Colonial dating and marriage

"A very extraordinary method of courtship, which is sometimes practised amongst the lower people of this province, and is called Tarrying, has given occasion to this reflection.When a man is enamoured of a young woman, and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents, (without whose consent no marriage in this colony can take place); if they have no objection, they allow him to tarry with her one night, in order to make his court to her.But over the course of the 18th century, young people gained more independence in their choices.And romantic love—based on mutual affection and companionship—became the ideal. A string of broken engagements could cast the woman as a flirt—a “coquette” in the language of the day—or, worse, prompt speculation about her virtue.By practicing benevolence at home, they would become better citizens.As voters and office holders, men like William Smith were the major players in this new political landscape.

He spent the following year traveling about the colonies, keeping a journal of what he experienced.Traditionally, a portrait like this would hang alongside pictures of illustrious ancestors and the household’s young children—an imposing display that demonstrated the family’s past roots and future promise.Peale’s 1775 portrait hints at the beginning of the next generation.The long-held model of all-powerful husband and submissive wife came to be seen—much like the monarch’s oppressive rule over his subjects—as an obstacle to personal happiness.

More appropriate for a young republic, the thinking went, was the relatively novel idea of “companionate marriage.” In a loving partnership governed by affection rather than fear, men would learn to balance their own desires with those of their mate.

Harrison exemplifies the spirit of gentility prized by elite colonial Virginians.


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