February 20, 2012

An 18th Century Quaker Marriage

"I dislike much having anything to do with match making;  I would have People always chuse for them selves."  Hannah Callender wrote these words on December 20, 1758.  The rest of that day's diary entry gives no indication what prompted Hannah to pen such a daring and controversial statement when arranged marriages for obedient daughters were the accepted norm of the time.  She had taken a long walk that afternoon around her neighborhood in Philadelphia.  Perhaps chance encounters with young women she knew included discussions of the matches some parents were making for their daughters.

In spite of Hannah's feelings toward match making, in the end she acquiesced to an arranged marriage determined by her ailing father.  He chose for her Sammy Sansom, a fellow-Quaker, merchant, real estate investor and, by all accounts, an unpleasant fellow.  Their marriage was not a happy one blessed with mutual affection.  But, it produced five affectionate children who enlivened Hannah's world and filled it with pleasure and love.

Eight months before her marriage, Hannah, with the help of two beloved cousins, finished a silk quilt that was to serve as part of her trousseau.  They inscribed their collaborative effort at the top edge of the quilt:  "Drawn by Sarah Smith Stitched by Hannah Callender and Catherine Smith in Testimony of their Friendship 10 mo. 5th 1761."

Hannah Callender Sansom's marriage quilt.  The quilt's surface is blue silk (now faded),
elaborately stitched with floral elements, a central medallion, and rural scenes.  The quilt
measures 8 feet by 8 feet.  A holding of the Independence National Historical
Park, Philadelphia, PA; photograph courtesy of the Independence
National Historical Park.

Marriage was a centerpiece of the Quaker faith in 18th century America.  Individual families and the organized Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends monitored closely the marriage of their members to ensure unity of the whole and prevent "outsiders" from disrupting the harmony of their community.  To marry in the faith, a couple had to have the consent of their parents, be free of other romantic attachments, and be members of their Meeting in good standing.  They were also required to have the financial resources to live independently after marriage.  A couple's eligibility to marry under these strictures was not taken for granted.  They were required to stand up in their Meeting for Worship on three separate occasions to announce their intentions to the congregation.  They were then "investigated" by both the Women's and Men's Meetings to ensure they were fit for marriage. The Women's Meeting reported their findings about the prospective bride to the Men's and once the Men's Meeting gave approval of both bride and groom, the two could be married in the faith.  (Refer to our December 20, 2011 posting titled Quilters and Quaker Meetings for information about Meetings for Worship and Preparative Meetings.)

Hannah Callender and Sammy Sansom passed their first Meeting on March 26, 1762.  Hannah was twenty-five years old and Sammy was two years her junior.  They passed their second Meeting on April 30th.  After they stood before a third Meeting (date unknown), the actual marriage ceremony took place on May 25, 1762.  Unfortunately in this case, Sammy's conduct was controlling in the extreme and he was often away from home without explanation.  This, combined with Hannah's self-acknowledged temper and tendency to speak her mind, prevented a blissful union.


Klepp, Susan A. and Karen Wulf.  The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom, Sense and Sensibility in the Age of the American Revolution.  Ithaca and  London: Cornell University Press, 2010.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2012

1 comment:

  1. Such an interesting story. The quilt is absolutely stunning. All that beautiful stitching on blue silk and how special that it was made with friends.