Prenuptial agreement, 18th-century style

Listening to a program on the radio today reminded me of a 1789 prenuptial agreement that I ran across while doing a title search in Stratford a while back.  Before I give you the transcript, though, I should make sure you understand why it’s interesting.  First, such agreements were rare.  Second, the reason they were rare is that the norm was for every item of a woman’s real estate and personal property – down to her socks – to legally become the property of her husband the instant she married him.  Bucking the norm was no more popular then, than it is now.  I think the reason it happened this time, is that Sarah Pendleton was an older widow with substantial property of her own, and probably children from her prior marriage(s).  Her intended, Deacon Isaiah Brown, was about 76 years old at the time.

Third, unlike modern prenuptial agreements, these old-time ones assumed that the parties really would stay married until death parted them.  Further, the terms of this prenuptial agreement resemble those of some of the more painstaking wills that I have seen, taking care to provide very specifically for the widow’s needs after the husband’s death.  One must wonder, on seeing these kinds of documents, exactly what family troubles prompted such court-supervised provisions; or perhaps it was just an excess of caution.

In any event, the document, transcribed:

This Joint agreement made the 4th Day of February AD. 1789 between Isaiah Brown of Stratford in Fairfield County on the one part & Susanna Pendleton of Said Stratford widw of the Other part, Witnesseth that Whereas there is a Marriage Intended between the said Isaiah Brown & the sd Susanna Now if sd marriage Shall take place & be Consumated, and the sd Brown Shall happen to die leaving the sd Susanna a widow in that Case it is the Intent of this agreement that the sd widow Shall have return’d to her all the household goods & furniture which She brot to the sd Brown at the time of their Intermarriage and the use & Improvement of of the sd Browns East Kitchin of his Now Dwelling house, and the bed Room adjoining, & Chamber over sd Kitchin & bed Room, and the Sellar under the Same, and So much Garden fruit as Shall be Sufficient for her use, and liberty of the well; So long as She Shall remain his widow – and also to provide yearly for her Support, Sixty wt of good pork, Seventy wt of Beef one hundred wt of wheat flour two lb Tea, twelve lb of good Common Sugar, two Gallns of molases, two bushll of Corn twelve lb Butter 20wt of Cheese 12 wt Tryed Tallow, three load good fire wood one Barrel Cyder ten lb good flax, and Some Milk as She Shall need; and to be paid & Delivered to her as She Stand in Need, at or before the first Day of November Annually So long as the sd Susanna Shall remain his widow – and if it Shall So happen that the sd Susanna Shall die before the sd Isaiah, in that Case, he Shall Deliver to her heirs all the Orniments Cloathing, and house hold furniture which She brot with to the sd Brown at the time of their Intermarriage ——

In Confirmation of the foregoing agreement the parties do hereby bind themselves, and their heirs Executors & administrators to the faithfull performance thereof according to their true Intent and meaning of sd agreement.  In Witness whereof the parties have hereunto Set their hands & Seals the Day above

Signed Sealed & Delivered to each other

In presence of

Noah Williston         )                  Isaiah Brown
Stephen W. Stebbins            )                       Susanna Pendleton

One thought on “Prenuptial agreement, 18th-century style

  1. This agreement is very like the text of wills from that period. Marriage was always about property that came with the wife to be. The widow retained “dower” rights in the real and personal property of the deceased husband. These rights were intended to provide for the support of the widow and the family, if any.

    The ownership conversion of the wife to be’s property was terminated in Connecticut Cir 1885 with the enactment of the “Married Woman’s Act”. This statute modified the marriage statutes and custom and protected the property rights of the woman. This statute may be the first of its kind in the US.


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