Going back to Christmas eve 1968, my parents had taken us kids and gone to Portland, Oregon, for the holidays. We were staying in the home of an aunt and uncle who were themselves away for the holidays. My dad’s elderly uncle came over with a box of papers for my dad to look through and see what he might want to keep.
Being interested in anything old, I watched as they sorted the contents of the box. They were papers relating to the genealogical research my great-grandfather had carried out for the last 30 years of his life. In an envelope was this very old document:
We were astonished at it! It is a marriage contract between my 10th-great grandfather and 9th-great grandfather on another line for a marriage between the former’s daughter and the latter. In those days of course women didn’t own property or make their own contracts, so the father of the bride, knowing that his daughter was to be the second wife of a somewhat older man, wrote this to protect his daughter upon the death of her husband, which would presumably occur some years before she herself was old.
Here is a literal transcription:
march 23, 1662/3
it having plesed the Lord in the dispansashon of his profidans too me and myne soo to ordar it that thar is lykele to be an afynity be-twixt Thomas Barns and John androu of Farming = Toune and John = John androos of the sam toune By the maryge of the afore said Barns with the daughtar of the aforesaid John androus The covine and agremant betwixt the aforesaid John andros and Thomas Barns con sarning: the: pramisys: ar as: foullouth:
Furst that the aforesaid barns dos give - too his tandar wife his now dwalling hous and orchurd and howse lout that is now inclosed with all the apurtynansis belonging too it to be at hur one dispose dewaring the tyme of hur natarall lyfe
2) the afore said barns dooth covinant too and with the afore said John androos too lefe too his tandar wife in cas that he shall dye before: his: wif: I say too lefe too hur a met and comfartaball maynty nanse for hur sallf acording too the istate that the Lord hath or shul blas us with all and allso I doo bynnd my sallf too lefe with my loving f wif so much istate as is met and comfurt abill for the bringing up of such chilldrun as the Lord shall be plesed too give to us to bring tham up all acording too the Rulls of the gospull
3) The afore said: Thomas: barns: doos: covinant: and: agre too and with: the afore: said: John andros: that he will lefe too his tandar wife in cas that he shall dye before his wife hallf the moufabills in the house or hous houlld goods for his wif too mack use of tham for for hure hure one cumfurt dewaring the tim of hur natarall lif:: and at the end thur of xxxxx what shall be remayning of tham too returne too gathur with the hous and hom loat and orchurd with the apur tynansis belonging too tham too be xxxx disposed of acording too the last will and testymant of the afore said Thomas barns
4) the afore said Thomas barns doos covinant too and with the afore said John andros Too give too his tandar wif a Joyntar that shall be: at hur on dispos too give and bequeth to hom she ples aftur the deases of hur husbun:: it being hur one pacullur rit which Joyntur contayns a pasall of land by istymashon six ackars mor or los lying in apasull of land calld the allebow abuting on the revire north and on the revur south and on the land of moysis vantras est and west
5 the afore said Thomas barns: dos dooth covinant too and with the afore said John androus too putt out all his chilldran axsapt ing his sun banjyman barns ondly and if that the aforesaid barns too gethar with the desire. of his his wife shall se it comfurtabull for him sallf and his wif and chilld he hath liburty and poure too cep his dautar hany barns at hom with him to to be surbvis abill too him untull that she she depart hur natarall lif or tull God shall Dispos of hur in maridg /
This aforesaid wif of Thomas barns hath poure now too give the Joyntar abof spasifid or whan she ples but the agre oragn [?] of it ar not too injoy it tull aftur the deses of of the afore said barns / in witness to the promisis it hafe set too my hand and synd and delivured this in the presans of
witnus Sam Stell The mark T of Thomas barns
Now here is a modern English rendition of the document:
It having pleased the Lord in the dispensation of his providence to me and mine so to order it that there is likely to be an affinity between Thomas Barnes of Farmington and John Andrews of the same town by the marriage of the aforesaid Barnes with the daughter of the aforesaid John Andrews. The covenant and agreement between the aforesaid John Andrews and Thomas Barnes concerning the promises are as followeth:
- First that the aforesaid Barnes does give to his intended wife his now dwelling house and orchard and house lot that is enclosed with all the appurtenances belonging to it to be at her own disposal during the time of her natural life.
- The aforesaid Barnes does covenant to and with the aforesaid John Andrews to leave to his intended wife—in case that he shall die before his wife—I say to leave to her a meet and comfortable maintenance for herself according to the estate that the Lord hath or shall bless us withal. And also I do bind myself to leave with my loving wife so much estate as is meet and comfortable for the bringing up of such children as the Lord shall be pleased to give us to bring them up according to the rules of the gospel.
- The aforesaid Thomas Barnes does covenant and agree to and with the aforesaid John Andrews that he will leave to his intended wife in case that he shall die before his wife half the movables in the house or household goods for his wife to make use of them for her own comfort during the time of her natural life. And at the end thereof what shall be remaining of them to return, together with the house and home lot and orchard with the appurtenances belonging to them, to be disposed of according to the last will and testament of the aforesaid Thomas Barnes.
- The aforesaid Thomas Barnes does covenant to and with the aforesaid John Andrews to give to his intended wife a jointure that shall be at her own disposal to give and bequeath to whom she please after the decease of her husband; it being her own peculiar right, which jointure contains a parcel of land by estimation six acres more or less lying in a parcel of land called the elbow, abutting the river north and on the river south and on the land of Moses Ventras east and west.
- The aforesaid Thomas Barnes doth covenant to and with the aforesaid John Andrews to put out all his children excepting his son Benjamin Barnes only, and if that the aforesaid Barnes together with the desire of his wife shall see it comfortable for himself and his wife and child, he hath liberty and power to keep his daughter Hannah Barnes at home with him to be serviceable to him until that she depart her natural life or until God shall dispose of her in marriage.
This aforesaid wife of Thomas Barnes hath power now to give the jointure above specified or when she pleases, but the agreement originals (?) of it are not to enjoy it until after the decease of the aforesaid Barnes. In witness to the promises I have set to my hand and signed and delivered this in the presence of
Witness: Sam Stell The mark “T” of Thomas Barnes
Thomas Barnes was married first to another Mary, surname unknown, who was hanged after being convicted of witchcraft in January 1662. In the winter of 1662, Thomas Barnes’ children were: Sarah, an adolescent; Benjamin, age 9½; Joseph, age 7 or 8; and Hannah, a little girl. Thomas was about 40 years old; Mary Andrews turned 20 years old a fortnight after this marriage contract. Note the date: Many English documents were given two dates between 1572 and 1750, the period between the Roman Catholic Church’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar and the English government’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar and of the move to start the year on January 1st instead of in March. Thus this document’s date in modern terms would be April 2, 1663, but documents legally are left in their Julian calendar dating during this period of time.
Naturally I expected this document to be among my dad’s papers. Not quite two years after he died, my aunt visited and asked if we could get out some of the old papers and copy them for her. We had a fun afternoon going through boxes and files, but we did not find this document.
Oh no. We wondered if my dad had sent it to somebody else. He had given some wonderful letters and tintypes to a cousin, who subsequently gave them to a tiny museum near the old Andrews homestead in southern Indiana, but the museum went out of business and all our efforts to locate what happened to the collection they had have proven unfruitful. Was the old document lost as were the tintypes and letters we wished we still had?
My aunt went home and a week went by. I worked on the box and the files, getting them into some sort of order. In one of the files was an ordinary business envelope, but an old one. It was marked on the outside with exciting news.
And inside was the document! I was so excited I let out a whoop that my aunt should have heard all the way up in Alaska where she lived then.
My mother and I consulted as to what should be done. We took the document to a specialist in preservation of such things, and after stabilizing it, he sealed it in archival-quality Mylar film. He told us that the age of the document contributed to its stability—it was created on a type of paper and using a type of ink that both contained very little acid. The acidic papers and inks came later than the mid-1600s.
The document now lies safely in a dark, dry place, awaiting its next outing to be exclaimed over by a new generation of descendants.