Sometimes you stumble over, or are
pointed toward, things that are of interest. A friend of mine was asked a
question about "marriage bonds" and in the course of looking for the
answer, he thought I might be interested. And I was hoping you might be
If you review marriage licenses in
the early period of the Commonwealth, you may discover language similar to the
Know all men by these presents, That we _______ & _______ are held and
firmly bound unto _________ Esquire, Governor of the commonwealth of Virginia in
the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars to the payment whereof well and truly
to be made to the said _______ or his successors in office for the use of the
commonwealth, we bind ourselves, our heirs, executors and administrators,
jointly and severally, firmly by these presents. Sealed with our seals, and
dated the _____ day of ______, 18____.
The condition of this obligation is, that if there is no lawful cause to
obstruct a marriage intended shortly to be had and solemnized between
_____________ then this obligation to be void, or else to remain in full force,
power and virtue.
What did this mean, and what was the purpose?
message from a discussion group:
A marriage bond was an assurance that there was no impediment to the marriage
(previous marriage, under age or without parental consent, etc.).
Here is the pertinent law in Virginia, from the 1819 Code of Virginia, page 398:
"16. Every license for marriage shall be issued by the clerk of the court
of that county or corporation, wherein the feme usually resides, in manner
following, that is to say; the clerk shall take bond, with good security, for
the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars, payable to the Governor of the
Commonwealth, for the time being, and his successors, for the use of the
Commonwealth, with condition that there is no lawful cause to obstruct the
marriage, for which the license shall be desired; and every clerk failing herein
shall forfeit and pay one hundred and fifty dollars: ... "
"Good security" indicates that the full amount of the bond was not
collected. Just like a modern bail bond, only part of the sum was paid, and it
was probably a very small amount, if anything at all. The surety was the person
who guaranteed that if the person making the bond did not pay the bond amount,
he would do so (in other words, if for some reason it was later found that there
had been an impediment to the marriage).
As you can see, the bond was required when the license was obtained. For many
years in Virginia a couple had the choice of obtaining a license, or following
the older custom of publishing or crying banns. Rarely did people do both, which
is why you will not find marriage licenses for many early Virginia marriages.
Sometime in the 19th century banns were dropped and all marriages had to be
preceded by obtaining a license (and bond when applicable).
As to who the bond pertained to, clearly the statute does not say. However, the
encyclopedic AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE notes that in the vast majority of suits
claiming fraud in the marriage, the plaintiff was a woman. In a day when a
married woman's property came to the use of her husband, the woman had far more
to lose than the man where one party lied to or deceived the other to effect the
This requirement for a marriage bond was dropped by the time the statutes were
re-codified in 1849 in Virginia. The dates will, of course, vary state by state.