Those who disliked their children’s choices might withhold permission or, if the children were of age, leave them out of a will. Young people rarely courted far from their social class, and respected parental opinions most of the time. W[illiam] C[olston] came here and Communicated his intention of waiting on my daughter Lucy.
I told him I had long entertained such a Suspicion and really with Pleasure for his Virture and unexceptionable behaviour had long attached my good wishes to him.
We found her doing the honors of the table with ineffable sweetness and grace. When he began courting Hannah Powell, William Drew was in his twenties and already established as the Berkeley County clerk of the court.
In doing so, he was similar to most men of his time who waited until they had completed their education and attained some financial security before proposing marriage.
Courting gave women power; it was their decision whether to accept or reject a suitor. “You know I have never with all my faults betrayed one symptom of vanity, but now if you should discover a little spice of it can you Wonder—just at this moment are at my entire disposal two of the Very Smartest Beaux this country can boast of—what think you of G & B both at my feet at one. The choice of a husband was very important since, once made, only death could undo a marriage. It meant leaving childhood behind, taking on adult responsibilities, and forming a new family.
There is much speculation going on as to the preference I shall give & tho I do not intend to practice one Coquettish air as you are pleased to call my little innocent gaieties yet for my own amusement do I intend to leave these speculating geniuss to their own conjectures for some time at least till I have made up my mind as to the time—for you must know I know I mean make one Surprize do for all by being married off hand—believe me it is impossible for me to think too long on the subject lest I should in truth be whimsical.” (Eliza Ambler to Mildred Smith, February 1785.)“It has ever been my wish to keep my Daughters single ‘till they were old enough to form a proper judgment of Mankind; well knowing that a Woman’s happiness depends entirely on the Husband she is united to; it is a step that requires more deliberation than girls generally take, or even Mothers seem to think necessary; the risk tho always great, is doubled when they marry very young; it is impossible for them to know each others disposition; for at sixteen and nineteen we think everybody perfect that we take a fancy to . With the rise of the affectionate family, arranged marriages became a thing of the past.
A couple issued verbal invitations to family and friends, who gathered in the morning at the minister’s home or in the bride’s parlor; few weddings occurred in churches.
When men and women did meet, they obviously enjoyed each other’s company. After dinner we assemble in the hall where the sweet Judah favored us with a good deal of her incomparable music.” (Peter S. ] Carr, July 28, 1787.) Young white men began courting in their late teens.
“After an agreeable ride we at length reached the house about two o’clock, just about the time when Miss J’s beauty was in its meridian splendor. The average man in Virginia married in his mid-twenties.
Settling the question of where a couple would live and what they would take with them affected others, especially if slaves were part of the dowry.
Like the courtship, the wedding preparations followed rules that were designed to involve the community, both for the public record and communal memory.