The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 16, 2002


Marriage in Carlisle, 1754—1854

Getting married during the 18th and 19th centuries was accomplished in a different style than it is today. Couples usually married on a weekday; a Carlisle wedding was likely to take place on a Tuesday or Thursday, seldom on a weekend. Brides wore their best dress regardless of color, and the color was often black instead of white. Simon Willard's daughter Elizabeth wore a red silk brocade dress when she married Carlisle's Robert Blood in 1653. Celebrations might vary from none at all to a gathering with family and friends, complete with dinner and dancing. Some couples did not "go to housekeeping" immediately after the wedding, instead living separately for weeks or even months until the situation was convenient for all involved.

Using the information in Carlisle's Vital Records to 1850, three aspects of marriage in Carlisle were examined: the seasonality of marriage, the geography of finding a spouse, and intermarriage between Carlisle families.

Seasonality of marriage

The seasonality of marriage changed significantly between the 18th and 19th centuries and the present. Unlike contemporary New England couples who are least likely to marry during the cold weather months, couples in 18th- and 19th-century New England were most likely to choose the months of November and December for weddings. April and May also saw an increase in the number of weddings. An analysis of a century of Carlisle records shows that the town conforms to this model, but not precisely. Though there were a large number of marriages during November and December, there were just as many during the mid-spring months. A study of nearby towns including Concord, Watertown, and Dedham found that they exhibited a similar pattern, but only Carlisle saw nearly the same number of weddings in April and May as in November and December. Carlisle mirrored the dip in summer weddings found in all these towns. There was a significant decline in the number of weddings during July, August, and to a lesser extent, September. In agrarian communities like Carlisle very few couples chose to marry during the summer or at harvest time — there was simply too much work to be done. The rise in the number of weddings in November and December is attributable to the fact that it was a time of plenty: crops were in, food stored, larders filled, and the work load lightened — a propitious time for marrying and "going to housekeeping." This pattern remained steady even to the mid-19th century, when Massachusetts was already undergoing the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy.

Finding a spouse

Whom did Carlisle men and women marry? Were they more likely to marry within the town bounds? Or look beyond Carlisle for a potential spouse? The results were surprising. During the period from 1754 to 1799, Carlisle couples were more likely to marry someone from another town, with men being more likely to do so. For men, out-of-town spouses most often came from Concord, Chelmsford, or Billerica, although some were from as far away as Worcester, Townsend, Beverly, and even Maine and New Hampshire. Carlisle women were more likely to marry someone from Billerica, Concord, Acton, or Westford. During the period from 1800 to 1854, Carlisle residents were slightly less likely to marry someone from another town, but the statistics are nearly even. One explanation might be that as the population of the town increased, the number of potential spouses increased correspondingly. 19th century Carlisle men were most likely to marry someone from Chelmsford, Concord, Westford, or Lowell; for women, Lowell, Billerica, or Westford. But people's boundaries were expanding and spouses also came from Burlington, Bedford, Lexington, Boston, Dracut, Lancaster, Ashland, Grafton, Salem, Tyngsboro, Braintree, Bolton, and Rutland. New Hampshire towns included Henniker, Temple, Lempster, Milford, and Hancock.

Intermarrying families

Often Carlisle folks did marry the "girl next door." There was much intermarrying between early Carlisle families, changing the configuration of land holdings and weaving a complex web of relationships. A family like the Bloods, who settled here early and produced many children, married into numerous other Carlisle families. Bloods married into the Brown, Spalding, Wheeler, Hildreth, Nickles, and Green families, among others. The Proctors married into the Heald, Hodgman, and Adams families and the Greens into the Heald, Russell, Proctor, Wilkins, Buttrick, Parlin, and Blaisdell families. Between 1791 and 1823 there were five marriages joining Bloods and Greens and four joining Nuttings and Healds between 1807 and 1842.

Marriages between siblings from different families occurred when Lydia Russell married James Giles of Townsend in 1788 and Lydia's brother Jacob Russell married Susanna Giles, James's sister, in 1800. Similarly, Ephraim Heald married Betsy Hodgman in 1823 and Warren Heald married Irena Hodgman in 1831. Spalding sisters and Hutchins brothers were joined when Phebe Spalding married Benjamin Hutchins in 1820, followed by Nabby (Abigail) Spalding to Thomas Hutchins in 1821 and Hannah Spalding to Oliver Hutchins in 1823.

These marriages and the resulting family bonds make up the history of New England towns like Carlisle. Families grow and their legacies are carried on in the naming of municipal buildings, on plaques, street signs, playing fields, and historical houses. On a private level, they create the very fabric of a town. As families blend, community is strengthened and reinforced, and history is made through lives lived.


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Marriage in Old and New England."

Journal of Interdisciplinary History,

Volume 16, issue 1 (Summer 1985),


Lapham, Donald A. Carlisle:

Composite Community, 1970.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife's

Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard

Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

Vital Records of Carlisle to the End of

the Year 1849. Salem, Massachusetts:

The Essex Institute, 1918.

Wilkins, Martha Fifield. Old Houses and

Families of Carlisle, Massachusetts.

Unpublished, 1941.

Wilkins, Ruth Chamberlin. Carlisle: Its

History and Heritage. Carlisle,

Massachusetts: The Carlisle Historical

Society, 1976, 2002.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito