died in 1717, Judge Samuel Sewall of Boston, Massachusetts, confided to his diary that he was “Wandering in my mind whether to live a Single or a Married Life.” And well he might: since Puritan America frowned on the unmarried, a widow or widower usually hastened to recommit to a suitable companion. A proposal, in fact, might be offered within weeks, or even days, of a spouse’s death.

In Sewall’s case, thanks to his voluminous, minutely detailed diaries, we have an unusually complete record of one widower’s return to wedlock. Following a brief but unsuccessful overture to Widow Winthrop, Sewall entered serious negotiations with Widow Denison. On the day of Mr. Denison’s funeral Sewall had impulsively confided to his diary that he hoped “to keep house” with the widow. Their courtship was affectionate, but the pension of 250 pounds a year that offered her, should he die, was no match for the estate left by the late Mr. Denison – a portion of which she would forfeit if she remarried. With regret on both sides, the dalliance ended in the winter of 1718.

Success came at last to Sewall on Thanksgiving Day in 1719, when he married Widow Tilley. His bride, however, fell ill and died the following May. Single once again, the judge’s attention returned to Widow Winthrop. But she, having once “done very generously … in giving up her Dower” and stung, perhaps, by the judge’s earlier abandonment, was anything but encouraging. After months of persistent pursuit on his part and an unrelenting cold shoulder on hers, Sewall gave up the chase.

Following a flurry of interest in three more prospective mates, Sewall eventually proposed to Widow Gibbs. “Aged, feeble, and exhausted as I am,” he wrote to his intended, “your favourable Answer … much obliged.” Her reply, though favorable, was followed by some sharp prenuptial bargaining; but on April 1, 1722, the indefatigable suitor Sewall at last “sat with my wife in her pew.”

check-mark-graphicbargaining noun [uncountable]
the negotiation of terms of a transaction or agreement
In the West when you go to the open-air market, the prices are fixed, but in other countries bargaining is the norm.
check-mark-graphicbride noun [countable]
a women is getting married, or who has recently married
check-mark-graphiccold shoulder noun
an unfriendly manner or way
to get / be given a cold shoulder [informal]: to be treated in an unfriendly way by someone you know
check-mark-graphic confide verb [transitive / intransitive]
to tell someone a secret or discuss your private feelings with someone
confide something to someone: He confided his doubts to me
check-mark-graphiccourtship noun [countable / uncountable]
the period of time when a man and a woman have a romantic relationship with each other, before they get married
In Victorian times, courtship was considered more a career move than a romantic interlude for young men, as all a woman’s property reverted to him upon marriage.
check-mark-graphicdalliance noun [formal - uncountable]
short period of time when someone is involved or interested in something but not in a serious way
check-mark-graphicestate noun [usually singular]
all the property or money that belongs to someone, especially someone who has just died
In order to pay off his taxes and debts, the widow was forced to sell off her husband’s estate.
check-mark-graphicexhausted adjective
extremely tired and without enough energy to do anything else
The exhausted skiers looked forward to a good night’s sleep.
Trying to find a solution to our problem has left me mentally exhausted.

check-mark-graphicfeeble adjective
physically weak, especially because you are old or ill; not strong
a feeble voice
check-mark-graphicflurry noun [usually singular]
a short period of activity or emotion; a series of things that happen suddenly
There was a flurry of activity in Strasbourg these last two days because of the NATO summit.
check-mark-graphicforfeit verb [transitive]
to be forced to give up a right, a benefit or something you own
If they moved away, they would forfeit all rights to their land.
check-mark-graphicfrown on or frown upon phrasal verb [transitive]
to not approve of something
Personal phone calls are frowned on at work.
check-mark-graphicgive up the chase verb expression [irregular]
the act of trying to get something you want
Finally the snake made its way into the reeds on the edge of the lake when the birds gave up the chase.
The French national team won’t give up the chase for a world title.

check-mark-graphichasten verb [transitive]
to make something happen sooner or more quickly
The government made a plea for financial aid to hasten the disarmament of more than 60,000 rebels.
hasten to do something:  Scientists have hastened to challenge his findings.
check-mark-graphicimpulsively adverb
without thinking about the results of one’s actions
In his blind rage for revenge, he impulsively pulled the trigger shooting his wife’s murderer.
check-mark-graphicindefatigable adjective [formal]
never showing signs of getting tired
The American military is at a loss about figuring out the seemingly indefatigable Iraqi insurgency.
check-mark-graphicintended noun [old fashioned - countable]
the person who someone plans to marry
check-mark-graphicmate noun [formal - countable]
a spouse (husband or wife)
Do you tell your mate everything?
check-mark-graphicminutely detailed adjective
many small facts and aspects are given a lot of careful attention
Security forces used minutely detailed plans to ensure the protection of world leaders at the NATO summit.
check-mark-graphicmuch obliged expression [formal]
used to thank someone politely
I’m much obliged to you.
check-mark-graphicno match for expression
not as good, strong, clever, etc.. as someone or something your competing against
Despite thorough preparation, England’s cricketers were no match for India.
check-mark-graphicpew noun [countable]
a long wooden seat in a church
check-mark-graphicsharp adjective
a sharp comment, voice or expression shows that someone is unfriendly or annoyed
The deal has come under sharp criticism from the opposite parties.
check-mark-graphicspouse noun [formal - transitive]
a husband or a wife
Many world leaders brought their spouses to the international NATO summit.
check-mark-graphicsting (stung, stung) irregular verb [transitive]
to affect someone, often causing them to react in a particular way; to make some feel angry or upset
Stung by their recent defeat, the French are determined to win this time.
She was stung by her father’s criticism.
check-mark-graphicsuitable adjective
right for a particular purpose, person or situation
It’s difficult for students to find suitable accommodation.
This film is not suitable for young children.

check-mark-graphicsuitor noun [old fashion - countable]
a man who wants to get married to a particular woman
check-mark-graphicunrelenting adjective
used to describe someone’s actions or feelings which continue with determination
unrelenting hatred
check-mark-graphicwander verb [intransitive]
if your mind or your thoughts wander, you stop concentrating and start thinking about other things, especially because you are bored or worried
As soon as I try to work, my mind starts wandering.
check-mark-graphicwedlock noun [old fashioned - uncountable]
the state of being married
in / out of wedlock: He was born out of wedlock (= his parents were not married).
check-mark-graphicwidow noun [countable]
a woman whose husband has died and who has not married again
check-mark-graphicwidower noun [countable]
a man whose wife has died and who has not married again
check-mark-graphicwoo verb [old fashioned – transitive]
if a man woos a woman, he tries to start a romantic relationship with her and to persuade her to marry him

Taken from Reader’s Digest Rediscovering America’s Past – Customs, Legends, History & Lore of Our Great Nation 1993

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