Runaway Wives, 1760
New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, NJ., Date: 1760
Citation: William Nelson, ed., Documents
Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, Volume XX
(Trenton: Call Printing and Publishing Co., 1898), pp. 435, 449.
May 7, 1760
Whereas Susannah, the wife of the subscriber, of Kingwood, in the county
of Hunterdon, In West New-Jersey, hath lately eloped from her said husband
(having left four small Children with him) and as it is not improbable
that she, the said Susannah, may be credited on his account, These are
therefore to forewarn all persons not to trust her on his account, as he
will pay no debts of her contracting after the date hereof. And all
persons are forbid to harbour, secrete or entertain her, or may expect to
be prosecuted as the law directs.
County, in New-Jersey, July 10, 1760
Whereas Esther, the Wife of Amos Austin, hath alienated
her Affections from me her Husband, and hath for some Time, shewed a
Desire to convey my Money, Goods, and Effects into the Hands of another
Man: Therefore I do forbid any Person trusting her on my account, for I
will pay not Debts of her contracting after the Date hereof.
The Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 1646, July 10, 176
As a British colony, New
Jersey was subject to English Common Law and its women, especially married
women, were subject to the limitation of rights familiar to women in
England. During the Colonial Era, divorce, for example, was extremely rare
if not impossible to achieve. Only in certain circumstances could divorce
be attained by a special bill of the colonial legislature. When a woman
married, her legal status became that of feme covert, an English
Common Law concept meaning that the wife was covered by the civil identity
of her husbandĖany belongings she might have became her husbandís, she
could not sign or make contracts on her own, she could not write a will
without her husbandís consent, she could not sue or be sued in court, and
her husband was the legal guardian of their children. A woman in an
unhappy or abusive marriage had no recourse. If she had sympathetic family
nearby she might go to live with them, or, she might run away. Running
away was an extremely desperate act, yet notices such as these were not
uncommon in colonial newspapers.
Susannah Smalley ran away,
leaving her four young children behind. Her husband publicly announced he
would not pay her debts, and he forbade others to shelter or hide her.
Since, as a married women, she would not have had money of her own, she
was thereby left destitute. She could not legally remarry.
Esther Austin took a
different route. She took money and belongings with her, things her
husband said were his own. In turn her husband publicly announced he would
not pay any debts she might incur in the future. While she may have been
in the company of another man, she would not be able to legally remarry.